Brew Tulum Delivers Exceptional Coffee and Mexican Food in St. Louis

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When I ordered the Citrus Zest from Brew Tulum, I expected a hint of orange in my cold brew coffee. The menu promises a “spritz” of freshly squeezed juice and a dash of honey too. The menu does not mention the whole cored orange in which the coffee is served.

If you’ve sipped something beachy and day-glo from a pineapple or a coconut, it’s nothing like it. You cradle the orange in your hands as if it were a porcelain teacup, certain that your coffee will spill if you push, let alone crush, the skin of the fruit. A breeze of orange ripples across the surface of the citrus zest – think essential oils more than juice – but mostly it tastes like a great cold brew, rich and subtly sweet, without a hint of bitterness. .

Laura McNamara and Alberto Juarez, with their 19-month-old son, Sabastien, at Brew Tulum in St. Louis

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

The Citrus Zest makes a fitting introduction to Brew Tulum, which the married duo of Alberto “AJ” Juarez and Laura McNamara opened last year on Delmar Boulevard on the northern edge of the Central West End. Brew Tulum is unlike any other cafe and Mexican restaurant in St. Louis.

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For McNamara, Brew Tulum is a return to the metro area after a winding, international journey. A native of St. Charles County, she studied journalism at the University of Missouri and intended to go to law school. She took a year off from traveling, which turned into eight years as a “digital nomad” journalist, including time in Italy, where she experienced her “food awakening”, and in Vietnam and Guatemala, where his love of coffee blossomed.

After eight years and now living off a backpack, McNamara was ready to settle down. While on assignment elsewhere in Mexico, she visited Playa del Carmen on the country’s Riviera Maya. She had planned to stay there for two weeks but ended up living there for 10 years. She founded a wedding photography business and then moved into real estate. She met Juarez, who was born in Mexico City but whose family had moved to Cancun when she was growing up, and the couple went into real estate and vacation rentals together.

Brew Tulum Dining Review

Tostadas de Tinga de Zanahoria, tortillas covered in mashed beans, carrots and onions, topped with cheese, avocado, cream and cilantro, at Brew Tulum

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

Meanwhile, McNamara wondered where the good Mexican coffee was. Everywhere she went, she found Nescafé. Finally, after extensive research, she came into contact with a resident of Playa del Carmen named Mario, from a family of Mexican coffee growers in Veracruz, who sold specialty Mexican coffee that he had freshly roasted in a old roaster. This became Juarez’s entry into the world of quality coffee. “It literally changed my life,” he says.

When Mario decided to leave the coffee business and Playa del Carmen, McNamara and Juarez bought his equipment and started their own roastery. Unable to get their coffee into restaurants, they turned to delivery, like Mario had, but ultimately decided they needed a storefront. A friend had space to sublet at his restaurant in Tulum, south of Playa del Carmen, and the couple opened the original Brew Tulum.

Brew Tulum continues to operate in Mexico. When that place temporarily closed during the pandemic, McNamara and Juarez came to the United States. Here they saw an opportunity to meet the demand for their coffee from Americans who had tried it in Tulum. They started importing green coffee from Mexico and set up a roasting and shipping operation. In October, they opened their storefront in St. Louis next to Craft Alliance in the Delmar Maker District.

The airy space can feel like a cafe or a restaurant, depending on your mood. Coffee making equipment is arranged behind a long counter along one wall. Tables lean more towards dining than laptop camping, though I’ve seen a few people do this on my visits. Cleverly, much of the decoration – sarapes, blouses, guayaberas (men’s shirts) – is also available for retail sale.

Brew Tulum Dining Review

Cafe de Olla at Brew Tulum

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

Brew Tulum’s food and drink menu spans two large double-sided sheets. The house coffee is brewed in a French press for a thin, rich cup. A range of coffee and espresso drinks are available, including lattes made with cajeta (caramelised goat’s milk) and traditional café de olla, coffee spiced with cardamom, cocoa and cinnamon and brushed from the earthy sweetness of piloncillo (sugar cane juice boiled to a syrup then solidified). On a hot May afternoon, the house cold brew coffee mixed with tonic proved even more refreshing than the citrus zest.

For food, McNamara and Juarez focus on the traditional Mexican breakfast. Indeed, a signature dish (among many candidates) is called the Pre-Hispanic Breakfast. Typically, this includes two tamales (your choice of chicken with salsa verde or poblano peppers and cheese) with a cup of the hot, lightly sweetened cornmeal drink called atole and a cup of coffee. The restaurant was out of tamales when I ordered this dish, but Juarez suggested sopes as a substitute, and the thick, soft masa-based tortillas artfully decorated with mashed black beans, tomato, microgreens, cream and cheese for a hearty but bright meal. .

Brew Tulum Dining Review

Enfrijoladas, Oaxacan cheese-filled corn tortillas smothered in mashed black beans and topped with cream, onion, avocado and cilantro, at Brew Tulum

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

Cooking draws on the variety of several basic ingredients. Chilaquiles toss fried tortilla strips in a lightly spiced tomato salsa and garnish them with cream, queso fresco, avocado, onion and cilantro. Beneath all these toppings, the tortilla strips retain an attractive crispy core. Cream, avocado, onion and cilantro also decorate the enfrijoladas, tortillas filled with stretchy Oaxacan cheese and topped with a savory mashed black bean.

At lunch, the menu expands slightly to include molletes, an open sandwich of mashed black beans, Oaxaca cheese, and pico di gallo on crisp, airy house-baked bread. Tortilla strips return in the Sopa Azteca, which features a thick, exceptionally tangy and smoky broth, shot through with the biting, grassy flavor of fresh epazote and mellowed with cream and queso fresco. It belongs to a short list of the most delicious soups in town, Mexican or otherwise.

Brew Tulum Dining Review

Barista Caron Burress brews an espresso behind the bar at Brew Tulum in St. Louis.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

To be patient. Brew Tulum is understaffed. (Juarez worked alone outside the house, barista duties included, on most of my visits.) I encountered a few hiccups in the food. The mashed black beans on my enfrijoladas, while tasty, went from hot to lukewarm before arriving at my table. The chicken I added to my chilaquiles was more thoughtful than optional, overcooked and insufficiently seasoned.

In general, however, the food and drink here exhibits a finesse and attention to detail that large operations rarely achieve. This includes dessert. The Platanos Coatepecanos is as appealing as any of the savory dishes, a single plantain stuffed with Oaxacan cheese and smothered in a bittersweet poblano mole with dark spices, with a scoop of coconut ice cream on the side .

Or Brew Tulum, 5090 Delmar Blvd. • More information 636-578-8321; • Menu Mexican breakfast and lunch and coffee • Hours 8am-3pm Monday to Wednesday, 9am-3pm Friday to Saturday (closed Thursday)

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