If you’re searching for some of the best pizza in Cuenca, you should head for the mountains

Apr 23, 2024 | 0 comments

By Stephen Vargha

A hidden gem is not immediately apparent. It therefore has received far less recognition than it deserves.

Esteban S. helps customers decide on a pizza.

On the far west side of Cuenca, three miles west of Av. de las Américas, exists a hidden gem.

“I never knew about Casa Hermanos until our Ecuadorian friends recommended it,” said Michael Kaufmann. “We got talking about food and they told me it’s way out there and that it’s definitely worth the taxi ride.”

Marlon M. stretches the pizza dough to top and bake it.

For Kaufmann, an expat from California, the pizza restaurant is just over six miles from his home. He was hesitant at first to make the ride out to the western edge of the city for good pizza.

“I usually don’t take restaurant recommendations as it is all subjective,” said Kaufmann. “I don’t think of Ecuadorians as big pizza people. Now if the recommendation had come from someone from the Bay Area…”

Kaufmann did venture out to the end of Av. Ordóñez Lasso. He now considers Casa Hermanos his favorite place for pizza in Cuenca.

Casa Hermanos is located on the western side of Av. Ordóñez Lasso, on the way to the Cajas.

“The building used to be my father’s restaurant, serving local food,” said Daniel Narváez G. “My relationship with my brother is awesome. That is why the name.”

Casa Hermanos, or known as “Siblings House” in English, is a true family affair.

“Everything from the ceiling my girlfriend Carolina created,” said Narváez. “Carolina’s father made the restaurant’s unique tables. And we have a garden out back.”

So many choices! Daniel Narváez helping customers decide what pizza to get.

The road to Casa Hermanos was a long, but very educational one for Narváez, 33 years old. When he was 17 years old, the Cuencano visited his cousin in the Hamptons.

While on the east end of Long Island, his cousin became the genesis for Narváez’s career in the restaurant business.

“She was working at Nick & Toni’s, a famous Tuscan restaurant in East Hampton, and my cousin asked me to help out in the kitchen,” said Narváez. “It was my first week in New York and I worked there for three weeks as a dishwasher. It was very hard work!”

Daniel Narváez is happy to help you decide what gourmet pizza would be best for you.

Narváez returned to New York the following summer. This time, he ended up working at Levain Bakery, a famous bakery that opened in 1995, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“I asked the owner if I cooul make cookies, breads such as focaccia and French baguettes, and pizza dough,” said Narváez. “I did that from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., I worked at Nick & Toni’s. It made me who I am.”

Narváez spent a total of nine summers working at those two New York locations. He then decided to focus on his college education, studying psychology for seven semesters at the University of Cuenca.

A perfect combination! Casa Hermanos has several cocktails, too. There is a special this month for cocktails.

“I quit because I really wanted to study gastronomy,” said Narváez. “I think the University of Cuenca is excellent, especially with the technology they have for their gastronomy program.”

After graduating in 2017, Narváez went to Long Island one last time. For six months, he worked for Chef Massimo Sola, who once earned a prestigious Michelin star for his restaurant, I Quattro Mori, in Varese, Italy.

“Chef Sola taught me a lot. He was really, really cool,” said Narváez. “He told me, ‘Come here. Let’s work together.’”

Narváez said it was hard work at Dopo la Spiaggia, an upscale Italian restaurant in East Hampton. It would be the last time he worked in New York.

Daniel F. delivers a gourmet pizza to Marcela Camerino (right) and Joanna Vargha (left).

“I worked from 10 a.m. to midnight. It was hard, but it was awesome,” said Narváez. “It was a place to learn a lot as I learned about combining flavors and the culture of food.”

Upon returning to Cuenca, Narváez opened a restaurant with traditional Ecuadorian food. It lasted only one year.

“That was not my style,” said Narváez. “There’s not a lot to Ecuadorian food as it is basically onions, peppers, cumin, salt, and cilantro.”

His new venture was Freshli, a salad delivery business.

“I grew almost everything for the salads,” said Narváez. “My favorite salad was chicken, roasted pepper, mango, avocado, cranberries, arugula, and fresh cheese.”

Egg-shaped edible fruit of the Tamarillo hangs in Daniel Narváez’s garden out back.

The customers’ favorite was a taco salad. Narváez was selling 120 salads per day.

Until the Covid pandemic hit.

“My business was very slow, about 30 salads per day,” said Narváez. “I had two employees, and I could not keep them on, so I closed the salad delivery business in late-2022.”

During the Covid pandemic, Narváez said he had plenty of time to do things. He learned to make fermented foods with vegetables as well as making kombucha and kimchi. It was the beginning of his pizza business.

“One day my brother told me to make pizza,” said Narváez. “I began to make poolish, which is made of flour, water, and a very tiny amount of yeast. It is then left to ferment for about 8 to 12 hours.”

The warmth of Casa Hermanos emanates through the front window of the restaurant.

Narváez worked on making the best pizza dough. He uses cornmeal to dust the pizza pan. Cornmeal gives the pizza crust a little extra flavor and crisp. It took Narváez almost a year to standardize all of his pizza recipes.

“I told my girlfriend, Carolina, I wanted to open up a pizza restaurant and she told me to do it,” said Narváez. “She has been very supportive.”

In June 2021, Narváez opened Casa Hermanos.

He started making small batches of dough that would last one week. Using sourdough (masa madre) that is 8½ years old, the restaurant now has about 45 pounds of pizza dough waiting for his customers.

“We have to feed the dough every day,” said Narváez. “It takes two weeks to grow more.”

Casa Hermanos has two sizes of pizza: Personal and Medium. The smaller pizza is about nine inches in diameter while the larger pie is about 12 inches.

Narváez feels that any dish must start with the very best ingredients.

“We try to our best to have our ingredients completely organic. Currently, we grow around 65 percent of our ingredients,” said Narváez. “We make our own sauce as we have a really good supplier of organic tomatoes.”

Two of Narváez’s pizza creations are especially liked:

  • Stella: Prosciutto, Arugula, Cherry Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese
  • Chilimiel: Peperoni, Onion, Cream Cheese, Infused Honey with Chile, and Organic Apple Vinegar

On Tuesdays, one can get three pizzas for the price of two.

Freshly made pasta is on the menu, too. It is available Wednesday through Saturday.

There are plenty of desserts to choose from. Carolina makes them all, including a chocolate cake, a very popular tiramisu, and a carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

The pizza restaurant is open six days a week, making it easy for most to find time to get to the west side of the city.

Because of its location, Cuencanos are the vast majority of Narváez’s customers.

But that may change very quickly. Kaufmann happily made a return trip to Casa Hermanos two weeks after his first visit.
__________________

Casa Hermanos, Av. Ordóñez Lasso y Calle La Ortiga, Cuenca, 098-780-3870, Facebook, Monday-Thursday: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday: 12:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Photos by Stephen Vargha

Stephen Vargha’s book about Cuenca, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life” is available at Amazon in digital and paperback formats. His award-winning blog, “Becoming Cuenca,” supplements his book with the latest information and hundreds of professional photos by him.

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