There’s a strange sign posted above the kitchen door at Maria’s Comida restaurant in Hamtramck. It reads “Three Feet Away.”
Confused, I asked Maria’s brother, Fred Pronko, what the sign meant. Sink three feet away? Stove three feet away? Diners three feet away? What?
Nothing like that, Fred says. It’s a reminder to persevere.
He told me about a guy who bought all the rights to a supposed diamond mine. He dug and dug and dug, but was finally so frustrated at not finding anything that he sold the mine. The next guy that came along dug three feet and became a millionaire.
That’s part of the story about the founding of the restaurant the Pronko family told me and Under the Radar Michigan. If you haven’t seen Under the Radar already, it’s a travel show on public television that takes you beyond typical tourist destinations in our state. I was tagging along with them on their shoot at Maria’s Comida.
The Pronko family opened their restaurant in 2008 and it was tough. “It took two years to really get off the ground,” Maria recalls, “but it’s a really surreal experience, seeing our idea for a restaurant unfold into reality.”
“We knew it was notoriously difficult business,” Fred said.
The family kept pushing through, finding new, interesting recipes for the restaurant. Maria’s Comida (Spanish for food) started with a traditional Mexican menu. Wednesdays, though, were always Asian fusion night. It soon became their busiest so they decided to adopt the more exotic menu full time.
“We wanted to attract people from other cities,” Maria explains.
Fusion menus, by nature, are unusual. But even in this sea of Asian-Mexican fused flavors, there’s something even more surprising:
They have the best barbeque sauce, ever.
I try not to be rash. I know it’s a bold claim in this town. I used to live a block away from Slow’s. Although I didn’t move there just for the food, I won’t say it wasn’t part of the equation.
Want to try the sauce? You can go to the restaurant, of course, but you will soon be able to buy it off the shelf.
The family founded two successful businesses along the way. In addition to their restaurant, they also sell salsa, freshly made from their kitchen. You can find it at Eastern Market, usually in Shed 4.
They’re planning on bottling and selling the barbeque sauce alongside their salsa in the coming months. It will line my pantry shelves. I’d probably eat it by the spoonful, but it’s also mighty good on fries if you want a snack, or their Asian ribs with scallions and ginger for a full bells-and-whistles meal.
Hey. The salsa’s great, too.
“We want to make the jarred salsa taste just like the salsa at the restaurant,” Maria’s father, Al, explains. I couldn’t taste a difference.
“So that’s the story. You persevere. You don’t give up,” Fred says.
Thank heavens they didn’t. Maria’s Comida is impresionante and sugoi (awesome in Spanish and Japanese).
If you want to catch Under the Radar’s freewheeling through Maria’s Comida and the rest of Hamtramck, you can tune in to your public television Channel, 56.1, at 10:30 in the morning this Saturday. If you’re in an area outside of Detroit, check your local listings.
For more information on Maria’s Comida, check their website.