Anyone who has traveled in Spain is familiar with the tapas crawl: As mealtime approaches, diners wander from one bar to another, consuming a snack and a glass of wine or sherry at each. Over the past decade, the popularity of small plates has exploded here in the States as well, and they can now be found everywhere from gastropubs to fine
The Mendez family is on a mission to bring authentic Spanish tapas to South Florida. Juan Carlos, along with his brother Benito and his son Carlos James, were partners in Tapeo Restaurant in West Palm Beach before opening Andalucia Tapas Bar & Restaurant in Tequesta last December. “We’re re-creating the traditional flavors of Spain,” says Chef Benito, who hails from Galicia in Spain’s northwest corner. He uses recipes inherited from his mother and has studied specialized regional dishes throughout the country. “We make all of our stocks from scratch, use Calasparra rice from Murcia, and flavor our paella with saffron.”
The menu at Andalucia is dotted with favorites such as white anchovies, ham croquettes, sautéed chorizo, and several treatments of octopus. Even so, paella stands out as the restaurant’s signature dish and has its roots in Benito’s childhood on a rural farm. “My mother grew all of our produce—we never went shopping,” he says. “People took whatever they had on hand, threw it in a pot with rice, and stirred it frequently with a wooden spoon. We offer three different versions [of paella], which we simmer slowly for 30-35 minutes so the seafood, chicken, or sausage gradually infuses the dish with flavor.”
Carlos James, who runs the front of the house, grew up in the restaurant business. “I started working for my father at age 14 as a busboy,” he recalls. “We strive for culinary excellence, but we also want to offer an intimate, family-style experience. When you enter the restaurant, you immediately sense the warmth. We want you to feel like you’re in Spain.”
That feeling carries over to the wine list, where guests can order full-bodied reds from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro, or Priorat, and crisp whites from Rueda and Rías Baixas. Sangria is available by the glass or pitcher, and craft cocktails include the Andalucia (Oxley gin, Campari, honey syrup, pineapple and lime juice) and the Spanish Spritz (Grey Goose vodka, agave, pineapple and lemon juice, muddled kiwi, and basil).
“Spanish tapas have had an influence on global cuisine,” says Carlos James. “Many of our customers have heard about them but have never had a chance to try them. We want to bring something to the community that no one else has.” 187 Tequesta Drive, Tequesta; 561.406.6509