Chef Deborah VanTrece (Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours) opens her second restaurant this year, when Latin soul food restaurant Serenidad debuts Friday, October 7, in Cascade Heights. Serenidad is located along Cascade Road and just steps from Oreatha’s at the Point, which VanTrece opened in March.
While Oreatha’s centers soulful homestyle dishes from around the globe on the menu, Serenidad channels the soulful cooking roots of the Caribbean and Latin America, including dishes styled after those found in countries like Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, and Brazil.
“This restaurant is all about connections. If you start looking at the history of these countries, you find similarities not only in language, but in the food,” VanTrece says. “You start with ingredients like corn and rice in dishes like paella and elote. These two ingredients are everywhere. Then there’s the use of citrus or green sauces. They all have these things, but use them a bit differently.”
VanTrece says she and chef Whitney Thomas (formerly 5Church) looked for ways these key ingredients and flavors connected with those found in American soul food dishes when developing the menu for Serenidad. She points to fried pork chops as an example of being a “Southern soulful” food, which is similar to the pork chuleta (pork chop and pork belly) from Puerto Rico. For the paella, Thomas did a play on shrimp and grits, sticking with ingredients like mussels and head-on shrimp and blending traditional and Southern flavors into the paella and substituting rice with grits. The elote sees Thomas cut the corn into quarters to create riblets which are seasoned with roasted garlic, lime oil, chili spice, and Cojita cheese.
Thomas says the mole is a particular favorite. One of her prep cooks, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, taught her how to make it.
“I have grown to love this recipe because I saw her make it as something that took so much time,” says Thomas, who uses the mole for the albondigas con mole poblano. “I asked her to give me the recipe that her grandmother taught her. She only gave me the ingredients, which I then played with to create this recipe. It’s like 27 ingredients, and because of how she learned it and I learned it, the mole has sentimental value to me.”
A trio of dips features queso, guasacaca (a Venezuelan green sauce), and crema de aji amarillo (Peruvian hot pepper sauce) served with three kinds of chips: blue corn chips; tostones; and chicharrones.
These culinary connection points are seen in dishes throughout the menu at Serenidad.
Thomas features the Chimi burger on the menu topped with salsa rosado, pickled green tomato, red cabbage slaw, and crema de aji amarillo. There’s also Cuban sandwiches and tacos with smoked chicken or short rib. Larger entrees include an asado negro beef short rib tomahawk and fried whole snapper and desserts of cuarto leche cake, horchata panna cotta, Brazilian truffles (brigadeiros), and panqueques de chocolate (chocolate crepes with plantain cream cheese and strawberries.)
VanTrece’s daughter, Kursten Berry, serves as beverage director at Serenidad. She often worked the bar at Twisted Soul in Blandtown. Here, Berry is creating cocktails with spirits like tequila, mezcal, cachaça, and pisco.
“She’s very much in tune with the liquors from these countries, and really took time to decide which bottles to carry behind the bar,” VanTrece says, who also credits Berry for helping to create the name of the restaurant. “This is a serene space in its design, so you can focus on the food and drinks, but you might be coming into the restaurant shuffling a bit to the music, which is upbeat.”
She kept the design of Serenidad purposefully low-key yet chic. The energy, VanTrece says, should come from the food and up-tempo music playing over the sound system. Outdoor seating will eventually feature communal tables for gatherings. “I want people to walk in and let go of stress and say, ‘Were about to have fun, and we’re about to eat good food.’”
VanTrece isn’t done opening restaurants in the neighborhood. Next year, she and Berry will open an intimate 26-seat spot behind Serenidad focused on cocktails and more elegant small plates and dishes from Thomas.
“All of these people who for years have traveled beyond their neighborhood here to eat a nice meal with me when I first started in East Atlanta, and then at Twisted, these restaurants are for them,” says VanTrece. “It was a chance to finally bring this food to them and maybe provoke change in the area.”
2317 Cascade Road, Atlanta. restaurantserenidad.com.