For nearly 93 years, the Cortés family have been making chocolate in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, creating a brand as well known on these islands as, say, Hershey’s is here in New York. Particularly famous for their hot chocolate, they opened their first restaurant in 2013 in Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan, an all-day cafe with an extensive menu of both savory and sweet.
Last week, after several pandemic delays involving the construction of the current building in which they reside, the family finally opened their second Chocobar Cortés, on Alexander Avenue in Mott Haven. Here they serve a mix of savory and sweet – with a menu that is suitable for breakfast, brunch, lunch, snacks, drinks (alcoholic and / or chocolate) or dessert – and based on a feast that I had earlier this week in the friendly, vibrant space, this is one of the best new restaurants in town right now.
That Chocobar Cortés landed in the South Bronx is no accident. As Carlos Cortés, who runs the restaurant arm of the business, told Gothamist: “If you’re Puerto Rican or Dominican, you grew up with our chocolate. So for us it was important to come to where our food is. community in New York. I “I have lived here for 15 years and have seen how many quintessentially Puerto Rican or Dominican neighborhoods, like Williamsburg or the Lower East Side, have lost their essence due to gentrification. And so if Mott Haven is going to be the next frontier in terms of downtown expansion, it’s important for us to plant our flag and say, yes this neighborhood is going to change, but we the Puerto Rican and Dominican community are going. be included. We’re going to be a part of what this change will look like. “
The food here is great, and while almost everything on the menu has chocolate as an ingredient in one way or another, the inclusion is subtle most of the time. The Top Notch Chocoburger, for example, is a thickly textured, oily patty (eaten more like a meatball than a typical burger) topped with melted cheddar, onion, lettuce, and tomato, and served with a mixture of curly fries. The chocolatey part of the dish is in the ketchup, which is served on the side and is very good when spilled all over the rest of the plate.
The platters and sandwiches featuring steak, chicken, and roast pork are also light chocolatey, with a little cocoa in the meat. And one of the best things I ate involved no discernible chocolate, a Mallorca Iberica sandwich of salted serrano ham, a strong manchego and a layer of guava butter squeezed between the sweet bread of the same name Purto Rican, which the restaurant specially prepared by the local South Bronx bakery Il Forno. It’s a sensational comfort food.
Meanwhile, other dishes are extremely chocolatey. There’s Chocolate French Toast, Chocolate Vanilla Pancakes with Strawberry Marmalade, and a wonderful Chocolate Grilled Cheese Sandwich, which doesn’t hide any ingredients and is a must order. The chocolate-cheese combo is a sort of Cortés signature; their legendary hot chocolate comes in nine different varieties here – I’ve had the traditional Puertorriqueño – and each is served with a little chunk of cheddar on the side, which you drop into your drink like a lump of sugar.
The menu in the South Bronx is pretty much the same as what you’ll find in Old San Juan and was developed by Cortés business owner Ricardo De Obaldia. The secret weapon here, however, appears to be chef Maria Martinez, originally from Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, who had ten years of experience in New York kitchens before leading things on Alexander Avenue. She has a knack for balancing delicate blends in a way that gives everything a chance to shine. To give another example, his mangú, or mashed plantain, is superb, even buried under three eggs coulis, sprinkled with chorizo and splashed with hot sauce. The food is fun, sure, but Martinez is a really good cook.
The space is divided into two rooms, the main dining room with a full bar to the right and a counter service store to the left with coffee and hot chocolate, a few pastries and lots of Chocobar products and provisions. Both are filled with specially commissioned works of art (“my family’s other passion,” as Cortés puts it), including pieces from their non-profit organization Fundación Cortés, like the framed images of the super -Afro-Puerto Rican comic book heroine, La Borinqueña, created by Bronx native Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez.
Read more: Meet La Borinqueña, the Puerto Rican superhero from New York
“The community here is amazing,” says Cortés, who lives a few blocks from the restaurant. “One of the perks of being here in the South Bronx is that everyone is thrilled to collaborate and help make this community something different and special. You can feel that commitment on so many different levels. whether it’s other businesses, local government, or all the folks who live here. I had grandmothers who came by asking me just so they could sing our jingle. They tell me : “Thank you so much for coming here, thank you for opening in the Bronx. I am going back to my childhood. ‘”
Chocobar Cortés is located at 141 Alexander Avenue at the corner of East 134th Street. To follow @chocobarcortesbx for hours, which are in flux right now. Dinner to come. Seating inside only for now. (718-841-9310; chocobarcortes.com)