DON Merto’s has always been the place for heritage cuisine sharing the family favorites of the late Don Merto and Doña Mena Escaño’s kitchen with its patrons.

Here one expects to find Escaño all-time favorites, like chicken canalone and Pancit ni Maxi (Maxi being the cocinera or cook of Doña Mena) both using homemade noodles, lengua estofada, callos, baby back ribs, and a sausage called butifarras (the recipe for which was supposed to be bought by Don Merto from an Italian restaurant).

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When it opened, it also offered steaks as its specialty, says Jimmy Escaño, CEO of the Escaño companies of Don Merto’s, Casa Escaño and Jedco. In fact, it has an eat-all-you can roast beef on Mondays and Thursdays for lunch and dinner in its Juana Osmeña location, and on Wednesdays and Fridays at its SM outlet.

Taking charge of the restaurant’s kitchen is Tessa Escaño Fernan, who was born and raised in the United States. Born of Filipino parents, she says she spent every summer in her growing up years in the Philippines. She was always been fascinated with the Escaño house, the cuisine, as well as the cuisine of her paternal grandmother, Lourdes Pangilinan, who used to be the number one caterer in Cebu after the war. So after finishing her college course (community and regional development), during which she earned her pocket money by working in restaurants, she came back to Cebu to be with the family concern. Don Merto’s.

At the SM outlet, she has introduced pastas, salads and sandwiches like pulled pork sandwich, “which is very American (“shred the pork until it is super lata, top with coleslaw inside the sandwich”), roast beef sandwich with horse radish mayonnaise, club sandwich with turkey, bacon, tomato, lettuce, grilled chicken sandwich.”

Her Caesar’s salad is placed on a Parmesan cheese ring and uses an in-house Caesar’s dressing. The Cobb salad “has grilled chicken, ham, chopped egg, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber; everything is sectional, on top of the lettuce and served with creamy herb dressing with honey mustard.” This is a meal in itself and she adds, “I want people to see that every meal does not have to have rice and/or potatoes.”

Tessa says she’s speaking to the old people who are still around to find out more about the Escaño cuisine and has tracked down one person to tell her about her Lola Oding’s cuisine, in order to enrich the restaurant’s menu. She speaks Cebuano very well, and says the SM outlet is doing fine with the new additions on the menu, along with all the other Don Merto’s house specialties. Jimmy adds, the half-pound hearty hamburger is always a bestseller and if Don Meerto’s meats taste better, Jimmy says it’s because Jedco brings in “natural meats, no antibiotics, no growth hormones.”