-Written and Photographed by Susan Powers-
Cafe Ena is a jewel nestled on the corner of 46th and Grand. With food as colorful as the restaurant, their cozy atmosphere and deliciously creative Latin Fusion fare will keep you coming back for more.
For years Cafe Ena’s owners, Chef Hector Ruiz and Erin Ungerman drove past the little grocery store on the corner of 46th and Grand. The same grocery store that Erin’s grandparents shopped at in the 1940’s, and Erin shopped at as a youngster. It constantly captured their attention and imagination. “All we could think of was what a great location for a restaurant it would be.” The “For Lease” sign appeared, Hector responded and Cafe Ena, named after their six-year-old daughter, began to take form.
Bright colors, tile mosaics (designed by Hector), and a warmth that draws you in, Cafe Ena has a Latin flair with a rustic twist and a little velvet thrown in for good measure. The result? An irresistibly welcoming space that literally glows.
The wine case was built from reclaimed wood and is one example of the passion and love that was put into creating this space. Even the art on the walls, commissioned by Hector and Erin, presents a feel of the Aztecs. All of these separate details combine to create a vibrant, alive atmosphere. Perfect for this space.
When Hector Ruiz tells you his story, it is hard not to sit with your mouth dropping open in awe. Born in the U.S. Hector’s parents took him back to Mexico as a small child where he would help his mother cook for her catering business. A love and understanding of food was part of his everyday life.
Hector moved back to the U.S. and at age 15, he was back in the food business. His first job was working in a Jamaican restaurant for an aging Rastafarian. Working his way up from dishwasher to line cook, Hector still remembers the old chef and his approach to his food. “He taught me to love the food like it was a member of your family.”
Hector’s next stop was in Tempe, Arizona at a family owned Italian restaurant where he learned yet another style of cooking to complement his repertoire. From there it was off to Chicago where he worked at Tucci Benucch, then to Minneapolis when Tucci Benucch opened at the MOA. From there, he did a tour of some of Minneapolis’ finest including Twin City Grill and Un, Deux, Trois.
He ended up back at MOA where he was lead line cook at Planet Hollywood until the Rain Forest Cafe stole him away. He ended up as a corporate trainer for them, traveling around the US, Canada and Mexico, opening 12 restaurants. Upon his return to Minneapolis, he did a stint at Prima (where he met Erin) before he became the executive chef at Three Fish. Catch your breath because this is where it gets really interesting.
Hector wanted to get back into the corporate chef world. But because he didn’t have any “formal” training, ie. a diploma, he was hitting brick walls. What does this man, who has more experience and food knowledge in his little finger than most do in both hands, do next? He enrolls in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu where upon graduating, he scored a highly coveted internship at the extremely prestigious Lucas Carton in Paris. He trained with internationally known Chef Alain Senderens, one of France’s culinary geniuses credited with the invention of Nouvelle Cuisine.
Upon completion of his internship, Hector returned to Minneapolis where he and Erin opened El Meson, a Spanish-Caribbean Bistro. Not long after, the space on 46th and Grand opened up and a few years later, Cafe Ena was born.
Hector’s passion (obsession) and love for food is present in every dish that comes out of his kitchen. Beer battered shrimp, perfectly prepared, is served over a curry corn-potato fritter, with a cilantro aioli, and pickled red onion. The flavor is fresh, the presentation, vibrant.
Hector’s Latin fusion cooking combines the flavors of Mexico, Central America and South America. Add to that Hector’s knowledge of French technique and you get some pretty amazing food. You taste the love, history and culture that is in every bite.
With a menu that changes seasonally, and an environment that surrounds you with warmth, Cafe Ena should be on your frequent dining list.
For Your Kitchen
Stephanie beautifully prepares and translates Hector’s recipe for Salmon with Coucous and Jalapeno- Infused Cream. This amazing dish is easy to prepare, full of amazing texture and bursting with flavor! It is a perfect recipe for your family, or your guests!
To see the recipe, Stephanie’s notes and photographs of the preparation, click here:
Hector Ruiez and Erin Ungerman of Cafe Ena
Cafe Ena 4601 Grand Ave, Minneapolis, MN. For reservations, call 612.824.4441 www.CafeEna.net