The Croqueteria Adds Fusion Finger Foods To Cleveland’s Food Scene
Written By Tricia L Chaves
Photographed By Breanna Kulkin
Before Nuria Cmolik (formerly de la Vega) of The Croqueteria relocated to Cleveland from Spain, croquetas were an affordably satiating snack she could easily acquire in eateries from humble to high-end.
Typically square or cylindrical, these bite-sized nibblers are created by blending ingredients with bechamel – a mother sauce in French cuisine that originated in Italy, made with a white roux of butter, flour and onions, then finished with milk before coating in breadcrumbs and frying to a crisp. Best enjoyed when served hot straight from the fryer, the croquetas’ crunchy exterior envelops a melted, savory center.
Unbeknownst to the bride-to-be, the destination wedding she planned in her native Madrid would be the catalyst for a business endeavor in her new home with husband, Clevelander Brendan Cmolik and brother-in-law Mark Barilla, who became “addicted” to the appetizer while overseas.
“Spanish food is not very widely represented in Cleveland cuisine,” laments Cmolik. “Tapas in Spain are affordable, and you get to enjoy so many different kinds of foods prepared in small bites.” This year, the trio began their food business at the Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen and started experimenting with traditional recipes from Spain, meanwhile developing flavors more familiar to customers raised in the Rust Belt, like croquetas filled with maple bacon or spinach and bleu cheese.
Cmolik says the croquetas are the perfect package for transforming items often served on small plates into finger-friendly street food like the classic Spanish dish, Chipirones en su Tinta (squid in its own ink), a delicacy made by simmering the cephalopods in the blue-black hued pigment they release in the ocean as a “smoke screen” to deter predators when threatened. For the less adventurous set, Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp), is an approachable sautéed seafood croqueta seasoned with garlic and oil.
Capitalizing on Cleveland’s summer bounty, salmorejo will be served to complement the croquetas. Similar to gazpacho, the pureed cold soup from Córdoba is made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and bread.
Anticipating their debut as a Night Market vendor, Cmolik says she plans to experiment with Asian-inspired recipes that incorporate flavors like teriyaki and ginger, finally settling on a curried chicken croqueta. For this specific event, they’ll also be offering Bacalao (salted cod) and red pepper croqueta.
People are always open to trying new food in Cleveland. —Nuria Cmolik
Long term, The Croqueteria team aims for distribution in Northeast Ohio grocery stores and local restaurants. Currently, they are satisfying hungry Clevelanders’ cravings for croquetas is by filling orders through Uber Eats during long nights at the community kitchen preparing for events. The croquetas are made through a three-step process with time to allow them to rest, freeze, and then prepare on the spot.
You’ll find their delectable Panko-dredged delights on the street festival circuit during the warm weather months. “We were just at Cleveland PRIDE and are so thrilled to be coming to Night Market. Since events around town are so sporadic and seasonal though, we are hoping to expand,” she explains.
“People are always open to trying new food in Cleveland,” she says thankfully. In addition to all of the adventurous foodies that can be found in the city, Cmolik has also been able to connect with customers who have traveled abroad, or are originally from Chile, Cuba and even Spain; “It’s so great to be able to do this for the community.”
Find The Croqueteria team at Night Market Cleveland on July 28th between 5:00- 11:00 p.m. for petite samplings of deep fried goodness.