Apart from a small carry-out spot in Parma, the volume of Filipino offerings in Northeast Ohio is meager to nonexistent. Already, though, Tom Madrilejos has been working to remedy that shortcoming. For more than a year the home-schooled cook has been fine-tuning his repertoire of Filipino dishes, and if his recent debut at this summer’s Night Market proved anything it’s that there’s a growing interest and demand for the food.
“I was born in Northeast Ohio, but I’m Filipino, and like pretty much every other Filipino you grow up eating this food at home then you go off to school and have to learn how to cook it because no one else is there to do it for you,” Madrilejos explains.
The next step for Madrilejos and his budding brand, Carabao Filipino Cuisine, will be twice-weekly pop-ups at the Spotted Owl. Beginning Thursday November 12, and running from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Mondays, the events will feature four to six dishes priced between $5 and $10.
On the menu will be lumpia, Filipino–style spring rolls filled with ground pork, cilantro, garlic and shallots served with sweet chile sauce, chicken adobo, here served slider-style on pandesal, or Filipini salt bread, and sisig, often called the best drinking food on the planet. Pork parts are boiled, grilled then crisped up on a sizzling hot plate with raw onions and served on rice. Also on the concise menu will be pancit, a “party dish” consisting of thin rice vermicelli with sautéed veggies, soy and lemon.
“It’s the original fusion cuisine,” Madrilejos says of Filipino cooking.
The arrangement is best described as a win-win for Carabao and Spotted Owl, which struggles to fill its seats before 9 p.m., according to owner Will Hollingsworth.
“Obviously, we’re known for our beverage and that’s what we do, but getting people in for beverage early in the evening has been a challenge for us; people want that food component,” Hollingsworth says. “I really like what Platform is doing with Plum and Saucisson. I think it’s a really cool model that makes a lot of sense for what we do.”
The food works in concert with the Owl’s happy hour, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. and features $2 refills on punches, highballs and coolers as well as cheap drafts and a daily boilermaker.
“I’m mostly just excited about this Filipino food,” Hollingsworth adds. “It’s different, it’s really cool food, and it’s great drinking food.”
If things continue to go well for Madrilejos, who also works as head bartender at Graffiti Social Kitchen, Carabao Filipino Cuisine might soon find itself in any number of more permanent positions.
“At first I just wanted to introduce Clevelanders to Filipino food, but I think there are a lot of opportunities down the road,” Madrilejos says.