BRADENTON -- Fresh tortillas and Argentinean pastries may not be found at every Mexican-style restaurant -- a key reason Susana Barberena and her family want to offer them out of their new café and market, Un Toque Latino.
Un Toque Latino, translated to English as "a Latin touch," offers American- and Latin-style food all day every day. Barberena and her son William Ballesteros-Guerin get in every day to make fresh tortillas just before 5 a.m., when they open the doors at 2209 9th St. W. They use the tortillas in-house and distribute them to area restaurants and merchants, such as El Primo Taqueria at 1111 Manatee Ave. W.
"Some restaurants do just American or Mexican but we have variety to make everybody happy," Barberena said. Cuban sandwiches, tacos, rotisserie chicken, empanadas, huevos rancheros, enchiladas and different types of salads are a few examples of what customers of Un Toque Latino will find on the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
Un Toque Latino's tamales are "what we're most famous for," Ballesteros-Guerin said.
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Barberena has traveled all over the U.S., to Mexico and to Chile to improve her culinary knowledge.
"I learned how people like to eat their food," she said.
And if food isn't on the menu but customers want it, Barberena and Ballesteros-Guerin take requests and will make dishes if they have the ingredients on hand.
Barberena came to the U.S. from Argentina in 1979, where she grew up in the restaurant industry. She now lives in Sarasota and wanted to open the café-market in Sarasota, but the 9th Street property became available in March. They opened in April.
"And you know, like they say, God gives you lemons, make lemonade," Barberena said, laughing.
And when she has lemons, Barberena makes alfajores, an Argentinean pastry.
The recipe begins with dulce de leche, or caramelized sugar in milk, sandwiched between two lightly flavored lemon cookies and then rimmed with coconut flakes. The taste is reminiscent of a Girl Scout Samoa cookie with a touch of lemon and without the thick chocolate and caramel tastes. Other desserts offered at Un Toque Latino include flan, tres leches cake and ice cream.
The market part of the property carries a mixture of American and Latin grocery items. They also offer wire transfer services.
"So it's kind of like a mini-mart, but we're focused on the food," Ballesteros-Guerin said. "It's about the quality of food we're bringing to people. We're not your regular fast-food place." No frozen or packaged food is used in the kitchen, he said, and all food served is prepared from scratch by the cook Abundio Robledo.
Plans for expansion are in the future for Un Toque Latino's menu, market, seating area and tortilla distribution. The café currently seats eight people.
"I do Italian pastas, too," Barberena said. "And we want to add more merchandise. We're adding things little by little." Barberena and Ballesteros-Guerin are working on getting a takeout menu printed to distribute to area businesses and stores. Most of their business so far comes from takeout customers, Barberena said.
Eventually, they hope the tortilla distribution part of the business will take off and they can expand to providing tortillas to merchants in Sarasota.
A love for the business and a desire to give the 9th Street West neighborhood something new fuels Barberena and Ballesteros-Guerin through the long schedule every day.
"It's been my passion for years," Barberena said. "I enjoy being with people and making them happy."
"On 9th Street alone, we're the only restaurant with this kind of food," Ballesteros-Guerin said.
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter
If you go
Address: 2209 9th St. W.
Prices for one person: $4.25 and up for breakfast, between $5 and $8 for lunch and dinner.
Open hours: Monday through Saturday, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.