From Spain with Love
For Spanish immigrant Manolo Carbonell of Manolo's Café in
Deming, serving Mexican fare and American comfort food sure beats herding sheep. Customers will be glad he made the switch, too.
by Peggy Platonos
Manolo's Café is tucked away on a little side street in Deming, diagonally across from McDonald's. It's the kind of restaurant that creates a dilemma every time you visit it: Should you try something new on the interesting and extensive menu, or should you stick with a dish you had before and loved?
The menu offers breakfast, lunch and dinner choices, and it's difficult to convey the immense range of food options available. In every section of the menu, there's a mixture of American-style "comfort" food items and Southwest-style Mexican dishes, which no doubt qualify as Hispanic "comfort" food. There's nothing particularly fancy about the food, but it's fresh and tasty. And the prices are reasonable.
The restaurant is open seven days a week, and owners Manolo and Eva Carbonell are both nearly always there, taking an active part in the day-to-day operation of the business. Manolo does the lion's share of the cooking, with the assistance of his daughter Theresa.
"I like to cook," he says. "I enjoy it." And five years after he and Eva opened the doors of Manolo's Café, he is still enjoying it.
Manolo's first experience of large-scale cooking was in the Spanish army, before he emigrated from his native Spain to the United States in 1972 at the age of 22. After that, however, he hung up his apron and herded sheep.
"I had never touched a sheep in Spain, but it was the only way I could come legally to America. I signed a contract with Immigration to herd sheep for three years in order to earn a green card," he explains. "Actually, it took four and a half years before I got my green card, because my boss didn't want to lose a good worker and kept putting off doing the paperwork."
While herding sheep, he lived in a tent in the mountains surrounding Grand Junction, Colo., and managed to save enough of his $275 per month salary to buy a piece of land and build a home on it — something he had learned to do while working in construction before emigrating from Spain to the United States.
After leaving the sheep, he took a leap of faith, sold the house he had built and bought a restaurant in nearby Delta, Colo., where he started cooking again.
There was a vast difference, however, between his army experience and the cooking required for his new restaurant. For one thing, it was a Chinese restaurant that he bought. But that didn't faze him.
"I made a deal with the Chinese owner that he would stay for 30 days and teach me how to cook Chinese food," Manolo says. Apparently, he was a good student, because the restaurant was a success, and so were the two restaurants he subsequently opened in the same part of Colorado.
About seven years ago, he decided it was time to retire, so he sold his businesses and began looking for a warm, friendly place to settle. He and Eva found it when they stopped and spent the night in Deming on their way from California to El Paso.
"We bought an old adobe house and I completely rebuilt everything but the walls," Manolo says.
Once that project was finished, he settled into peaceful retirement, but soon decided he was too young to retire. So he bought the lot on North Granite, and created Manolo's Café, designing and constructing the building himself. Eva pitched in and contributed the finishing touches, painting the walls a rainbow of bright and cheery colors, and using 1950s and '60s memorabilia to complete the décor.
"I wanted to reflect the era when we were young and life seemed simpler," Eva says, to explain why she chose to adorn the walls of the café with old 78-rpm records and photos of such vintage celebrities as Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Lucille Ball, and Frank Sinatra with the Rat Pack. If you look closely, you'll also find a set of photos from Manolo's early life in Spain. (Ask him about running the bulls in Pamplona.)
The café is open seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner pretty much at any time of day between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, the café opens at the regular hour and closes at 2 p.m.
Breakfast fare includes eggs served with traditional American-style bacon, ham or sausage, or with heartier meats like steak or chicken-fried steak; eggs served with traditional Mexican-style enchiladas, chilaquiles, chile con carne, as well as Huevos Rancheros and Huevos a la Mexicana; eggs incorporated in six different omelets or in a breakfast burrito; plus biscuits and gravy, pancakes, French toast, a homemade cinnamon roll, and even oatmeal to choose from. And that's just breakfast!
There are burgers of all kinds, several generous salads, a long list of sandwiches — among which the Southwest Turkey Sandwich deserves special mention — and all the traditional Mexican favorites like tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, chile rellenos, chile con queso steak and Tampiqueña steak, as well as not-always-easy-to-find Navaho tacos. There are a couple of pasta dishes, and meat and seafood entrées that include ribeye steak, grilled or fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, pork chops, fried shrimp and fish and chips. There's liver and onions on the menu, too, and if, like me, you prefer your liver pink and juicy, you are in luck, because Manolo can and will cook it that way for you.
For more information about Manolo's Café, 120 N. Granite St., call (575) 546-0405.