BY STEVE KAUFMAN | CONTRIBUTING WRITER | VOICE-TRIBUNE | JULY 9, 2009
Bruce Ucán, owner of Mayan Café, is one of several restaurateurs who came here because of a Louisville woman. Born in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Ucán had been working at hotel restaurants in Cancun when he met a Louisville girl.
Arriving here in 1987, he put in time at Captain’s Quarters, Masterson’s and Timothy’s, where he became executive chef.He also frequented auctions, buying assorted kitchen equipment and storing it in his garage.In 1996, Ucán bought a truck for $500 and began selling tacos at Louisville construction sites. After a year, he had enough money to open Mayan Gypsy on East Market Street. In 1999, he moved a few blocks west on Market because he needed more room. But in 2006, feeling the economic pinch, he closed Mayan Gypsy and opened Mayan Café in his original location (it had been Kim’s Asian Grill in the interim).
The azure walls of this cozy, black-trimmed space reference Ucán’s native Caribbean waters and skies. The artwork, by Indianapolis painter Quincy Owens, has the soft, creamy pastels and muted earth tones of Ucán’s Mayan homeland.
INSPIRATION FOR THE NAME: The Mayans were the indigenous preColombian civilization of what became Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador.
SETTING: The burgeoning NuLu gallery district on East Market Street.
PARKING: On the street.
POWER DINERS: Gill Holland, developer of The Green Building; U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth; restaurateurs Anoosh
Shariat, Christopher Seckman (North End Café), Michael Paley (Proof on Main), Steven Ton (Basa).
MENU ITEMS EVERYONE KNOWS TO ORDER: Cochinita pork pibil – ovenroasted in a deep red achiote sauce; izamal scallops – grilled in a salsa negra sauce; uxmal salmon – pan-seared in a roasted garlic cuitlacoche cream sauce you have to taste to appreciate.
MENU ITEM NOT EVERYONE KNOWS TO ORDER: “Believe it or not,” said Ucán, “regulars have discovered our lima beans – pan-seared with sesame oil, lime, parsley, green onions and roasted pumpkin seeds.”
LUNCHEON DELIGHTS: Yucatec salbutes – tortillas topped with a variety of ingredients. The most popular variety has eggs, black beans and avocado sauce.
SOUNDS: CDs of American jazz.
INTERESTING ARCANA: This summer, Ucán will introduce Mayan Market Mondays, featuring the produce and meats of local farmers incorporated into his special recipes on a revolving basis: the specialty produce of Field Day Family Farm; the grass-fed pork of Fiedler Family Farm; the grass-fed beef of Fox Hollow Farm; the grass-fed beef and eggs of Dutch Creek Farms; and the hydroponic tomatoes of Jackson’s Farm.