Metro-East Living

New Troy restaurant combines Mexican and Puerto Rican cultures

Terra Sur in Troy is a Mexican restaurant with a Caribbean twist, offering Puerto Rican dishes on weekends.

The concept reflects the backgrounds of manager Ely Vargas, who grew up in Mexico, and owner Catherine Colon, formerly of Puerto Rico. It’s been a learning experience for both.

“(Puerto Ricans) use the plantains like we use tortillas,” said Ely, 34, of Granite City. “That’s one of their main foods.”

Ely was speaking of fruits similar to bananas that are fried, boiled, steamed, grilled or baked.

“Our rice is different than Mexican rice,” added Catherine, 38, of Granite City. “It’s yellow, and it’s boiled, not fried. And we put a lot of stuff in it, like green pigeon peas, pork and different kinds of herbs.”

Ely and Catherine met when both had sons receiving First Communion at a Catholic church. Each has three children.

The women opened Terra Sur in May near the intersection of Interstate 55/70 and Illinois 162. The name means “land to the south” in Spanish.

“We both do everything,” Ely said. “We cook. We serve. We clean. We entertain.”

Last weekend, the women served their usual variety of appetizers, salads, soups, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas and other Mexican dishes on the extensive menu. They also posted four Puerto Rican choices on their Facebook page and wrote them on a chalkboard at the door.

“This is Shrimp Soup,” Catherine said, pointing to a photo. “It’s creamy. It’s not watery. It’s got shrimp, rice and potatoes in it. It’s served with plantain and bread or crackers.”

The other three Puerto Rican dishes were Lasagne, Carnitas and Stuffed Chicken Breast with broccoli and cauliflower, wrapped in bacon.

“We call (the Lasagne) ‘sky, sea and earth,’” Catherine said. “That represents chicken, shrimp and beef.”

Terra Sur’s textured walls are painted bright orange, accented with yellow and turquoise and are decorated with family and customer photos. People sit at wooden tables and booths while lively Mexican music plays on the stereo. A covered patio provides outdoor seating with wrought-iron tables and chairs.

Last weekend, housemates Robert Wydra and Meaghan O’Connell decided to give the new restaurant a try.

“We live right down the street, and we’re big fans of Mexican food,” said Robert, 21, of Troy, a private school teacher.

Both ordered quesadillas. Robert got his filled with cheese and Mexican sausage, while Meaghan went for the shrimp.

“Everything is good, but I think the salsa is my favorite,” Robert said, noting a hint of garlic.

“The salsa is phenomenal,” added Meaghan, 21, who works for Walgreens. “The (strawberry) margaritas are good, too.”

Ely moved to the United States at 17, following in her brother’s footsteps. She’s been working in Mexican restaurants ever since.

Catherine came to the mainland in 2002 from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, with her ex-husband, a U.S. Army officer.

“Both (cooking styles) are good,” Catherine said. “I like a lot of Mexican food, and they love my food.”

The restaurant’s signature dish, the Terra Sur Special, is grilled shrimp with broccoli, cauliflower, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, served on a bed of rice and smothered with housemade cheese sauce.

The signature drink, a Carribbean Kiss, is made with orange and pineapple juices, light and dark rums and grenadine. The signature dessert is flan or Mexican custard.

“All the Mexican restaurants have the flan, but this is different,” Ely said. “It’s more Caribbean-style.”

At a glance

What: Terra Sur Mexican Restaurant

Where: 920 Edwardsville Road in Troy

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Seating: About 100

Handicap-accessible: Yes

Carryouts: Yes

Information: Visit the Facebook page or call 618-667-1022

On the menu

Terra Sur Special — Shrimp grilled to perfection with broccoli, cauliflower, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, served on a bed of rice and smothered with cheese sauce, $10.75

Chimichangas — Flour tortillas stuffed with beans and choice of chicken, beef or shrimp, deep-fried, topped with nacho cheese, garnished with guacamole salad and sour cream and served with rice and beans, $8.99 to $10.99

Daily Specials — Tacos for $1 on Taco Tuesdays; and all-you-can-eat beef tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, rice and beans Mondays through Fridays, $6.99 for lunch or $8.99 for dinner (dine-in only)

Stuffed Chicken Breast — Puerto Rican-style chicken breast stuffed with broccoli and cauliflower, wrapped in bacon, cooked and served with rice, salad and plantains, $14.99

Fajitas Terra Sur — Beef, chicken, chorizo and shrimp cooked with onion, tomato and bell peppers and served with rice, beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream and tortillas, $12.99 (two for $21.99)

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