While Casa Guava's location may have happened by accident, everything else about Chef Joaquin Montesino Jr.'s new Cuban spot is intentional. The decor, the menu offerings and the ambiance are all motivated by Montesino's intent to share his culture and his cuisine with Savannah.
"I think it's every chef's dream to have your own little place, but mainly I wanted to bring that tradition—I was born in Cuba, raised in Miami, so I wanted to bring that here to Savannah. I believe there's some Cuban places around here, but I want to bring the real deal, the authentic Cuban cuisine—the pastries, the empanadas, the Cuban sandwich, but it has always been a dream to have my own place," Montesino said. "To bring a little bit of my culture here to Savannah."
Exterior of Casa Guava located at 314 Drayton St.
In 2018, Montesino moved from Miami to Savannah and worked in a few places, the last being as the executive chef for both Collins Quarter locations. The idea and the dream to open his own restaurant has always existed, but Montesino started taking it more seriously about two years ago.
"Honestly, I got tired of cooking for someone else. I felt like I was ready. You know what? I can do this myself. Why not?"
A little over three months ago, Montesino happened to notice the building at 314 Drayton St. seemed shut down. After finding out the former restaurant, Burritos Pantano, was permanently closed, he started asking more questions. "Came by Pinkie Masters trying to get in touch with the landlord. Came once, twice, three times—every day for a week and a half until I finally got to the guy. He said, 'okay, you're the one that's been chasing me.' Yes. That's me."
Pastries at Casa Guava.
He signed a lease on Sept. 1 and quickly started working on making the space his own. "So he showed me the place and I said, 'I'll take it. I'll clean it. You don't have to worry about it and I'll take it as it is.' I started by painting, decorating, and I did everything myself."
The menu offers small bites "pa' picar" including Cuban puff pastries, empanadas, croquetas and tamales in addition to breakfast, lunch sandwiches and coffee or "cafecito."
Montesino admits it's not easy, this is the first step in a long road ahead, but despite the challenges, he's excited to bring Havana to Savannah through food. "Give me a shot. Give it a try. I'm a chef but I'm cooking food that I grew up with. That's my grandma's recipe," Montesino points over the table to a framed recipe hanging on the wall. "That's my family, my grandparents. So I want [people] to give it a shot, give it a try. You won't be disappointed."
Casa Guava is located at 318 Drayton St. and is open everyday from 8am to 3pm.