When chef David Ferris met with LR Restaurants owners Bill Latham and Al Roberts, it was marriage at first talk, he said.
The longtime restaurateurs were tossing around a concept for a restaurant that would serve gourmet tacos and Spanish-style tapas.
“It’s something that I’d been wanting to do, and we just hit it off immediately,” Ferris said.
A graduate of the Northeast Culinary Institute in Vermont, Ferris was ready for change after working at Oxford’s City Grocery and Gardenia’s in Greenwood and partnering with Patrick Kelly to open Mint.
The result after five months of traveling for research and planning was the opening of Babalu, 622 Duling Avenue.
“I think every chef goes through phases in life of what you want to do,” Ferris said. “I’d done high-end restaurants, and I kind of wanted to veer from that and do something a little more casual, yet affordable.”
The restaurant isn’t a Mexican restaurant, Latham said, it’s tacos and tapas with Latin, South American and Cuban influences. The restaurant’s name is that of a popular Cuban song played by Desi Arnaz on the television show “I Love Lucy.” The show is played repeatedly on video at the restaurant’s entrance.
Babalu serves Spanish-influenced fare with a twist: the spice-seared rare tuna is served atop a bed of roasted peanut slaw. The tacos are true and authentic with corn tortillas hand-pressed daily. Cocktails and everything else on the menu are made from scratch daily.
“We don’t take any curbs or sidesteps. Everything is made fresh daily,” Ferris said. “We have fresh produce everyday. We get seafood delivered every single day except Sunday from two different purveyors.”
Fresh, local ingredients are purchased at area farmer’s markets and the Camp Wisdom Garden.
Babalu averages about 600 to 700 orders a week of the tableside-prepared guacamole. Other popular menu items are the Baba-rita cocktail with limes that are squeezed fresh daily, queso blanco dip, hot tamales and smoked pork belly. Another favorite is the chop salad with romaine lettuce, black beans, Anaheim peppers, red onion, tomatoes, grilled corn, toasted sunflower seeds, Cotija cheese and a lime vinaigrette.
“I have a lady who comes in twice a week for the salad,” Ferris said.
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