The scent of warm, delicately seasoned rice and slow-cooked meat rose from the plate as I tucked into my first taste of churrasco.
This traditional Ecuadorian dish features slow-cooked beef nestled in a savory, tomato-based sauce, aside rice, French fries, fresh vegetables and a fried egg.
I devoured my meal with ease. But the challenges faced by today’s restaurateurs? Not easy at all.
This is certainly part of the story for Marisol Aviles de Ortiz and her husband Hector Ortiz, who opened the doors of their Ecuadorian restaurant, Roots of My Land, in late 2019, only to almost immediately face the pandemic.
“It’s been very hard,” Hector said. “All restaurants have been hit. The question now is for how long? Two months? Three months? Maybe six months? Nobody knows. But we are committed to keep going.”
The story underlying Roots of My Land started some 20 years ago, when the couple immigrated to Harrisburg from their native Ecuador. Opening a restaurant was a long-time goal for Marisol.
“This restaurant has been a dream of my wife’s,” Hector explained. “We started this family business to present something that you cannot otherwise find in central Pennsylvania and promote the diversity of cultures, experiences and variety of dishes that the Latino Hispanic community offers.”
Years ago, Hector and Marisol helped start the Latino Hispanic American Community Center (LHACC), located in the Allison Hill neighborhood of Harrisburg. They have long demonstrated their belief in working to make their community a vibrant place. This commitment continues today and is evident in the couple’s choice to locate their restaurant just one block away from LHACC.
“The only way to change communities is to support them,” Hector noted. “By contributing to the economy in this community, we help show that this neighborhood is a place that people can do business and believe in.”
When people enter Roots of My Land for the first time, Hector and Marisol encourage them to be adventurous.
“I challenge people to experience the pleasure of life by trying something different, something new—a good taste, a good dish, to take time to enjoy the environment, the food and each other,” Hector explained.
“Believe me, if you don’t like what you try, you don’t pay,” Marisol said, laughing.
But so far, she has yet to find anyone who fails to enjoy her food.
“If they try it, they always like it,” she observed, smiling broadly. “And when you dine here, everything is fresh and made to order. That’s very important to me.”
Hector and Marisol’s enthusiasm for the food of their homeland is irresistible, so I had to sample some of their recommendations.
I tried the arroz jardinero y maduro, which was a mild and comforting rice dish served with savory chicken, and the chaulafan de pollo (seasoned and sautéed rice served with chicken, scrambled eggs and vegetables). But my favorite of the dishes was the aforementioned churrasco. Seriously tasty.
I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so. Patricia Gadsden has dined at Roots of My Land several times since the restaurant opened. She mentioned a number of dishes that she has enjoyed, but particularly called out the restaurant’s preparation of a traditional seafood casserole (cazuela), and the chaulafan de camarón.
“Everything I’ve tried, I’ve enjoyed,” she said. “And I will be back.”
On weekend mornings, the restaurant serves Ecuadorian breakfast specialties, such as egg and cheese empanadas, a cheese and ham omelet and bolón de verde—a hearty treat made from fried green plantains and stuffed with meat and cheese.
“One or two bolón with a cup of coffee makes for an excellent breakfast,” said Hector, grinning and clapping his hands for emphasis.
Last year, when the couple prepared to open Roots of My Land, they painted the dining room walls a vibrant azure and hung artwork from Ecuador. Marisol hand-painted three flags along the front of the main counter: the United States, Ecuador and the City of Harrisburg.
“This is not just about a feeling of pride, but about integrating our culture and food with the culture that is already here,” Hector said.
Marisol shared her vision.
“These three flags represent what’s important to me,” she said. “The Ecuadorian flag shows our culture and heritage, the United States flag is for the way that this country gave us a second opportunity. And the City of Harrisburg flag is because this is the first city that we came to—we have lived here all these years, and I love it. Representing these three flags is very important to me.”
Roots of My Land Family Restaurant is located at 1430 Derry St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.rootsofmyland.com or call 717-991-6300.