Ester’s Son’s Kitchen

GENEVA — With spring comes new beginnings, and that’s certainly the case for Rafael Diaz Diaz, who is opening a new eatery at 14 Castle St. in the former Pinky’s Restaurant and Bar.

Esther’s Son’s Kitchen, so named in honor of his mother, features a tropical twist inspired by his native Puerto Rican fare.

Since 2005, Diaz Diaz has operated first a food truck, then his El Morro restaurant, in two locations, serving up more traditional dishes such as empanadas, burritos and varied stews. He has been operating El Morro at 284 Exchange St. since 2013.

Diaz Diaz said his mother, Esther, was certainly a good cook, and he learned much from her. However, the new restaurant will feature dishes born of his own inspiration showcasing tropical fruits and vegetables.

“God gave me the idea to cook with fruit, then I got excited because I have so many customers who are vegetarian,” Diaz Diaz said.

He has tested his new recipes out with his employees and friends. The menu’s offerings include dishes such as pineapple stuffed with chicken fajitas (made with pineapple and mango); watermelon shrimp cocktail served with fried plantains; papaya stuffed with shrimp stew in mild fruit salsa; and stewed eggplant with fruit rice and pineapple slices. More traditional meat offerings are available, often accompanied by plantains or yucca. Although he does not have a liquor license yet, Diaz Diaz said customers may bring their own wine.

All menu items will be prepared fresh, and customers should not expect a fast-food experience, he noted. The meal prices also will be higher than at El Morro.

“This food, it takes time to cook,” he said.

Diaz Diaz not only put work into developing the menu, he rolled up his sleeves and gave the old Pinky’s a cosmetic makeover. He removed two tables (now for a total of 14) to create a little more space and brightened up the dining room with new paint — a rich pink color and green trim now cover the walls. He also reconfigured the bathroom and made kitchen repairs. The space came with glassware, plates, and pots and pans.

One decorative item that has remained is the beach-front photo mural behind the bar; Diaz Diaz plans to touch up some imperfections, but the sunset beach scene with swaying palm trees fits perfectly with his new restaurant’s tropical theme.

Diaz Diaz is renting the building from Vincent Fischer but may pursue a rent-to-own agreement if things go well, he said. His current plan is to keep El Morro operating at its current location, but should the new venture prove successful he may consolidate the two locations in the future.

Diaz Diaz is eying an opening as early as this week. He plans to have three employees, one in the kitchen and two at the front of the house.

For now, Esther’s Son’s Kitchen will be open from 2-10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Call 315-759-5033 to make reservations.

Catherine Price, director of the Geneva Downtown Business Improvement District, said Diaz Diaz’s food is “amazing” and she can’t wait to see what he does in his new space. She also likes that the menu will be different than what he cooks up at El Morro and is heartened that an established restaurateur is taking over Pinky’s, which she called an institution.

“He’s ecstatic,” Price said. “I just don’t know where he gets his energy from. Geneva has so many amazing restaurants. The food scene is really our thing. It’s nice to continue to expand on that.”

Diaz Diaz said his mother’s dream was to open a restaurant in their native Puerto Rico, and he knows she would be amazed that he’s now running two eateries in Geneva.

“I think she is happy and is crying in the sky seeing me doing so much hard work,” he said.