Our Story About Salud!
Cheers to Unforeseen Surprises By Gloria Vaquera
“Great food, great atmosphere, and great service,” says Russell Hernandez, owner of Salud! de Mesilla, “is the trio of greatness.” He was talking about what he believes makes a restaurant successful. Salud! has only been opened for five short months and has since become a favorite for many, proving that Russell just might be on to something.
Their story goes like this: Salud! de Mesilla is the brainchild of Russell and his partner Christopher Schaljo. Owning a restaurant, however, was Russell’s dream. It was something he had always wanted to do. At the age of 18, he started in the restaurant industry with an internship at the old Eddie’s Bar and Grill. Upon graduation from NMSU, moved into the corporate world with Darden Restaurants. The Olive Garden is where he continued his passion for being of service and uncompromising excellence.
Christopher on the other hand is an exceptionally supportive partner. He never imagined working in the restaurant industry. He has a degree in Government and experience working in retail. Prior to the opening of Salud! he worked at Lowe’s Home Improvement designing kitchens. In this short time, however, he has really grown to love being a restaurateur.
“The one thing we share is a passion for food,” says Russell. “When you have a passion for food and being of service, it makes a great combination.”
Christopher claims that one of the things that makes Salud! so unique is how they’ve been able to infuse different cultural foods. He’s from a much bigger city, St. Louis, Missouri, so a few of their recipes incorporate ingredients used in St. Louis, like Provel cheese. You will also find other St. Louis inspired favorites such as toasted ravioli.
“I remember telling Russell when he was trying recipes, ‘You should put Provel on that!’, and Russell would say, ‘I’m not putting Provel on it!'”
Russell, you see, is a true Mesillero, born and raised here in the Mesilla Valley. His family’s roots date back 100 years in this area, so there is a significant Hispanic influence in the menu as well.
“But then,” says Christopher, “he puts Provel and it’s like whoa!” Christopher tells me that Provel is like Swiss and Provolone put together. “It’s creamy, rich and in your face good,” he gloats.
While none of their dishes are overly fancy, the food is quite creative and far from ordinary. That’s because Russell and Christopher like to experiment when it comes to creating new flavors and they are always willing to try bold, fresh combinations. In fact, in an effort to use the freshest ingredients, they’ve developed a seasonal menu that is ever-changing based on what’s in season and mostly available in the local market.
“We want to support our local growers, so we’re going to source local ingredients as much as we can,” says Russell. “We are presently purchasing from our new neighbors right down the road at the upcoming FarMesilla Store.” For the fall, this will include products like green chile, watermelon, onions, beans, squash, zucchini, and a roasted wet red chile.
Their clever infusions can be seen in every area of the menu, but especially in the Tapas. I was pleasantly surprised to see things like the Tako Taco, marinated octopus cooked with chorizo, topped with cotija cheese and pickled veggies all nestled in a warm corn tortilla. All I can say is that the flavors are unpredictably tasty.
Then, on the lunch menu, one can find unique salads, soups, sandwiches, wraps, and the ever-popular burgers. All of course with a distinctive twist. The dinner menu features popular items such as Artichoke Chicken, a stuffed chicken breast with artichoke hearts, sautéed spinach, garlic, and asadero cheese.
Although they are bold and adventurous in putting recipes together, Christopher and Russell understand that some things must simply remain unchanged. For the staunch traditionalists, familiar comfort food recipes such as their green enchiladas also grace the menu. They use a century-old recipe for green chile sauce that is used throughout.
I was impressed with their mouthwatering breakfast. Again they have traditional items like huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos as well as eggs Benedict with several options. I sampled the waffles and suffice it to say that they had a delicious outer crunch and a warm soft center. They also throw in choices like the Beignet and the Thumper Toast into the mix, and how can one decide?
Surprisingly (because I couldn’t tell by the taste and texture), many of the items on the menu are gluten-friendly including the breakfast burritos, pancakes, and the chicken and waffles.
To not mention the wine selection would be negligent on my part. They have a well-stocked inventory of 27 wines and are consistently looking for wines that will augment their collection. “Wine enhances the meal and completes the entire experience of Salud!,” says Christopher.
All of the success they have had thus far is possible not only because of Christopher and Russell’s vision but also because of their 34 dedicated employees who are free to give input. The majority of the kitchen staff has culinary degrees and each one has an area of passion. This passion ranges from Desserts to Sauces/Marinades to large catered events. Almost every dessert on the menu, Russell tells me, is prepared in house by Milo who loves to bake and has created many of the scrumptious concoctions himself, hence the name of one of their new desserts: Milos Rocher Cake. “When we inspire passion amongst the team, we will create a unique and great tasting menu. I cannot wait to see what creative concoction our creative team comes up with next” Says Russell.
It won’t be hard to make your way here. When you do come, expect to be surprised when even something as simple as chips and salsa is replaced by gorgeous rainbow bagels and butter. Or when an eatery -not typical for Old Mesilla like the trendy and chic, modern but cozy, fun and unique Salud! de Mesilla- keeps you coming back for more.
After all, it is the place where unforeseen surprises await you!