The founders of Membrillo Latin Café want people to know that their style of Latin food goes far beyond the shores of Cuba — that its flavors transcend borders and continents.
“A lot of people are comparing us to classic or traditional Cuban restaurants from Miami or Tampa,” says Corey Wisun, who, with his business and life partner Sarah Foottit, runs the café located on the corner of Park Street and 8th Avenue. “I wanted to keep it a little more broad and open.”
And that’s why, since May 4, Eugene now has a Latin-inspired café that, in addition to featuring a variety of authentic Cuban dishes, pays homage to Spain, Argentina, Peru and many other countries while also promoting local, sustainable practices.
“Essentially we’re giving some props to South America and really staying away from the Central American stuff like tacos, burritos, quesadillas,” Wisun says.
At Membrillo you can get a classic grilled and pressed Cubano with pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles — or dishes like parrillada mixta, which consists of grilled beef short ribs and chicken wings with black beans, yellow rice, salad and chimichurri.
Or if those sound too filling, there’s the plantanos maduros: sweet fried plantains with honey and vanilla salt.
Many of the dishes rely on staple ingredients like beans, rice, bell peppers, onions and plantains, and also mojo, a classic marinade made up of sour oranges, lime, garlic, oregano and cumin.
“There’s a lot of flavor but not a lot of spice,” Wisun says, something that, he adds, applies to Cuban and Latin food in general.
The meals at Membrillo are served in the Spanish tapas style, with many small dishes combined to make a meal.
Don’t, however, expect to get comfortable with a set menu. The folks at Membrillo want customers to encounter a fluid, ever-changing culinary experience.
“I like doing chalkboard-style menus that constantly change,” Wisun says. “It allows us the creativity to have some fun.”
Clockwise from top right: Tiradito, Carne Fria, Pork Terrine w/ Escabèche vegetables and fried Plantain, Esparragos
And because it’s located across the street from the Lane County Farmers Market, most of the ingredients used at Membrillo are purchased within sight of the restaurant. “Our proteins are local, sustainably raised, our produce primarily local and organic, everything we do is scratch-made,” Wisun says.
The chow at Membrillo draws on Wisun’s childhood in Florida, where Latin cuisine abounds, and he wanted to bring these unique flavors and dishes to Eugene.
After several years working at various restaurants around town, most recently Falling Sky Delicatessen, Wisun decided it was time to open his own joint, resulting in Membrillo, an 18-seat restaurant with a full bar.
Eugene is no stranger to trendy and eclectic culinary endeavors, and Wisun and Foottit want to add even more diversity. “I’m not trying to rewrite any book,” Wisun says. “I’m taking the flavors of my childhood, the stuff I grew up on, and I’m trying to offer it to folks.”
Membrillo Latin Cafe is open 11 am to 9 pm Monday and Tuesday, 11 am to 11 pm Thursday and Friday, and 9 am to 11 pm Saturday at 45 E. 8th Ave.; 458-205-8470; facebook.com/membrillolatincafe