Throughout the past seven years, on a normal Saturday night, one may find Mexican restaurant El Asador brimming with customers on dates or enjoying family meals in its comfortable, cozy dining room.
This past Saturday, though, it was a low-key scene with chairs stacked up and off to the side and more bottles of hand sanitizer in sight than employees. This is the reality for many restaurants again, as indoor dining has gone from 50% to zero capacity for at least one more week.
A tray of camarones a la diabla from El Asador in Detroit with sautéed shrimp, onions, garlic, tomato, cilantro and a spicy sauce (Photo: Featherstone)
Chef Luis Garza is adapting to this latest flip flop with grace and concern for his employees. At his steakhouse — which is often viewed as a destination restaurant for dinner but has a more casual lunch menu, too — he’s changed things up to suit the carryout model better and is directing 20% of his sales to the dining room employees he’s had to lay off.
“We’re just trying to keep everybody going … it’s hard enough on everybody,” said Garza, who says he’s been cooking all his life, starting from when he wasgrowing up in Mexico.
“Cooking is my gift,” he said. Since coming to Michigan in 1985 he’s worked as a chef at Southfield’s Ristorante di Modesta (now Bacco Ristorante), Andiamo and Rojo Mexican Bistro. He said with his own restaurant, El Asador, he wanted to focus on from-scratch dishes using the freshest ingredients possible.
It’s also important to him to serve a completely halal menu for his Muslim neighbors, many who live just west of El Asador in nearby Dearborn. He says he gets a lot of support from that area, especially when businesses was hindered by the closing of I-75 south of Detroit for so long.
In addition to his large menu of grilled entrees, seafood specialties and crave-able street tacos at El Asador, Garza recently added dinner trays that have an easy-to-swallow price point, less packaging and can feed a family of around four people.
The new carryout menu features some of his signature dishes, like chile rellenos with chicken, beef, cheese or vegetables topped with a roasted tomato sauce and cotija cheese. He’s also serving two styles of enchilada trays, quesadillas, mole de gallina and the camarones a la diabla, a spicy, sauteed shrimp dish with onions, garlic tomato and cilantro.
All the trays are $50 and come with refried beans, rice, salad, chips and the excellent house-made salsa.
Garza says he’s going to add some more carryout trays featuring seafood and steaks this week; these will run $70 per tray.
Next, Garza hopes to get some tents delivered soon so he can serve a few tables in an open-air area in back of the restaurant, even if the indoor dining band is extended past Dec. 8, which he and many others in the industry are bracing for.
As for the pandemic, Garza said, “We will make it.”
“I think we just gotta slow down,” he said. “Nobody expected 2020 to be like this … for health, for the economy. It’s been a hard year for small businesses and large businesses, too. We can keep it going, we will make it … we got to do the work: keep social distance, wear a mask and be in small crowds.”
El Asador, 1312 Springwells in Detroit, is open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun. Call (313) 297-2360 to order a carryout and visit elasadordetroit.com to view the current menu.
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