Friday, March 26, 2010

Mexico City, NJ

Dear Mouse,

Hello from Red Bank! I've learned some words.

queso fresco
salsa roja
pan dulce
chilaquiles. Say that five times fast.


So, it's Spring! Season of hyacinth, crocus, new beginnings, sugar snaps, fava beans, freezing weather, coughing up a lung on stage, and Mucinex DM. As it turns out, it is simply impossible to clearly say, "But here is Orestes, ready to die", with a ricola wedged in your cheek.

Other than that, the remounting of the show in our home state has been a breeze. The theatre is spacious and lovely (and just steps! away from the train station! ahem), the re-staging is effective and exciting, the acoustics rock, the Thursday night cover band at the bar behind the theatre lets me sing with them!, and I'm generally wallowing in NJ nostalgia of the kind I didn't know I had. I mean ...there's a WAWA!!

One thing that I didn't really expect to discover was anything new on the food front. I mean, as you might expect, there is a pizza parlor every three blocks in this town. If you want a hoagie or a meatball parm, you're all set. Natch. Go here for the arancini (risotto ball with mozarella center).

But the Italians aren't the only ones coming to the table. Get off the train and the first thing you'll see (besides the theatre!ahem) is the sign for Juanito's Gourmet Mexican Bakery. Turn left to behold Senor Peppers restaurant. Around the block from that is La Juquila Mexican Grocery. And that's just what I know so far.

I've become a regular at the Mexican Bakery. It's not that the coffee's so great (it's not), it's just cheap, available in vanilla and hazelnut, and is directly in my line of vision upon waking. But I find myself coming back to look at the rows of pan dulce (sweet bread) and imagine biting through the sugary crust.

Then there's the shelf of Mexican junk food - packaged mini-bunuelos with brand names like 'Bimbo'. I have to remind myself that just because it's not American doesn't mean it's not disgusting.

On our third day here, Orestes - who, as far as I know, doesn't cook - announced that he would be making breakfast for our whole crew the next morning. I knew he had some secret Food Plan going (there were furtive phone calls in Spanish and obscure questions like "how do you shred a chicken?"), but I didn't know what.

I came downstairs the next morning to this:
Picture taken with dish already half-eaten. Typical Hart.

Let me walk you through this. Those fiery red-orange triangles? Tortilla chips - NOT Doritos - coated in hot red salsa and fried up in a pan like scrambled eggs. (There were also scrambled eggs). So: Layer of salsa-fied chips. Layer of scrambled eggs. Layer of shredded chicken. Layer of sliced avocado. Layer of crumbled, snowy-white queso fresco. Sprinkling of chopped epazote (dark leafy green that reminded me of parsley, but with an edge.) The result: chilaquiles, a spicy, crunchy breakfast treat that will either kill you or cure your hangover. I loved it.

Now, Mouse, you know me. I like things HOT. I've always felt that there's almost nothing short of profiteroles that can't be improved with a smudge of wasabi or a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. And I made it through a plate and a half of this stuff no problem. But I'm just saying, wow. Citizens, beware, and carry antacids.

Actually, the salsa roja is my favorite part of the whole thing because of its back story. Orestes had risen bright and early and descended on the Mexican grocery, buying up bags of ancho chiles and fresh tomatoes with the intent to make the salsa himself. A block away from the store, he realized he maybe had not given himself enough time to learn to do this and get breakfast on the table in the same morning. He was explaining to the amused and intrigued women at the store, ("How do you know what chilaquiles are?!") that perhaps he would just buy a jar of salsa, when they invited him into their kitchen and made it themselves from the ingredients he'd bought. Now that's a food adventure. Eating the fresh, salty, fire-engine red puree that morning and hearing the story, I felt as if I'd just received a card saying "Welcome to Red Bank"... only much more tasty.

We open tomorrow!! and close April 11. Come visit me. The theatre's really close to the train station. :-)


The Boo


The Mouse said...

I love any reason to eat chips at breakfast. Please tell O (and the bodega ladies) that I would like the recipe...

Anonymous said...

...maybe a good birthday breakfast treat? after a good hike of 20 blocks or so? does sound intriguing and pretty and a great way to start a weekend!