In his hometown of Puebla, Mexico, Pedro Garcia never envisioned he would someday own an Irish breakfast cafe in the United States.
Yet he’s created a local Upper Darby favorite, the Hibernian Cafe. The hole-in-the-wall eatery with the turquoise exterior serves the traditional Irish fry-up, but also — should one be in the mood — huevos rancheros or huevos a la Mexicana. TheGar ultimate hybrid meal: huevos rancheros with bangers instead of chorizo.
It’s an unusual — but harmonious — blend of fare. And it’s held Upper Darby’s affection for years.
“The food we make here, you probably won’t find it at any other place, because this combination is my wife’s idea,” said Garcia, who with his wife, Andrea Castillo, opened the cafe in 2007.
“They’re super nice," said Matthew Dempler, a Drexel Hill resident whose order at Hibernian — a sausage, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel — is so familiar to Castillo that she only needs to give him a knowing nod when he walks in. But "it’s an odd pairing, a Mexican couple running an Irish restaurant.”
Garcia, 43, credits the idea of an Irish breakfast cafe to a friend who believed such a place could do well in Upper Darby.
Garcia took over the building on Garrett Road that once housed a beauty salon and painted the walls marigold. He outfitted the space with cosmic blue booths and a cooler that offers Irish grocery items and named the place Hibernian, drawing inspiration from prosperous Irish restaurants in New York City. The official definition of the word is to be a native or resident of Ireland.
Unofficially, it meant Garcia had to nail Irish cooking, despite having never visited Ireland.
He had some experience, from briefly working as a dishwasher in Yonkers, N.Y., where he watched cooks preparing Irish food, to bosses who “for some reason, put me to peeling potatoes.” He later worked with a friend who showed him the basics of an Irish fry-up, a hearty, traditional breakfast that includes breakfast meats, vegetables, bread, and tea.
“Irish food isn’t that hard to learn if you want to learn," Garcia said. "Like everything else.”
From Monday to Sunday, from morning to mid-afternoon, he prepares dozens of fry-ups, searing Irish sausage, slices of tender back bacon, and discs of black-and-white pudding, plating it with fried eggs, tomato, fried potato, and baked beans.
Want Mexican food, instead?
Castillo, the resident Mexican food chef, crafts notoriously laborious molé (“it needs a thousand little peppers,”) and her specialties, enchiladas and chilaquiles.
“Things happen in my life probably because it’s meant to be," said Garcia, who came to the United States in 1993. “But I never had the idea to become a business owner or to have my own restaurant until I moved to the U.S.”
Another moment of apparent kismet: meeting his wife.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Castillo, 47. “In Mexico, we used to go to the same places. We could be in the same place, but we didn’t see each other.”
They met in New York City in 1999, when Garcia visited Castillo’s brother at the siblings’ home in Queens. The couple married and became parents to triplets, now 13.
The family moved from New York City’s boroughs to North Jersey, and finally Upper Darby. They settled into a steady rhythm centered around Irish food and became part of the community.
For locals, Hibernian has become part of the patchwork of Upper Darby.
“They’ve really managed to capture Irish cooking and I know, because I’ve been to Ireland probably 30 times,” said Maureen Carreño, who lived near Hibernian Cafe and gave Garcia and Castillo photos from one of her visits to Ireland. “The breakfast, their Irish food, is very authentic. Their groceries are the ones you would expect to see in a little store in Ireland.”
She’s part of the crowd of regulars that has lauded the cafe for years.