By Lillian Lema
Mauren and Lorena Adaime, a mother-daughter restaurateur team originally from Caquetá, Colombia, have brought Amazonian cuisine to Cape Elizabeth. Diners from all over the greater Portland area are making their way to their restaurant, Tostones Café, for food that is made in house and features both traditional and fusion dishes.
Caquetá – known as the heart of the Colombian Amazon – is the largest province in Colombia. The Adaime women offer the tastes and aromas of the Amazon, along with a gastronomic journey through other cultures of South America.
The Adaimes are not new to the restaurant business. Lorena Adaime grew up in Café Elite, her mother’s restaurant in Caquetá, and remembers loving the food and the atmosphere. She studied business administration while managing a local restaurant before moving to Maine in 2010. At first she worked in a variety of Mexican restaurants here, as a waitress and eventually as a manager.
However, being a restaurant manager wasn’t the end goal for Lorena. “I always hoped one day to open my own restaurant, due to my love for Colombian cuisine and my experience,” she said.
She took her time, learning the ropes of the restaurant business in Maine. “I started from the bottom, and after some time got promoted to manager where I was able to gain more insight on the business structure of a restaurant,” she said.
But she always knew that when the time was right, there was no question who would be her business partner in this endeavor – her mother. Mauren Adaime had also studied business administration at the University of the Amazon in Caquetá, and had a masters from the University of Salle in Bogotá, to boot. And she had experience as an entrepreneur.
In 2018, Lorena discussed with Mauren the idea of opening up a restaurant, who still resided in Colombia. “I discussed my ideas with my mother because there is nothing like her recipes. She loved the idea of sharing her cooking skills and tips in the U.S.,” Lorena said. And Mauren packed her bags and joined her daughter in Maine.The real work was about to begin: the creation of the menu. “We knew the menu was going to revolve around plantains, since we come from a country whose uniqueness is the plantain,” Mauren explained.
They invented a new dish by molding fried plantains into a cone shape and filling it with delicious protein (carnitas, beef, or vegan), rice, sweet plantain, pico de gallo, avocado, corn, garlic, and avocado sauce. Known as Tos Cone, the new dish has been popular with customers.
Creating the perfect mold for the plantain cone was a challenge at first. “There was a lot of trial and error in creating the Tos Cone mold,” Mauren explained. “We ordered a mold from an Italian manufacturer, but it didn’t work well. The mold was too heavy, causing the plantain to sink to the bottom of the fryer, making it difficult to take it out and causing it to burn.” Eventually they came up with a prototype that worked well and they sent it to Colombia to have it manufactured for further usage.
The Adaime women describe 2019 as the year of a lot of trial and error – not just for their Tos Cone dish – but because they had plans to open their first location, Tostones on the Beach, at Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach.
Tostones on the Beach was a great success. Both Lorena and Mauren were nervous at first: they were new in the area, there weren’t many Latin food stands, and the majority population wasn’t familiar with fried plantains. But things worked out well – for a while.
“To our surprise, there were many tourists from Canada, and Latinos from Massachusetts and Florida,” Lorena explained. “We loved impressing the local and foreign people that visited Old Orchard Beach by serving them a new spin on the traditional tostones, the tos-cones.”
Things were looking up after a successful summer 2019 season and they were looking forward to the summer 2020 season, but then the pandemic hit.
“Many food vendors didn’t open that season, and Palace Playland opened with a limited number of rides, hours, and entry from the public,” Lorena said. “This caused the traffic to be slow.”
They decided to look for a more permanent, year-round location and searched for potential rental locations in the Old Port – but were discouraged by the high rents. Eventually, they found a location in Cape Elizabeth and signed the lease in March 2021. Tostones Café officially opened its doors in November 2021.
“People from different towns came to visit us. They loved our business because the love we put into it shows,” Mauren explained. They wanted the restaurant to have the Amazonian aesthetic and feel of Colombia, so plantain leaves from plants raised by Mauren, a hammock made by the Indigenous people of Guajlla, and sombreros from different regions of Colombia decorate the restaurant.
Menu staples include the Colombian traditional dish La Bandeja Paisa, a festival of meat on a platter, but with a Tostones twist. At the bottom of the platter is a large fried plantain that holds the rest of the food, which is on top. Next is white rice, topped with a fried egg, and surrounding that is chicharon (fried pork belly), carne asada (roast beef), chorizo, sweet plantain, avocado, arepa, and a side of red beans. The savory flavors from the sazon in the meats and beans is very well-balanced with the sweet plantain and arepa. The menu also incorporates staple dishes from Venezuela, Mexico, and Peru – all while keeping the main focus on incorporating plantains into the dishes.
Another signature dish includes the Empanada Sampler. The empanada is made from yellow cornmeal and filled with chicken, beef, and mushroom.. The chicken and beef are each placed in separate pots where they are boiled for five hours with spices and herbs so that they easily fall apart. Then the protein or mushroom is mixed with mashed potato, tomato, and onion sauce, and added into the empanada. Three dipping sauces accompany the order.
Arepas are a traditional Colombian and Venezuelan dish that is normally filled with mozzarella cheese and usually eaten as breakfast, but welcomed throughout the day. One of the menu’s typical Venezuelan arepa dishes is Reina Pepiada. The arepa is made from white cornmeal and stuffed with chicken, mayonaise, avocado, salad, and mozzarella. Avocado slices on top form a crown shape, hence Reina (queen).
To accompany such savory dishes, Tostones Café offers various drinks, including a variety of Jarritos flavors, Latin beers, fruit juices and smoothies, and cocktails such as the Brazilian Caipirinha, which contains Brazilian cachaca, a spirit made with sugarcane, brown sugar, and fresh limes.
Since the new location opened, things have gone well for Tostones Café. “Many people who live in this area have traveled to Miami, New York City, and other big cities, so they have a love for Latin food.” Mauren said. “And to my surprise, many people are bilingual here in Cape Elizabeth.”
The Adaime women plan to open their Old Orchard Beach location again this coming summer, and are looking forward to a busy season operating both locations. They have some advice for other entrepreneurs: “It is important to be creative, persistent, put a lot of love in what you do, and be disciplined,” Mauren advised. Lorena nodded, adding, “Yes, and don’t give up after the first failure – keep going! Keep trying until you reach your objective.”