Nosh Pit

Nosh Pit: Gallery owner segues into culinary arts

Art Aguilar, owner of Gallery 2110, will also open Midtown’s Cantina Alley in early summer, bringing to town Mexican street foods and craft beers rarely seen here. With him is Laurie Hopkins, associate director of the Del Paso Boulevard gallery.
Art Aguilar, owner of Gallery 2110, will also open Midtown’s Cantina Alley in early summer, bringing to town Mexican street foods and craft beers rarely seen here. With him is Laurie Hopkins, associate director of the Del Paso Boulevard gallery. cmacias@sacbee.com

Down on Del Paso Boulevard, a few blocks from Cask & Barrel and nestled next to Son of a Bean cafe, is the new home of Art Aguilar’s Gallery 2110. On a recent day, it featured a menagerie of metal sculptures waiting to be corralled and evocative collages from Milton Bowens looking to be hung.

Gallery 2110 has its VIP grand opening Thursday, followed by a Second Saturday reception with music, food and wine. But it’s not the only arts venture that Aguilar has cooking. With a group of partners, he’s planning a move into the culinary arts. Midtown’s Cantina Alley, on 24th Street between J and K, is expected to open in early summer, and will specialize in Mexican street foods and craft beers rarely seen on this side of the border.

That’s to say, Aguilar has plenty on his plate. Gallery 2110 moved from its former digs at 2110 K St. in December, and Aguilar rushed to hold a February art show at its new Del Paso Boulevard space. But the March showing of Bowens’ work – a collection of musical and civil rights themes titled “All Blues Ain’t Blue” – is considered the gallery’s official grand opening.

Along with a team that includes local artist Laurie Hopkins as associate director, Aguilar hopes to add to Del Paso Boulevard’s creative spirit and growing commerce. Temporary art spaces, or “phantom galleries,” have been a fixture of the neighborhood for two decades, though Del Paso as a dining destination has traditionally been hit and miss.

But Aguilar and Hopkins are banking on some new synergy coming to the neighborhood. A housing development with retail space is expected to break ground across the street from the gallery later this year. Cask & Barrel, with its menu of modernist barbecue styles and American comfort foods, debuted recently in Enotria’s former space, located where Del Paso Boulevard meets Arden Way. There’s also talk of a large-scale baking operation and retail shop down the street, along with a new brewery near Lil Joe’s.

Gallery 2110 serves as a studio space for three artists, and includes a public gallery that focuses on Northern California artists. The former Gallery 2110 on K Street was a two-story, 7,000- square-foot space that also included the Sacramento Art Complex. That property has since transformed into Outlet Coworking.

As work on his two projects began to converge, Aguilar figured he’d have to put at least one of them on hold. “We love the arts, (but) thought we were going to have to focus on the restaurant project,” said Aguilar. “But with so many galleries closing, I thought we owed it to the artists (to re-open Gallery 2110).”

Midtown’s Cantina Alley has been percolating in Aguilar’s mind for years. He’s a native of Querétaro, a small state in Mexico’s north-central region, whose family settled in Yolo County and worked as migrant farmworkers.

Much of Aguilar’s career has been spent in the food business, including a partnership in the former MVP Sports Grill on L Street and ownership in a Woodland deli. With Midtown’s Cantina Alley, Aguilar wants to give Sacramento a taste of Mexican foods rarely found around these parts.

“(In the United States), we’re introduced to perhaps 10 percent of what Mexican food is,” Aguilar said. “We’re trying to bring street foods from all the regions – from Baja, from Oaxaca, from Mexico City. Everything that we’re doing is what you’d see in Mexico.”

That means you won’t find the usual Americanized chips and salsa, and other conventional side dishes at Midtown’s Cantina Alley. The foods will include such ingredients as huitlacoche (an earthy-tasting corn fungus often used in quesadillas) and flor de calabaza (squash blossom), and plates of slow-cooked lamb birria and al pastor tacos.

“You don’t get rice and beans when you go to Mexico, you get huaraches (fried masa with various toppings),” said Aguilar. “You don’t see these things here, but that’s traditional. That’s from the streets.”

You also won’t find Tecate in a can or Corona. Midtown’s Cantina Alley will highlight nearly three dozen Mexican craft beers, most which will be new to Sacramento, plus wine offerings from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California.

Given Aguilar’s entrepreneurship in the arts, the decor will be especially vibrant, with painted tiles, vintage Mexican movie posters and other colorful works. The entrance to the 75-capacity eatery, with the bulk of the seating in a courtyard, will be in the alley.

“I think this has been in the works all my life,” Aguilar said. “I got a taste of living in Mexico and love it there. But midtown’s all about the art scene and you have to have good food. We want midtowners to feel like it’s their restaurant.”

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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