Old-World Ways Fuel Local Vibe, Food at MKT Eatery

Jul 18, 2018
Photo by: Margot Miller

From locally sourced sourdough culture for artisan breads to family friendly to customer service-oriented to living the American dream, a dash of old-school Latin American ways and a vibe that can only be found on LBI, MKT Eatery has it all. Situated at the corner of Sixth Street and the Boulevard in Surf City, the eatery is making everything old new again.

“We wanted to do something different,” said Rafael Morillo, the Venezuela born and American educated artisan baker. He received his physics degree from the University of Delaware, where he met his wife.

So Morillo set out to create a traditional natural sourdough leavening process indigenous to Long Beach Island. He found what he was looking for in Barnegat Light. Without additives, sugars or artificial flavors, the centuries-old method combines fresh ingredients and slow fermentation to create the healthiest dough possible, he said.

The benefits for such a product include lower simple sugars and lower gluten. Predigested proteins make it easily digestible, improve vitamin absorption by reducing phytic acid, enable better flavor and prolong shelf life without using preservatives.

“Yeast is everywhere,” Morillo said recently, sitting at the long rustic table that runs nearly the length of the eatery, adding that capturing enough of the local bacteria to make the yeast culture work is all part of the process. “It’s how bread was made before modern-day technology.”

With a yeast culture dating back to the late 19th century, Morillo should know.

“Some people worry when they travel who will feed their dog or their canary,” he said. “We worry who will feed our culture.”

A quick look at the eclectic menu makes it obvious MKT Eatery is feeding the culture from American cuisine to Latin American, Italian, and even a touch of Asian-inspired.

“There is nothing on the menu that doesn’t sell,” said Morillo’s daughter, Ceci, who manages the eatery, noting all the doughs, except the burger buns and sub rolls, are made on site with her father’s recipes he cultivated as a baker in Venezuela and Colombia.

The most popular items on the menu are the basil pesto pizza made with fresh arugula, fresh mozzarella, basil pesto, cherry tomato, extra-virgin olive oil, red onion and sea salt; the margherita pizza with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and sea salt; the vineyard pizza with a mozzarella mix, red grapes, extra-virgin olive oil, caramelized onions, Camembert cheese, toasted pistachios, rosemary and sea salt with a balsamic glaze; and the Stack, a panini made with eggplant, mozzarella, arugula and tomato, she said.

Another favorite is the tequeño, a fried breaded cheese stick (think a grown-up version of the mozzarella stick). It originated in Venezuela and is made with queso blanco (white cheese) in the middle.

“We gave out a lot of samples,” Ceci said, especially during the rainy Memorial Day weekend. They’d opened a few weeks before, but the holiday weekend was when the full seven-day-a-week schedule kicked into full gear.

Andy McClellan, owner of the business, a retired Long Beach Township police officer and third-generation Islander, said the family had been looking for something that incorporated the baking business with some kind of restaurant for a long time.

“We love food, family and customer service,” Ceci said, noting she was looking for a reason and a way to bring her father, who, in addition to being a physicist, was an entrepreneur and a university professor, to America full time. They started the legal process last fall. He has published and lectured on the neo-traditional bread revolution currently sweeping the industry as well as founded artisan bakeries in Venezuela and Colombia. More recently, he formalized his training with the American Institute of Baking. He’s been a frequent guest and presenter on several Latin American television shows.

All of this is evident in the eatery itself with the slow, easy pace and the sense of family. From the rustic furnishings that encourage customers to sit and relax to the Island vibe, it’s no wonder customers want to linger in the corner eatery.

“I learned everything I know from them,” Ceci Morillo said of the 15 years she worked at Kubel’s in Barnegat Light. She moved to the Island’s northernmost community after college to live with her grandmother.

MKT Eatery is located at 600 Long Beach Blvd. It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

— Gina G. Scala


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