WILMINGTON — Spanish food is simple food. It’s also the food local chef Bobby Zimmerman is making the center of his new restaurant slated to open this spring. Conceived around traditional Spanish tapas, Mariposa will be the chef’s second restaurant in town; he opened True Blue Butcher and Table in the Forum in 2018.
“The support from the community has been overwhelming,” Zimmerman said, “especially during Covid. It has really humbled us, but also convinced me that the time to open a second restaurant is right.”
Mariposa will take over the spot where Love, Lydia Bakery and Cafe once was located at the corner of Greenfield and 3rd streets, situated near Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, Second Glass, New Anthem, and Satellite Bar and Lounge in the South Front District. Zimmerman has been working with local developer Mark Maynard – president of Tribute Companies, which owns neighboring South Front Apartments.
“I have been infatuated with Spanish cuisine my entire career,” Zimmerman said.
He already was sourcing fine Spanish olive oils and conservas (preserved foods) for True Blue. Zimmerman said he developed a strong working relationship with David Allen from Regalis Foods out of New York, which accesses some of the finest quality goods globally.
“I can get anything in the world,” Zimmerman said.
For the Mariposa menu, this means Spanish day boat octopus, scallops, razor clams and cockles, specialized cheeses and meats, olives and olive oils, and much more.
“I’m not going to try to interpret what Spain has been eating for the last 200 years,” Zimmerman stated. Instead, Mariposa is sticking to authenticity and tradition.
For instance, Zimmerman has secured Manchego from a small producer, which outputs seven kinds a year. Mariposa will serve three varieties of Manchego of various ages, plus aged Mahon and Idiazábal.
Zimmerman is also working with a fourth-generation olive-oil maker that produces only 10,000 liters of juice a year.
“They go out and check the fruit every single day until they say ‘OK, today’s the day,’” the chef explained. “They understand the perfection that comes from that craft.”
Quality, Zimmerman says, makes his job and the jobs of his arsenal of chefs easier. He and his close-knit team are dedicated to perfecting a cuisine that lets its ingredients shine rather than reinvent the wheel.
Items on the menu will include tortilla Espanola, a Spanish potato-onion omelet, served with aioli and roasted tomato sauce. Pan con tomate — which can be found in almost every eatery and watering hole in Spain — consists of toasted bread, tomato, garlic and olive oil.
“I think the shrimp and garlic with chiles is probably what I’m most excited about,” Zimmerman said. “Sourcing the shrimp was critical. You get these beautiful blue prawns that are pretty massive — so beautifully fresh. To be able to serve a shrimp of that caliber with the head on, with the beautiful simplicity of the garlic chiles and papayas, I think that’s probably the one I’m most intrigued in exposing because it’s really, really simple.”
A whole section of the menu is dedicated to meats and cheeses. There will be Ibérico de Bellota and Segovian selections, all made from American hogs. Included will be a 36-month “crown jewel of Spanish cuisine,” according to Zimmerman. “It’s comparable to the Japanese wagyu experience you find at True Blue.”
He is also making his own chorizo. Lady Edison pigs from eastern North Carolina are used to create the blend.
“Again, the recipe is like what you would find in Spain,” Zimmerman said. “No interpretation — we followed it by the book.”
Cheese and charcuterie boards will be served with expected accoutrements of marinated olives and pan con tomate.
Bocadillos — Spanish sandwiches — will make an appearance during lunch. Traditional ham and cheese, plus a vegetarian version served with Spanish ratatouille are to be served.
Zimmerman also is adding a burger to the menu to carry forth branding from True Blue. The butcher and restaurant has found great success in its porcini and confit cheeseburger. He is utilizing the same recipe with a few tweaks, to serve on the lunch menu and put on special for $5 every Wednesday night.
“It’s the one single interpretive thing we’re going to be doing: a cheeseburger boccadillo,” Zimmerman said. “We’re using a three-month organic Manchego that is super melty, and then we’ve made an andouille butter, which is spreadable salami. It will be served on our homemade papadia rolls.”
Because the restaurant is outfitted already with bakery equipment from Love, Lydia, Zimmerman is moving his enterprise’s bakery department to Mariposa. He said they already churn out 1,000 burger rolls a week.
“We’re going to use that as the commissary kitchen for all of our baked goods and pastries,” Zimmerman said.
The restaurant will seat over 70 customers without Covid-19 restrictions in place. The majority of seats will be outdoors, on the wrap-around porch featuring banquet seating, and the patio and courtyard. Zimmerman said he envisions a lot of color in the umbrellas that will be set up at outside tables, along with strung lights and even a fire pit in the courtyard.
“A lot of it’s contingent on Covid,” he said. “We plan on opening this spring, so we may have to be a little bit softer on the front end because of social distancing.”
The good news is the building itself needs very little upfitting. The only real addition required is a small U-shaped bar to hold 12 people.
“And when I say ‘small,’ it’s gonna be small,” Zimmerman quipped, “but that’s the way it is in Spain.”
In fact, the tradition of tapas is said to have begun in Andalusia, Spain, in a tavern where drinkers covered their glasses (tapas means “to cover”) with a slice of bread or meat to prevent fruit flies from getting in their sherry.
To continue with tradition, sans the fruit flies, every customer at Mariposa will receive a complimentary tapas with their first glass of wine.
Mariposa’s wine list will make up 70% Spanish varieties and a 30% mix of flavors from the United States, France, Argentina and other regions.
The bar program also will emphasize sangria: red, white and rosé.
“We’re taking a lot of time to craft our technique and understand how to deliver the best,” Zimmerman said. “And then the rest of the beverage program, well, a lot of cocktails in Spain are based on this impossible-to-get ingredient.”
And it isn’t some underground Spanish liquor that can be procured from Zimmerman’s deepest connections. Rather, it’s made from a very American company: Coca-Cola.
“It’s called Fanta lemon,” Zimmerman said. “You can only get it in one place in the United States: up at the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta. So we did our research, and there are a few things that come close to that lemon fizzy element in a lot of the Spanish cocktails. We’ll be working to perfect it over the next couple of weeks.”
By the time the first customers sit down for a drink at Mariposa, Zimmerman said they won’t be disappointed. The vibe of Mariposa is meant to be social, vibrant and convivial.
“Because that’s part of the romance of Spain,” Zimmerman said.
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