Everyone Is Lining Up For This Mother-Daughter-Run Tamale Stand in Fort Greene Park
Maíz a Mesa specializes in Mexican fare including meat-free tamales.
Since this past December, on Saturday afternoons, Fabiola Juárez and her mother, Veronica Rivera, have posted up outside of the Dekalb Avenue entrance of the Fort Greene Park Greenmarket. Here, every week from 12-3 pm, they serve up homemade Mexican delicacies, both traditional and new, developed by Juárez and made available through her pop-up operating under the name Maíz a Mesa, which translates from Spanish as “corn to table.”
Although Juárez’s mother helps her out each weekend, Maíz a Mesa is primarily Fabiola’s venture. Juárez debuted Maíz a Mesa towards the end of last year after setting a goal to start her own business before she turned 30. “Cooking is something that I’ve always liked to do,” she says, “but during quarantine, it was like, alright... times are tough, so let’s do something about it.”And while the built-in traffic from the Saturday farmers market and Fort Greene Park is, of course, a factor, Juárez’s motivation for placing the pop-up at its current location is personal: she grew up in the neighborhood (her mom still lives there) and long-dreamed of making a slice of it her own.
Born to parents who immigrated from the city of Guanajuato in Central Mexico, Juárez was practically raised in their Brooklyn family business: the Bay Ridge Mexican restaurant Coszcal de Allende. The deli-grocery-turned restaurant has been in the neighborhood for nearly a decade, and Juárez continues to help out in both its FOH and BOH operations, all while balancing FOH shifts she’s been picking up at the Brooklyn Heights restaurant, Colonie (she also cooks all of her Maíz a Mesa food out of the Coszcal de Allende kitchen).
After Maíz a Mesa’s launch weekend was a sold-out success in late December, Juárez decided to start experimenting and get more loose with her flavors, particularly when it came to introducing more vegetarian and vegan items to the menu. “I just want there to be great options for everyone,” she says. “I feel like we all have to be more environmentally-conscious.” Now, they have regulars that come every week.
Despite the ways in which COVID-19 has been uniquely devastating for restaurants, many young hospitality workers have found themselves inspired to branch off on their own and see their visions through in a way that seemed mostly unconventional before the pandemic. And among an ever-growing pop-up scene in NYC, Maíz a Mesa stands out.
For one, the menu is impressively extensive, with something new to find each time. Tamales are the primary focus, particularly as they’re a picnic-ready food for nearby park hangs in the warming weather. The menu typically features six varieties of tamales, with vegan, vegetarian, and meat-filled options all on offer. “My favorite tamales are the oyster mushroom one,” says Juárez. “We treat them like tinga, shredded chicken. We cook it with a little bit of garlic, onion, chipotle, and bay leaves. And for the summer, Juárez is excited to add an upcoming sweet corn and goat cheese tamal to the menu.
The menu also features homemade tortillas (soon Juárez will integrate her new molino, and, eventually, will include corn used in collaboration with a fellow farmers market vendor called Conuco Farm), rice, and several seasonal specials that change each weekend. “I want there to be new things for people to try every weekend that keeps people coming back to explore,” she adds.
In addition to the tamales, recent weekend menus have also featured chile relleno, chile en nogada, a nopales salad with a grasshopper vinaigrette, as well as an avocado agua fresca and black sesame horchata (a previous winter offering also included vegan champorado, a chocolate rice-based drink served like hot chocolate, here made with masa, cinnamon, chocolate, and the Mexican brown sugar called piloncillo). Likewise, they offer several containers of sauces such as salsa verde, salsa aguacate, salsa macha, or mole to take home to use in one’s own home-cooking.
“I just wanted to share Mexican culture more than the basics we seem to know in New York. And even for myself, I’m still learning about my culture and trying new ingredients to work with along the way, like the pipicha plant,” says Juárez.
“It’s nice being at the park, because people can pick-up, let’s say, our hazelnut mole, and then take it home to prepare it with the scallops or duck they get at the farmer’s market,” she adds. Juárez hopes to eventually develop Maíz a Mesa into a standalone restaurant within the area that highlights regional Mexican culture with a focus on sustainability. But until then, she’s also excited to soon introduce new items to her roster like tepache and quesadilla kits with fresh zucchini blossom. And despite the intensely laborious preparation required, currently, nothing on the menu is priced at more than $9.
Although the rest of her siblings have all pivoted to other professions, for Juárez, continuing to cook with her mom at Maíz a Mesa is one of the biggest draws, and it’s been a natural transition of what they do together at their family restaurant. “My mother has been a big help. She’s an amazing sales woman. It’s cute,” says Juárez. “I’ve always seen her work so hard. She’s been so supportive and I learn so much from her—through this I just want to make her proud.”Follow the latest on Maíz a Mesa’s Instagram.