Jewish-inspired Mexican pop-up restaurant Matzo y Masa is a culinary clash of cultures
by Lorne Chambers | Editor
In the local food scene it seems as if the pop-up restaurant has replaced the food truck. And one of the more innovative pop-ups you can find regularly around West Ashley is Matzo y Masa. Just as the name might suggest, it’s Jewish-Mexican cuisine that takes the best of both worlds and combines them for a unique take on the traditional taco stand. For example, they make homemade matzo crackers and then fry them into taco shells!
Matzo y Masa is a partnership between local chefs Samantha Kramer and Jullian Abarca who both call West Ashley home. You can find Matzo y Masa every Monday evening at Tin Roof, located at 1117 Magnolia Road. Also, through the end of August Matzo y Masa will be at Charles Towne Fermentory in Avondale every Sunday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Before moving to Charleston Abarca worked Raleigh, N.C. at Poole’s Diner under famous chef Ashley Christensen (2019 James Beard Award Award — Best Chef in the US) and with rock star chef Cheetie Kumar at Garland (she literally is a rock star. She plays guitar for popular North Carolina band Birds of Avalon).
Abarca then moved to Charleston where he became sous chef at Coda Del Pesca under renowned local chef Ken Vedrinski’s before becoming the sous chef at One Broad.
Kramer studied Culinary Arts at Wando High School and then moved on to Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., where she worked with a Food System Workers Center and studied Labor History and Food Studies. She worked at a popular brewery/restaurant in Amherst as a baker. She says she failed at it and was placed on the line. After graduating, Kramer moved to Charleston and worked on the line at Edmund’s Oast before moving on to Coda del Pesce, where she met Abarca. She worked Front of House as a server for Spero before becoming the sous chef at Millers All Day and then at Semilla.
“We remained close after I left [Coda del Pesce]. I approached Jullain in the Spring of 2018 to collaborate on a pop-up at Local 616,” says Kramer. “Jullian is Mexican-American and I am Jewish, so we decided to combine the two together.” And just like that Matzo y Masa was born.
Although the menu is influenced by traditional Jewish dishes and ingredients, Kramer makes it clear that Matzo y Masa is not actually kosher. “No, Jullian and I both grew up with heavy Southern diet of pork and shellfish, and felt that it’s important to highlight our past in our food,” she says. In fact, one of their more popular dishes is a Tacos Al Pastor served on traditional pita bread that they make themselves.
“We usually do something with lox. We cure it ourselves and use a dehydrated lime and coriander mix in the cure that’s a pretty unique combination,” says Kramer.
Some other favorites are an Everything Bagel Taco and a Corned Beef Taco. They also make a Falafel Tostada and Matzo Ball Pozole. During brunch hours you can get one of their rotating Babka French Toasts, to satisfy your sweet tooth.
“The Sumac Chicken Chilaquiles with tahini Sauce, queso fresco, and pico de gallo is a sleeper hit, says Kramer. “We do chilaquiles at almost every pop up. It’s one of our favorite things to do and we have rarely had authentic chilaquiles in Charleston restaurants. It’s basically sautéed ‘nachos’ where everything is combined and eaten with a fork.”
Although the menu changes often, Kramer says they tend to stick with key ingredients. “Like al pastor, falafel, and queso sauce. And then we utilize them differently at each pop-up. At each place we usually have two mainstays and then three rotating items,” she says.
According to Kramer, she and Abarca don’t have any plans for a brick and mortar restaurant any time soon. “We are excited to finally be able to invest more time in our pop ups and to see what opportunities it brings us in the future,” she says and then teases to keep an eye out for two collaborations coming up with other local pop-ups.
For more information or to find out where Matzo y Masa might pop-up next, visit www.matzoymasa.com or follow @matzoymasa on Instagram.