The owner and chef of Mima’s Cuban Cantina, a new Cuban restaurant in East Rutherford, isn’t actually from New Jersey. Rather, Kass Gutierrez (aka Chef Kass) grew up in Miami. Now living in Paterson, this 29-year-old Culinary Institute of America alum is bringing her love of Cuban food north; while giving patrons a history lesson about her family and culture along the way.
At Mima’s Cuban Cantina, dishes take inspiration from the generation-spanning family recipes Chef Kass grew up with. But while the menu pays homage to her roots, she also embraces new traditions such as using sustainable, local ingredients. Of course, this theme of mixing old and new also relates to the variety of menu options. “Mima’s serves my spin on the traditional Cuban dishes you find at the fast casual cafes of Miami,” Kass says.
The Menu at Mima’s Cuban Cantina
For example, “The Elena Ruth” is a dish Gutierrez created herself. Typically, it is served on sweet medianoche bread with plain cream cheese, deli turkey, and strawberry jam. (Similar to a Monte Cristo sandwich, she notes.) Instead, she makes her Elena Ruth with scallion cream cheese, housemade strawberry marmalade, bacon, and chunks of roasted turkey breast; it also comes with a side of arugula salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.
One other signature dish at Mima’s Cuban Cantina is Mima’s breakfast sandwich. This morning meal comes with sweet fried plantain, fresh avocado, scrambled egg, tomato, onion, and cilantro on toasted Cuban bread. Click here to see the breakfast and lunch menus.
Setting the Scene
Chef Kass chose all of the items you’ll see on display in the 600-square-foot, BYOB restaurant. “My idea behind the décor inside is to emulate 1950s/1960s pre-revolutionary Cuba,” she says. “It highlights the vintage culture along with heirlooms and memorabilia of my own family in Cuba.” Meanwhile, one leftover from previous businesses remains in tact: The pizza oven. “I plan to use the big pizza oven left behind to make my own bread soon,” she says.
In addition, Chef Kass plans on hosting events at Mima’s Cuban Cantina in the near future. For instance, she plans to have live music, cigar rollers, and domino tournaments. She also runs The Malleable Plate, a catering and personal chef company, out of her restaurant.
Mima’s Cuban Cantina is a true labor of love, Chef Kass says. “As cliché as it may sound, opening my own place has been a roller coaster of emotions,” she says. “I reach heights of exuberance quickly followed by drops of high stress levels. But it’s as they say, another cliché; it’s all worth it when you see the community embracing and enjoying the ambiance and cuisine.”
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All Photos: © Mima’s Cuban Cantina / Facebook