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Mamma Mia Mamasita’s!

Aug. 5, 2009
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The neighborhood immediately west of the Milwaukee River has become a world unto itself. It’s a diverse section of the city, where workers, observers, activists, pacifists, students and artists converge. Those interested in improving the world they live in know they can find like-minded souls at the Riverwest Co-op, the neighborhood’s go-to grocery store and cafe. It’s only natural that productive, meaningful relationships grow from such a positive environment, as the friendship and business partnership of Michelle Jones and Michelle Dettloff proves. With a mutual interest in encouraging healthier eating habits, the ladies accomplished the ultimate feat: They created a quick, wholesome, satisfying meal at an affordable price, Mamasita’s Tamales.

Dettloff and Jones’ tamale enterprise grew out of an earlier and continuing collaboration, the Subrosa Rogue Restaurant. Along with Allison Halter, they host underground themed dinner parties that pop up at different locations around Riverwest. At a Subrosa event last summer, the ladies debuted their exceptional tamales to an impressed group of guests. When they later emailed friends and family to let them know they had leftovers, a trend started. “We would get rid of 150 tamales every week between family and friends,” Dettloff explains. “Then we decided we should do a farmer’s market.” Mamasita’s Tamales now makes an appearance at the East Side Green Market once a month, and has standing orders with both Beans and Barley and the Riverwest Co-op, including center stage as the co-op’s Friday special.

As simple as a dish of steamed corn dough may seem, tamales are not easy to perfect, as it takes skill to create a balanced texture that isn’t too dry or too mushy. The essence of this traditional Mexican staple lies in the masa, or dough, from which it’s made; each style of tamal uses a specific type of masa. Mamasita’s combines fresh wet masa from a local Mexican market with masa de harina, a dried and powdered form of cornmeal dough. In the same way each region of Mexico has its own tamal specialty, many neighborhoods in Milwaukee have their own flavor. Mamasita’s caters to Riverwest’s sizeable vegan and vegetarian population with an extensive variety of bodacious tamal fillings, like the vegan ratatouille tofu, a blend of eggplant, tofu, yellow squash, zucchini, onion, garlic, tomato, green olives and capers tossed in a sauce of lemon, tamari and balsamic vinegar; or the vegetarian black bean fiesta cheese, a mixture of black bean, sweet potato, corn, onion, tomato, sweet pepper, jalapeno and chipotle pepper. Mamasita’s rotating menu of tamales features five vegan and four vegetarian options.

Everything comes together at one of Mamasita’s “rolls,” a small conclave of people eager to participate in the tamale-making process. “We’ve decided five is the magic number,” Jones says. The assembly line includes two people responsible for spreading masa dough on corn husks; another person to add the filling; someone to roll them and finally a person to tie them together with a thin strip of corn husk to make sure the tamal stays folded while it’s steam cooked.

The two Michelles will continue to host rolls and sell tamales while they decide what the future holds for their business. In the meantime, if you can’t get a hold of a bag of Mamasita’s Tamales at Beans and Barley or at the Riverwest Co-op, maybe you’ll get lucky and find that a Subrosa Rogue Restaurant has surfaced in your neck of the woods.

For more information on Mamasita’s, visit www.mamasitastamales.com.


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