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Puerto Rican Paella's A Steal At Tiny Don Julio's… Puerto Ricans Get Taste Of Home

Puerto Rican Paella's A Steal At Tiny Don Julio's: 3 Hats

By Ashby Stiff

April 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Tallahassee Democrat. All rights reserved.

Thank you Vince, wherever you are.

Vince is the guy whoe-mailed us word of Don Julio's, a striving little 16-seater that opened 10 days ago in the string of shops next to Albertson's on North Monroe.

The menu touts "100% Puerto Rican Cuisine," and we'll vouch for the claim. This is an eat-in or take-out restaurant by and of Puerto Ricans, for Tallahasseeans; one that adds another culinary flavor to the city's slowly expanding international food assortment.

With Mexico, Cuba and now Puerto Rico represented, all we need is an Andalusian paella palace to round out the Latin contingent.

In the meantime, Don Julio's features a paella special every Friday evening. And surprisingly good paella it is. Not only because it's chock-full of chicken, shrimp, clams, mussels, squid, octopus and green peas, but because it's not overdosed with saffron. Add more than a couple of threads of that stuff, and you have the all-too-familiar Paella a la Iodine.

Prepared for two for an incredible $15, it's served in two heaping platefuls. Add another $10, and a pair of meaty lobster tails are popped on. A lobster-topped seafood dinner for $12.50 each? You think we didn't jump on that?

Freddy Baez spent the last 12 years back-and-forthing between his native San Juan and Tallahassee. Sometimes he'd work for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, sometimes elsewhere. When in one place he always seemed to be homesick for the other. Finally, he says, he's decided to stick with the capital city and chase a longtime dream of being chef-proprietor of his own restaurant.

The dream has materialized as a family operation in which Freddy cooks and - when they're not in school - his teenage son, Freddy III, and daughter Noelia work the front of the house. In the rear, grandmother "Mommie" Davila holds forth as sous chef.

As restaurants go, Don Julio's is small, bordering on tiny. The dining room walls are light and muraled with pastoral scenes. The trim and floors, the chairs and tabletops variously glow in yellow or black. It's a cute, clean and brightly fluorescent-lit place, one with quite audible Latin rhythm on the speakers, or maybe a kids' show on TV.

A large, all-white side room contains the cooler where things such as Vanilla, Cheese and Coconut Flan and bottled water are displayed, and the cashier's counter where you pay up on completion of your meal.

Daily, except Sunday, lunchers go for blue-collar, rib-sticking specials, served with choice of rice or beans and garlic bread. Mondays it's Sancocho ($5.25), a thick, homemade soup with beef and Spanish root vegetables, or Fricase de Pollo ($5.50), a chicken stew. Wednesday specialties translate to a Baked Pork Chop for $5.25, or Corned Beef, Puerto Rican Style, for $4.75.

We think we'd pass on Tuesday's Yellow Rice with Vienna Sausage ($4.75), and wait for Thursday's Spanish Sausage edition, for $5.50. But every Friday lunch brings a Red Snapper Filet for $6, and we can handle that nicely.

Want a sandwich? All nine varieties come pressed, except for El Bolon, a $4.25 choice containing homemade meatballs. Here, we'd drop $4.25 for a good Cuban, and we did spring for Don Julio's ($5.50) trademark Tripleta, which brought a Cuban with added steak and house garlic sauce. Chicken, vegetarian, Spanish sausage and tuna types complete the sandwich selections.

Dinner offers daily specials too. Besides tonight's Paella, every-Wednesday BBQ Pork Spareribs ($7), and Thursday Cornish Hen ($7.95) stuffed with rice and black beans sound interesting.

The "a la carte" dinner menu features flank steak, chicken breast and pork dishes, priced from $6.75 to $7.75. Each is served with a choice of rice, rice and pigeon peas, beans, plantain tostones or amarillos and garlic bread.

Carne Frita con Monfongo ($7.50) caught our fancy one evening. The seasoned roasted pork pieces proved flavorful enough, even if cooked to hardtack consistency, and the accompanying mashed plantain provided quite a taste adventure.

Coconut Flan proved a dessert treat one time, Mango Cheesecake another. And at $2.25 tops, for such, sweets junkies can indulge recklessly.

Mainly plain, uncomplicated food, in small surroundings, for small prices. Eat-in, if there's room, or take-out, if there's time to wait. That's the new Don Julio's.

Address: 1913 N. Monroe St.; 576-7426

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Payment: No credit cards, no checks.

Average: $9, dinner

Dress code: casual

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Outside smoking: No

Reservations: No

Puerto Ricans Get Taste Of Home

Martin's BBQ will make its 1st foray onto the mainland with 2 stores in Orlando.

By Mai Hoang | Sentinel Staff Writer

June 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Puerto Ricans in Orlando nostalgic for the spicy marinated rotisserie chicken of San Juan's Martin's BBQ will soon be able to satisfy their cravings without returning home.

The family-run restaurant chain plans to open its first two mainland stores in Orlando this year. The first, at Deerfield Avenue and John Young Parkway, is slated to open in August. The second, on Michigan Avenue and Osceola Parkway, will follow in November, said David Rios, the company's Florida consultant.

The 40-year-old company, which has 29 stores in Puerto Rico, wants to open nine to 10 franchises throughout the state by the end of next year.

Rene Rosado, a company owner who will run the Deerfield store, said the chain has wanted to enter the mainland market for about two years.

The company's name, however, already has made an appearance.

In January, the company sued Martin's Family BBQ in Kissimmee, saying the restaurant's name was too similar. A judge ruled in favor of the original Martin's and forced the Kissimmee restaurant to change its name.The spat encouraged Martin's to make the jump to Florida sooner.

"Here, they knew us, but we didn't know we were that big," Rosado said.

The mainland market also provides opportunities for investors back in Puerto Rico.

Dr. Ricardo Arroyo, a San Juan gastroenterologist who paid $250,000 to build the Michigan Avenue store, said he plans to move to Florida if the business is successful.

"This is a great way to diversify my income," he said. "Being a doctor, if you're not there you don't make money. With a franchise, you can make money and you don't always have to be there."

Certainly there appears to be demand for the restaurant. The company has received more than 50 calls asking about its Florida arrival, said Rios, the Florida consultant.

Orlando resident Jesus Rivere has fond memories of Martin's BBQ. Rivere said he visits Martin's whenever he returns to Puerto Rico.

"Oh, yeah, it's good they're coming," he said.

The stores will offer Martin's trademark chicken and side items such as yucca, sweet potatoes and plantains. The stores also will sell mashed potatoes, corn and Caesar salad to appeal to the Central Florida market.

Israel Miranda Horendo, co-owner of Puerto Rico Family BBQ -- the Kissimmee restaurant that was forced to change its name -- said he isn't concerned about the well-known chain coming to Orlando.

"My business is so busy, I can't cater to everybody," he said.

He said he had no hard feelings for Martin's, and said that his own business has increased since the dispute was resolved.

"If they need my help, in directions and knowing people, we're willing to help them," he said.

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