Conquistador lives up to its reputation
BY STACEY WALLACE
Yo hablo español un poquito. That is Spanish for, “I speak Spanish a little.” I took one year of Spanish in junior high and a second year at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City. I also took Spanish at the Alexander City State Junior College (now Central Alabama Community College).
In high school, Señor Hitson, my Spanish teacher, was a terrific educator and linguist. Besides English, he was fluent in Spanish, French (which he also taught) and Russian. Also, at the time, he was learning to speak Chinese. In other words, Señor Hitson was very bright. I really admired him for being a teacher when he could have made a lot more money as a translator for the United Nations or at the State Department in Washington, D.C.
Also, during class, Señor Hitson spoke almost entirely in Spanish, which was a great teaching strategy. If you wanted to go to the restroom, you had to ask him for permission in Spanish. Therefore, I quickly learned to say, “Quiero ir al baño, por favor,” or “I wish to go to the restroom, please.”
When I became an English teacher at Long Cane Middle School in LaGrange, Georgia, I encouraged my students to take Spanish in high school and college as I did because it was the fastest-growing language in the world. I told my students who spoke both English and Spanish fluently that if they majored in business in college, they would have an advantage because they could work with both English and Spanish-speaking customers.
Over the years, I had a few students who spoke very little or no English. Late in my teaching career, I taught a boy, I’ll call him Miguel because I can’t remember his name. Since Miguel could speak almost no English, my lessons on argumentative writing, novels and grammar/usage were useless to him.
Therefore, I would give Miguel 10 English words to learn per week. Then, I would test him on Friday so that I would have grades for him. My husband, Mike, a two-time teacher of the year, let Miguel come to his yearbook class several times a week, where eighth-grade girls would help Miguel learn the English words. Mike said Miguel clearly loved the attention the girls gave him, and they enjoyed working with him. Also, Miguel began to learn English.
Recently, a unique Spanish restaurant opened in Auburn, and you don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy it. Conquistador, which opened on Sept. 4 of this year, is located at 2514 S. College St., #101.
When Mike and I arrived at Conquistador for lunch, we loved the Spanish décor, soothing music and relaxing atmosphere. Joy Williams, our server and the restaurant’s general manager and bartender, was so sweet, helpful and patient. She had the best personality for her position, making us feel very welcome. Also, she was very kind because she didn’t laugh at me when I tried out my two years of Spanish on her. This retired English teacher gives her bonus points for that.
Williams told us that Cesar Bautista was the chef and owner of Conquistador. Cesar splits his time between Auburn and Columbus, where he owns two other restaurants, Bodega 1205 and The Market. Williams said that Conquistador has live music on Wednesday and Friday nights.
For our appetizer, Mike and I chose ham croquettes. They were really good. Mike, who wasn’t as hungry as I was, ordered sweet potato fries. I selected the shrimp burger and steak fries. Every-thing was really delicious. My shrimp burger had a knife sticking in it, so I jokingly said to Mike, “Be nice; I have a really big knife.” The knife was really helpful because my shrimp burger was so big that I cut it in half. Also, even I couldn’t eat all of my steak fries.
I talked to a couple who was sharing the sweet steak sandwich because it was so large. They said it was really tasty. I want to try that next time.
Besides our delicious lunch choices, Conquistador offers diners a great variety of entrees, including beef burger, Cuban sandwich, salmon with Spanish rice, ropa vieja (braised top sirloin) and Spanish rice with seafood.
For dinner, Conquistador serves all of their lunch selections and also offers diners tablas, or boards. I prefer the Spanish name “tablas,” which is much easier to pronounce and spell than the term, charcuterie board, which, according to Google, is “a delicious way to enjoy a variety of meats and cheeses.” The name comes from the French word for “butcher,” and it refers to a style of food presentation, not just the types of foods included.” But I digress.
For their tablas, diners may choose from mar, or sea, items such as octopus, shrimp, trout and Spanish rice. Tierra, or earth selections include sausage, chorizo, ropa vieja, chicken and Spanish rice.
So, if you’re looking for a delicious, unique and international dining experience, visit Conquistador, the only restaurant of its kind in all of Lee County.
Conquistador is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s closed on Sunday and Monday.
Conquistador makes the grade with an A+ from this teacher. Remember, “Pooh-sized” people NEVER lie about food. Enjoy!
Stacey Patton Wallace, who retired from teaching language arts for 30 years, is a professional diner. Her column, “Making the Grade,” will appear every other week in The Observer. Wallace may be reached at email@example.com.