If you've ever visited the Broken Shaker, Eating House, or become pork-drunk during one of Jeremiah Bullfrog's special events you might've noticed a quiet guy with glasses and short-cropped hair doing some heavy lifting.
His name is Steve Santana, and next month he's opening Taquiza, a pocket-sized Miami Beach taqueria that will serve traditional Mexican fare -- think huitlacoche (a corn fungus), nopales (edible cactus), and squash flowers -- on house nixtamalized and pressed tortillas.
Nixtamalization is an ancient technique used by the Aztecs in which dried corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution that breaks down the skins, and makes it easier for the body to absorb its nutrients. The ground results, called Nixtamal, is used in everything from pozole to tamales and arepas. Such an offering is rare in Miami. Even Little Havana's Viva Mexico, beloved for its carefully prepared carnitas, deploys purveyor-supplied cradles.
"That's why Mexico is such a corn-heavy country," says Santana, whose training came from helping out in kitchens around town whenever he had a free moment.
Alkalines are also a key ingredient in another beloved ethnic dish: Ramen. The alkaline salts added to the dough are give the noodles their yellowish color and springy bite.
Santana has experimented using corn from South Carolina's Anson Mills, but more recently hooked up with a supplier whose sourcing kernels from small farmers across Mexico.
"It's like single-origin coffee," he says. "He tells you what farms are available and you can pick. There's corn from 20 different regions."
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Taquiza will sit on the ground floor of the former Hotel Eva, which is the midst of being transformed into a hostel.
"The outside is going to be a little patio kind of area," Santana says. "The whole idea is to grab it and go to the beach or hang out there."