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Café Mamajuana Brings Tropical Flavors to Burlington’s Brunch Scene

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Published May 24, 2022 at 2:26 p.m.
Updated May 25, 2022 at 10:04 a.m.


The Tatiana (back) and mimosa flight with soursop, guava, papaya and passion fruit juice - JORDAN BARRY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Jordan Barry ©️ Seven Days
  • The Tatiana (back) and mimosa flight with soursop, guava, papaya and passion fruit juice

What makes brunch brunch? For me, it's the drinks. Without booze, a midmorning meal is just breakfast. And the more beverages, the better.

When I sat down for brunch last month at Café Mamajuana, I had six lined up: coffee, water and a tropical mimosa flight of four juices — soursop, guava, papaya and passion fruit — mixed with Prosecco. It was the height of luxury and an opportunity to sip on flavors that are hard to find in Vermont.

The Dominican-fusion spot in Burlington's Old North End started serving brunch in early February, bringing a Saturday morning buzz to its Oak Street Cooperative home. Two weeks later, the restaurant was named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in the James Beard Foundation's prestigious Restaurant and Chef Awards. The buzz turned into a roar.

"Everything picked up pretty heavy," owner Maria Lara-Bregatta, 29, said with a laugh. "But I've been dreaming about having a breakfast space since I was in eighth grade. I just love breakfast food."

Customers can order online for takeout or eat at the small restaurant. Brunch is counter service, just like Mamajuana's dinner, offered Wednesday through Friday. Empanadas are served at both meals, and they're a must. The daytime versions ($4.50) include classic breakfast foods — such as bacon or mushrooms with scallion, egg and cheese — wrapped in the restaurant's signature dough.

Breakfast "paella" and chicken-and-waffles empanadas at Café Mamajuana - JORDAN BARRY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Jordan Barry ©️ Seven Days
  • Breakfast "paella" and chicken-and-waffles empanadas at Café Mamajuana

Chicken-and-waffles empanadas ($10 for two) take the trick a step further: They're filled with chicken and slightly sweet maple-soaked buttermilk waffles, then slathered in a maple-bacon gravy. I started my meal with them and slurped up the gravy so quickly it could have counted as another beverage. It would have been just right for banishing my hangover — if the lineup of drinks hadn't already accomplished that.

Whether a customer is hungover or not, Lara-Bregatta recommends starting with a café con leche ($3), Dominican-style, with condensed milk. "That's Latin culture: starting your day with a cafecito and some kind of sweet," she explained.

Mamajuana delivers with doughnuts in rotating flavors — including arroz con leche, tropical fruits such as tamarind and passion fruit, and head chef Eric Hodet's recent clever play on an everything bagel with cream cheese.

The menu also offers Dominican dishes, such as mangu con los tres golpes ($15) — mashed green plantains topped with "the three hitters": fried cheese, fried egg and fried salami. I opted for the breakfast "paella" ($12), which combines Mamajuana's excellent yellow rice and beans with fried eggs, sweet plantains, salsa and everything-bagel spice served in a delightful personal-size paella pan. It takes the restaurant's go-to ingredients and dresses them up for breakfast.

"Because anything can be breakfast if you crack a fried egg over it," Lara-Bregatta said.

On the lighter side, the restaurant offers a bowl packed with fresh tropical fruit, such as black sapote, papaya, star apple and yellow dragon fruit. Other fruit — including soursop, which Lara-Bregatta said is "like a giant Jolly Rancher" — makes its way into juices and the mimosa flights.

Besides bumping up the drink count, those flavors are common in the DR, Lara-Bregatta explained, "and it just feels right — and ancestral — to have the fresh juice. It brings me joy."

Brunch served Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Café Mamajuana will be closed for the month of June to give staff a well-deserved vacation.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Hot Spot"