An abridged adaptation of this commodity appeared in the September 2021 affair of St. Louis Magazine, beneath the appellation “It’s all Bueno.”
After spending time in the U.S. military, Oscar and Ainara Farina parlayed a aliment barter affairs Argentinian artery aliment into a restaurant in the Metro East and again another—Gauchos Argentinian Steakhouse. Hoping to acquaint St. Louisans to Argentinian aliment and comedy off the aliment truck’s success, the brace formed out Buenos Aires Café aftermost ages in the new Aliment Anteroom at City Foundry STL, breadth the signature items are brim steak sandwiches and empanadas.
Can you allotment about growing up across and how you met?
OF: I grew up in La Pampa [in Argentina] and was aloft by my grandparents, who endemic a farm, boner shop, and bakery. My grandfathering was a adept chef who fabricated aggregate by hand. One kilo of chef fabricated four loaves of aliment and he could bisect it perfectly. He didn’t need—and never used—a scale. By the time I was 15, I was acceptable abundant to become a ability de pala, acceptation “shovel master,” the being who loaded aliment chef into huge woodburning ovens with a continued paddle, which was a profession in Argentina. The proofing allowance had atramentous forth the sides, and we’d accept to wet the walls with water, so the chef would acceleration properly. My grandfathering would appear get me aback it was time to bake—sometimes at two in the morning—because you never knew aback the chef would get absolutely proofed. One guy’s job was to clamber in and apple-pie the charcoal off the oven walls and ceiling. On the day he was coming, we’d let the oven get air-conditioned abundant for him to get in there. He had a braiding angry to him so we could cull him out if he got in trouble.
AF: I was built-in in Spain, but my dad was in the military, so we confused about a bit, eventually catastrophe up in Miami aback I was 6. Oscar and I met arena soccer in aerial school, which was good, because he had told his accompany he didn’t appetite a adherent who didn’t like soccer. I anticipation he was shy, but that was because he didn’t allege English at the time. He would airing home from academy and my Cuban acquaintance would try allocution to him in English but he never responded. Aback she assuredly batten to him in Spanish, the floodgates opened. He and I met in the bleachers; he concluded up giving me a kiss, and I bethink thinking, I’m never activity to clean that cheek. Aback we both got old enough—18—we abutting the Army.
Tell me about your time in the military.
AF: I started in the Army but transitioned to the Coast Guard, breadth I’m still on alive duty, aboriginal in St. Louis and now in Chicago, mostly accomplishing recruiting.
OF: She’s on assignment appropriate now. If she gets a alarm appropriate now, she’ll accept to go, like a firefighter or a cop.
AF: I’m usually able to appear aback to St. Louis on weekends, but I get to retire abutting year, afterwards 20 years.
OF: That was consistently our plan: to accompany the aggressive and maybe retire by the time we were 40. We both were deployed to Germany, but I got afflicted in my fifth year, and we both came aback to the States. Not continued after, Ainara abutting the Coast Guard.
AF: I told Oscar he should go do article else, which is breadth the aliment barter comes in.
Which is how you both got your alpha in the aliment business?
OF: We formed it out in Miami, again confused it to Virginia aback Ainara was beatific there, and again to the St. Louis area. We awash Argentinian artery food, agnate to what we’re accomplishing at City Foundry. We did well but never capital to get too established, because we could get asked to move at any time.
AF: Which is why the aliment barter was the absolute affair for Oscar and for me.
Could you accept done article else?
OF: I accept a amount in echocardiology—I performed EKGs and did radiography. I capital to be a doctor but additionally a soccer player—and now actuality I am in the restaurant business. [Laughs.] Aback I started the aliment truck, I was still alive in the hospital. Aback I started accomplishing pediatric work, I saw that some of the kids accomplish it and some didn’t. That was it for me.
So a aliment barter it was.
AF: We started the barter in Miami, but again I was accustomed a best of appointment to St. Louis or to a babyish boondocks in Alaska. We did our research, but aback I started account about how bodies use sunboxes there in the winter, well…
OF: I didn’t accept why the Coast Guard would be in St. Louis, but I didn’t ask too abounding questions. Then I remembered it was on the Mississippi River.
AF: We knew that St. Louis would be a acceptable abode to acquaint our food, but we were cautious, because about all the Hispanic aliment actuality was Mexican, and it’s so abundant added than that. We knew we had to differentiate ourselves. If you go to South America attractive for tacos, there’s Taco Bell, but that’s it. Now parrilladas, they’re everywhere, big and small.
What items did you advertise on the truck?
OF: Empanadas, sandwiches with chimichurri, churros—the aforementioned blazon of things we’re alms at City Foundry. We had a abundant atom aloof alfresco Scott Air Force Base, accomplishing lunches bristles canicule a week. We aloof do contest and markets now.
Did bounded association embrace the food?
AF: Pretty much, but there was some apprenticeship involved. Handing out samples helped. It helped cogent barter that empanadas were aloof like turnovers.
OF: Or Hot Pockets. [Laughs].
What happened during the winter months?
AF: Aback a baptize faucet on the barter froze and burst, we knew that we bare a brick-and-mortar, which is why we opened Los Gauchos in the aforementioned centermost breadth the aliment barter was. We captivated a ancestors meeting, absitively that was the administration we all capital to go, and fabricated the move, clashing aback I grew up and was told what was activity to appear next. We were accessible three years for banquet alone but, alike with a name like Los Gauchos Parrilla Argentina, the restaurant was still accepted as a cafeteria place, so we anticipation it best to backpack and rebrand. I visited a acquaintance of abundance in New Zealand who was a branding expert and formed in his restaurant in barter for his expertise. He said the aboriginal affair to do was bead the “los,” which agency Mexican to best people, and to Americanize the name that no one could pronounce. We anticipation of Tango’s, and he said, “No, bodies will anticipate you’re a ball hall.” He said the ablaze dejected we acclimated for the logo beatific the amiss message. So in 2019, we confused to Fairview Heights and alleged our abode Gauchos Argentinian Steakhouse, with able red as the absolute blush and no abashing as to what we were. A gaucho is an Argentinian cowboy from La Pampa, and best bodies apperceive that. But you apperceive what? Bodies still appear in attractive for tacos and Mexican food!
What’s the aberration amid Gauchos and South American alternation steakhouses?
OF: Traditionally, gauchos adapted their meat on collapsed stones over a copse fire. They didn’t backpack about grills and rotisseries. So we congenital that idea, and we’re the alone abode that I apperceive of that does. We baker the meat in the kitchen to medium-rare and booty it to the table, breadth guests allotment off pieces, baker them on the 800-degree bean to whatever doneness they want, and again agreement with our bootleg sauces. We can additionally absolutely baker any account in the kitchen, for those who don’t appetite to use the bean grill, but best bodies do. And we accept things like Argentinian tamales, too—humitas—which are not adapted on the bean grill.
AF: We access the dining ability abnormally as well. We will never blitz you. We appetite you to adore the experience, no amount how continued it takes.
How did you get into the City Foundry spot?
AF: I had apparent all the architecture aback I was alive here. We had been aggravating to get over to this ancillary of the river for a continued time, and City Foundry was the absolute breadth for the handheld foods we were planning. We absitively adequately bound that we capital to be allotment of it.
Talk about your aliment stall—I mean, kitchen.
OF: Yes, City Foundry calls them kitchens, and ours is bunched and efficient. You can accept a kitchen there, but I acquaint bodies it bigger be advised like a aliment barter kitchen. I was the carpenter, electrician, plumber, and card lath maker. And I abstruse all of these things afore YouTube.
Is the kitchen big abundant to use for catering?
OF: It should be. But if the adjustment gets too big, we can piggyback and use the kitchen at Gauchos. The aliment truck, which is absolutely a trailer, has a abounding bartering kitchen, too, so we can accompany what we do to you any cardinal of ways.
What’s on the card at Buenos Aires Café?
AF: Basically the accurate items we’ve been confined on the aliment barter for years. One Argentinian basic is empanadas; we’ll accept at atomic six kinds accessible at all times: blimp with meat, vegetarian ones, a caprese, candied ones with Nutella and assistant or dulce de leche. We’ll do seasonals blimp with attic and apple. You can dust them with amoroso or dribble them with sauce.
OF: We’ll additionally advertise sandwiches—a ribeye sandwich, choripán sandwiches—and desserts—churros and alfajores, shortbread accolade topped with dulce de leche, sometimes coated in chocolate, which brace able-bodied with espresso or mate.
AF: We capital to serve drinks that you don’t get in added places, so we action fresh-brewed yerba mate, which is a bitter, woody, strong, blooming tea that abounding bodies sweeten. We additionally accept algid varieties: plain, pineapple, orange, and mint. There’s additionally espresso, apparent or topped with dulce de leche or abridged milk, which adds acidity and cuts bitterness.
OF: We accept a band of canned drinks from South America that accommodate lurid and sometimes babyish pieces of fruit—watermelon, pineapple, guava, and one with cantaloupe, pineapple, and vanilla.
AF: Bodies who try drinks with arrangement usually end up affection drinks with texture. I abiding did. One of our signs says “Welcome and Explore,” and that’s what we achievement bodies will do. Don’t say you don’t like article until you’ve accustomed it.
Is there a signature item?
OF: Papas Gauchas: acclimatized French chips topped with pulled pork or brim steak, house-made hot booze and garlic sauce, which we alarm chimi sauce.
Do you accept any secrets you appetite to divulge?
OF: We buy acceptable meat, absolutely acceptable meat. We pan fry the meat, and we baker the beef to medium. If you appetite it adapted added or less, we can do that. Ainara’s compound for garlic sauce—what we alarm chimi sauce—is actual good. And my compound for chimichurri is actual good, too. In Argentina, there are as abounding chimichurri sauces as there are bodies who accomplish them, aloof like barbecue booze up here.
Any abstruse recipes you ability share?
OF: Ainara’s compound for garlic sauce—what we alarm chimi sauce—is actual good. And my compound for chimichurri is actual good, too. In Argentina, there are as abounding chimichurri sauces as there are bodies who accomplish them, aloof like barbecue booze here.
Will you action specials?
OF: We will, but actuality they accept to be approved, because there are so abounding of us in the aliment hall. They don’t appetite to accept three places alms the aforementioned blazon of appropriate on the aforementioned day, which I understand. [Laughs.] Appropriate now, I appetite to affirmation aboriginal rights to a beef Milanesa sandwich.
Is your ancestors in the restaurant business?
OF: Our kids advice us, for sure, and my adolescent brother, who’s a awful accomplished chef in Las Vegas, may move actuality and accessible a sit-down restaurant with me. But big brother says it may accept to be called Oscar’s, not Oswaldo’s.
How will you both breach the duties?
OF: I will accomplish the café until Ainara retires from the Coast Guard abutting year. This was her baby, you know—her retirement plan. [Laughs.] Aback we put Buenos Aires together, we didn’t apperceive she’d be alive in Chicago.
How abounding seats are there at City Foundry STL?
AF: A absolute of 400. The Kitchen Bar is in the average and will handle all of the alcohol. We are on the larboard end, but we accept a loungy breadth abreast us that can additionally be acclimated for clandestine parties.
OF: Plus, bodies will appetite to explore, so there’s absolutely not a bad area in the place. And the POS arrangement is the aforementioned throughout, so already you adjustment from one place, you’re accustomed with how the accomplished action works.
Are you planning any added steakhouses, cafés, or new concepts?
OF: We started small, with a aliment truck, we grew, and we came to St. Louis, which was allotment of the plan. Since I adulation soccer so abundant and soccer is so big in South America, I achievement the abutting footfall is to accompany some aspect of what we do to the new MLS stadium. That’s my dream.
AF: And in the meantime, we achievement that some of the MLS players appear to see us. We’re both big fans.
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