Ocho Cafe, a Mexican restaurant featuring scratch-made tacos and an array of tequilas, opened June 5 in the former Bertucci’s location in West Hartford’s Bishops Corner.
By Ronni Newton
Step inside Ocho Cafe, and you will immediately feel like you have landed somewhere in Mexico – in a brightly-colored, tile-covered world full of interesting pottery, carved wood, and hand-blown glass.
Ocho Cafe opened for dinner Monday, and owner Edgar Brambila said his goal is to be as welcoming as possible to the neighborhood. “I want people to feel transformed as soon as they walk in the door – to feel like they’re in Puerto Vallarta or Cancun,” he said.
“We want to be here for a couple of generations, and the only way we will be is by earning the community’s respect, their business,” Brambila said as he was overseeing the final details Monday afternoon before opening at 5 p.m.
Although most of the renovations were cosmetic, the interior looks nothing like Bertucci’s did. “We spent a good amount of money for authenticity,” Brambila said.
Walls are brightly colored, and adorned with artwork and pottery that looks like it could be on display in an art gallery. The wooden columns are hand-carved, the chandeliers feature hand-blown glass and cast iron. The tiles are Mexican. “It’s all unique,” he said.
One wall features ornamentation crafted from Cantera stone – a soft rock used in cathedrals. That piece alone weighs 600 pounds, Brambila said.
Brambila was born in California – literally in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley where his parents were migrant farm workers from Mexico hired to pick grapes. He returned to Mexico with his family, but at age 15 came to the United States to work. At 21, he partnered for his first restaurant.
Brambila now lives in Charlotte, and although Ocho Cafe is the only one of its kind, he has a wealth of experience owning similar restaurants. He is the owner of Rio Bravo, which has several locations in Fairfield County (Fairfield, Westport, and Norwalk) and a restaurant in Larchmont, NY. He also owns Frontera Grill in Chicopee and Fairhaven, MA, and Zapata’s Cantina which has several locations in North Carolina.
Creating a great first impression, having service second to none, and offering a unique menu are factors that Brambila hopes will make Ocho Cafe successful.
Ocho Cafe’s tagline is “tacos and tequila,” and both are prominent on the menu.
“We have created specialty tacos, all of them from scratch. You can’t find anything the same anywhere else,” Brambila said.
Describing the creation of the Marco Polo taco, Brambila said it starts with a hand-stretched corn tortilla, to which Oaxaca cheese is added. To that are added caramelized onions, Mexican oregano, a sprinkle of mixed cabbage and pico de gallo. Shrimp, wrapped in bacon, is lightly fried in olive oil, seasoned with garlic, and then sprinkled with a roasted chipotle cream.
“When you take a bite, the flavor will just explode in your mouth,” Brambila said. “Every dish has a story. It’s a small menu but we are very proud of it.”
The story of the Bombay Chimichanga, Brambila said, began with a group of friends dining in his Charlotte restaurant. One of the women asked him for a good chimichanga.
“So I made one stuffed with spinach, roasted poblano, jalapeños, mushrooms, carrots, roasted corn, green pepper, topped with a creamy chardonnay/cilantro/pecan sauce and fresh queso.”
He asked his friend, who was from India, to name the chimichanga, and she said to call it “Bombay.”
The menu includes tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and other dishes made with chicken and beef, as well as vegetarian offerings. The corn tortillas are gluten-free.
Guacamole is prepared table side, and there is a salsa bar to accompany the chips that come with every meal. Entrees are all served with red rice, citrus chipotle slaw, and a choice of charro, refried, or black beans.
Entrees are be priced at $8-$10 for lunch, and $14-$20 for dinner. A “combo,” which includes one enchilada, one taco, and one quesadilla, plus all of the sides, is $16.
Tequila is a focus as well, and Brambila said there are currently about 100 different choices on the menu, and eventually that will increase to 250 varieties.
“Every day we are going to have a special tequila at a discount price,” and there will always be a range from the most basic to highly sophisticated and aged Añejo tequilas.
There’s also a “make your own margarita” option, or you can choose the house “margarita with no name.”
Presentation is important, Brambila said. All drinks are served in hand-blown glass. One drink special, made with 100-year-old Grand Marnier, is served flaming.
Brambila said West Hartford is perfect for this type of restaurant. “This perfectly fits our concept, our price point.”
Ocho Cafe has about 30 employees, most of whom are local. A few have been brought in from his other restaurants, but just to train the West Hartford employees.
Brambila said that many people had stopped by over the weekend, asking about the opening.
“We feel very good, very lucky. We feel like we’re going to be very successful here, but now we have to do our job,” Brambila said.
“Now the hard work starts.”
Ocho Cafe is located at 330 North Main St. in West Hartford’s Bishops Corner. Follow them on Facebook or call 860-310-3063 for more information.
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