With roots in Uruguay and Cuba, new restaurant to bring unique flavors to downtown

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Romina Novick, owner of Delicias del Sur, shows the special cups and ingredients for mate, a caffeinated South American drink that will be on the menu when the restaurant opens in late March.

Downtown diners should get ready for the sweet flavors of South America.

The soon-to-open Delicias del Sur, 724 Massachusetts St., will have plenty of them. And just to be safe, owner Romina Novick always will have a special sauce within arm’s reach that can add a stylish sweetness to any dish — dulce de leche, a condensed caramel-like creation.

“It is very sweet, and we use it everywhere,” Novick, a native of Uruguay, said of her fellow countrymen and -women’s love of the condensed milk sauce.

Such sweetness is a nice twist for a restaurant that ended up in Lawrence due to a story that didn’t have such a sweet beginning. Novick, in a roundabout way, discovered Lawrence due to a political flavor that has been known to permeate parts of South America: dictatorship.

Novick’s grandparents Atilio and Sofia Mazzetta fled Uruguay during the dictatorial period of government that stretched from the early 1970s to mid-1980s. Atilio was the operator of a radio station in Uruguay, and its programming was not the most popular with the country’s leaders.

The couple came to America, and spent time in California and elsewhere before somehow stumbling upon Lawrence.

“It was quiet and peaceful,” Novick said of the reasons she heard from her grandparents about how they ended up in Lawrence.

To Novick, it was an exciting place. As a young teenager, she lived in Lawrence for a couple of years before returning to Uruguay. Though she left, the town never left her mind.

“When I turned 19, I said ‘see you,” and I came back to Lawrence,’ said Novick of her return to the states in 2009.

Her grandparents had died in the early 2000s, but important pieces of them remained that Novick would discover years later through an uncle who lives in Ottawa. They were recipes.

“He had all the recipes from my grandmother, who used to own a tea shop in Uruguay,” Novick said. “Some of them were written by hand on pieces of newspaper.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A handwritten recipe is shown at Delicias del Sur, a soon-to-open restaurant in downtown Lawrence.

After looking through them, she turned to her husband, Pedro Borroto, and said she believed they should open a restaurant, even though neither of them have been in that industry.

Borroto has been known to be up for an adventure. He too came to Lawrence in 2009, coming from Cuba. He stayed with his sister, knowing no one else nor any English, he said. As a Cuban, dictatorship is a big part of his story.

“I’ve never been a communist or socialist thinker,” Borroto said of his decision to leave Cuba. “I’ve always liked the idea of capitalism. I knew I would never be able to make it there (Cuba) in any way.”

photo by: Submitted

Reina Pepiada, a dish at Delicias del Sur in downtown Lawrence, is shown.

By the time Novick left Uruguay, it had become a stable democracy. She wasn’t fleeing the country as much as she was pursuing the idea of the “American dream,” she said.

“Here, if you work hard, you can make it,” she said. “You just have to work very, very hard. But I would say your dreams definitely come true.”

Now, she’s betting they’ll also be topped with dulce de leche.

The restaurant is slated to open, in part, on March 27. I say in part because the restaurant is expected to have multiple levels to it. The restaurant is going into the former RPG restaurant building that has three levels, including its basement.

Novick is planning something a bit different for each level. The main floor will be a traditional restaurant and pastry shop that also will serve rolled ice cream. The basement will be a “speakeasy” that features Latin American cocktails. The third floor space will be reserved for parties, and will host special events featuring food, music and dance from various South American countries.

photo by: Submitted

A Nutella crepe is shown at Delicias del Sur in downtown Lawrence.

The main floor restaurant will be the first part of the business to open. Look for the menu to have a variety of pastries, both sweet and savory. Crepes will be a big part of the menu, and so too will empanadas. The empanadas will come in two styles — oven-baked or fried. They will be filled with many traditional fillings, including ham and cheese, corn and cheese, and one that features onion, oregano and cheese. Other variations will include ground beef, tuna, chicken, eggs, olives and other ingredients.

Other offerings will include arepas, which sometimes look like a sandwich made with white corn cakes. Delicias del Sur will offer a special variation on arepas, called tumbarranchos. Those can have a variety of fillings but often have mortadella and a variety of cheeses, cabbage and tomatoes too. It is a very popular dish in Maracaibo, a city in Venezuela.

photo by: Submitted

Empanadas will be a major part of the menu of Delicias del Sur when it opens in late March, 2024.

That’s another important element of the restaurant to understand: While Novick is from Uruguay and Borroto is from Cuba, the restaurant won’t limit its menu to those countries. The restaurant’s pastry chef is from Venezuela and the kitchen’s primary chef has been throughout Latin America with significant stays in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia and other locales.

Novick said the presence of KU makes finding fellow South Americans relatively easy in Lawrence. Many of them have a common thought in mind, she said.

“We want that South American flavor,” Novick said. “That is something we all share, the wanting and the missing of that home flavor. And we want to bring it to the Lawrence community.”

But do look for some Cuban offerings too. The restaurant will serve authentic Cuban coffee, which is very strong and comes in small doses. Many of the pastries also will be items popular in Uruguay, coming from those recipes that Novick found in her grandmother’s collection, which Novick said will be made with an old-world attitude.

“It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look perfect,” she said. “It is the taste. I don’t want them all symmetrical. We are making them with our hands. They aren’t supposed to all look the same.”

Some of them will have a look that is similar to some American items, but with some key and interesting differences. One particular pastry looks like a cinnamon roll, but instead of the white, sticky frosting that Americans are used to, a large block of queso fresco cheese tops the pastry.

Novick said that dish is a good example of the food philosophy of the new restaurant — a dose of familiarity, but also a twist.

“We don’t want to shock you or make you scared, but it is that little twist that makes the difference in your mouth,” she said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Delicias del Sur, 724 Massachusetts, is expected to open in late March 2024.


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