By Dan McDonald
For Hometown News
ROCKLEDGE -- Since opening in May 1967, the Alamo Restaurant has been known primarily for two things: authentic Mexican food and the large and friendly Enriquez family.
Currently, four generations of the clan work at the landmark restaurant that has the distinction of being the first Mexican eatery to open in Brevard County.
Family matriarch Irene Enriquez, 83, is honorary hostess. Daughter Jannette manages the kitchen. Daughter Debi manages the dining room. Daughter Patsy mans the cash register. Son-in-law William is the bartender. Numerous grandkids wait, cook and clean and one great-grand son, Torre, is currently bussing tables.
"We have been blessed to have been able to run a business that we love and to be surrounded by our children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren," Mrs. Enriquez said. "This place has always been about good food, good family and good friends. I'd say those are the secrets of our success."
Mrs. Enriquez, who still patrols the 180-seat establishment, which features booths, tables and a full-service bar that offers a daily Happy Hour from 5-7 p.m., said the idea for opening the eatery nearly 46 years ago, began when her husband was transferred from White Sands, N.M., to Kennedy Space Center, as part of his job with Rockwell International.
"It was a really big move for us at that time," Mrs. Enriquez said. "We were moving away from our families in El Paso, Texas, and everyone said we'd miss our family. Well, we did miss our family, but we discovered a business."
When the family arrived here, they found there were no Mexican restaurants, Mrs. Enriquez said.
"My husband met a guy at work, who suggested they go into partnership and open one," she said. "We had never run a restaurant, but we decided to go for it because we had a secret weapon. My mother, Estela Torres Navarrete, and Alberto's mother, Maria Garcia Enriquez, provided us with family recipes."
While that initial partnership failed to survive, those recipes are still used today and are still satisfying the loyal and fanatic, who are now also showing up in third and fourth generations. Recently, I went to sample the fare and found the food authentic, fresh and satisfying.
Stuffed pickled jalapenos, filled with cream cheese or cheddar, started the meal. The peppers, at .75 cents each, were fresh, with enough spice to remind you that good Mexican food can pack a zing, but not so hot that an ice-cold Corona couldn't dampen the fire. The pickled peppers were a pleasant diversion from the more common deep-fried version that is also served.
The appetizers list would be familiar to anyone who enjoys Mexican dining, with the exception of three dishes named for three of the Enriquez daughters: Jannette's Cannon Bowl, featuring a pot of beans served with onion, tomato, jalapenos and cheese and accompanied by two flour tortillas lists for $5.25.
Daughter Debi's favorite is Poco de Todo, a small order of deluxe nachos, a single quesadilla, four jalapeno poppers, served with sour cream for $10.50, and Erika's favorite is chili-con-queso dip for $7.25.
For entrees, my guest chose the Tamale Dinner, featuring the Alamo's own home-style recipe of red chili and pork filling-stuffed cornmeal, wrapped in a corn husk. The meal is steamed and topped with red sauce, cheese and onion and served with beans and rice for $9.95.
The dish came piping hot and was flavored perfectly, with the blending of melted cheese and spices, mingling in perfection.
For my entrée, I asked for advice from Irene. Without much coaxing, she suggested Irene's Special, one of the dishes that was added to the other original family recipes that have made the restaurant able to win numerous "Best of Brevard" awards for Mexican food.
Irene's Special, which comes in a small or large portion for $8.95 or $10.95, respectively, consists of crispy baked flour tortillas layered with refried beans, ground beef and cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato, jalapeno slices, guacamole and sour cream. (The dish is also available with chicken, diced beef or shredded beef).
The meal was a delicious blend of the familiar tastes that make Mexican food a favorite ethnic cuisine, with the melted cheese blending perfectly with the sour cream and guacamole. It's easy to see why this dish has become one of the most popular among the regulars.
In fact, while I was there, a couple at the next table called Irene over. The loyal customer actually apologized to the hostess for not ordering the 'Irene,' and instead opting for the Fish of the Day special. But, she explained, her husband was holding up the tradition by ordering the 'Irene' instead.
For dessert, we selected the flan, at $3.95 and another family recipe favorite, sopaipillas, at $4.50. The flan was creamy and sweet and just firm enough to slide into one's mouth in cool, pleasant bites.
The real surprise was the sopaipillas, which are delicate, rolled flour pastry puffs, lightly fried and served with a drizzle of honey. So fine is the texture of the cigar-shaped puffs that the confection nearly melts in one's mouth. Light hardly begins to describe the exquisite taste that was the perfect ending to a great meal.
"We have always prided ourselves on providing a good value for our customers," Mrs. Enriquez said. "I think that's why so many people have become regulars through the years. We have one couple who moved to Tampa a year ago, but about once a month, they still come back to eat here. They said they can't get good Mexican food over there."
That type of loyalty is very touching, Mrs. Enriquez said.
"We have many old customers, who brought in their children, and now those children are bringing in their grandchildren," she said. "It's been a family deal on our end and on our loyal customers' part, as well. It's fun, and we feel blessed to be able to continue doing something we've come to love."
In order to reward their loyal customers, the Alamo, which is open every day but Monday, has daily specials and features 10 different meals for under $10.
Taco Tuesday, featuring all-you-can-eat beef tacos for $9.25 (One drink must be purchased); Wednesday is Senior Day for those aged 55 and older: Buy one dinner, and get one dinner at half price. All wine is $1 less and appetizers at the bar are half-priced. There is a two-drink minimum.
Thursday is Veteran's Day. All veterans with Military ID receive a 10-percent discount. Premium tequila shots and drinks are $2 off. Fajita Friday features fajitas for two (beef or chicken) for only $16.95, with two drinks.
Happy Saturday features a Happy Hour that runs from 5 p.m. until closing with two-for-one house margaritas, wine, draft beer and well drinks. Children are not left out and are featured on Kid Sunday. Kids younger than 12 eat free, with the purchase of one adult dinner and drink.
The restaurant also celebrates Cinco de Mayo in its own unique way; On Saturday, May 4, the Alamo will be serving up drink specials, giveaways, live music and more.
To illustrate the loyalty among the customers, Irene said one of her long-time customer's sons, Pete Gallagher, actually comes from St. Petersburg a few times a year to perform music with his band, The Green Grass Boys, setting up a makeshift bandstand in the dining room.
"It's one of our favorite venues," Mr. Gallagher said. "I grew up in Rockledge, and my family began coming here when the place opened 40 years ago. It's my mother's favorite Mexican restaurant. I love coming over and so do the guys in the band. We have a great time and we always have a great meal. If you haven't been to the Alamo, you don't know what you're missing."
For more information visit the Alamo's website at www.alamomexicankitchen.com, or call (321) 632-2549.