Hangin’ With Klecko: La Cucaracha’s Eddie Anleu
On the last morning I needed to scrape the windows of my breadmobile before heading off to work, I stared across the parking lot and Dale Street at the Cantina La Cucaracha. It occurred to me with the season changing their menu would too, so I probably should stop by after work and have one last fix of Nina’s Cactus Stew.
Later that afternoon, I made good on my commitment and stopped by.
The moment I crossed the threshold, I saw Eddie Anleu who technically would be considered a GM, but Eddie is humble and happy to refer to himself as a guy who fills whatever slot is needed.
Jill Dana is the other half of the dynamic duo who have held this place together over the last couple of decades, but I didn’t see her at that moment so I ordered a Corona and pulled out a clipboard.
Klecko: Hey Eddie, I’ll be getting some food to go, but before I do that, sit down with me and let’s do a quick interview. Important people will read it and you’ll become more famous than you already are.
Eddie: I’m not so sure I want to be famous, but like everyone else, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep the customers coming in.
Klecko: Before we get started, I have to ask, why the hell is Isaac Hayes “Shaft” playing over the sound system. Aren’t we supposed to be listening to Mexican music?
Eddie: Yeah, we’ll get there, but during happy hour we like to give our customers different flavors, you like Shaft, don’t you?
Klecko: Of course I do, but let me switch the topic for a moment. Did you read that Forepaugh’s closed yesterday?
Eddie: Yeah, I heard that. It’s always a surprise when an institution like that closes its doors, but I’m not surprised. Most people think that once a restaurant has stayed in business for a while, they are guaranteed success, it doesn’t work that way.
La Cucaracha was established in 1964. Do the math, that’s over 50 years and we are always trying to figure out new ways to bring customers in. The industry changes, our neighborhood changes, for the longest time we were the only Mexican restaurant in this area, but that’s changed. Over the last three years we’ve had five Mexican restaurants open within three to five miles.
Klecko: So how do you combat that?
Eddie: I think you start off with consistency. About 15 years ago we recommitted to our ingredients. We started buying organic, we chop everything with knives. There’s no food processor in house, we don’t believe in using microwaves. The downside to that is that the food takes longer to cook, but most of our clientele appreciate that.
I should also mention that a lot of our staff have been here for 15 to 30 years. If you want customers to come back, like you do, you can’t change the things they like.
Klecko: I couldn’t agree more. When I first came to St. Paul in the early ‘80s, I lived in an apartment on the southwest corner of Grand and Dale. That’s when I started coming here, and even when I moved away to Highland Park, I made the commute because I knew what I wanted.
Now that I moved back across the street, the same holds true. There’s tons of great Mexican food on the Westside. My buddy Stephan Hesse is down at Pajarito. That guy is a culinary beast. When he was at Libertine I’d cross the ocean to go Uptown and eat his food, but when you connect with a restaurant like I’ve connected with La Cuc, it’s hard to break away. The restaurant becomes something like a family member.
Eddie: That’s exactly what we are shooting for, to build relationships with our neighborhood.
Klecko: How is it working Grand Old Days?
Eddie: It’s good, back in the day it used to be crazy, things have settled down a bit over the last few years. We sell food, but that’s really a day where people focus on booze and fun, and there’s nothing wrong with a good day of alcohol sales.
Klecko: And Cinco de Mayo?
Eddie: It’s best when that holiday lands on a Monday or a Tuesday because we get to celebrate it then and over the weekend. You can stretch that out for over a week
Klecko: Let’s talk food, what do you want me to tell my readers about?
Eddie: Before we start with the traditional fare, I’d like to push our weekend breakfasts, we have 10 different items, but the banana pancakes and pineapple pancakes are becoming a big deal.
Klecko: And the Bloody Mary bar?
Eddie: Yes, of course, thanks for reminding me. In addition to offering 10 different bottles of booze to choose from, we have three homemade house mixes, cheese, peppers, eggs, sausage and salami.
Klecko: In my opinion, it’s the best Bloody Mary bar I’ve been to in St Paul.
Eddie: I’ll tell you some of what we do really well. I think our guacamole is the best around. Years ago when I worked at other Mexican restaurants they’d use bagged produce. Ours is fresh, daily.
Also, if you like shrimp, I have Eddie’s Shrimp on the menu and it’s grilled and braised with bacon, onions and mushrooms, brandy and Kahlua.
Klecko: Yeah, I know. It caramelizes and melts in your mouth. As you know, I’ve worked with Mexicans for a long time and they think you guys have the best pork guisado in town and they are also partial to your Ole Mole.
Eddie: That means a lot, your crew were good guys.
Klecko: When did you come to America Eddie?
Eddie: I finished business school in Guatemala in the ‘80s. My brother was working with the Peace Corps in the United States and got me over. I landed in Miami and made my way up here. In 2008 I became a U.S. citizen. That was a big day
Klecko: Might have been even better if you stayed in Miami, brah, what were you thinking?
Eddie (laughing): I know, right? Miami looks good after a winter like this last one, but before you stop writing, make sure you let everyone know Maureen “Mama” Flores started this place and Gina and Nina are the current owners. They are great people and deserved to be celebrated.
Friends…I simply can’t say how much this restaurant and these people mean to me. If you are ever in the neighborhood, swing by and sample food that borders on art. And if isn’t too late, shoot me a text and I might let you buy me a beer.
Until next time……..
Dan “Klecko” McGleno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-329-4321.