Daddy G's Rockin Salsa's Chris Galiffa Photo by Jay Paul
For some, it was an extension of their living room and for others, it was a place where Fight Club took place. Well, the latter wasn't intentional, but there was a fight or two that I witnessed at the legendary Texas-Wisconsin Border Café. Don't get me wrong — mostly I saw people (the same people) eating chalupas, drinking Lone Star beer and generally hanging out, night after night.
The Border served its own brand of Tex-Mex cuisine from 1982 to 1999 on the corner of Main and Plum streets. (Bellytimber Tavern occupies the space now.) An inordinate amount of things that happened to me when I was young happened at the tables and booths of the Border, and as time passed, it transformed into a place where I could plop down a baby seat next to me on the wooden bench while I ate brunch.
I saw Chris Galiffa there, too, in the '80s. At the time, he was the front man and guitar player for The Limit. Now, although he's a marketing guy by day, on the weekends, he's stirring up and packaging a little piece of The Border in salsa form. Like Proust's madeleines, one taste of Galiffa's Daddy G's Rockin' Salsa will transport Richmonders of a certain age straight back into the past and open a floodgate of memories.
It's a different kind of salsa from the kind most of us are used to. It's smooth, rather than chunky, and relies on parsley, rather than cilantro, to pump up its flavor.
One of the three original owners, Joe Seipel, now dean of the School of Arts at VCU, says, "It was something [co-owner Donna Van Winkle] brought with her. She was the Texas half. … It became legendary. All of the employees were sworn to secrecy. Once, someone sold the recipe for a PBR, but that was about it."
"The waitresses loved it as much as anyone else," says Michele Jones, veteran Border waitress and now a co-owner of Pasture. "We would always sneak some when no one was looking. Unfortunately, the crunch of the chips was a dead giveaway."
Galiffa got the recipe from a neighbor who had also been a longtime waitress at the restaurant. For the next 12 years, Galiffa tinkered around, paring down the recipe from 50 gallons to 2 gallons and giving it away to friends. "Then, spaghetti jars and pickle jars and jelly jars started showing up on my front porch in bags with people's names on them."
"I told myself that someday I'm going to get serious about this," says Galiffa. That day arrived earlier this year when he came up with a logo and label, and began packaging the salsa for retail sale. "I don't know why," he says. "I'm basically an empty-nester, and I've picked something [to do] that will keep me from going to the beach or taking any weekends off."
He makes about 10 gallons at a time in two big tubs in his Department-of-Agriculture-certified kitchen. He lets the salsa sit for a day to marry the flavors, and then it takes about three hours to package half of it by himself. Volunteers, including his family, usually help out. You'll see Galiffa and his son, Frankie, offering a taste of Daddy G's at local breweries and festivals, and you can purchase a container at Libbie Market, Little House Green Grocery, and it's on the menu at Hurley's Tavern.
"I think people loved it so much mostly because it was delicious," Jones says. "It was also cheap and filling, which is important in a college town."
How do old Border customers react when they try the salsa for the first time? "I ask them to close their eyes and take a bite and think about what happens," says Galiffa. "One guy went outside and came running back, saying, ‘I'm young again, I'm young again!' "
"I am constantly hearing about couples [who met at the Border] who got married," says Seipel. "In fact, my wife and I met there." Seipel, Van Winkle and partner Jim Bradford wanted to create a place where anyone would feel comfortable. ("Oh, there were saints and sinners in there at the same time," Seipel says.) With Daddy G's Rockin' Salsa, Galiffa doesn't want anyone to forget about it.