By Maria Sonnenberg
For AL DIA TODAY
INDIALANTIC – Chef Jorge Morales learned to cook from a master: his grandmother, Nini.
“I grew up helping her in the cafeteria she had in Cuba,” said Morales.
Nini is, unfortunately, no longer around to cook.
While she may be gone, her culinary legacy lives on in Nini’s, the Cuban restaurant Morales opened in Indialantic five months ago.
“My roots come 100% from my grandmother Nini, who has left the legacy to the family. In this case, she has left the legacy to my brother Juan Ricardo and me, the chefs of Nini’s Restaurant,” said Morales.
His grandmother taught him well, and it shows in the enthusiastic online reviews for Nini’s. When people visit Nini’s, Morales makes sure they want to come back for more.
Morales loves to show off his grandmother’s recipes for traditional Cuban dishes such as rabo encendido, but also enjoys adding to the menu stylish new entrees of his very own. The result is a blend between the cuisine of 1950’s Havana and 21st. century culinary sensibilities.
“The food is delicious. This is our first time and we will be back,” said Suzan Harrison, who visited the restaurant with her husband Robert for the first time. “We got the Cuban sandwich, which is wonderful and the yucca appetizer and yellow rice.”
Marta Martinez and Margarita Garcia often visit the restaurant.
“The food is the typical original food from Cuba that I know,” said Martinez, who was born in Cuba. “The ‘tamales’ are also very good.”
Besides cooking with his grandmother, Morales studied in culinary school in Havana. After leaving Cuba, he served as executive chef for several high-end dining establishments in Miami, but when second son Samuel, now 20 months old, arrived Morales and his wife, Karla Llanes, decided to move to the Space Coast.
“We saw this area as a better place in which to raise a family,” he said.
Karla’s parents live in Brevard. In fact, her mother, Mercedes, helps at the front of the house, as does Karla, when Samuel and his five-year-old big brother, Leonel, allow. Chef Jorge’s brother, helps in the kitchen, making Nini’s a true family affair.
Morales has big plans for Nini’s and recently added a brunch, Cuban style, served from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The restaurant menu constantly changes as Morales searches for more dishes to entice his patrons. He even hopes to soon incorporate a 21st. century variation of the old Cuban cantina as a healthy meal service for older residents.
Morales’ grandfather recently visited Nini’s and was touched by its warm atmosphere, which includes photos of his late wife and restaurant namesake.
“He just started crying, he was so happy,” said Morales.
Nini’s is at 147 Fifth Ave., Indialantic. The restaurant is open for lunch from 11:30 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, Nini’s remains open until 10 p.m. Sunday hours are from noon until 9 p.m. Nini’s is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 321-821-4928 or check Facebook.