Review: Brew Tulum Serves Unforgettable Mexican Cuisine

The Delmar Maker District cafe's coffee is great — and it's only the start

Apr 26, 2023 at 1:48 pm
click to enlarge Brew Tulum
Mabel Suen
Brew Tulum’s signature pourovers are single-origin, micro-lot specialty coffees.
Laura McNamara vividly remembers the moment her husband, Alberto Juarez, told her they were going to start a coffee business. They were at their home in Tulum, on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, where McNamara had just gotten some bad news from their regular coffee supplier. He was soon moving out of town and closing his small-batch roastery and coffee delivery company — a service McNamara and Juarez had come to rely on for excellent Mexican coffee and the only source in town for such quality beans. McNamara was so crestfallen, she barely noticed Juarez pick up the phone. After hanging up, he turned to his wife and told her the news: They were going to buy their supplier's equipment and go into the coffee business themselves.

That heat-of-the-moment decision has resulted in Brew Tulum (5090 Delmar Boulevard, 636-578-8321), a cafe, roastery and restaurant that has evolved from a Tulum-based specialty coffee supplier into a thrilling celebration of Mexican coffee and culinary culture. With an original location still bustling in Tulum, Juarez and McNamara launched their stateside operation in the Delmar Maker District in November, after moving back to McNamara's hometown during the pandemic.

click to enlarge Alberto Juarez and Laura McNamara are the co-owners of Brew Tulum.
Mabel Suen
Alberto Juarez and Laura McNamara are the co-owners of Brew Tulum.

However, the roots of Brew Tulum go back much further than that fateful business decision — all the way to McNamara's upbringing in St. Charles. Though she refers to her childhood experience as a suburban bubble, McNamara became interested in learning about different cultures thanks to her stepfather, who is first-generation Mexican-American. In college, she studied journalism and Italian, which led to a study abroad experience in Italy. There, she got her first taste of not just excellent, high-quality coffee, but of soulful, of-the-earth food, an experience she describes as life changing and made her seek out such ways of eating and drinking in her post-graduation work around the world for an international digital news agency.

After an experience at a roadside coffee cart in Vietnam made her understand terroir, McNamara became obsessed with discovering local varieties. She had a similar experience in Guatemala, but when she arrived in Mexico's Yucatán, she was disappointed that she could find little outside of Nescafe geared toward tourists. The quest became more urgent after she left her journalism job to settle in the area; simply unwilling to accept a fate drinking poor quality coffee, she searched high and low for good Mexican beans and found them courtesy of a Mad-Max-outfitted, motorcycle-driving coffee entrepreneur who did home deliveries to a select number of clients. She became one of his regular customers and eventually converted Juarez into drinking great coffee, an arrangement that set them up to take over for the supplier after he left the business.

click to enlarge Brew Tulum food dishes
Mabel Suen
Brew Tulum features specialty coffee and Mexican cuisine.

Juarez and McNamara thought their takeover would be an easy transition, but they quickly found out there was no client database. Instead, they had to build the business from scratch, beginning with restaurants. When that failed, they pivoted to direct-to-consumer sales and eventually expanded to a shop that came with a kitchen. Though they'd never cooked professionally, Juarez and McNamara were talented home cooks and translated that passion into a menu of traditional Mexican dishes, finding success with tourists and a regular local clientele for both their coffee and their food.

When the pandemic shut down their business, Juarez and McNamara decided to move to St. Charles to be close to her family as they figured out what to do. They knew they did not want to give up coffee, so they began roasting and exporting beans to Mexico, then developed a stateside clientele through area farmers markets and pop-ups. At one of those events, the husband and wife were approached by someone who knew of an opportunity with MADE in the Delmar Maker District. The organization was looking for a concept to occupy its newly developed restaurant space, and after connecting with those in charge of the space, they decided to open their second location of Brew Tulum.

Juarez and McNamara were not just excited about the MADE space from a real estate perspective. The pair saw the organization's creative and innovative mission as one that complemented their similar philosophy toward coffee and food. You understand this the moment you walk into Brew Tulum and see a coffee bar outfitted with what seems like every brew method known to man. It becomes clear that Juarez and MacNamara are not simply interested in exposing their guests to good, Mexican coffee; they are determined to create a world-class coffee tasting experience that is as educational as it is delicious. Their double-sided list of coffee and coffee-adjacent offerings — complete with both tasting notes and historical background information — underscores this commitment, and is filled with everything from an outstanding French-press-brewed house Mexican coffee that tastes of chocolate and nuts to the Citrus Zest Coffee Coolera, an iced cold-brew coffee spritzed with fresh orange juice, shaken with ice and honey and served in a hollowed-out orange half. Akin to pairing chocolate with orange, you get a hint of bright citrus, while the coffee flavor shines through. It's a stunningly refreshing concoction.

click to enlarge Brew Tulum
Mabel Suen
Café de Olla is a traditional spiced coffee infused with cacao, cinnamon and piloncillo.

Food is equally exceptional. From a tiny glass window to the side of the kitchen, you can see Juarez toiling away by himself, preparing an impressive array of fiercely traditional Mexican dishes that make you feel as if you are eating in his home kitchen in Tulum rather than in the middle of St. Louis. Chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast classic made from cut up tortillas, are extraordinary thanks to a vibrant warm tomato salsa that coats the entire dish. Fresh cream and cheese add richness, while slivers of red onion and cilantro underscore the tomato sauce's brightness.

Cazuela is billed as a Mexican breakfast casserole, though it presents more as a mouthwatering stew. Poached eggs bob in a spiced tomato broth that is accented with fresh spinach and black beans. Shockingly fresh blue-corn tortillas are served alongside, so you can either scoop up the stew or drizzle it over the top. The blue corn makes an appearance on the sopes as well. Here, thicker tortilla rounds are covered in smashed black beans and topped with verdant microgreens, tomatoes, onions and fresh Mexican cheese. Between the rustic tortillas and refined presentation, it's an extraordinary experience.

Brew Tulum's tamales are a case study in all that a tamale should be. Here, the rajas con queso version features poblano peppers and fresh cream wrapped in fresh masa, then covered in both a mildly spiced cream sauce and black-bean puree. Street corn, too, is a master class in the form thanks to rustic, firm kernels steeped in a chili-infused broth. Here, instead of mayonnaise taking over, it's more of a subtle backbeat of cream and tanginess that melts into the broth and lets the nutty flavor of the corn take center stage. I can't imagine a more beautiful thing.

click to enlarge The churros are served with chocolate.
Mabel Suen
The churros are served with chocolate.

Enfrijoladas — blue-corn tortillas stuffed with gooey white cheese and topped with a rich black bean sauce — are excellent on their own, but they become transcendent when paired with Brew Tulum's house hot sauce, which is less a sauce than a paste of oil and crushed spices. This addictive concoction is less a vinegary heat than a deeply savory yet warm flavor that builds with each bite. You'll want to drizzle it on every last thing you eat.

As mind-blowing as the hot sauce is, Brew Tulum's most unforgettable dish is the enmoladas. Here, blue-corn tortillas are filled with sauteed hibiscus flowers and smothered in decadent mole. The hibiscus is outrageously delicious; fruity, tart and floral, yet somehow savory, it provides a powerfully bright contrast to the rich, chili-infused chocolate sauce. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this outstanding complexity of flavors.

And to think this all began with a coffee delivery business. Thank goodness Juarez and McNamara took the leap. Our city is all the more delicious for it.

Brew Tulum is open Mon.-Wed. 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri. 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (Closed Thursdays).

Coming soon: Riverfront Times Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting St. Louis stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter