Daniela Cruz moved effortlessly behind the bar of Chile Peppers. As she gathered her tools together, her familiarity with the restaurant is easy to see. It should come as no surprise, as she basically grew up in the business.

“My family has owned the restaurant for seven years this past April. We just moved to this location on Jan. 4,” she said with a smile.

“My mom is here, and my two brothers have worked here. It’s very family oriented.”

The new spot at 118 Retreat Plaza on St. Simons Island allowed the family to branch out a bit, offering more space for customers and additional features.

“The bar is an addition. We went from seven tables to 25. We had to learn sections,” she said with a laugh.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the cozy atmosphere. Cruz and her family offer a variety of dishes from her mother Mayte’s native Mexico.

“My mom came up with all of the food recipes on the menu. They are from different parts of Mexico. It is a very big place and there are different types of Latino culture,” she said.

“She has something from every state in Mexico. We wanted people who may be coming from there to be able to find something that’s from where they’re from.”

In addition to the authentic dishes, Cruz has been able to add some spirits to the mix. One of her favorite things to serve-up — homemade sangria. Originally from Spain, the wine punch has become a huge hit around the world, especially in the toasty summer months.

“It’s really refreshing,” Cruz noted, grabbing a handful of fruit.

Chile Peppers has various sangrias — red and white — that offer customers a little bit of variety.

“There are so many kinds of sangria. We do different types but always try to keep adding flavor and keep it modern,” she said.

But regardless of the recipe, it starts with muddling fruit.

Cruz places slices of lemon, lime, orange and blueberries in a glass, using the tool to release their juices.

“It releases the flavors from the fruit and mixes them together,” she said.

Once the foundation is laid, the drink can be built in layers. First she places ice in a glass, then Cruz adds two pumps of ginger ale. From there, she starts to add the wine and liquor.

Different sangrias call for different wines and rum. For her concoction, Cruz uses cabernet, lambrusco, peach muscato and spiced rum.

“You can really use any wine you like ... all wine is ‘good wine,’” she said with a laugh.

Once the wine and rum are added, Cruz garnishes the glass with a strawberry and orange slice.

“The great thing about sangria is that it has so much fruit ... it’s pretty healthy and you feel less guilty about having a glass,” she said with a smile.

Chile Peppers Sangria

(by the glass)

• 2 oz cabernet

• 2 oz lambrusco

• 2 oz peach moscato

• 1 oz Sugar Island Spiced Rum

• 2 pumps of ginger ale

• 1 lemon

• 1 lime

• 1 orange

• Several blueberries

Directions:

Muddle slices of the lemon, lime, orange and blueberries in a glass. Add ice and ginger ale. Pour in the wines and rum. Transfer to a wine glass and garnish with a strawberry and orange slice.

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