Christopher Columbus was still nowhere near setting off to the Indies. The Catholic Monarchs hadn't even put an end to the Nasrid kingdom, when on 17 March 1490 Garci Fernández was given a licence to open a 'venta' on “the road to the Zambra Tower”.
This is how historian Francisco del Pino documents what was possibly the origin of the oldest restaurant in Malaga province, the Ventorrillo Patascortas, which today, more than five centuries later, still serves customers in the village of Casabermeja, at the foot of a watchtower built in the time of Al-Ándalus from which there are views to Malaga Port.
Situated on the MA-3101, which for years was known as the 'Camino Real' and linked Malaga with Antequera, this 'venta' is run nowadays by Miguel Campoy and Loli Pérez, who bought it in 1978.
At that time the building was practically in ruins. They had no idea of its long history: in fact their only aim was to turn it into a home in which to bring up their children. All they knew was that a few years earlier it had been run by “a woman who used to sell aguardiente to the muleteers who travelled to Malaga, loaded with broom for the bakeries,” says Miguel.
Little by little, in this location with lovely views, the couple restored the original building and created the restaurant it is today. They gradually learned more about the history of the old 'Venta de Patascortas', an ironic nickname which was given to the first owners of the establishment, also known as Juan Y Medio, like the well-known TV presenter.
“When I came here 40 years ago, elderly people in the village used to say their grandparents had told them that he was a very big man,” says Miguel, adding that the people of Casabermeja are very given to sarcasm and inventing meaningful nicknames.
After a while, Miguel and Loli decided to open part of the building as a restaurant.
In the entrance they placed a sign which refers to the year it was possibly founded. In the 1980s, the Ventorrillo Patascortas started to receive its first customers and among them, says Miguel, were “artists and intellectuals” such as the aforementioned Francisco del Pino.
This historian from La Axarquía began to delve into and rescue historical archives which may relate to the restaurant, which he believes was founded even before the village of Casabermeja itself.
The fact that it is on a historic road, in a strategic position between Antequera and the coast, could even mean that Miguel de Cervantes went there. In fact, a text which Francisco del Pino has given to the owners of Ventorrillo Patascortas explains that it may have been part of a story in the Novelas Ejemplares, in which the author of Don Quixote refers to the meeting between the Licenciado Vidriera with a captain beside “the Zambra hill”.
Beyond these speculations, unfortunately, there is no documentation to confirm that these premises were used as a 'venta' during all those centuries.
Miguel has been told that many archives were destroyed by fire during the Civil War. However, anyone who visits this restaurant can tell that it exudes history.
Between legend and magical reality are some curious stories which the owners are happy to tell, like that of the cadaver which may be buried beneath the building. Miguel says a man who was fleeing from Malaga during the Civil War took refuge in a cave which used to be there. Apparently, heavy rain caused the entrance to the cave to collapse, trapping him inside. Nothing more was ever known of him.
The owners of the venta even say that some people have taken photos of his wandering spirit with their mobile phones. Miguel himself decided to stop digging there one day, when he intuitively felt that he could be about to enter that same cave.
There are also other stories which can be verified, such as the visit by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who was looking for authentic places frequented by the romantic travellers to Andalucía in the 19th century.
This and other stories, including visits by members of the legendary group Pink Floyd, attract numerous foreign clients to the venta at weekends (it only opens on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays).
“Luckily, we have a lot of foreigners who come up from the coast, from Marbella to Vélez-Málaga, because they have heard about us,” says Miguel.
The rustic decor, with old farming tools and utensils, makes the dining room an intimate and charming place to relax over a lengthy meal. Customers even feel entitled to explore every corner, including the small cellar where the wine is kept in perfect conditions. There is a large room for groups, and Patascortas also has a special area for a couple who prefer some privacy.
However, apart from its past, which is interesting enough to fill a book, the present-day Ventorrillo Patascortas reflects its owners' passion for their business. Loli, in her kitchen, carefully prepares traditional dishes from the area, such as the 'migas' spicy bread crumbs, the 'plato de los Montes' and 'puchero'.
The venta also specialises in meat, from pork cheeks to bull's tail and including the homemade beef burgers which are so popular with foreign clients. The prices are reasonable and all the dishes can be accompanied by wines from Malaga. Miguel's favourite is Zumbral, which he says “tastes of raisins,” and which many customers enjoy after a hearty lunch.
Miguel, like his wife and three children, is also passionate about animal welfare.
The venta not only serves as the headquarters of two ecological associations but in most cases clients are allowed to bring their dogs with them. It is always advisable to book in advance before enjoying a meal at Patascortas, because it is only open at lunchtime at weekends and on public holidays and is very popular.