By Victoria Cepeda
As per AHAA.org, between 2002 and 2007 the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States increased by 43.6 percent to 2.3 million, more than twice the national rate of 18.0 percent. More than half of Hispanic business owners (55 percent) were born in the U.S. Of the sampled group, the number of Puerto Rican-owned businesses accounted for 6.9 percent and showed an overall period growth of 43.0 percent (2002-2007).
Chef Eddie Cotto Jr. , is a prime example of these entrepreneurial Latinos. His dream, eighteen years in the making, became a reality less than a year ago when he opened ME CASA, the only Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant in the downtown/financial district area in Jersey City, NJ. The restaurant, located where the iconic Puerto Rican “cafeteria” Hernandez once stood, incorporates trendy and innovative ways to present dishes to the public but maintains the distinctive sofrito that characterizes Puerto Ricans dishes.
PL: Why the name ME CASA?
EC, Jr.: While doing my research for a name, I noticed that there were several “Mi Casa” listed but none spelled with the ME. Some folks believe it’s a Spanglish way to say “my house” but it really just stand for wife’s first name, Maria, and mine.
PL: How did you go from majoring in Sociology, to working in Finance to attending culinary school to eventually becoming a restaurateur?
EC, Jr.: (Smiles) I know right! Well I did it with the support of my family and friends. In particular my mom Laura since it was in her kitchen and through helping her with a home based catering business that Eddie learned how to prepare and make “pasteles” and master his signature dishes so rooted in the Puerto Rican cooking style. He has no words to express how patient and understanding his wife, Maria, has been. “My wife is my staunchest supporter .” He goes on to tell us about how she put up with a week’s worth of Eddie’s pork roasting in their home kitchen as he prepared for his first catering event. It was challenging, at best, to get the smell of roasted pork out of the house. He chuckles as he recalls those endless nights and days. He promised Maria that he won’t be doing it again.
He is very grateful for his loyal and hardworking staff without whom he says he could not have achieved so much recognition in such a short time. He also thanks his friends for supporting and spreading the word as well as his former employer in the financial district that granted him the opportunity to cater for their holiday party. As a result, ME CASA’s catering served over 200+ employees without a glitch. The end result has been spectacular as clients of the restaurant and catering business recognize and promote his dishes. They attest to Cotto Jr.’s impeccable work ethics and dedication. The overall consensus is that Cotto Jr.’s signature dishes are tasty and rightly priced.
PL: Is there a particular dish that you identify with?
EC, Jr.: That is a hard question because for me it’s about the aromas and flavors. Like most people, my relationship with food started as a child but bringing back the traditional Puerto Rican mofongo is at the top of my priorities.
Cotto’s goal was simple: “Keep introducing our food to folks that do not know about Puerto Rican culinary contributions to the U.S. Get folks to try our dishes such as Mofongo, empanadas, fried green plantain Bistec Slider served with Sirloin topped with caramelized onions, lettuce and tomatoes. Just as delicious are the Cerditos Slider which is pulled roast pork topped with chicharron. The sliders came to be as a variation of the tapas concept and to entice customers to try foods they would not typically eat. He is happy to see non-Latino clients transition slowly into his Puerto Rican delights.
ME CASA’s succulent roasted “pernil” will jolt your taste buds with a hint of all the spices and condiments that make Puerto Rican cuisine so rich and tasty. There is also the empanada sampling appetizer consisting of three fluffy and thin dough filled with shrimp, chicken and beef. These empanadas are the type of comfort food that transports you to your grandma’s and mami’s kitchen. You know that time when you could not wait for them to cool off and had to eat one sizzling hot. Most dishes are served with one of Chef Cotto’s own savory and spicy sauce called money sauce, hulk, and el pique.
For Chef Cotto Jr., who was born in Brooklyn, NY and spent almost every summer while growing up in Cayey, PR, promoting his culture and incorporating his distinctive ingredients into his dishes are key to succeeding in this business. He hopes for the continued support of “la comunidad” and looks forward to your visit soon.
Familia, based on our own experience, we can attest to the fact that the food at ME CASA is simply “sabrosa.” Our sincere thanks to Chef Cotto, Celia and Nayza for their diligent service and hospitality during our visits.
ME Casa Restaurant is a BYOB and family friendly locale that is located a few blocks from the Holland Tunnel exit off of Christopher Columbus Drive at 356 Varick Street, Jersey City, NJ07302.
BYOB= Bring your own beverage
Pa’lante Latino showcases current events in the arts, entertainment, politics, and culture as it affects our community. Above all, we are ferocious advocates of the contributions that Hispanics/Latinos have made to the United States and feature articles based on historical facts to reaffirm our relevance.Please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.