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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Red Hook'd: Perez Tacos

If you find yourself at the intersection of Clinton and Bay Streets in Brooklyn, hungry reader, consider yourself lucky. This is the entrance to a world of delicious: the Red Hook Soccer Field food tents. Stands stretch in two directions (south and east), but the Clinton strip looked far less congested. So The Porkchop Express decided to check it our first in hopes of getting our taco on.
The last tent on the block had a healthy line, so we jumped in, waited, and observed: a hot griddle on which corn tortillas were flipped, a smokey grill cooking big rounds of thin steak, the small pan overflowing with tacquitos, the pot simmering above a bed of grey coals, and tubs of homemade goodness: fresh salsas (spicy tomatillo and crimson chipotle), marinated jalepenos, grilled hot chilies with onions (and what smelled like oregano), and sweet cinnamon horchata.

The stand is run by Eleazar Perez and her family. Ellie holds court, tending to the meats while overseeing the entire operation. Entranced by her grill skills, I ordered a carne asada taco con todos ($2.50)... and was surprised to receive one of those healthy steak slices whole, resting confidently on two corn tortillas. The meat–trimmed and seasoned long before it hits the coals–had a nice char and great smokey flavor, and was topped with pico de gallo, lettuce, onion, and hot salsa. I also added some of their delicious grilled chilies and onions, notoriously painful to prepare and a perfect complement to this robust asada.
One Big Taco!

Even better? Their truly delicious barbacoa taco. As it turns out, this was the mystery meat from the pot: shredded, moist, slow-cooked, fork-tender goat piled generously onto a pair of corn tortillas. It went great with chopped onion and cilantro, and a single, plump home-marinated jalepeno. Not a big fan of goat? To be honest, me neither... but it doesn't matter. This is the star of the show, unique and flavorful, and the type of thing you find yourself craving a few weeks down the line. (They also make a soup with the braising liquid, which would probably be great in the cooler months.)

A big part of the Red Hook experience is the community vibe, and Ellie's son Fabian made me feel right at home. He also shared some family history.

Originally from Puebla, Mexico, his mom started selling tacos in Park Slope, Brooklyn, from the back of her car. Demand grew, and soon after (some 19 years ago) she set up shop at the Red Hook fields. 9 years after that she opened a restaurant: La Ascencion on Fort Hamilton Parkway, tho (thankfully) the family still graces the park every Saturday and Sunday.
Flavor Historian: Fabian Perez dropping science with his boys Geovanny and Donovan (L-R)

Fabian's not much older than the stand he grew up in and around, but he's a true flavor historian, and kindly schooled us on the scene. He talked about 1996 (Giuliani time), when beer was banned and permits became mandatory (at $3 a week; they now cost $300 a month). He described the lively soccer community that lies at the heart of these tents, filled with former pros from Central America who stop by after games to chow down; the neighborhood, an eclectic mix of recreation centers, fields, public schools (3), and housing projects; and creeping signs of gentrification. And when all was said and done, I got the sense that no matter the times, Fabian and the rest of the Perez fam will always do things their same great way.

This is a rock-solid operation, inviting on many levels, and a worthy start to any Red Hook expedition.

Perez Tacos

Clinton Street side
(third tent from the corner)

Tacos: $2.50
Horchata: $1.50

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where on Fort Hamilton is their restaurant?

5:08 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

La Asuncion, 3914 Fort Hamilton Parkway... link to map

10:10 AM  

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