CAMDEN – El Ancla means the anchor and on Saturday, May 5, at 7 p.m., Camden’s newest restaurant venture, El Ancla, will open on Public Landing. The restaurant was the former home of Fireside Pizza. El Ancla will feature authentic wood-fired Mexican food.
Bobby Morgan, who owns the franchise for Flatbread Pizza in Rockport, is excited about offering wood-fired Mexican food in this new location. Morgan has operated Flatbread restaurants for 20 years.
"The owners and I traveled through Central and South America plenty of times,” he said. "I've always thought how cool it would be to have a wood-fired Mexican restaurant because when you're in Mexico that's how they do it. They're not using electricity when you get out to the rural spots."
Morgan said he loves Mexican food. He said there was a need for it in the Midcoast and the area could support a second Mexican restaurant.
"We want to be an anchor for the harbor and for the community," he said.
"We want to present authentic Mexican food," he said. "Our executive chef is authentic, as are his recipes, and the wood-fired oven. It's used in so many ways in the United States, but go back a century or two and that's all that was used."
Morgan said burritos to-go will be a big part of the business.
"Families and people on the go, as well as those on vacation need a quick food at times," he said. "I want to be the place where people can come and get healthy food to go."
El Ancla will also offer seating both inside and out for those staying to dine.
"We'll offer ceviches to tamales, tacos and enchiladas," he said. "There will be appetizers, as we start with a very simple menu and grow. There will be good portions and as our relationship with Adrian grows we'll be expanding the menu and offering more."
Morgan said: "We want to offer good prices. We want to be affordable, but some of the ingredients we will be using come with a price to make it authentic. Lobster tacos, as an example, may fluctuate in price with the market."
Morgan said El Ancla will be open five days a week, at first.
"Lunch and dinner, probably 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” he said. “As the season grows and more people are around we can expand the number days. I would like to say we'll be open seven days a week."
Brent Foster, El Ancla's lead chef, is originally from Newport, Maine. He started his first-fast food kitchen at 17.
"I did another fast-food kitchen when I was 18," he said. "I started catering in the Bangor area, and that's where I got most of my cooking experience."
Foster said he worked under a chef who was a friend of his father’s for four years. A wealth of knowledge was passed on to him.
"I took the job at Flatbread Pizza and that's where I met Bobby," he said. "I've loved working for him and want to continue. This opportunity presented itself very quickly and he asked me if I wanted to do it. I said absolutely."
Foster was the assistant manager at Flatbread.
"He asked me if I wanted to be the head kitchen man over here and I said yes," he said. "The Mexican cooking is a learning experience for me and that's a big part of why I took the job, especially after I met Adrian. We are building a really great team and it's something I want to be part of."
Adrian Arvizu is El Ancla's executive chef and hails from Chicago. He has been working in the food industry in Maine for two years.
"I work in Portland for Big Tree Hospitality, the Eventide Oyster Co., "he said.
Big Tree Hospitality is the Portland group behind Hugo's, Eventide Oyster Co., and The Honey Paw.
"One of the chefs in Portland knows Bobby and that's how we were introduced," said Arvizu. "He was looking for somebody to help him out with the menu. I thought it was a really cool idea to be cooking in a brick oven."
Arvizu said El Ancla was looking for real, but typical Mexican food. He said he drove to Camden, met Brent, looked at the kitchen and fell in love with the project.
Arvizu said making real Mexican food is a complicated concept because Mexico is such a huge country.
"There are French influences in Mexico and Spanish influences in Mexico,” he said.”It's hard to describe authentic because of all the influences. It comes down to the products we are going to use and the ingredients we are going to use."
Arvizu said they would use a lot of chilies in the recipes, and some of those recipes would be complex.
"Like the mole sauce," he said. "There are 17 different ingredients and it takes six or seven hours to make it right. We are going to hand-make all our tortillas, which is key for our tacos and other foods."
Arvizu grew up in Mexico and he wants to keep the recipes as they were when he was growing up.
"I want to keep those same ingredients and techniques," he said. "Nothing will come out of a can. We want it all to be fresh and local when available. Farms and fish, we want to use all that Maine has to offer."
Arvizu said the four-inch tortilla, though small by American standards, is typical of what one would find in Mexico on any corner: "Little places that have a burner and a few tables and that's what they do. They make simple, but incredible food."