When Dacapo’s Pastry Café announced its intention to close in September 2018 after more than two decades of service, the community mourned the loss of another neighborhood staple.
The space has since been taken over by Carmalita and John Batiste with their new restaurant Carmalita’s Cuisine, which is set to open in January at 1141 E. 11th St. They are dedicated to becoming part of the community while upholding their motto of “real food, real flavor, real life.”
The cuisine at Carmalita’s will focus on being organic and gluten-free. But while the food will be good for the body, it will also be full of flavor.
The Batistes fashioned the menu after their own eating habits.
“The reason I started eating the way that I do, which is organic, gluten-free, is because I was sick all the time growing up,” Carmalita said. “Allergies, asthma and then also my mom told me I’d be overweight by the time I was 30.”
Carmalita began changing the way she ate about 15 years ago. Eating foods that did the body good made all the difference for Carmalita’s health. Before her diet change around she would become sick around springtime. Since the change, she’s no longer had to worry about allergies or even her asthma.
Though her own health is what began Carmalita’s journey into food, it wasn’t long before she wanted to share her knowledge with others. A way she did that was through her cookbook, “Taste and See Healthier Living.”
“It was a lot of my favorite recipes over the years of unhealthy things, like fried chicken, that I took and made it organic and gluten-free,” Carmalita said. “It was to help people learn how to cook and have good recipes that really taste good because I’m really big on flavor.”
Organic and gluten-free foods don’t have to be bland or boring, which is what Carmalita shared through her cookbook and will soon share through Carmalita’s Cuisine.
In connection with the cookbook, Carmalita used Facebook Live for cooking tutorials. That expanded into the Batistes doing grocery runs with people to show them what to buy, one-on-one consultations and what they call a “pantry raid.”
“We actually go into your kitchen and pull out all of the food that you may think are healthy,” John said. “But we start looking at the ingredients on the back of the box and then we say, ‘This is what this is doing and this is what it’s doing to your body.’ When people get educated on what the ingredients are doing to your body it makes a difference.”
John explained how most people only look at what’s on the front of the box and assume it’s healthy because it says organic or gluten-free, but what they don’t see on the back, for example, is how large the sugar content is.
While Carmalita’s Cuisine’s menu will be organic and gluten-free options for meals and desserts, they will also offer several of Dacapo’s most popular cakes, made with the same tried-and-true recipes.
“It was important for us to continue some of the small town traditions that (Dacapo) had,” John said. “When we came up we didn’t want to seem like just some new kids on the block.”
In order to do that, they thought the perfect solution was to implement some favorites from Dacapo’s, so the customers who loved Dacapo’s could see that Carmalita’s didn’t want to erase the history of what was there before them, but to become part of it.
The menu options at Carmalita’s will be a cultural mix of cuisines, including Mexican, Italian, Cajun, Asian and more.
“We wanted to hit as many cultures as could,” Carmalita said. “We’ll have curry chicken, creole chicken, lasagna, enchiladas, Frito pies.”
The Batistes wanted to create a place where someone could order whatever they were craving that day, be it Italian or Asian, and feel guiltless about what they would be putting into their body.
Indoor renovation will give Carmalita’s Cuisine a more contemporary look while still having a cozy atmosphere. The duo wanted the space to be comfortable and inviting to the neighborhood.
“We like to see people smile,” John said. “We want to able to interact with them and have a relationship with them as well when they come in.”
Carmalita’s Cuisine’s grand opening is Jan. 27 at 3 p.m. On Sundays it plans to have a “Sunday Sizzle” off-menu meal. The Batistes are open to suggestions from the community on what meals people would like to try when they are given an organic, gluten-free spin. Hours will be 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday. It will be closed Saturday.