Memphis native Amy Zuniga always dreamed of owning her own bar. But when Bari’s
Rebecca and Jason Severs decided to sell Three Angels Diner, a second restaurant they opened in 2010, that decision became a fortuitous opportunity for Amy, who is Rebecca’s sister, and her new husband, Cancun-trained chef Julio Zuniga. In October, the couple rebranded the restaurant as Maximo’s on Broad, and while the cozy interior of the restaurant is much the same, the menu is new, offering international flavors in tapas, entrees, and bar eats for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch.
Tell me about your cooking background, Julio. I don’t think I’ve ever met a native of Cancun.
Julio: Cancun is very international, and people come from everywhere, so you have all kinds of food: molecular, Mayan, Italian, Indian. I started working at big five-star resorts in Cancun, and then I cooked for a cruise line for a couple of years and traveled everywhere, and then I came to Tunica to work at a casino. While waiting for this restaurant, I worked at Erling Jensen for a couple of months. He is an amazing chef.
Your menu seems to be a synthesis of many different kinds of cooking.
Julio: Yes, that’s true. I like fusion food. I try to bring something from everywhere I have worked, and end up with something new, but without losing the sense of what I start with. I like to change things. Like my pesto is not the same pesto like everywhere. I use pecans, not pine nuts.
Well, that’s very Southern. What else do you put in it?
Julio: Basil, of course, but I also add onions. Pesto needs a little onion.
So a good example of your style might be the excellent salmon Wellington I ate here the
other night. It was a throwback to the 1960s.
Julio: Yes! First, I made beef Wellington on New Year’s Eve, then I thought, how can I make it different? So I thought salmon. I like to break the rules and make something real crazy.
Do you have favorite dishes on the menu?
Amy: I love the ravioli [stuffed with goat cheese and basil in roasted red pepper sauce topped with crispy prosciutto].
Julio: And the avocado fries [fried avocado wedges with cilantro chimichurri and chipotle coulis].
What separates your restaurant from other restaurants in Memphis?
Julio [laughing]: I’m the difference. I’m here. I cook everything different from people I know in terms of technique and flavor and seasoning.
Who comes up with the cocktails?
Amy: They are all my recipes.
Do you have a favorite?
Amy: It’s probably the New Broad. It’s a champagne margarita with fresh lime juice. And I love The Rebel. It is rye whiskey, muddled basil, peach liqueur, and peach puree, and it is so good.
I see a bottle on the bar called Big Gin. I’ve never heard of it.
Amy: It’s a small batch gin from Seattle. I’ve been turning a lot of people on to it. It was two guys who were just making gin in their bathtub to drink themselves, and then they really turned it into something.
How do you feel about the neighborhood?
Amy: The neighborhood has changed for the better. It was really neat at Christmastime. People were out strolling and shopping and getting coffee and eating. It was like being part of one big happy family. I liked the feeling of that.
And finally, what does Maximo mean?
Julio: Some people are confused because they think Maximo is Italian, but it is Spanish. It means the best.
2617 Broad Ave. (901-452-1111)