As you might be guessing based on the title above, in last week’s issue I wrote Part 1 of a story about our town’s oldest legacy restaurants. In Part 1, I featured two beloved Italian spots: Luigi’s and Roman Villa, learning about a new-to-me-connection between them and detailing what the current generation of family owners have in mind for the spots’ respective futures. This week I focus on two more of our town’s longest-running places, one German and one Mexican eatery. I talk with the descendants of the original founders — both actively involved with their family businesses — and learn what makes them so special and iconic. Prost, amigos!
4660 N. Nevada Ave., 719-598-3033, senormanuels.com
Manuel and Lucy Hernandez opened this classic Mexican eatery in August 1970. Today, 52 years later, the family ownership’s in its fourth generation. I meet co-owner Mika Hernandez, who’s running the bar during lunch service. She tells me she started working here at age 6, while her brother (and co-owner and chef) Mark, started at age 8. She says that in order to keep recipe execution consistent, Mark does all the cooking. Currently, due to short staffing, that’s down to four days weekly (Wednesday-Saturday). And here’s a really cool, standout aspect to Señor Manuel: The family still makes all their own chips and tortillas (both flour and white corn) as well as tamale masa (for sale retail, unprepared in any amount for $1.30/pound, or prepared, with a minimum of 10 pounds, for $17.50).
I’m tempted by a margarita, of course, but its being early in my workday still, I show restraint and sip some diner-style (dark, roasty, thin) coffee. I’ve settled into a comfy booth, having arrived to a crowded parking lot and bustling dining room. I hear my waitress greet regulars, asking if they want their usual. Charming. I snack on the provided corn chips, notably thick and substantial, dipping them into a loose, tart, mildly spicy house salsa that finishes with a faint herbal note.
From Lucy’s Lunch Menu (11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday-Friday), I select the #8 beef and bean burrito with choice of sauce. From a list of 10 sauces, I pick Chile Mondongo, which is “Manuel’s most coveted recipe” — red chile with beef, mushrooms, onions and jalapeños. It’s served with Spanish rice and refried beans, for an affordable $11.95. It arrives on a scorching hot plate, direct from the oven, with caramelized spots of cheese and meat edges, and a thin skin on the refried beans, everything nicely baked together. I’ve been offered ground, shredded or chile con carne beef options, and gone with the latter, which fills the burrito’s molten core along with refried beans.
That chile con carne — from a leaner, bottom flat cow cut — gets prepared with a mild red chile sauce for some earthiness. Atop the soft flour tortilla, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses have coalesced with the stew-like Mondongo beef chunks. So there’s a great flavor layering with bites, especially if side rice and beans, each well made, are incorporated. Consider this just a single snapshot that shows why Señor Manuel has endured all these decades.
34 E. Ramona Ave., 719-633-2220, edelweissrest.com
Christmas season — when I drop by for my visit, so mark your calendar for next year, ahem — presents a special time to visit our town’s legacy German staple, Edelweiss. Pastry Chef Pierre Osborne creates elaborate gingerbread house and tempered chocolate sculptures for the entryway, adjacent to the alluring grab-and-go pastry case and dessert display. And holiday lighting and greenery join the existing cultural decor (from decorative plates and fine fabric artwork to taxidermy) to create quite the festive atmosphere. I could be somewhere in a European hunting lodge, or cozy Bavarian beer hall — a place where a palm intuitively welcomes the handle of an oversized beer stein.
Edelweiss first opened in 1967, and is still run today by the same family. Co-owner (and metaphoric prince to the throne) Dieter Schnakenberg discovers me blending in inside his bustling dining room during lunch hours, just after I’ve finished my meal and I’m still sipping on a Rüdesheimer Kaffee, which is drip black coffee (in this case from locals Ümpire Estate) with Asbach Uralt German brandy added. I’ve skipped the whipped cream/chocolate syrup topping for a cleaner flavor and notable aroma, which finishes pleasantly plum-essenced with a hint of sweetness. Schnakenberg tells me this brandy’s often served with soda in Germany, the beloved equivalent to a Crown and Coke. I’m rather enjoying it as a hot drink on a frigid day, a theme-appropriate substitute for a hot toddy. Oh, and I should note how it’s served: A waiter puts down the parfait-shaped glass mug and lights the brandy fumes on fire, next dousing it by pouring the coffee over it through a small metal tea/cream pitcher, left at the table for self top-offs.
My meal, though, was a dish called Maultaschen that joined the menu around a decade or so ago. Schnakenberg says they aren’t fixed on traditional recipes, but always make updates and small adaptations, sometimes because of customer feedback, other times just experimenting with varieties of classic recipes to dial in their favorite method. “We’re not here after 50 years without evolving,” he says. What they’ve done clearly works, because a normal weekend night tends to see about 1,000 covers (read: super high-volume, impressive service numbers). Anyway, Maultaschen is a dish from Germany’s southwestern Swabian region. Schnakenberg later sends me an amusing article detailing its origins, dating back centuries to Lenten periods, when monks, supposed to be giving up meat during fasting periods, would instead hide it (from God’s view, apparently) inside dough pockets, mincing it with light vegetables and herbs.
Edelweiss presents their pasta purse (think one big, potsticker-shaped ravioli) with a melted Swiss cheese cap clinging to the soft dough, which gets stuffed with minced pork and salami along with the vegetable bits. A touch of curry ketchup blends in for pasta-sauce-like acidity, and there’s garnishing crunchy onion straws for a pop of saltiness plus a side of German salad items (green beans, beets, and vinegary cucumbers and (perfect) potato salad. For all that, the dish tastes quite simple, with no overwhelming seasoning, but instead each ingredient speaking for itself and showing up in straightforward fashion; homey food.
I can’t stop there, of course, having walked by the pastry cases on the way to be seated. So I order Osborne’s beautifully constructed hazelnut torte. It presents three layers of vanilla-almond sponge cake divided by veins of rich hazelnut buttercream (not too strong or cloying with the flavor, like Nutella or Frangelico, but more subtle and delicate). A thin streak of raspberry jam on the slice’s sugar cookie bottom makes for a punch of color and contrasting tartness (and makes me think it’s been too long since I made a raspberry frangipane at home). Chocolate sauce drizzle and a dollop of piped buttercream plus a topping chocolate coin and kiss complete the top icing, with a puff of whipped cream on the side. Yes, it’s pretty divine.
Before I depart, I ask Schnakenberg about Edelweiss’ legacy, pointedly inquiring if there’s a responsibility-born heaviness or inherited obligation feeling to carrying on the family enterprise. Were there times he might have wanted to do something else when he grew up? He paused, thoughtfully, then noted some difficult times, such as weathering all of the pandemic’s early-days adaptations. He noted learning how to hire and delegate to manage the scale of the huge operation day to day. But he returned to sounding like he’d be a fool to forsake such a gem handed down. And even his teenaged son has already expressed an interest in the business, he says. So who knows if Edelweiss will still be standing decades from now. Seeing what I see today, I wouldn’t be too surprised.