1000 N Collier Blvd, Marco
With the arrival of May, many in America look forward to celebrating Cinco de Mayo. The Mexican victory over the French in 1862 is even more famous than Mexico’s official holiday of independence celebrated on Sept. 16. Cinco de Mayo — or the 5th of May — is a favorite traditional celebration, and like all celebrations, there are classic foods and culinary themes that inspire the appetite.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mexican food popularity has more than tripled in the last 20 years. Roberto Quinones, head of the American Tortilla Association estimates tortilla sales topped $6 billion in 2004 — double that of only one decade earlier. Lance Gay of Scripps News Service indicates that Mexican cuisine is becoming so popular that it is threatening to outshine Italian and Chinese foods in America, but the history of our modern-day the south of the border fare has roots in ancient times.
About 5,000 years ago, the natives of the Sierra Madre mountains in what is now Mexico, began experimenting with horticulture. The ancient Central Americans realized that if they cross-cultured or hybridized different types of broad-leafed grasses, hearty seedpods were produced with very nutritious kernels.
According to Mexican anthropologist and maize historian, Arturo Warman, the first maize or corn is believed to be largely responsible for the development of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations.
As the years passed, cultivated beans were added to the South American menu and by the time the Spanish Conquistadors arrived with Hernado Cortez in the vanguard — just in time for May in 1519 — they discovered that the Aztecs made flat corn breads and the Spaniards instantly named the nutritious treats “tortillas.”
As the Spaniards watched, the Aztecs would cook the corn with lye — to remove the husks — and then grind the maize between round gristmill-type stones. With the process complete, little balls of dough were then pounded flat and made into very thin cakes and the rest is culinary history!
It is not certain when the first beans were spread across a corn tortilla to make the first taco, but the modern Mexican cuisine of today can certainly be traced back to the ancient Aztecs and Mayans.
The Central Americans that Cortez found in the new world did not have eating utensils, but used the tortilla as an edible plate as in the tostada, a palatable and tasty container as in tacos and enchiladas, or filled a corn husk to make the classic tamale.
With May as definitely a month for Mexican, the Culinary Adventuress and I arrived at Amigos Café at 1000 North Collier in the Heritage Square, and settled in for a South of the Border board-of-fare.
Amigo’s Café is the perfect little cantina-café with everything one would expect for a Mexican fiesta. Cold Modello beer is quite noticeable in colorful neon, an old Mexico theme is evident upon the walls and in the rustic décor, and the cool and cozy tables and booths of this Marco Mexican restaurant offer a great dining experience that began with the ancient Aztecs.
After a gracious and warm welcome by our server Salvador, we settled in with Amigo’s classic homemade salsa and tortilla chips served with sides of green and red chili sauce. The green sauce is milder with a great almost smoky flavor, and the red sauce is hotter on the spicy side and guaranteed to stimulate the appetite.
The menu at Amigo’s is large , accommodating, and diverse, and with many choices—such as shredded beef, ground beef, shredded chicken or pork and several different types of fish and specialty steaks, this little café-cantina with the friendly name is more than ready to celebrate the entire month of Cinco de Mayo.
After an icy cold beer coupled perfectly with Amigo’s chips and salsa, Vicki Lynn chose the Amigo’s and Mexican classic of the chicken quesadilla and the chicken tostado. For $6.95, these two Mexican classics are a must. Both of our delicious entrées were served with refried beans and rice, sour cream, and of course, more red and green chili sauce and homemade salsa.
I chose the triple combo for one, for $13.95. All of the combination choices were tempting and included: Enchilada, quesadilla, chimichanga, tamale, burrito, tostada, taco and Fflauta, but I opted for the enchilada with shredded beef, the quesadilla with chicken and the flauta with pulled pork. The combination flavors of all the samplers were wonderful and when considering any entrée can be made with choices of chicken, beef, or pork, any favorite fiesta can be custom made.
Amigo’s Café is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, and open from 4 until 9 p.m. on Saturdays for dinner. Reservations, private parties, and take out information is available at 394-222.
Everything at Amigos is prepared fresh daily and cooked to order. From appetizers, to soups and salads, all the way to fried ice cream, flan and zopapias, Amigo’s Café offers all that makes Mexican great and does so with a festive flair.
For a cuisine perfected over the centuries, and an island cantina steeped in tradition and pride, Amigos Café offers a great example of true south of the border hospitality and modern-day Mexican board-o-fare.
Tom Williams has been a local sailboat captain and Marriott associate for 29 years. His debut adventure novel “Lost and Found” has been released by Archebooks and is available at Sunshine Book Sellers and Amazon.com. Tom is available at www.lostandfoundadventure.com