Petiscos: Tasty tacos are ‘fare’ game for those on the go

In the 1800s, it was a ticket office. In the 1950s, it was home to Claremont’s Folk Music Center and through the 1980s, it was Shrimps. Today, it’s all about tacos for the little white house on First Street as John Solana of The Back Abbey and Union on Yale adds a third venue to his Claremont restaurant repertoire. In partnership with Erik Johnson—general manager of The Back Abbey—Mr. Solana debuts “Petiscos” taco house this Monday, June 3.

Through their latest culinary venture, the local restaurateurs welcome the Claremont community into the backyard of one of the Village’s oldest buildings for South American-inspired cuisine. Petiscos is not only apt in referring to the shack’s petite stature, but also in referencing the tasty tidbits served up inside—with tacos, tamales and street corn among the handheld varieties envisioned for the new establishment.

“We wanted it to be something that you can easily grab and take with you,” Mr. Solana said. “The taco shell works as the vessel. You can literally eat the entire dish.”

Mr. Solana, the son of a US serviceman, lived on the United States air base on the island of Terceira, located within the Azores Islands of Portugal, for 6 months of his childhood. While living on the island, he was introduced to side-of-the-road dinner houses, each with distinct and delicious dishes housed in unassumingly small quarters. He models Petiscos in the same manner.

Opposite from The Back Abbey and Union on Yale’s “dine and stay awhile” atmosphere—each equipped with lavish outdoor seating areas—Petiscos is meant to be a casual affair. Customers will order and pick up their meals at the window and can either go on their way or stay and enjoy the eatery’s backyard garden, outfitted with cozy picnic tables and a beer in hand. Petiscos is Mr. Solana’s only location that offers to-go food.

“It’s meant to be modest,” he insists. Paying for the bill is modeled with the same easygoing manner. Tacos will range from $4 to $8 flat rate, no taxes added, according to Mr. Johnson. Petiscos may be down-to-earth in dress and decorum, but in keeping with the flair of The Back Abbey and Union on Yale’s out-of-the-ordinary fare, Mr. Solana and Mr. Johnson are dreaming up bold menu ideas.

While sticking with the classic, homemade tortilla on the outside, taco fillings may include seasonal choices like elk, wild boar and quail along with the classic chicken, beef and pork staples.

“The people in Claremont are very well traveled and knowledgeable about different food and are interested in trying new things,” Mr. Johnson said. “We want our customers to get the chance to try something they might not typically be exposed to.”

In the process, the partners’ families have been able to get their share of worldly cuisine. Since coming up with the idea of opening a taco joint about a year ago, the pair have been testing out their recipes at home, much to their families’ pleasure as well their own.

“I could eat my bodyweight in tacos,” Mr. Solana joked.

Though the grills are just getting fired up in preparation for opening day, detailed plans have been underway for quite some time, ensuring the proper preservation of the historic site of their venue. Controversy brewed at a gathering of the Architectural Commission last summer over use of the historic building as a kitchen space. Residents had mixed emotions as the commission gave Petiscos its final approval. Locals will no longer have access to the building—the space is only large enough for the kitchen staff, Mr. Solana explained. However, steps have been taken to ensure that, should Petiscos close its doors, the “old Shrimps” will remain preserved as it has always been. In addition to adding original glass from the era of the building to replace the current windows and a fresh coat of paint to replicate its origins, removable panels will be placed along the inside of the building to make sure it isn’t ruined from use as a kitchen. The floor has been removed, restored and fixed back in place with a special coat that can be sanded and removed without harm to the original work. “The building had been in bad shape,” Mr. Solana said of when he first acquired the house. “I originally wanted customers to be able to come inside, but with ADA standards and all that’s involved in opening a restaurant, it became impossible.” He hopes that his outdoor transformation and indoor preservation, along with his cuisine—with a reputation for freshness that precedes it—will aid in paying homage to his hometown and the distinct character that Claremont residents and visitors have come to know and love. Petiscos’ backyard garden and cozy quarters remind him of the familial Claremont of his past. “Claremont is filled with special spaces and this is one of them,” Mr. Solana said of the little white house. “It’s a hidden little treasure.” Petiscos, located at 211 W. First St., will be open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. —Beth Hartnett


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