On an early-spring day that is a tad too frisky for al fresco, we nonetheless gamely savor a Latin American feast in the outdoor seating area of Café La Fondita, Val Morano Sagliocco’s new takeout place in the heart of industrial Mamaroneck.
And what a feast it is — tortas laden with ham or chicken cutlets; dainty taco shells neatly filled with grilled shrimp and veggies; quesadillas stuffed with melting cheese; a zesty guacamole served with homemade chips. We wash it down with horchata, a rice cinnamon water, and Jamaica, a hibiscus sugar water. (OK, so there is some spillage, but hey, it’s a picnic, so all good.)
For dessert, we sample manager Carmen Padilla’s rich, creamy flan, a traditional baked custard with a caramel glaze, and the house’s full-bodied coffee, Café Bustelo. Heaven.
It was in November of 2016 that WAG first introduced you to the approximately 250-square-foot La Fondita, with its Frida Kahlo-like exterior murals of Old Mexico, and a door containing a full-length portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint, by Suzanne Bellehumeur. At the time, Sagliocco — director of Morano Landscape Garden Design in Mamaroneck, president of Ridgeway Garden Center in White Plains and managing partner of Lago, an Italian restaurant in Harrison’s Silver Lake section — was putting the finishing touches on the décor, which includes his photographs of trips to Latin America, particularly Mexico. That country is what he calls “one of my happy places.”
Municipal code requirements necessitated further construction. The photos came down — for now — and the Virgin Mary moved from the front door to an interior one. La Fondita had a soft opening Dec. 17 but is set for a grand opening on — you guessed it — Cinco de Mayo.
The eatery serves breakfast and lunch. On a Thursday afternoon, it hums with locals from neighboring auto body shops and other small businesses. Not surprising, considering that Sagliocco has a foot in both the landscaping and food worlds, he has big garden plans for the outdoor seating. Already tulips and hyacinths vie in color with the exterior walls. Tapering arborvitae offer privacy and foster intimacy. Climbing hydrangeas will soon join them. Planters with fresh herbs, particularly cilantro, will crown one wall. In the summer, he adds, there will be citrus plants and hibiscus.
After lunch, we take a short ride to Weaver Gardens in Larchmont, Sagliocco’s third baby after La Fondita. (Pride of place must be given to daughter Sofia, born last December.) Slated for an early May debut, Weaver Gardens is a design center for wholesale and retail. Sagliocco has transformed the former Redwood Nursery into an elegant gray building with reclaimed wood interiors that will house all of your gardening needs as well as classes, surrounded by gravel paths containing specimens like cherry trees and 25-year-old Japanese maples. On one side of the building there’s a green wall lined with recycled cotton for growing vegetables.
“It’s a patented technology we’re a dealer for,” Sagliocco says, referring to PlantWallDesign’s green walls, usually found indoors. “I like the aesthetics of it. And if you have one, you can grow your own herbs.”
The wall serves as a backdrop for a grill from Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens and porcelain pavers from M S International Inc.
Always percolating with new ideas, Sagliocco is also working with Plant the Future, a Miami-based design firm that fuses the visual arts and nature.
It’s another one of his “happy places,” and he always wants to share his happiness with others.
For more, visit cafelafondita.com.