Paella in a pizza boxMateo reopens with pan paella in a pizza box | Forrest Mason Media

Mateo also offers tapas kits and porrons

In Durham, a handful of downtown businesses have turned to the reinvention of their businesses in effort to survive. This includes Alley Twenty Six’s “Alley Freezes Over” weekend pop-ups in the alleyway ; Kingfisher’s outdoor burger joint, aptly named QueenBurger; Saint James’ playful refresh into Jimmy’s Dockside to-go; and as of this week, pan paella in a pizza box to-go at Mateo — a Spanish restaurant with Southern influence, helmed by chef Matt Kelly.

The popular downtown Durham haunt has remained closed since March, when Governor Roy Cooper ordered restaurants and bars to shut down. As of August 26, Kelly made the decision to open Mateo for curbside to-go service. “My main goal is to serve guests safely and to try to survive,” Kelly says. “We are trying to figure out what the new normal is before winter gets here,” noting that winter is coming and dining (takeout included) will be a completely different dynamic.

Paella in a pizza box at MateoForrest Mason Media
Pan paella in a pizza box at Mateo

For now, it’s all about pan paella served in pizza boxes, curated tapas kits and porrons to-go. Kelly, along with chef Nate Garyantes and his team, dreamt up a takeout-friendly version of the restaurant’s existing menu. Kelly jokes how paella was previously offered as a pre-order item and now, his team is branding pizza boxes and selling it to-go. Standout pandemic foods prove to consistently be pizza, barbecue, and burgers. “Paella isn’t as popular as pizza, but we’re hoping to bring a level of accessibility to a place where paella isn’t a big thing,” he adds. “We also love cooking rice at Mateo.”

Mateo’s seafarer paella with additional topping add-onsForrest Mason Media
Mateo’s seafarer paella with additional topping add-ons

It works like this: choose a base of seafarer, meat lovers or vegan deluxe paella and enjoy as is, or add on toppings, similar to building your own pizza. Paella del dia (paella of the day) will allow the kitchen to experiment with different ingredients and change things up from time to time. Garyantes will also add in topping additions sporadically, like foraged Chanterelles from an employee at neighboring Italian trattoria, Mothers & Sons, when available. Guests can keep the paella pan or bring it back for $10 off a future paella order. As for the pizza box? Kelly notes that it just made sense right now.

A tapas spread via Mateo’s new tapas kits to-goForrest Mason Media
A tapas spread via Mateo’s new tapas kits to-go

Those missing Spanish snacks can take advantage of Mateo’s curated tapas kits, priced at $20 per person (chico for 2/grande for 4). Each kit includes barbecue Marcona almonds, crispy garbanzos, marinated olives, blistered padrón peppers, pan con tomate (with Duke’s mayonnaise to create a Spanish version of the beloved Southern tomato sandwich), huevo diablo, chicken croquetas, boquerones with salty potato chips, jamón Serrano and queso. Deluxe add-ons include mata with espelette pepper jelly, costillas, or cheeseburger tortilla espanola with fries.

A Spanish porron with wine Forrest Mason Media
A Spanish porron with wine

To enhance the at-home dining experience, porrons, traditional Spanish vessels made of glass, to allow friends to share wine without touching it to their lips, come with the purchase of a wine bottle. Wine director, Jeff Bramwell, selected txakolina and cava to go with the menu. A small menu of desserts, including peach hand pie, banana pudding pie, Maria’s flan and Videri chocolate mousse prove to be a great ending to tapas and paella.

“What we serve is going to evolve,” notes Kelly, who plans on easing into outdoor dining in the coming months. Mateo is currently open for to-go and curbside pickup Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Order online via Toast or call the restaurant at (919)530-8700 to place orders. On Instagram, Mateo will roll out features and instructions on how to build the perfect pan paella, how to assemble tapas kits at-home and more.