Talking Spanish food with Eddie Sweda of Tres Leches Eatery
1. Tell us about Tres Leches Eatery.
Tres Leches Eatery is a Spanish restaurant, bakery and full service caterer that specializes in Spanish and South American cuisine.
2. How would you describe Spanish and South American cuisine?
They’re cuisines that are sophisticated, yet simple. The emphasis is on fresh, unprocessed foods that are cooked to be flavorful and to allow you to taste all the ingredients. The food is not spicy and is rarely fried. Instead, Spanish food is usually baked, simmered or stewed to allow flavors to blend together.
Certain Spanish foods such as paella and tapas are getting to be much more popular and more widely known but other items such as arepas and cachapas are still being discovered by many people. We encourage people to explore our menu and we’re always happy to explain unfamiliar items and make suggestions about what items go well together.
3. Where do you get your recipes?
The majority of our recipes come from my wife, Irene. Irene’s father was originally from Spain but moved to Venezuela where he owned a restaurant for 30 years. Our recipes draw from both of these cultures.
4. Can you tell us about some of your Spanish and Venezuelan food? For example, what’s an Arepa?
It’s a 100% white cornmeal patty that’s gluten free and has a texture somewhat like grits, but more firm, fresh and flavorful. When you order an Arepa we make it from scratch, right then, so it can take 7 or 8 minutes. The Arepa patty is hollowed out and filled with different ingredients. In the morning we'll add in butter, queso blanco cheese, ham and eggs. For lunch or dinner we'll start with the butter and queso blanco but then add in black beans and pulled pork or cheddar and ham. It's served warm, a little crispy on the outside, and extremely soft on the inside.
5. What’s a Cachapa?
It’s like a thick pancake that's made from yellow, 100% stone ground cornmeal. The Cachapa has a rustic look, a soft, chewy texture and a slight sweetness and that comes from pieces of corn you can feel and taste. We fill our Cachapas with pulled pork and queso blanco to create an amazing combination that’s a little sweet and a little savory.
6. What’s a Camarone?
It’s a well seasoned shrimp and garlic dish that has a little bite.
7. What’s a Cachito?
It’s a very soft baked roll that melts in your mouth. Each roll comes filled with one of four different combinations: spinach and queso blanco; ham and cheddar; ham, egg and cheddar; or mushroom and Swiss cheese.
8. What’s a Bocadillo Daniel?
Bocadillo means ‘sandwich’ in Spanish. The Daniel is served on a baguette with pulled pork and black beans. We provide just enough seasoning to enhance the flavors without overpowering the fresh taste of the ingredients themselves.
9. Can you tell us about your Spinach Artisan Cheese Bread?
It’s a bread that Irene created. It’s very light and soft with a texture between a biscuit and regular bread. When someone orders a sandwich made with the Spinach Artisan Cheese Bread, we melt queso blanco, cheddar, or Swiss into the bread, then add any of our premium Boar’s Head cuts, Chicken Waldorf or Grilled Eggplant. We top that with lettuce and tomato and provide a serving of our homemade sauce on the side.
10. What’s Solomillo?
It’s a pork tenderloin in a demi-glaze sauce that we serve at dinner. The tenderloin is accompanied with carrots and really thin cut Hasting potatoes, from right here in Hasting, Florida.
11. What’s Bacalao?
It’s a pan seared cod that’s prepared in a strong salt. During preparation the salt is removed and the cod is pulled apart, then put together again with herbs, a cafe butter, button mushrooms and a paprika oil. The flavor combination is amazing. The fish is so tender it practically melts in your mouth.
12. You also make a lot of desserts - can you tell us about some of them, starting with Tres Leches?
Tres Leches is Irene’s favorite dessert, which is why we named the Eatery after it. In Spanish it translates to “three milks.” It’s made from a pound cake soaked in a sweet, milky punch, with a hint of rum. The cake is moist, but not soggy, and is topped with a caramelized meringue. Tres Leches is a very popular dessert in Central America and Venezuela.
13. What's a Chocolate Marquesa?
It's a 12 layer cookie cream cake made with Maria cookies, which are a gourmet Spanish wafer. The wafers are dipped in chocolate milk then compressed lightly onto a layer of buttercream.
14. What's a Chocolate Spiderweb?
It's a double chocolate cake with a thin layer of white chocolate in the middle and a little white chocolate on top.
15. You also have some Southern style cakes…
Yes. Our Southern Style Carrot Cake is loaded with walnuts, pineapple, and coconut, and layered with very light buttercream and cream cheese.
Our Strawberry Magnolia has been a big hit at the Riverside Arts Market. It’s made with a yellow sponge cake, light buttercream, and it’s loaded with strawberries.
16. What would you recommend for someone coming to Tres Leches for the first time?
We take great pride in everything on our menu and I wouldn’t want to discourage someone from exploring and just trying something that looks good to them. But if someone just can’t decide, then the Seafood Paella, Arepas and Tapas are all excellent options to start with.
17. Any hidden gems for people who’ve been a few times?
Yes, the Lamb and Chorizo Meatballs. They’re made with fresh lamb and the highest grade of Chorizo sausage you can get in Florida. The seasoning we use brings the Chorizo and lamb together. The meatballs are served in a mint-pistachio pesto and saffron tomato sauce. The sauce imparts a moistness to the meatballs and is also great as a dip for your bread.
18. Can you tell us about your brunch?
Our Sunday brunch is an all-inclusive, featuring a fruit, grits and pastry buffet, your choice of one of our unique entrees, and 2 mimosas per adult. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and orange juice are also included.
Entrees include things like our Spanish Eggs Benedict, Revueltos, Creole Crab Cakes, Cachapas, Lox Plate, Banana Foster Pancakes, and our House French Toast. The French Toast is made with our Tres Leches punch, berries and whipped cream.
Saturday Brunch is quite a bit different, although we also start with 2 mimosas per person. In place of the buffet we have a fruit and yogurt appetizer along with a choice of a specialty quiche of the day, French Omelet of the day, or our Lox Plate. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and orange juice are also included.
Brunch is offered every Saturday and Sunday. For over a year we’ve been rated the number one Sunday brunch on Yelp.
19. Do people need reservations for brunch?
We recommend reservations for groups of 6 or more and on holidays, but otherwise just walk right in any time.
20. Tell us about your dinner.
Dinner is for sharing time and good food with friends and family. That’s why we emphasize our Spanish Tapas as a core part of dinner - they’re smaller plates that encourage sharing and exploring the many textures and tastes of Spanish cuisine. For entrees, the highlight of our dinner menu is the Seafood Paella, which we make in house. This is a traditional Spanish dish with lots of squid, scallops, shrimp, mussels, grouper, and chicken along with fresh aioli sauce. It’s served with lemon and lime wedges, and garlic crostinis. It’s a generous portion size that can be eaten alone or shared along with some Tapas.
21. And along with dinner you also feature Flamenco dancing…
Yes, almost every other Saturday from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. People should check our Facebook page for exact dates.
22. You also serve wine, beer and sangria now, don’t you?
Yes we do. We make our sangria from scratch. It’s marinated for 24 hours with 6 different fresh fruits, a top shelf Merlot, and little white wine. Sangria pairs very well with Spanish food.
23. Who does the cooking at Tres Leches Eatery?
Beside my wife Irene, who does a lot of baking, Spanish recipes, and other dishes we also have 2 excellent chefs. Collectively they bring experience from fine dining restaurants such as Patina Restaurant in LA and NY and the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans.
24. Who’s the audience for your catering?
We offer full service catering - everything from business lunches, doctors' offices, bridal showers and baby showers - all the way to large events, meetings and even weddings. We’re flexible to our customer’s needs.
25. Are you still at the Riverside Arts Market?
We are! We’re selling our bread, quiche, and desserts. By being at RAM we’re able to meet a lot of new people and encourage them to come by and try our Paella and Tapas dinners, Sunday Brunch and catering services.
26. Your son has also joined you at Tres Leches, hasn’t he?
Yes, Fabricio has recently graduated with two degrees - one in Marketing and another in Studio Art. He’s now managing and also planning a detailed marketing program to help Tres Leches Eatery build our future.
27. Do you see more locations for Tres Leches in the future?
Yes, definitely. We see multiple locations - some around Jacksonville and possibly beyond Jacksonville as well. We want to keep our eyes on the present but we’ve always had big goals and continue to look to the future as well.