GOSHEN — As they were planning to open a restaurant, the extended family of two couples struggled not to share their excitement on social media.
Sandra and her husband Jorge Camacho and his sister Cynthia Colon and her husband Ricardo Lugo were planning a small place with limited hours. They wanted to start small and slow since they were new to the restaurant business. So they were nervous.
But their family members who had eaten the Puerto Rican food, cooked primarily by the brother-in-laws, knew it was good and had encouraged this step. Jorge said, “It was always the same, ‘You should start a restaurant. This is so good.’”
On July 4 weekend, they opened Sabor Sofrito at 122 E. Clinton St., Goshen. Occasionally a customer will wander in expecting Los Primos, the last restaurant to perch there. When the Lopez family opened a second location on Jefferson Street and then closed the original, it created a possibility for members of the Camacho family that had deep roots in the Goshen area.
Ricardo, known as Rich or Richie, was ready for a job change and they wanted a restaurant that offered their cuisine in this area. (Puerto Rican restaurants in South Bend and Goshen have closed or shifted focus in recent years.) They figured that someone else would open one if they didn’t. Their large family gave them some confidence, as did a growing Puerto Rican community in northern Indiana after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
A conversation between Rich and a Lopez family member led to another. Soon they were planning a restaurant. “We were just kind of surprised it was happening,” Rich said.
They signed a lease for the restaurant. They worked on a name and settled on a combination of the blend of onion, garlic, peppers and other ingredients that are the base of Puerto Rican cooking (sofrito) with flavor (sabor).
The flavors are similar to those of other island cuisines and Hispanic cultures, but Puerto Rican food is also a distinct and unique blend of the two influences. The meat, fruits and vegetables are cooked and plated to be hearty, but not heavy. “It’s all about the flavors,” Cynthia said.
They learned in the kitchens of their mothers. Now they cook for others. “Our food is served fresh every day. We cook it every day to order,” said Cynthia.
The kitchen that’s roughly 100 square feet requires a bit of coordination for Rich and Jorge. “It’s tight. It’s a dance back there you definitely have to learn,” said Jorge.
Chunks of chicken and pork are fried without breading. All the meats are well-seasoned before going in the oil. The chicken and pork were both impressive, though I also look forward to trying the pork chops. There are days they can’t keep up with the pork chop orders.
Pernil, pork shoulder that’s cooked slow, is served either as a dinner or in a jibarito, a sandwich made by using fried plantains instead of bread. Those tostones, or twice-fried green plantains, are good, though I’m also looking forward to the maduros, which are the soft, sugary ripe plantains that go in the oil. I’ve struck out so far on ordering them when the plantains are appropriately ripe.
Rich now works full-time for the restaurant and does much of the prep, even on Mondays and Tuesdays when the restaurant is closed. The other three still have full-time jobs and work evenings and Saturdays at the restaurant. “We’re still learning all of this,” Sandra said.
Sabor Sofrito has walk-up ordering and only a handful of seats. It’s open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays. The restaurant tends to offer three or so specials a day and varies them slightly. Customers are already figuring out that pernil aren’t available on Thursdays as they are the other three days a week Sabor Sofrito is open.
The hours could grow. There may eventually be weekday lunch offerings. Beer and wine are possible soon.
For now, you’ll find four family members joyfully cooking and serving their food together to the rest of us.
The Goshen restaurant community and others have enthusiastically supported them as they start. This is a new restaurant with big, great flavors. Flavor comes first in the name and fills every bite.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.