The Ropa Vieja at Mojito Cafe is a delicious dish of house-roasted pulled beef served atop rice with vegetables. Alongside are tostones and a piquant chimichurri is drizzled on top. (Patrick Evans-Hylton/Freelance)
The COVID-19 crisis has changed a lot of things, including the way we eat and drink. For the past 25 years, I’ve made my living dining out, and I am still visiting restaurants across the region and far and wide but a bit more cautiously. In my Beach Eats column, I’m going to bring you my fabulous foodie finds, along with observations at area eateries to help you make informed decisions both on where you visit and what you select from the menu. From time to time, I’ll also share other health and safety tips as well as other items of interest, just as I have for two-plus decades in the pages of the Pilot.
For years, I’ve enjoyed coming to the tiny jewel box that is Mojito Cafe, located along Pacific Avenue at the heart of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
Here, chef/owner Edwin Padilla works his Caribbean culinary magic with flavors found principally in the cuisines of Cuba and Puerto Rico in a brightly hued, contagiously friendly place.
Having been classically French trained and worked in fine dining restaurants, Padilla serves up food that is approachable but well-executed. Every bite I’ve enjoyed in the decade-plus that I’ve been a patron has been authentic and enjoyable.
One of the national dishes of Cuba but found throughout the Caribbean, Spain and the Philippines, ropa vieja is a wonderful comfort food. At Mojito’s, Padilla and his kitchen staff take house-roasted pulled beef and serve it atop rice and vegetables; asparagus is served on the side.
Also on the side are tostones, slices of green plantains twice-fried until they are golden, brown and delicious. On top of the whole dish is drizzled a piquant chimichurri sauce, which is actually South American and comprised of parsley, other herbs, minced garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Of all the ropa viejas I have enjoyed over the decades in the United States and in my travels in Latin America, this is in the top tier of favorites. I think a lot of it is due to Padilla’s fine dining background, which gives him a different mindset in the kitchen. I also think running a smaller kitchen and being a hands-on chef/owner gives him more control over the final product.
The quality ingredients used are also undoubtedly a factor. As a result, the guest is presented with not only a visually stunning dish but a delicious one, too.
My partner, Doug, and I had shared an appetizer earlier, but even so, this dish was so generously portioned that after we did our damage at the table, we had enough for both of us to have a substantial lunch the next day.
A note on the name “ropa vieja,” which translates to “old clothes” in Spanish: Legend goes that, many years ago in a small village in Spain, a very poor man was desperate to feed his family. He shredded some old clothes, put them in a pot to boil and walked away.
When he returned, the old clothes had miraculously transformed into one of the most delicious beef stews he and his family had ever eaten.
THE DRINK: MOJITO
Well, you aren’t going to go to a restaurant called Mojito’s and order a cosmopolitan, now are you?
There is a wide assortment of handcrafted mojitos available, including mojitos du jour, but I opted for the Traditional Don Q Mojito, made from muddled fresh mint, sugar, Don Q rum and soda water.
The cocktail was fresh and light, full of mint flavor and lightly sweet but not overly so. There was a nice mix between the spirit and the soda, making the drink easy to sip but not too boozy.
A second mojito flavored with coconut was also refreshing, but I’m old school and prefer the traditional.
As you head into Mojito’s, a hostess stand outside asks guests to stop and wait. Signs are posted reminding patrons to use a mask and maintain 6 feet of social distancing. Temperatures are taken before folks are guided inside.
The dining room seating has been greatly reduced, with half the tables and chairs pushed up against a side wall, allowing for plenty of social distancing. All staff, including kitchen crew, were observed properly wearing masks.
Proper sanitation of tables and other surfaces was also observed during our visit. Our servers were helpful, offering menu suggestions and assistance boxing up leftovers.
Mojito Cafe is at 300 28th St.; call 757–233–6855 or visit facebook.com/edwintitopadilla.
Patrick Evans-Hylton, [email protected]
Newswise — AMES, Iowa — The foods we eat may have a direct impact on our cognitive acuity in our later years. This is the key finding of an Iowa State University research study spotlighted in an article published in the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The study was spearheaded by principal investigator, Auriel Willette, an assistant professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Brandon Klinedinst, a Neuroscience PhD candidate working in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department at Iowa State. The study is a first-of-its-kind large scale analysis that connects specific foods to later-in-life cognitive acuity.
Willette, Klinedinst and their team analyzed data collected from 1,787 aging adults (from 46 to 77 years of age, at the completion of the study) in the United Kingdom through the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing in-depth genetic and health information from half-a-million UK participants. The database is globally accessible to approved researchers undertaking vital research into the world’s most common and life-threatening diseases.
Participants completed a Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT) as part of touchscreen questionnaire at baseline (compiled between 2006 and 2010) and then in two follow-up assessments (conducted from 2012 through 2013 and again between 2015 and 2016). The FIT analysis provides an in-time snapshot of an individual’s ability to “think on the fly.”
Participants also answered questions about their food and alcohol consumption at baseline and through two follow-up assessments. The Food Frequency Questionnaire asked participants about their intake of fresh fruit, dried fruit, raw vegetables and salad, cooked vegetables, oily fish, lean fish, processed meat, poultry, beef, lamb, pork, cheese, bread, cereal, tea and coffee, beer and cider, red wine, white wine and champaign and liquor.
Here are four of the most significant findings from the study:
“I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that responsibly eating cheese and drinking red wine daily are not just good for helping us cope with our current COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps also dealing with an increasingly complex world that never seems to slow down,” Willette said. “While we took into account whether this was just due to what well-off people eat and drink, randomized clinical trials are needed to determine if making easy changes in our diet could help our brains in significant ways.”
Klinedinst added, “Depending on the genetic factors you carry, some individuals seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimers, while other seem to be at greater risk. That said, I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we’re looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory.”
Willette and Klinedinst acknowledge the valuable contributions of the other members of the research team: Scott Le, Colleen Pappas, Nathan Hoth, Amy Pollpeter and Qian Wang in the Iowa State department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; Brittany Larsen, Neuroscience graduate program at Iowa State; Yueying Wang and Li Wang, department of Statistics at Iowa State; Shan Yu, department of Statistics, University of Virginia; Karin Allenspach, department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Iowa State; Jonathan Mochel, department of Biomedical Sciences at Iowa State; and David Bennett, Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Rush Medical Center, Rush University.