MIFFLINBURG — Hungry bellies needing a fresh take on tacos to sate their appetites need look no further than Mifflinburg.
Tomahawks at 456 Chestnut St. offers an inventive, farm fresh menu centered on the iconic Mexican dish but inspired by Native American culture. It’s currently open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Owner Joseph Haber, 32, of Lewisburg, created a stir when he opened Tomahawks on April 2. The menu looked like no other in the Valley.
Venison chorizo: ground venison and salsa macha. Cider turkey: cider-braised turkey and smoked cranberry salsa. Blueberry elk: pulled elk and roast blueberry salsa. All three taco types are topped with onions and mint.
All of the protein and produce is sourced within a one-hour drive from Tomahawks’ front door, Haber said.
“I like the idea of using stuff that’s around where you’re at. That in its nature makes you cook seasonally,” Haber said.
Haber’s ancestry on his mother’s side is of the Mohawk people. He was raised with a deep appreciation of that culture instilled by his mom and her extended family. His father appreciated it, too. There were pictures and artifacts hung throughout his home growing up reminding Haber of his heritage, including two Tomahawks fashioned by his great-grandfather that would come to inspire his restaurant’s name.
With the exception of a cornbread recipe found at Tomahawks, Native American cuisine wasn’t a connection point. It wasn’t something Haber discovered until he explored it on his own as an adult. It quickly became a passion, first leading to a taco stand last year at the Lewisburg Farmers Market and now the permanent storefront on Chestnut Street.
Haber prepped food Thursday ahead of his second weekend in Mifflinburg. He gently patted a clump of masa dough pressed with red beans, forming a cornbread wheel. It’s boiled, not baked, and served with a butternut squash sauce. It’s called Three Sisters Cornbread, a nod to the three main ingredients.
“It’s the same dough we use to make tortillas,” said Haber, who originally grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania. “This is the cornbread my mom made. It’s the cornbread her family made, all the way down through. People have been making this cornbread forever but we don’t really know it because Native American cuisine doesn’t have as loud a voice as others.”
That voice has quickly amplified in Mifflinburg. One woman walked inside Tomahawks to ask if she could order lunch. She’d have to wait until the weekend, unfortunately. Maybe 20 minutes passed before another inquisitive neighbor stepped inside to ask about ordering.
“I get people popping in like that all the time,” Haber said.
Haber would like to expand Tomahawks’ hours already but said a major barrier has been finding employees — a challenge employers across all spectrums in the Valley have expressed for months and in some cases, longer than that.
Haber and his wife of nearly five years, Lindsey, also 32, work at the shop. Lindsey has a full-time job as a registered nurse. Haber walked away from a career as an X-ray technician to become a stay-at-home dad to their two children. That’s when he truly honed his skills as a cook. It afforded him time to explore recipes and methods: from the stovetop to the barbecue grill to the smoker.
“It was great. He cooked. I ate,” Lindsey said. “I feel like everything he makes, he makes well.”
Fast-forward to the Habers’ first dinner rush at Tomahawks last weekend. They worked through it together. It took time and hard work to handle, and like any new restaurant, they’re working on figuring out the flow of it all.
“It’s like we were waiting for it forever. He’s dreamed of owning a restaurant for a while,” Lindsey said about Tomahawks.
Nikki Keister-Hornig operates Gable House Bakery across the street from Tomahawks. Like Haber, she’s an artisan in her own trade and said she’s thrilled to have Tomahawks in town.
Recently married, Keister-Hornig recalled tasting Haber’s tacos at Lewisburg Farmers Market. It became a weekly routine since they operated a bakery stand there, too. At one point, she and her now-husband, Josh, looked at each other and agreed: they asked Haber to cater tacos for their wedding.
“We have a value of all-from-scratch,” Keister-Hornig said of both she and Haber. “Joe really carries that into his food.”
“My whole storefront, I’m trying to up my game out of a sense of excitement and pride for having another business nearby in that same vein,” she said. “This is where I always hoped Mifflinburg would go. I know how great this town is. To have a good variety and to have artisans here, it makes sense for our town.”
Follow Tomahawks on Instagram: @tomahawktacos. Located at 456 Chestnut St., its current hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.