We never said goodbye, we always said, 'One day, Cafe Cusco." Joe Gidman sat relaxed in his chair but an eagerness couldn't help but come out, "it was a running joke, but here we are."
The atmosphere is warm, teeming with oranges, yellows and reds. Soft colored woods tie it together, with little alcoves that house dining tables every other spot. There are pops of freshness with pearl-like shell strings, white feather ceiling lamps, and a blue door hung straight on the wall. Tapestries with South American influence bring the last touch, pulling it all back around to the origin; the start of it all.
Cafe Cusco, the newest Peruvian restaurant in Springfield, is run by someone who, undeniably, is qualified. After traveling through 30 countries, 34 year-old Gidman finally settled on a cuisine that was worth the trouble and dedication it takes to start a restaurant
Eventually, the family made it to the Southwest area and Gidman ended up at College of the Ozarks, working on an art degree. “My best friend in college was from Lima, Peru. He had a picture of Machu Picchu in his dorm, and I always said ‘One day, we’re gonna go there.’”
A few months after graduating, they did. “I just ate, traveled, drank and danced,” Gidman says, laughing.
Coming back to the Ozarks, Gidman went into restaurant management in the Branson area for a few years. But the idea of the cafe was never far away, and a little research led to the push over of the first domino. “I was consulting for another restaurant here in town, and I was reading what the food trends would be for the year. Everything kept saying that high-end Latin food was on the rise, with Peruvian food being the fastest growing.” Gidman says smiling, “I thought, hmm, maybe it’s time for Cafe Cusco.”
A year and a half in business later, and the restaurant has already been a finalist in 417’s Best, with doting mentioned on the fish tacos. “It’s all fresh,” Gidman says of his ingredients, "we don't fry the fish, we use our ceviche." Ceviche is one of the traditional dishes of South America and was used as a way to preserve fish using fruit juices. The citric acid in the juice cooks the fish in a way, without taking away its natural taste.
The ceviche is only the beginning of the regionally inspired, and innovative cuisines that Gidman has chosen to feature. “Our kitchen is entirely gluten free,” Gidman says with pride. Bread is served with some dishes but is completely out-sourced from local bakeries, and the flours used to fry certain food items are made up of corn flour, rice flour, and gluten free bean flours.
Gidman also made sure to cater to those who are vegetarian and vegan. “I was actually a vegetarian for eight years,” Gidman says. Many meat dishes are on the menu though, and the restaurant can actually boast to be the only one in Spring- field that features goat. “We get it from New Zealand,” Gidman says. “Which is great because we don’t have to worry about any GMOs, most other countries are extremely strict on their food laws, which work in our favor.”
As for alcoholic beverages, Gidman made sure to bring in national favorites like the pisco sour, Peru’s national drink, and the caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink. The pisco sour tastes a lot like a margarita, but with an interesting twist, cinnamon and egg white are added. Never forgetting to keep it local, the restaurant features beer and wine from the Midwest as well. “The owner of White River brewing company comes in a lot,” an employee chimes in, “and he says ‘I know I make beer, but I’ll have a couple piscos if you don’t mind,’ they’re that good.”
Gidman admits that they’re not alone in the building. He believes that three ghosts inhabit the upstairs and downstairs and he’s got stories to prove it. But it’s a peaceful existence Gidman says. “We know they’re there and they know we’re here. We get along.”
They probably don’t mind the food either.