May 2, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Kentucky Derby
meets Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo falls on Saturday this year, the same day as the Kentucky Derby, a happy coincidence that has many restaurants and bars planning cross-cultural celebrations.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

A Ramorita from Zapoteca, made with silver tequila, fresh muddled strawberries, jalapeno slices, orange liqueur, agave nectar and lime juice.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

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WHERE, WHEN AND WHAT

ZAPOTECA, 505 Fore St., Portland – All-day happy hour Saturday in the bar from 10 a.m. to close, with $2 off all specialty drinks, beers and wine. Mexican-style tapas menu all day, and $2 off all appetizers. In the dining room, the restaurant will offer a four-course Cinco de Mayo menu for $50. Regular menu also available. zapotecarestaurant.com

SONNY'S, 83 Exchange St., Portland – Combining Cinco de Mayo and Derby celebrations Saturday with $6 mint juleps and Kentucky mules (bourbon, ginger beer and lime juice) until the Derby is over; $3 Sols; $5 Tecato special (a Tecate-and-taco deal) throughout the day; and signature margaritas including classic Herradura Silver, hot pepper margarita, and strawberry-hot pepper margarita. The Kentucky Derby will be shown on the restaurant's big-screen TV. Customers are encouraged to wear Derby hats. sonnysportland.com

BLUE BURRITO CAFE, 650 Main St., Westbrook – Happy hour from noon to 6:30 p.m. Saturday with specially priced margaritas, bottled Mexican beers, quesadillas, nachos, chips and salsa. Drink specials all day and night, including 16-ounce watermelon, mango and amaretto margaritas for $6. Fresh strawberry-infused tequila. Food specials include haddock tacos, jambalaya chimichangas, sweet potato nachos and shrimp quesadillas. Giveaways include T-shirts and key chains. Chance to win lunch or dinner for two. blueburritocafe.com

EL RAYO TAQUERIA, 101 York St., Portland – Family-friendly activities from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, including face painting and balloons for the kids. The big attraction will be a mechanical bull in the parking lot. Live music by Primo Cubano from noon to 2:30 p.m. Drink specials all day. Wear a cowboy hat, sombrero, El Rayo trucker hat or a Derby hat and receive a $5 El Rayo gift card. elrayotaqueria.com

JONATHAN'S, 92 Bournes Lane, Ogunquit – All proceeds from Jonathan's Cinco de Mayo celebration will benefit the Daisy's Children Foundation, which helps feed children in Central America. The $30 ticket will buy food for a child for 15 days. Starts with a cocktail hour from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday featuring specialty margaritas, sangria, Coronas, etc. Cash bar and appetizers. South of the Border dinner at 8 p.m. Silent and live auctions, including a raffle for a wine refrigerator and 25 bottles of wine. Tickets available through jonathansrestaurant.com.

SEBAGO BREWING COMPANY, 211 Fore St. Portland – Kentucky Derby Happy Hour, 4 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday; $5 Herradura raspberry margaritas and $5 Woodford Reserve mint juleps, $1 off Sebago drafts. Wear your best hat in the Derby hat contest and win a $25 gift card. The Kentucky Derby will be shown in all locations (Kennebunk, Portland, Scarborough and Gorham). sebagobrewing.com

GREAT LOST BEAR, 540 Forest Ave., Portland – Saturday specials include cinco Coronitas (five small Coronas) for $11.99, and fish or chorizo tacos all day and night with mango salsa for $9.99. greatlostbear.com

GRACE, 15 Chestnut St., Portland – Taco special Saturday using family recipe from line cook Maximo Mejia, who is from Oaxaca. Order with Grace's signature drink "A Heated Affair" based on a traditional margarita using tequila infused in-house with pineapples, jalapenos and strawberries. restaurantgrace.com

BULL FEENEY'S, 375 Fore St., Portland – The Irish pub will mix it up with specials for both Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day on Saturday, including $3 bourbon margaritas and $3 tequila mint juleps. Take $1 off traditional margaritas and juleps. The Derby will be shown on a 55-inch LED TV upstairs at 6 p.m. Live music by The Forest City Drifters (blues) upstairs at 9:30 p.m. and Dave Rowe (sing-along folk) downstairs at 9 p.m. facebook.com/bullfeeneys

ANDY'S OLD PORT PUB, 94 Commercial St., Portland – Woodford Reserve mint juleps on special from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, along with passed hors d'oeuvres. The lady with the finest Derby hat at 6 p.m. drinks free. Live music begins at 8:30 p.m. with the folk-rock trio Papadello. Menu will include dishes such as a quesadilla pescado made with haddock, chicken fajitas, nachos and more. andysoldportpub.com

CENTRO LATINO MAINE, 85 Washington Ave., Portland, will host an evening of Mexican Ranchera songs at 7 p.m. Saturday. $5 donation; kids get in free.

SEA DOG BREW PUB, 125 Western Ave., South Portland – Food specials in South Portland Saturday will include chimichangas, chicken mole served over Mexican rice and margarita cake. Drink specials will include a spicy strawberry mango margarita and chelada. The Topsham location will also have specials, including a ceviche tortilla cup and grilled bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapenos, both for $5, and smoked pork and potato tacos for $10. seadogbrewing.com

DEAN'S SWEETS, 82 Middle St., Portland – A free tequila lime truffle with any purchase on Saturday, even a single other truffle. deanssweets.com

THE SALT EXCHANGE, 245 Commercial St., Portland – Special Derby menu Saturday featuring $8 starters such as burgoo stew, spinach salad with green apple and country ham, or chicken livers with a house hot sauce. Entrees will be $17: BBQ Maine shrimp with corn polenta, bourbon-glazed brisket roll or pork belly, mint julep sauce and black-eyed peas. Dessert of chocolate pecan pie for $8. thesaltexchange.net

MARGARITAS MEXICAN RESTAURANT, 11 Brown St. and 242 Saint John St., Portland – Tonight, Margaritas will host Noche de Familia, a family fun night with kid-friendly activities and giveaways, as well as College Night with two-for-one dinners, prizes, giveaways and free food samples. On Thursday, there's a Cinco de Mayo-themed Full Moon Margarita Madness, a monthly party benefitting local charities. On "Four Dollar Friday," the restaurant will serve $4 margaritas and $4 20-ounce Dos Equis drafts. On Saturday, both locations will open early at 11:30 a.m.

margs.com

Norine Kotts, one of the managers of El Rayo Taqueria in Portland, celebrated her first Cinco de Mayo at the restaurant in 2010.

The experience left her "stunned."

"We didn't have a lot of staff on yet, because it's May," she recalled. "People aren't on vacation yet. You don't know what the weather is going to be like. And a group of people walked in the door at, like, (one minute) past 11 and said, 'Happy Cinco de Mayo,' and ordered a round of margaritas. And I was like, 'Oh my god, this is going to be like St. Patrick's Day. We're going to be buried all day.'

"And, in fact, we were. I kept calling RSVP all day and saying, 'Can you bring me more tequila?' We learned our lesson."

This year? El Rayo is stepping it up a notch by bringing in a mechanical bull for the day.

If it seems as if Cinco de Mayo has been growing in popularity in Portland, hold onto your sombreros. This year, the Mexican holiday falls on a Saturday – and on the same day as the Kentucky Derby, offering local restaurants and bars a winning trifecta when it comes to attracting margarita- and mint julep-loving revelers.

Some spots are combining the two celebrations. Sonny's in Portland, for example, is offering deals on mint juleps and Kentucky mules, and will be showing the Derby race on its big-screen TV. But the restaurant will also have specials on Mexican beer, and will be churning out hot pepper and chile pineapple margaritas.

If that isn't enough to make your head spin like a pinata, over at Bull Feeney's – a traditional Irish pub – they're really mixing it up, serving $3 bourbon margaritas and $3 tequila mint juleps along with other specials. They're also broadcasting the Derby at 6 p.m.

Mexican restaurants that are typically slammed on Cinco de Mayo are trying to raise the bar a little, even though they know they won't lack for customers.

Zapoteca in Portland is using the occasion to open up its patio for the first time, and will be offering a special four-course Cinco de Mayo menu on Saturday night.

In addition to bringing in a mechanical bull (don't worry – if you fall, you'll land on a pillow of air), El Rayo is hosting a family-friendly afternoon that will include face painting and balloons for the kids. Primo Cubano will be providing live music from noon until 2:30 p.m.

"If anybody comes in wearing a cowboy hat, or a sombrero, or an El Rayo trucker hat, or a Derby hat, they'll get a $5 El Rayo gift card," Kotts said.

Kotts is under no illusions that her customers understand exactly what day they're toasting with their discounted margarita. "I think in the United States, Cinco de Mayo is just another day to have a party," she said. "It's not like the Fourth of July."

Most people wrongly assume that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico's Independence Day. But that day is actually Sept. 16, and celebrations begin on Sept. 15. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican Army's victory over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

"In Mexico, believe it or not, they do not celebrate it much," said Sergio Ramos, managing partner of Zapoteca, who is from Mexico. "They call it 'the Mexican Independence Day in the United States,' is what they call it."

Ioana Navarrette-Pellicer of the Consulate General of Mexico in Boston says Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday in Mexico that is "more of a remembrance day than a holiday."

In Mexico, she said, Cinco de Mayo is marked with military parades, flag raisings and patriotic anthems. It's more like Veterans Day in the United States than July 4 celebrations that are filled with food and fun. But the holiday is important to Mexicans, she said – especially this year, when the country is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla.

"It symbolizes, in a way, a special determination by the Mexican Army to go against one of the largest armies in the world back then," Navarrette-Pellicer said. "That's the real importance to Mexicans. It reflects that we do have the courage and the determination to triumph against such a huge imperial Army."

Cinco de Mayo got a foothold in the United States when Hispanic immigrants began celebrating it here to express pride in their culture and their ethnic roots, no matter their national origin. Today, there is even an annual Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House.

"It has become more of a way of symbolizing the pride of being a Hispanic or a Latin American, however they want to present themselves, in a foreign country," Navarrette-Pellicer said. "And it has acquired a distinctive place in the United States as an event that brings together diverse national origins but from the Hispanic community.

"It's interesting, no? Fifty million Latinos have rewritten the meaning and importance of Cinco de Mayo."

That sounds like something worth raising a margarita glass for, doesn't it?

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

The Mariposa is made with agave tequila, muddled orange, fresh blackberries and freshly squeezed lime juice.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Tequila drinks from Zapoteca include the Mescalita de Pina, made with mezcal, grilled pineapple, cilantro, agave, jalapeno and lime juice.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

 


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