Atwater plans for Mamacita's Baja Grill to open sometime this spring at the former Mo Daddy's location at 77 Biltmore Ave. The Baja Grill will offer table service and a fresh take on California-Mexican cuisine with a tropical-themed bar. "Umbrella drinks. I think Asheville needs that," he says, laughing. "I mean, I love the PBR scene and the hipsters and all of that, but I just want something light and fun. I think it's going to be a good addition to the restaurant scene."
The dining room has been painted with bright and beachy colors, and a retro palm-tree mural. "You know, the ubiquitous Mexican mural has to be in there somewhere, right?" Atwater says. "We're just trying to make it fun and light. We have no intention of being some four-star dining restaurant." The garage door remains, and will be thrown open to let in the air on warm nights. Patio dining will still be available.
With sometimes sporadic business at Modaddy's, Atwater says that it became evident that he needed to nurture the more successful side of his restaurant duo.
"We closed the door on Mo Daddy's, honestly, because we weren't making any money," says Atwater. "The bartenders were making good money and the bands were doing OK. But the hours were really hard. And, we had nights when we were really busy, and nights when we weren't. In the end, it was about doing what you wanted to do and doing what you love. I love music, but it was always clear to me that my first love was food. Having grown up working in music shops and even majoring in music at UNCA, it's hard. But, I knew that if I didn't close the doors on Mo Daddy's, it was just going to take Mamacita's down too, and I didn't want that. We had to amputate to save the rest, so that was what we did."
Essentially, the Baja Grill is an extension of Mamacita's with table service, a focus on fresh, sustainable seafood and Baja cuisine. "I'm excited to be able to bring light Mexican [food] into Asheville," Atwater says. "It's going to be casual, it's going to be affordable, it's going to be more expensive than next door, sure, but it's going to be a place that you can go every week and not break the bank."
Initially, the restaurant will be open only for dinner, but once it's open for lunch, the grill will serve tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches) on locally baked bread from a Mexican bakery. The restaurant will be open six days a week and closed on Sundays, says Atwater, though Sunday brunch may be in the cards. "I think a Latin brunch is really fun," he says. "I'd also like to think that we could have a late-night bar," Atwater says, adding that the venue will no longer host late-night music. "But the Orange Peel does," he says.
There's a bit of work to do before the menu can be finalized, Atwater says. "I'm going to make one last trip to Mexico to make sure there's something I didn't miss." There, Atwater will stage in a La Paz-based restaurant for a week, bringing home skills he learns there to add to what sounds like a somewhat traditional menu; the Baja Grill will offer a break from the all-too-common refried-bean Mexi joints in the area. "You'll see something traditional like the caldo de siete mares," he says. Also known as seven-seas soup, caldo de siete mares is a shrimp-broth based shellfish-heavy concoction that Atwater plans to serve in a fresh, halved coconut. With the fruit removed from the husk, the restaurant will make a coconut tres leches cake. There will also be lobster on the menu, Atwater says. "So yeah, you can spend as much as you want, but the ambiance is going to be casual. It's come wearing flip-flops, come as you are."
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