Mi Tierra: A Dream Postponed

Humans may not be able to live by bread alone, but it turns out we can make a good run at it by tacos alone. It’s a happy truth for those of us who are transplants from the Southwest that, even in northerly climes, Mexican food has become ubiquitous.

Said cuisine used to be hard to come by in these parts, outside of a couple of solid destinations. Now and then, rumors would swirl among the Texan expatriate community of a new place, one that sources said was the real deal. Trundling off to the latest hot spot usually offered the same result: lackluster enchiladas, half-hearted tacos, and tired chips. Now and then something good would result, yet something different from the Tex-Mex comfort food that always hung on the horizon like a spicy mirage.

It was in that climate of shattered expectation that I first visited Hadley’s Mi Tierra. I was wary. I’d been disappointed too often. When chips arrived with an accompaniment of exceptionally good tomatillo sauce, I let myself get hopeful. When enchiladas verde arrived swimming in sauce and covered with white cheese, my tastebuds revved. It’s the little touches that prove that the kitchen has the right stuff, and Mi Tierra didn’t miss a trick.

Those enchiladas were not Tex-Mex. But even when I lived in the Lone Star state, I eventually moved past a love for that cheddary, beefy incarnation of Mexican cuisine. My favorite flavors are Mex without so much Tex. And these were the real thing, a beautiful marriage of tangy green sauce, white cheese, and corn tortillas. The tortillas even had the smoky je ne sais quoi I’d only tasted in Texas. The refritos nestled alongside, thick and rich. (Too often, those modest legumes get boiled, salted, and then neglected, making for a sad crowd of non-refried beany nuggets.) Even the rice got its proper treatment, coming out yellow and faintly fragrant.

On many a subsequent visit, I sampled other parts of the menu. The huaraches—small, thick tortillas topped with the usual array of beans, cheese, meat and sauce—offered a toothsomeness like little I’d tasted. Alas, they eventually disappeared from the menu. Mi Tierra’s burritos were fearsome, hearty piecese of artillery, coated with crema, cheese, and other delights. The array of shrimp plates offered intriguing takes and smoky-spicy sauces.

All those repeat visits brought another unexpected pleasure: getting acquainted with members of the family who ran Mi Tierra, originally from the state of Guerrero in southwest Mexico. Owner Jorge Sosa took Mi Tierra from just a grocery in Sringfield to a grocery with a few tables and a small menu, then finally to a large, full-service restaurant in Hadley with a clientele whose numbers quickly rose. Talk to a waiter, and you’d likely find a relative of someone else working there; the little girl who often ran around the place belonged to Dora Saravia, a friendly and constant presence at the restaurant. The family clearly invested immense amounts of time, energy, and capital in their burgeoning business.

When Mi Tierra and the many businesses in the same complex suffered a catastrophic fire, the event was, of course, a lot more than a blow to fans of ethnic food. One aspect of the tragedy that looms particularly large is that among the many business owners, you’ll find folks like Sosa and family, folks who immigrated to our shores in search of better lives. They were making it happen, succeeding in a foreign land.

Mi Tierra’s Facebook page said this not long after the fire: “We believe that there is an American Dream and [it] is possible. This tragedy only postpones ours. Best wishes to our neighbors.”

Sosa says he’s ready to rebuild his dream: “[It] may take us a few months, but we’ll be back.”

The restaurant’s many fans are becoming supporters, a rally of the sort the Valley seems good at. At Citizens Bank branches, you can donate to the Mi Tierra Recovery Account. Another fund has been set up by the Amherst Chamber of Commerce to aid all the business owners affected by the fire. Hadley farmer Michael Docter, who’s running the Mi Tierra Facebook page, reports there that the family had basic insurance, but that it will likely only cover a portion of the cost.

This week, Bub’s Bar-B-Q is throwing a benefit event for the restaurant as well, giving all proceeds from a dinner service to Mi Tierra and offering a chance to get down to business with a plate of barbecue while doing a good turn to neighbors in need.•

Benefit event: Nov. 18, 4-8 p.m., Bub’s Bar-B-Q, 676 Amherst Road, Sunderland, (413) 548-9630, bubsbbq.com.

Author: James Heflin

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