It wasn’t long ago that I found myself covered in flour, rolling dough with a glass bottle, reforming an amoeba-like shape into a circle, struggling to make it thin rather than pancake thick — but despite all evidence to the contrary, after twice flipping this “tortilla” and letting it cool just long enough to tear it apart with my fingers, I took that first bite and dissolved into happiness: this was a damn good tortilla.
While I will take credit for the glass bottle I used as a rolling-pin and the naan-level of thickness my masterpiece exhibited, I cannot take credit for its deliciousness, which was a product of the recipe I received from Rene Sanchez, co-owner (with his wife, Kara) of the restaurant pop-up KRAEV, serving Tex-Mex, breakfast tacos and sweets.
That’s right. I said breakfast tacos.
Even as a native of New Mexico, I had never heard this term until I met Kara and Rene and visited KRAEV’s Sunday brunch on the West Side of Providence. (If you noticed that KAra + REne => KRAE, you are correct; the company’s title came from overlapping each of their first names.) But breakfast tacos were a staple for Rene growing up in Texas.
“It’s comfort food: flour tortillas, cheese, hot sauce — I mean, anytime you’ve got melted cheese…” he trails off, then laughs softly. “It sums up the type of food I was craving.”
Working out of the Sankofa Community Kitchen, they’ve decorated the adjacent community room with festive colors: yellow, magenta and mint-colored tablecloths; woven table runners with triangular patterns in every shade of blue; small vases with handmade ornamental flowers. My favorite decorative touch was the soft-colored string lights hanging from the back wall, like a mystical waterfall of light. The vibe in here is both peaceful and vibrant, offering an atmosphere that’s safe and welcoming, but one in which a dance party might spontaneously erupt. (Fun fact: Kara and Rene met at a pop-up dance party in the park the day after Rene moved to Rhode Island.)
Back to the main event: breakfast tacos. They are, as they sound, soft tacos filled with breakfast fixings, such as eggs and chorizo. But what most separates these from any other tacos are the tortillas. After my first bite, I had a “Sweet Jesus” moment, traveling back in time back to when I was 5 years old and my babysitter sat me on the kitchen counter as she made tortillas from scratch. There is nothing in the world that compares to a southwestern style, handmade flour tortilla — soft and chewy, but not leathery, with lightly charred circles where the air pockets puffed up onto the skillet, and a hint of something both savory yet sweet—and not a preservative to be tasted, those demon chemicals that plague all packaged brands. All you need to complete the experience is a swipe of butter and a moment of silence.
That’s a KRAEV tortilla.
Luckily, Sanchez offers tortilla-making workshops, which is how I found myself covered in flour trying to recreate what he had taught us to do. (Let it be known that I have never recreated a cooking workshop at home after participating in one. This was a first, hence my realization partway through that I didn’t have a rolling pin.) Earlier that day, an astonishing 25 people fit into the back room of Urban Greens Co-op, where we worked in pairs to mix ingredients and knead the dough by hand. At the end of our 1.5-hour workshop, we were given a copy of the recipe, including a powerful “secret” ingredient, with all of us “Mmmm-ing” on our way out with the taste of fresh, warm tortillas still in our mouths.
“All I ever wanted was to own a sandwich shop,” Sanchez says. “But when I moved to Rhode Island, I realized Providence doesn’t need a sandwich shop; they need breakfast tacos. No one is making their own flour tortillas. That’s when I became passionate about it because of what it signifies: from the smell to the texture, how it brings me home in that moment.” And home is where Sanchez learned important lessons about life and food, and how the two relate.
“When I was a kid, if I had one dollar in my pocket, I knew I could get food. That’s what I want to offer: the simplicity, affordability and substance of Tex-Mex. No one has to go hungry. If we have food, we share it.”
That’s why KRAEV offers one of their tacos, the bean and cheese, as a “Pay what you want.” “I hope everyone becomes familiar with this breakfast taco,” Sanchez says. The bean and cheese is how you judge a place, almost like a margherita pizza in Italy can be used to judge a pizzeria. “If you went into a place and had a bad bean and cheese, you would never order a carne asada there. But if you had a great bean and cheese, you’d order two carne asada, because if they’re doing this well, they’ll do that well, too.”
One thing that strikes me as I get ready to leave is how both Rene and Kara exude joy. They are passionate about feeding their community with kindness as much as with substantial food (and believe me, two tacos will keep you full for the day). “Part of our vision is creating a better breakfast experience. We aren’t sure what that means yet, we want to do something fun and unique, and food should be a part of that.”
Sundays 10am – 2pm at 70 Westfield St, PVD. kraevbreakfast.com, @kraevbreakfast