All photos by Scott Lynch
Jan 10, 2022
Bushwick’s popular taco spot Sobre Masa expands to add coffee and retail
New offerings include tamales and pastries, as well as homemade provisions like their trademark tortillas
There’s a lot going on at Sobre Masa Tortilleria these days.
When Oaxacan natives Zack and Diana Wangeman first opened the space in late October, on an industrial stretch of Harrison Street in Bushwick, their focus was on two things: building a small wholesale tortilla factory—where multiple varietals of heirloom corn, imported from Mexico, would get nixtamalized, milled, pounded into masa, and pressed—and running a restaurant, with a short menu of tacos, costras, and gringas, all using said tortillas, as well as a full cocktail bar that highlighted Mexican booze.
The neighborhood immediately embraced the place—the room is a fun one, and the food here is superb—and the tortilla factory has been supplying restaurants all over the city, including hotspots like ABC Cocina and Colonia Verde. But as Zack tells Brooklyn Magazine, the Omicron variant has hit hard.
“We were starting to get momentum there and it just kind of put a stop on things,” he says. “The holiday season was particularly rough, when everyone was getting sick. And if people weren’t sick they stayed home because they wanted to see their family, and didn’t want to test positive. We had to close. Everyone was closing. But we’re excited about the new year. We’re just kind of starting over.”
Part of the Wangemans starting-over strategy is adding more to the mix. “One of the things the pandemic taught us,” Zack said, “is that the more different avenues of income you have, the better off you’ll be in the long term.” And so last week Sobre Masa Tortilleria started selling house-made pastries, tamales, various provisions, and coffee drinks using imported Mexican beans from the counter up by the front door.
Before dedicating seemingly all of his waking hours to learning about corn, Zack was an accomplished pastry chef, working at Major Food Group’s The Pool in Midtown Manhattan. As a result, his creations here at Sobre Masa are far more polished than your usual coffee shop fare. Not that anything is particularly fancy, but the textures are lovely, and the flavors explode.
There are several varieties of conchas, or traditional Mexican sweet bread rolls, like the gooey almond beauty I made quick work of the other morning. The orejas, commonly called palmiers, are sweet, buttery and fantastically flaky, and the chewy corn cookies deliver a nice hit of cinnamon. Best of all, maybe, is the slab of coffee cake, all crusty on top with a sticky, jammy ribbon within. The coffee itself is made from imported Mexican beans, and roasted by the Wangemans’ landlord, Shared Roasting.
You can also get to-go tamales at the counter. The pork one with salsa verde and the vegetarian Rajas, which are stuffed with spicy peppers and queso fresco, are both first-rate. Bags of chips, jars of salsa (the fiery fried arbol chili is particularly good), and packaged stacks of tortillas are available as well. I highly recommend picking up the latter, which are made from bolita amarilla corn and have a nice nutty flavor when quick-griddled, if you want to be a brunch-time hero. They are excellent with cheesy scrambled eggs.
The dinner part of the proceedings here may have been going on for a couple months already, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still exciting. The Sobre Masa menu features three tacos, the tortillas made with that bolita corn, whether white, yellow, blue, or pink, and come topped with al pastor, bistec, or pan-fried cauliflower. Add crispy Oaxacan cheese to any of those and you have what’s called a contra, or get a gringa, which comes folded-over, quesadilla-style, and uses cacahuazintle, the normally corn more usually found in pozole, for a soft, almost floury feel.
Whenever you feel comfortable eating inside a restaurant again, whether that means tonight or next summer, Sobre Masa is a pleasant place to spend time with friends, with its high ceiling, big stone bar, enormous skylight, mountains of corn sacks, a rug made by Diana’s father on the wall, and a roost of kites by Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo in the rafters. Diana is a doctor by day, but has plenty of hospitality experience as well, working just about every job at mother’s restaurant back home in Teotitlán del Valle, where they are particular about their corn.
And, in the end, Sobre Masa is all about the corn. “One thing that’s very cool is that we’re trying to really showcase corn as the main ingredient here,” says Zack. “It’s an ingredient that’s so threatened in Mexico right now by GMO and just farmers wanting to stop growing the corn that’s been in their family for generations… we really want to actively say: ‘hey, people like your product, and what you do is awesome.’ We work very closely with Tamoa, a corn distributor in Mexico, and they do a very responsible job of sourcing. My friend does the same thing with our coffee beans. It’s becoming a nice little space where we’re empowering Mexican producers. Everything we have here has a story behind it.”
Sobre Masa Tortilleria is located at 52 Harrison Place, between Morgan and Knickerbocker Avenues. The coffee/pastry/tamale shop is currently open from Tuesday through Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with dinner service and cocktails in the back starting each evening at 5:00 p.m.
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