If Benjamin Jewell could tell you one thing about the new Tapa N Tacos, which opened Friday in Cocoa Village, it would be this: Don't fear the cursed location.
The restaurant, which will specialize in Mexican and Spanish food, as well as craft cocktails, opened at 11 a.m. Friday.
It's the latest eatery to take up residence in the early 1900s bank building on Harrison Street that has housed a Korean restaurant, a sports bar, and fine-dining in recent years.
Marnio Biondino, who opened the Spanish restaurant El Bodegon in the space two years ago, is partnering with Jewell for Tapa N Tacos. El Bodegon didn't close because of its location, he said, rather it fell victim to COVID-19. His higher-end food wasn't suited for take-out, and restaurant closures early in the pandemic made it difficult for the business to stay afloat.
For the new restaurant, Jewell and Biondino, along with executive chef Kent Hildreth, have kept some of the Spanish favorites from El Bodegon, such as Biondino's award-winning paella while adding Mexican mainstays, such as tacos, chimichangas and street corn.
The idea is to be more approachable and casual, Biondino said.
Hildreth, who until recently was chef at the Fat Snook in Cocoa Beach, trained in Colorado and will bring some of his Southwestern flair to the menu, with dishes such as cactus fries, battered and fried petals from prickly pear plants.
Jewell has spent the past couple of years at Villa Palma at the Village creating craft cocktails with fresh juices and interesting combinations. While he plans to continue consulting with Villa Palma, he'll throw most of his creative energy into making libations at Tapa N Tacos, and the upstairs lounge, El Secreto.
Specialty cocktails on the menu include the Paraiso de Pina, made with bourbon, fresh pineapple juice and sherry; and the Viva la Verde, a combination of mezcal, gin, poblano liqueur and fresh cucumber juice.
House margaritas, made with fresh lime juice will be available on tap, as will frozen cocktails, like a house-made horchata-colada.
The restaurant will feature more than 50 tequilas and 25 mezcals, Jewell said, one of the largest collections in Central Florida. He hopes to host mezcal and tequila tastings in the Agave Room upstairs, which will double as a game room and tasting room.
"I want to educate Cocoa Village on agave," he said.
For example, all tequilas are mezcal, but all mezcals aren't tequilas. Both are made from agave, said head bartender Natalie Reese, but tequila must be made from blue agave, and it can only be made in and around the city of Tequila.
The restaurant also will carry Mexican and Spanish beers, and a special habanero and lime beer brewed by nearby Bugnutty Brewing Company.
Tapa N Tacos will be open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, with indoor and outdoor seating. From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the upstairs speakeasy, El Secreto, will open for those who know the password, with a late-night menu and music.
To enter the El Secreto, guests must knock on the metal door to the left of the main entrance, and a small window slides open. A password found weekly on Instagram @elsecreto_cv must be supplied, then entry is admitted down a side alley and up a set of outdoor stairs.
Tapa N Tacos is more casual than El Bodegon was. Gone are the table clothes and feeling of formality.
The main dining room still has the grandeur of the former bank building, with columns stretching up to a vaulted ceiling and a second-floor gallery offering a bird's-eye view. But the tables are unadorned. Menu items range from $7.75 for a chimichanga or three tacos to $48 for seafood paella for two.
On the second floor, graffiti-inspired murals cover the walls on one side. A cozy seating area is tucked in a corner near the El Secreto bar. Agave field images cover the walls in the game room.
Tapa N Tacos is at 114 Harrison St., Cocoa Village. Visit tntcocoavillage.com.