The greatest inspiration for El ZunZún came from the tiniest of things: the hummingbird.
The cultures and foods along the hummingbird’s migratory route are evident everywhere you look—and in everything you taste—at El ZunZún in Cahaba Heights (which will open Monday, August 27).
Restaurant owner and pastry chef Becky Satterfield and executive chef Angela Schmidt, the two women bringing us El ZunZún, actually followed the long, brave migratory path of the ruby-throated hummingbird—from here to Mexico and back again several times—researching traditional recipes and cooking styles and techniques; appreciating the rich, vibrant culture; and sharing food and friendship with the people they met along the way.
They feel a deep respect for what they found and aim to share it with their customers.
“We want to do everything (at El ZunZún) as organically as possible,” Satterfield says, “to bring the truth to the plate from all of our travels and all our cooking.”
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The foods at El ZunZún are authentic, and the combinations are creative. There are multiple salsas; antojitos, which translates to “little cravings,” are typical of street and market-stall foods; larger plates include beef short rib enchiladas with cactus fruit, tomatillo, Modelo Negra beer and local honey.
The bar, decorated with handcrafted Mexican tiles, serves several tequilas and mezcals as well as inventive cocktails. The Hummingbird Margarita is made with el Jimador Silver Tequila, Royal Combier, agave and lime and garnished with sal de gusano (worm salt).
Local food partners include Corey Hinkel who will provide proprietary bread and Deborah Stone, owner of Stone Hollow Farmstead, who is growing heirloom peppers and making fresh Mexican cheeses and cajeta (goat’s milk caramel). But Schmidt and Satterfield also are committed to the people they befriended in Mexico and buy from them, too. “We’re changing lives in Mexico,” Schmidt says, “and that’s important to us. After being there, you really understand … that they need jobs. To be able to give money back, Becky and I are both committed to that.”
El ZunZún’s menu is seasonal, and it will evolve, Schmidt says. “This (Yucatan and Oaxacan region) is just the starting point. I still want to go to the Bahia wine region and the Tijuana area. And later we want to go to Peru; that’s a hugely diverse cuisine down there with all the Asian influences. And then Venezuela, Cuba. This is a journey for everyone, really.”