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Sureste's salsa starts with roasted tomatoes, peppers and onions

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SR Sureste salsa for publication November 2, 2022

The salsa at Sureste, dark, smoky and flavorful, with very ripe tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a habanero pepper roasted until the skins blister black and blended with spices, herbs, and lime juice is a sure winner from Chef Alex Henry. Photo by Pat Eby

Q • Last night I had the chips and salsa from Sureste at City Foundry. It was amazing, and I would love to know how to make the salsa. — Jeff Wunrow, Botanical Heights

A • The salsa at Sureste Mexican isn’t very chunky, it’s not bright red, and although there’s some heat to it, the deeply brown salsa of roasted tomatoes, peppers and onions topped with cilantro really highlights the earthy spices and herbs that make it sing. It’s served with house-made tortilla chips, thin and crispy.

Chef and owner Alex Henry noted salsa and chips isn’t a menu standard in the Yucatan, the state in southeast Mexico where he was born. He serves it at his restaurant in the Food Hall at City Foundry, to the delight of his patrons. The dish isn’t difficult to make, but it takes time and attention. At Sureste, each dish is built from scratch. There are no shortcuts. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

When his St. Louis–born father relocated his family to the city in the mid-’90s, Henry would return to Mexico for several months each year, spending time with his relatives.

“My mother, my abuelitas and a lot of other people along the way influenced my cooking,” he says. “In Mexico, you go out on the street and see people cooking on the street and how they are doing it. Here, in the states, cooking happens behind closed doors. More often than not you can’t see the food cooking or who’s cooking it,” he says.

At some point post-adolescence, Henry decided he liked cooking and gave it a shot. He attended culinary school at Forest Park Community College, then went out to work. “I learned from a lot of really good teachers, both in school, and in the field from the great chefs right here in St. Louis.

“I want to help people better understand just how vast the cooking of Mexico is. Most people in this part of the country are familiar with Tex-Mex, or Southwestern cooking, and northern regional Mexican cuisine, but there are 64 different indigenous languages in Mexico, with probably twice as many dialects. These cultures all have their different cuisines,” he says.

Henry suggested two dishes for first-time visitors to Sureste Mexican might enjoy — the colado-style tamale, and the cochinita pibil tacos. Post-Dispatch food critic Ian Froeb agreed highlighted both dishes this year as well.

Henry also highlighted future plans. “We’ll be getting our tortillas to markets soon, but anyone looking for fresh masa or tortillas can come by any day. We sell tortillas and masa here by the pound,” he says. “It’s also noteworthy to mention, that since we are a corn-based kitchen instead of wheat-based one, we’re a dedicated gluten free restaurant.”

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