Naco Gallery Cafe
Naco Café and Gallery is a place where babies meet. Well, it's a place where people from the neighbourhood meet, but the Naco neighbourhood is full of babies. At some point when I wasn't looking, Brockton Village transformed from a stretch of Dundas I avoided at night into a community of artists and young families (as places one avoids at night tend to do).
Alyssa and I went to check out this new, happening, Mexican-food-serving-café and gallery last week. As we got close, Alyssa realized Naco was less than a block from where her friend,
, lives with her family (which includes one of the cutest babies I've ever "met"). She called Marina up to join us and we got to experience Naco with a regular - well, two regulars if you count the baby (Paloma!).
My first impression of Naco was that it was a comfortable, good-looking place. The café is purple from top to bottom with bar seating and one large (and purple) table. Beyond the café area, Naco stretches back through a narrow doorway into two additional rooms of paintings, photos and books, including a space to view slides. At the very back, the establishment spills out into a fantastic backyard patio, the look of which makes you ache for summer and beer. Incidentally, they're currently vying for a patio
(for which they're accepting donations - go team!).
Experiencing Naco with (or as) a regular felt important because the place is full of them. Everyone seems to know each other. In the few minutes it took for food and coffee to arrive at our table, tons of Marina's friends came inside to grab a coffee or say hi (about half of these friends were Paloma's... they were babies... one little boy even shook Paloma's hand, but I'm not sure if this signifies that they're already good friends, or just meeting each other for the first time). One of those friends was Julian Calleros, owner of Naco. He came over to hold Paloma and tell us about Naco, in good spirits and obviously happy to finally have it open. He tells us about the desserts (courtesy of
and HungerWorks), the homemade hot sauce (crafted by Julian himself) and the Mexican cuisine (made on the spot, often with fresh, seasonal ingredients).
Speaking of hot sauce and Mexican cuisine, I ordered a chicken
($5), which I loaded with hot sauce. Alyssa eyed the whole thing skeptically. "I think I prefer soft," she claimed, and I encouraged her to go with her gut. She came back with two ham and cheese quesadillas and black bean soup ($7.50 in total). The soup was a hit all 'round the table. Marina had tried it before and vouched for it immediately. Alyssa urged me to try a bit, specifying (and ensuring) that I got a spoonful that included cheese.
My tostada was deceivingly filling. It looked tiny but was stacked up high, an elaborate thing more layered than I expected with shredded chicken and hunks of avocado. I enjoyed every bite of that textured, tasty combo. Once Alyssa was happy and full, she revealed that the real reason she didn't want any of my tostada was that she doesn't like avocado, at least not any more. She recently had a bad experience at a Mexican restaurant - what a shame. Lucky little Paloma, who I'm sure has had very few bad experiences (although she was teething that day and I imagine that's pretty rough) was at that moment munching on some avocado provided by Julian and his staff. Naco is a place where babies are happy. But Alyssa and I, we were pretty happy ourselves. We split a piece of orange cheesecake by Hunger Works ($4) and it was perfect: rich and creamy with hunks of citrus and a shortbread crust. Downed with a couple of Americanos ($2 each), we're satisfied.
Marina and Paloma pack up to go (that avocado was nice but it's time for some real dinner) and Alyssa and I follow. On our way out, Julian gives us some postcards advertising the next art opening and reception scheduled at Naco. It strikes me how well the place would suit an evening event, something to do with the purple walls. Our final words with Julian reveal (in celebratory tones) that Naco has recently become licensed (so far only on the inside... tricky process). Julian and Marina are happy to tell us, and we're happy to hear it. Naco is a place where everyone is happy.
Photos by Alyssa Bistonath