Published On: Wed, Dec 4th, 2019

On Isla Mujeres, a Minnesota man pours on the hometown welcome

Was it Tuesday or Saturday? It was hard to say, sitting with a michelada in hand, its glass sweating in the noonday heat. A simple thatched roof kept out the beating sun but welcomed the sound of the surf.

Madera Food & Art, a roadside restaurant/gallery on Mexico’s Isla Mujeres, is the kind of place that makes it easy to forget the password to your work computer. And the fact that you have a job and a house and a couple of kids waiting for you back in Minnesota.

And yet, there was something uncannily reminiscent of home. The pendant on the waitress’ necklace: Was that Lake Superior? And did she just ask if I wanted the cheese on top of the burger, or inside it?

 Indeed, nearly 2,000 miles from Matt’s Bar, my husband and I lucked into a plump Jucy Lucy on a homemade bun. The waitress was, in fact, from Minnesota (the necklace was a token of the months she’d spent circumnavigating Gitche Gumee in a kayak), as was the chef. He’d cooked at Saffron in downtown Minneapolis and then opened his own place on this tiny island less than 10 miles from Cancun.

The burger arrived with a burst seam, orange cheese flowing like lava. It tasted as good as the original — maybe better. And we may not have discovered it without our island host, Steve Broin.

Broin owns Casa Sirena, the small boutique hotel where we were staying, which we’d learned of through a friend’s recommendation. “The owner is from St. Paul,” our friend had mentioned offhandedly. And that small fact stuck with me.

My husband and I aren’t timid travelers who expect to be coddled or have our whims catered to. But we also weren’t up for summiting Everest or hitchhiking across Syria, either. In traveling to a place we’d never been, in a country whose language we spoke with the proficiency of toddlers, a hometown connection couldn’t hurt.








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