I always have a few rules of thumb when dining at a new restaurant. I like to try places that serve food I normally do not prepare at home. I love eclectic restaurants, small establishments that are family owned, that cater to people with various dietary habits, not because I have one, but because it means the chef is usually creative and cares about satisfying a wide variety of patrons – not just mainstream palates. I especially love restaurants that tell you about their food – what ingredients are in the dishes, what sources they get their food from, is is organic, fair trade, etc. This tells an awful lot about a place and I care a lot about the answers. It has to do with quality. I care about quality. I fancy myself a pretty good cook – I have a whole other blog devoted to it, so if I am going to go out to eat, I want the restaurant to have some of these aspects. That or a killer ambiance, but that can be another whole kind of experience.
All of the times we came to St. Augustine before we lived here I wanted to try Casa Maya. It is known for its Mayan cuisine, which to me, means real Mexican / Northern Central American food – not the stuff you get at Taco Bell or Moe’s. By self describing as “Mayan” – you can already surmise that it is done to set them apart from that contingent. I love when I go to an ethnic restaurant where the real cuisine is unfamiliar to me and I don’t recognize anything on the menu. This usually is a signal that the food is authentic to that region. Such was the case at Casa Maya. After being disappointed by Acapulco, several months ago, I was loosing the battle with trying to convince Roberto that Mexican food is really good.
I had a crazy day at the writing table a few weeks back and it was one of those rare days that I didn’t feel like cooking. So we decided to go out for something quick. We were strolling up and down the winding streets of St. Augustine, looking for a new restaurant to try. Casa Maya was not even on the radar because every time we had been by, they were closed, only open during breakfast and lunch hours. But as we walked by the “open” sign was lit and with that, so were our hopes. We went to the door and were pleased that it was open. It was a weeknight, so it was quiet inside, except for one other party.
When we got the menu, I was happy to see I didn’t recognize most of the things on the menu, then I also noticed the little organic symbol on the bottom of the page as well as a symbol key – showing what indicated vegetarian or vegan choices. Casa Maya uses only organic and local ingredients and caters to vegetarians! I was excited. Things were looking up!
During their dinner hours, Casa Maya offers a variety of organic beers, as well as Mexican beers and has a nice wine list. I ordered a glass of Merlot and Roberto tried an organic beer. The service was great, in talking to our server we came to find out that Casa Maya is a family owned business, which for me is another reason to love this place. Recently, they decided to try a dinner service to see how things go – and have just been relying on word of mouth – so go check them out during dinner!
To go along with our drinks we ordered the house made guacamole. I love guacamole and when the server asked if we needed hot sauce to go along with it, I was all for it. He came back with a plastic bottle filled with family recipe , beautiful, smoky hot habanero sauce. It was great.
Roberto and I decided to share a meal, not only because we are frugal people, but so that we could have a dessert afterwards. We ordered the Aztec Pork which was flavored with annatto, a peppery (in a nutmeg kind of way)flavoring made from the pulp of the achiote tree, native to the Americas. It was a delicate and flavorful dish, served with a wonderfully spiced vegetable medley and black bean soup.
All of it was remarkable. Just clean and simple flavoring that really brought the natural flavor of the food to the forefront. It was wonderful.
Then it was time for dessert. The only dessert on the menu was flan and Mexican hot cocoa. I am a lover of both, but was not feeling a liquid dessert, so we went for the flan…which they were out of. But they did have 2 other options for us – Chili Cheesecake or Avocado Cream. I honestly could not decide. I love avocado and had no clue what it would be like as a dessert, and I adore the idea of chili pepper use in sweet things. So I did the only thing I could, I made Roberto pick. He is still on the fence about chilies per se, so he went for the avocado.
I was actually glad he did as there was a great little Cafe in Northampton, MA where I used to live, called Amanouz, and they had Avocado Milkshakes. I had always wanted to try one. So I figured this would be similar. We were told by our waiter that it was sweetened only by honey and berries. The presentation was beautiful – the cream was served in a hollowed out orange half and drizzled with a berry sauce and served with twosmall pillows of whipped cream. It really was a treat.
We walked out of Casa Maya with a rare feeling – of being really satisfied food wise, but also feeling light in the stomach area.
On your trip to St. Augustine, I recommend going to Casa Maya for breakfast or lunch and for all you locals – try their new dinner menu – hopefully it will be around for a long time to come!
*note* – the lighting in Casa Maya was literally YELLOW, hence the quality of these photos, that were even edited.
17 Hypolita Street
St. Augustine, Florida 32084