Sunny morning. Warming weather. Senorita A., HG/BSK’s very efficient and hard working once-a-week housekeeper has arrived at HG/BSK’s New Mexico home. Greetings of “Bueno dias !!”. (Senorita A.’s English is limited). In hours, HG/BSK’s home will be sparkling and order will reign. Knowing HG’s love of menudo (Mexican tripe stew), some months ago Senorita A. brought HG a big container of her grandmother’s (“Mi abuela”) menudo. Down home yumminess. Today, Senorita A. brought menudo she herself had made (“Yo!!). Plus some fiery salsa. HG can hardly wait to devour a hearty bowl of this invigorating (hangover chaser) food.
HG is referring to the interior of animals (aka offal). Brains, kidneys, livers, sweetbreads, tongue, hearts, intestines, tripe (stomach lining). These wonderful tastes seem to have disappeared from mainstream restaurant menus (as a corollary the interest in “head-to-tail” eating has been growing within the ranks of sophisticated and adventurous eaters). Is it the work of the health police on the alert for elevated cholesterol levels? Or have Americans become so spoiled that offal is seen as a remnant of poverty cuisine? The Europeans (especially the French) continue to devour these good things. When in Paris, HG eats lots of rognons (kidneys) in mustard sauce or grilled until the interiors are pink. A very good Left Bank bistro, La Ribouldinge, makes a specialty of offal. Pharamond serves classic tripes a la mode de Caen (Very good. However, HG prefers the Mexican tripe stew known as Menudo. As noted in many posts, HG is a fan of two versions of Menudo served at restaurants in HG’s New Mexican neighborhood: Green Chile Menudo at El Parasol and Red Chile Menudo at Sopaipilla Factory). HG’s daughter Victoria and husband chef Marc Meyer tried to introduce Menudo to New York diners at their sparkling Mexican restaurant, Rosie’s, in the East Village. Few takers, Removed from menu, alas. Sweetbreads (thymus glands) are on menus everywhere and are one of HG’s favorite treats. Best version ever was at the Oak Room of New York’s venerable Algonquin Hotel. Sauteed sweet breads with a slice of Virginian ham and an exuberant amount of Sauce Bearnaise. Pan broiled medium rare calf’s liver (enlivened with a dash of sherry vinegar) is served in scores of Paris bistros. Delicious. When HG lived in Colorado (first on a mountain horse ranch and then in Denver), HG often had splendid liver with onions and bacon at 240 Union Restaurant in nearby Lakewood. Very Parisian. 240 Union is a great, creative restaurant (A must if you ever travel to Denver or on your way to ski country). HG checked 240’s current menu. No liver. Must have met the same fate as Rosie’s Menudo. In bygone days, liver was a staple item on New York menus. Well done liver, onions and bacon (liver too well done for HG’s taste) on diner menus. Thick slabs of calf’s liver at steak houses. Chopped liver, of course, at Jewish eateries. Broiled chicken livers over saffron rice at Greek restaurants. The Schrafft’s chain, a bastion of WASP cookery, served an appetizing dish of gently sautéed chicken livers over softly scrambled eggs. Sammy’s Romanian, the flourishing homage to garlic and chicken fat Jewish cuisine, once served broiled chicken livers with unborn eggs. The livers are still on the menu but the eggs have disappeared. Only time HG ever had gizzards in New York was when SJ took HG to a little Japanese place on the West Side. Good, But, not as good as the duck gizzards in Paris. Rarely see brains in black butter in New York. Loved it at Le Veau D’or in New York (no longer on the menu but you can get a good version at Chez Napoleon in the theater district). HG ordered the dish at a nice restaurant in Paris 16e. Thoughtful owner was surprised an American ordered brains. Wanted to make sure HG knew what to expect. HG tapped HG’s skull. Owner laughed. Big, savory platter arrived. Tongue is still available at the less than a dozen (used to be a hundred) Jewish delicatessens in New York. Best tongue dish ever was served at long closed Al Cooper’s near New York’s garment center. Thick poached slice with creamed spinach and hot mustard. Sublime. Hearts have disappeared everywhere. Not for the delicate eater. In HG’s impecunious youth, HG ate big bowls of calf hearts stewed with onions, garlic and red wine. Hearty dish (to say the least). A staple at the funky far West Side French bistros that catered to the French seamen off the Ile de France and other liners. A.J. Liebling recounted in his book “Between Meals” that he would eat this dish when he was young and cash poor in Paris. Tete de Veau (calf’s head) is a feature of many French eateries.The dish is shunned by Americans. HG loves it. It consists of poached brains, tongue, mouth lining, etc.and other delectables from the calf’s head. Served with a Sauce Gribiche enlivened with chopped cornichons and capers. (Sauce Gribiche is a version of mayonnaise where mustard, cooked egg yolks and vinegar are emulsified until creamy). HG draws the line when it comes to intestines. Tried chitterlings in Harlem. Vile. The fecal stench of French Andouillette is off putting. (SJ once made the error of ordering them at Le Stella, a favorite Paris brasserie. Was unpleasantly shocked The funny food blogger Grubworm,calls the sausage:’the dish of death”). Innards do not appear on HG/BSK’s dinner table. Though a very adventurous cook and eater, BSK does not like innards. You can take the girl out of the midwest, but you can’t., etc. etc.
Back in New Mexico. Blue skies. Bright sun. Temperatures in the 60’s. Much cooler when the sun goes down making HG/BSK’s living room fireplace a colorful and warming amenity. Delightful reunion with Toby, HG/BSK’s much loved dog. Polly B., neighbor, friend and much lauded photographer, gave HG/BSK a homecoming dinner. This was followed by a brief visit from Antony and Claudia C. (A talented couple: He manages a mutual fund and she’s a journalist-author-radio interviewer). BSK’s magical meat loaf for dinner. HG is taking advantage of the brief stay in the Land of Enchantment by ingesting loads of menudo and green chile smothered enchiladas at favorite neighborhood eateries. Next week HG/BSK will be off to Florida (St. Petersburg) to visit BSK’s 95-year-old Mom. Since it will be Spring Break, HG/BSK will be joined by SJ and family for five days at a beachfront condo. The Brooklynites need to thaw after the vicious, frigid and almost endless Northeast winter. Anticipate much sun, sea and seafood fun in St. Pete.
Ominous story in this week’s Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. Menudo, the Mexican tripe stew adored by HG, does not have a bright future in New Mexico. The story is entitled: The Future of Menudo. Can This Beloved Hangover Cure, Known for its Potent Aroma, Find Popularity Among Younger Generations?. It points out that menudo is a dish favored by an older generation (of which HG is a member) that is only getting older…and disappearing. Santa Fe restaurateurs say that menudo is being kept alive by one group: Mexican-born citizens. As they become more and more Americanized will they lose their taste for menudo? That’s one of the big questions. Young folks in New Mexico of all colors and ethnicity enjoy the New Mexico traditionals: Tacos, enchiladas, flautas, carnitas, quesadillas, etc. But, they will not eat menudo. There’s only one place in New Mexico where menudo sales are increasing: The historic town of La Mesilla near Las Cruces in southern New Mexico. Andele Restaurant, a long time favorite there, sells over 30 gallons of menudo every week. They make their menudo with pig’s feet as well as beef tripe. Proprietor Andrea Schneider says: “We do a serve-yourself, all-you-can-eat special. People can pick what they want–more hominy, more broth, more tripe, more pig’s feet–and build their own bowl.” Schneider says it’s enjoyed by all generations–college students, older people, folks dining after church. HG thinks the secret is pig’s feet. HG would love to try the Andele menudo but, unfortunately, La Mesilla is 340 miles south of HG/BSK’s home. So, HG will have to make do (happily) with the fragrant and robust green chile menudo at El Parasol, the red chile menudo at Sopaipilla Factory and the even more rustic and robust menudo HG takes home from the prepared foods counter at Pojoaque Super Market. All three locations are minutes from the HG/BSK home. Joy for HG’s immediate future.
Espanola, a gritty town ten minutes drive from HG/BSK’s Jacona home, is much maligned. It has some social problems (it is known as New Mexico’s meth capital); a political system that is often criticized; much unattractive housing and numerous shopping centers built without an iota of soul or aesthetic foresight. Offsetting this is colorful, vernacular architecture (featuring some wonderful neon signage), a surprising amount of cutting-edge modernism and numerous good places to eat. Foremost among them is Angelina’s, a spacious place that draws a colorful crowd of New Mexicans–young, old, ranchers, cowboys, farmers, government officials, businesspersons. The food is solid Northern New Mexico. Red chile sauce is a specialty but the green is not far behind (on a recent visit, HG had a bowl of super assertive green chile menudo that chased away the chills and any lingering effects of a previous night’s overindulgence in alcohol). During the meal, HG/BSK shared some robust ground lamb burritos (the lamb had been grilled with pico de gallo and melded New Mexican and Middle Eastern flavors). Lamb is a specialty of Angelina’s (sheep have been raised in Northern New Mexico for many generations). At Angelina’s, you can have lamb in many forms. There are lamb burgers (plain or grilled with jalapenos and onions); lamb chops; lamb ribs (Costillas) and lamb fajitas. And, you can specify lamb in any of the traditional plates like enchiladas, flautas, tostadas, etc. for a $1.00 additional charge. Besides the lamb dishes, Angelina’s has another unusual twist. The restaurant serves traditional, down home diner favorites: Deep fried breaded catfish; pork chops; liver and onions; chicken fried steak. You can also get a big, ribeye steak; salmon, trout and shrimp. There’s wine (not exactly a Parisian carte de vins) and beer. Very nice flan for dessert. Yes, Angelina’s does it all. Big portions. Small prices. Lots of plain spoken comfort.
HG will watch the Super Bowl with discerning BSK. The lady knows football having grown up in Ohio where football is a religion. BSK’s first boyfriend (HG is still jealous) was a high school All-American. Given that Super Bowl Sunday is (next to Thanksgiving) the biggest food consumption day in the United States, HG has given the day’s menu some thought. HG’s guide is SJ. Yes, when it comes to barbecue, pork roasts, gumbo and many other hearty culinary items, SJ is the ultimate authority, proof of Brooklyn’s leadership in robust dining. So, following SJ’s lead, HG will be off to the Pojoaque Super Market for a pork butt rimmed with a goodly amount of fat (the fat will baste the roast as it cooks). With a sharp knife, HG will make many small incisions in the butt and fill them with slivers of garlic. Then a rubdown with chile powder, adobo, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper. (HG will add his own touch–a bit of soy sauce mixed with brown sugar). Let that sit in the fridge for the night wrapped in plastic. Then, come Sunday, HG will take the pork butt out, place in a cassarole dish, cover with tin foil and pop it into a 300 degree oven for a bit over four hours (which will hopefully conclude with the end of the game) Sounds good, right? Accompanying the roast will be warm tortillas, canellini beans, chopped raw onions, avocado slices, pico de gallo and an array of salsas (hot and sweet). Giving the meal a gala touch will be BSK’s green chile sauce (thoughtfully preserved in the freezer) plus BSK’s version of Calabacitas (a melange of fried zucchini, peppers, onions and corn). Dessert: Salted Caramel Gelato. During the three hour (or more) game, commercials, half-time extravaganza, learned analysis, HG will be sustained with a bowl of red chile menudo from El Parasol in Pojoaque. Menudo (for the uninitiated) is Mexican tripe stew. The way it is prepared at Jose and Alicia Atencio’s delightful, casual restaurant, it tops tripes a la mode de Caen or any other French or Italian tripe stew. While watching the TV, HG will drink (a modest amount) of tequila with Samuel Adams Ale chasers. BSK will nibble olives, Marcona almonds and Manchego cheese with her white wine. And, who will we root for?. The Broncos. But, because of HG/BSK’s love of the Pacific Northwest, there will be no mourning if Seattle wins. The overall winner, of course, will be HG and BSK’s happy, Southwestern-fed bellies.
By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peter’s, Prince Edward Island, is a mainstay of HG/BSK’s cuisine during their long summer by the sea. Sheryll O’Hanley, a sunny faced, efficient woman, opened the store eight years ago and it has become a favorite among the Island’s lovers of fresh seafood. All of the fish (hake, cod, sole and haddock) is from the waters off PEI and Nova Scotia. They are wild caught. There is also farm raised Atlantic salmon. The salmon is free of hormones, chemicals and additives and it the best farm-raised fish HG has ever tasted. When the fishermen are fortunate, Sheryll sells some very superior local halibut. Sea scallops (even better than Nova Scotia’s Digby Bay scallops) come from PEI’s North Lake. Oysters are from South Lake and Savage Harbor. Quahogs and steamer clams are harvested locally. Lobsters (alive and kicking or cooked) are from PEI waters. The excellent little fresh water shrimp (similar to the schie HG devoured happily in Venice) are from Newfoundland. Sheryll departs from her locavore emphasis by importing some firm and tasty Tiger shrimp from Ontario. Mussels, PEI’s signature bivalve, are farmed in St. Peter’s Bay, just yards from the seafood store’s front window. Sheryll, married and mother of a 10 year-old daughter, is a special ed teacher in the off season. She comes to her seafood knowledge quite naturally. Born and bred in St. Peter’s, both of her parents were fishers and she absorbed sea lore daily. In her absence, By the Bay is tended by Gladys MacPhee, another native Islander and mother of four adult Islanders. She has kindly instructed HG in how to steam lobsters to maximize flavor. When HG moves back to Santa Fe (not exactly a seafood center) HG acutely misses Sheryll, Gladys and By the Bay. HG has to comfort himself with New Mexico menudo, burritos, chile peppers and the other delicacies of the region.
HG, as fans of this blog may have noted, is a big fan of menudo, the very pungent and flavorful Mexican tripe stew. Among menudo’s many benefits is the fact that a bowl banishes a hangover. HG, a conservative imbiber (ahem!!), has not been able to vouch for this. In any case, HG’s menudo go-to place is the plain spoken eat in/take out El Parasol in Pojuaque. EP’s menudo, fragrant with the heady aroma of offal, contains plenty fiery green chilis and is accompanied by chopped raw onion,lemon slices, Mexican oregano and soda crackers. Discerning SJ, during a recent New Mexico visit, said he prefers the menudo at Sopaipilla Factory, a New Mexican eatery a few hundred yards from EP. So, HG had to test SJ’s judgment. Well, SJ is on to something. The Sopaipilla Factory menudo is a bit more refined than El Parasol’s funky version: the tripe itself is very tender and the smell of the red chili broth is cleaner and less earthy than El Parasol’s; lots of spice but not lip searing. You get the obligatory chopped onions-lemon-oregano. But, here’s the big difference. At Sopaipilla Factory you get their specialty: fresh, warm sopapillas (Mexican popovers). As many as you want (“a volonte” as the say in Paris bistros). Smeared with honey butter or drizzled with plain honey they enhance the menudo experience. Another Sopaipilla Factory advantage is the fact they have a liquor license, making it possible to accompany menudo with an icy beer or margarita. HG Still loves El Parasol’s hearty menudo but will vary it with Sopaipilla Factory’s suave version.
HG has always enjoyed street food starting with the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, ices and chunks of coconut that were sold along the Bronx streets in HG’s youth. During early manhood HG fancied the grilled Italian sausages with onions and peppers sold from the back of trucks in Greenwich Village. The classic New York City Sabrett hot dog, topped with onions and mustard and sold from a “hot water” cart, was always a treat. In Chinatown, anything sold on the street (no matter how unhygienic it looked) was always good. HG had excellent wurst and rye bread on the streets of Prague and even better wurst at the foot of ski slopes in the Italian mountain town of Selva Val Gardena. HG bought a very savory spleen (yes, spleen) sandwich from a Palermo vendor. HG was not a tripe fan (HG is now a Menudo — Mexican tripe stew — addict) when HG unhappily nibbled a tripe sandwich from the famous truck in the Florence wicker market. In Brazil, HG was too timid to taste the pungent stews being sold by women tending steaming caldrons outside of public markets in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. The largest array of street food HG ever saw was in the colorful, surreal, slightly insane Djeema el Fnaa, the famous public square in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh. Established sometime around 1147, the square is a virtual maelstrom of noise, aromas and people (native Moroccans and tourists)/ There are magicians, snake charmers, water sellers, acrobats, story tellers, young men with chained Barbary apes, dancing boys and dentists (with large displays of pulled teeth as proof of their skill and prowess). When darkness falls, scores of food stalls appear and the air is filled with smoke. Hundreds sit on benches eating, grilled lamb (and its innards), chicken and every variety of seafood. Somehow HG found the square exciting but sinister (beneath the square is a police center for the vigorous interrogation of suspicious individuals). HG never patronized any of the stalls. Today, street food is having a renaissance moment in the United States. Serious and creative chefs are opening food carts and trucks alongside the ethnic specialty trucks (which had long dominated the market) in cities throughout America. Both groups of chefs are equally drawn to the food cart’s low overhead and the ripe possibility of building an audience for your cooking before dumping a fortune into a brick and mortar restaurant. And not only are the food trucks opening, urban planners and city governments are recognizing their civic importance. Cities such as Portland are actively supporting food trucks and creating a supportive business environment to help them thrive. The trend has reached New Mexico where excellent street food can be relished all over Santa Fe. This is an attractive trend bringing interesting, affordable food to folks who haven’t the time or patience for the traditional, leisurely, sit down restaurant meal. Finally, a culinary trend HG can stand by.
It all started with a little taco stand in Espanola, NM, started by two Atencio brothers in 1958. Sheltered by an umbrella provided by their father, Luis Atencio, the two peddled their mother’s home-cooked tacos and tamales to rapidly growing audience. Business flourished and, in time, that taco stand took over the family plumbing business and expanded into the full scale restaurant, El Paragua, and six casual dining EL Parasol eateries in New Mexico (franchised to various generations of the Atencio family. All provide great, down home Northern New Mexican food (as HG has often noted, HG is addicted to El Parasol’s green chile menudo and posole).
HG and BSK dined at El Paragua last night with visiting Mike Rock and Trish Layton. Chilly night and the restaurant with its dark wooden furniture, Hispanic artifacts, photos and newspaper clippings exuded warmth and the aromas of good cooking. The group was met by smiling Jose Atencio, the proprietor and host. First, some splendid frozen margaritas in big, salt rimmed glasses. Then, Jose presented bowls of hot broth filled with pork, garbanzos, bits of red chile and ripe avocado slices as a garnish. Chill was vanquished. Dinner was menudo, carne adovado, enchiladas, charro beans, guacamole, shrimp in garlic sauce. Plus warm sopapillas with honey and elderberry jelly. Flan for dessert. Generous Jose Atencio climaxed the meal with brandy snifters of a Mexican liqueur not imported to the United States (HG believes it is called “Membrillo”). Fabulous. Jose took us on a tour of the restaurant. Much history. A favorite restaurant of the actor Anthony Quinn. Dennis Hopper, when he lived in Taos, NM, would come to El Paragua to drink and play cards with Jose’s father, Luis Atencio. Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and many others have dined there. That’s El Paragua — a nice blend of food and history warmed by the gracious service and happy ambience created by Jose Atencio.