It’s always a thrill to discover “secret” or “hidden” menu items at restaurants, and it’s even more fun when the specialty menu item evolved organically and is made with a truly personal touch. At Amada restaurant, located at the modern, beachfront Ocean Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, customers have become fans of a special café con leche, a coffee beverage handcrafted by a beloved, long-time server.
But how did this coffee drink come to be causing such a big stir? And how has it become such a popular item at Amada? It all stems from server Frank “Cheech” DeJesus – and his desire to share his cultural traditions.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, DeJesus moved to the United States with his family at the age of ten in the early 1990s. He grew up in Atlantic City, and he spent his career working his way up at a variety of restaurants at the Jersey Shore, including Pizza Hut and the Atlantic City Hilton.
Prior to joining the Ocean Casino’s Amada restaurant, he was a server at a short-lived but critically acclaimed restaurant owned by chef Jose Garces at the Tropicana. He enjoyed working with chef Garces, so when the opportunity arose at Amada (and with the Garces team again), he jumped at the chance.
DeJesus says, “Working for chef Jose again felt like working with family. We are all passionate about food and feel very close as a team.”
After joining the team at Amada at Ocean Casino Resort, DeJesus spent a few months experimenting with creating an enhanced “café con leche” beverage that’s offered on the menu. He wanted to create a special version for the restaurant. So, after many attempts, he perfected his own café con leche – with a twist.
DeJesus’s version is a beautiful coffee beverage in a tall, clear glass with a unique presentation. It’s visually stunning, with distinctive layers of nuanced shades of coffee, cream and froth. It’s an impressively lovely steamed dessert coffee drink that’s become increasingly popular with repeat guests in the know.
DeJesus is quick to point out that the ingredients of this delightful beverage are not much different from the drink he grew up with. In fact, he reveals that he mostly uses the traditional recipe, but adds his own flair and presentation so the layers are visible.
His version is all about the small details that make a big impression: steamed milk, adding a little froth into a glass, followed by condensed milk, and then slowing pouring the coffee on top – all in the right order – to create layers. He says, “It took me a number of months to get it right by trial and error, and it’s important for the taste to be balanced, full and rich – not too sweet, not too bitter.”
For coffee lovers, it’s a big hit. Word of mouth has spread and guests now ask for it over and over – and only DeJesus can make it the “perfect” way. Social media has played a role as well. The Ocean Atlantic City has an (unofficial) “fan group” on Facebook that’s not affiliated with the hotel, called “Ocean People.” Members of the group have posted the coffee drink multiple times since it was introduced in late 2018. Requests started snowballing.
DeJesus says he’s made thousands of his café con leche beverages since then – for his co-workers, his guests and even his wife and family members at home.
Warren Richards is the Senior Vice President of Food and Beverage at Ocean Casino Resort. He says, “The key thing about this drink is that it’s an extension of hospitality, warmth and generosity because we all know it’s a lot easier to pour a cup of coffee and bring it to the table. But Cheech is an example of someone who truly wants to do more. That has led to this coffee to become popular and now guests are coming in just for this beverage.”
Richards adds, “I think Cheech is extremely humble. He’s someone who takes great pride in what he does on a regular basis in the restaurant. If you have more people like Cheech in that group, then the overall experience for everyone will be improved. He’s a big part of the energy and enthusiasm in the room. There’s no doubt that he has a positive impact [on] his colleagues and our guests.”
Additionally, Richards continues that the other Ocean Casino Resort restaurants include some local flavor and often introduce “temporary” menu items that become fan favorites and remain on the menu due to popular demand. He says, “All of our restaurants here have a ‘free-standing’ spirit and energy, so the chefs and the staff can express themselves and be playful.”
He shared the example of the “Acqua Pazza halibut” menu item at American Cut, which was created by the chef as a one-time dish, but has become a permanent favorite. More recently, their regional “crab gravy” was introduced for a few days, but became so popular that it’s now a seasonal summer offering.
Amada restaurant owner and award-winning chef Jose Garces believes in the importance of supporting his passionate, hard-working employees.
He explained, “I consider my employees extended family. We spend so much time together, in high-stress situations, like a busy kitchen on a Saturday night, that offering ‘secret’ menu items helps foster that sense of family and teamwork throughout our group. We encourage our servers, bartenders and culinary teams to be creative and experimental, which in turn makes them take ownership and have a sense of pride in the work they do. This inspiration translates into the guest experience, similar to the one customers have with Cheech.”
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