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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Red Hook'd: Carcamo Honduran

On the patience-scale, Ms. Slab falls somewhere between a sloth and a jitterbug; it all depends on the situation. So here was the situation: I was trying to drag her on another search for delicious at the Red Hook Soccer Fields, and considered it a minor victory when she agreed to return–yet again–to a tent that had caught my eye weeks ago.

The tent itself is actually pretty dull, an ordinary weather-worn off-white cap that shelters many of the food stalls in these parts. In all honesty, what had really stoked my spider-sense was a lonely pot of beans left bubbling in the corner of a large black griddle. Those beans spoke to me in frijole. They said... eat me. And who am I to argue with a pot of beans?
Too sexy for my pot

It's rare that I get so jazzed over beans (especially in mixed company) but these looked mighty fine: slow-cooked on the laziest of simmers, creamy and glistening, the sheen of what I hoped was lard, in a pot that had no doubt seen many flavorful days. I had a slow and steady courtship going with those beans, empathetic reader, and I was ready to consummate.

So I stepped up and ordered a gargantuan plate of Honduran goodness: beans and white rice, of course, but also fried plantains and fried yucca, tangy cole slaw and pico de gallo, marinated onions and jalepenos... and a giant slab of steak.

“Restaurant quality.”

Thus spoke Ms. Slab (the former-skeptic) after taking several bites from our massive plate. And I think what she meant was, this is not your standard street fare. (But this is not your standard street, I thought; doesn't she read The Porkchop Express? Doesn't she know about Clinton & Bay at the Soccer Fields? I'll let it slide...)

In all seriousness, this food grabbed me from go. At first, it was the beef: a 1/4 inch slice of salty grilled chuck. I appreciated the cut (way better than sirloin) and distinctive marinade (Filippo Berio olive oil, mustard, a little adobo). Furthermore, it went perfectly with the yucca, fluffy starchy squares fried to a honey-gold exterior. (I enjoyed tearing the meat with my fingers, but noticed another option: on request, they cut each steak into bite-sized chunks and cook it to a nice charred crust on the griddle. Note to self: next time.)

While the smorgasboard was initially intimidating, I quickly saw its logic: balance in pairs. Try the meat with yucca or some white rice. Try the rice with those wonderful, creamy beans (every bit as good as they look). Top either with one of the salads, a sharp slaw reminescent of the papusa side, a mild pico de gallo, or the spicy onions and jalepenos. Or treat yourself to a bite of expertly fried sweet plantain, or a nice salty chunk of fried pork.
Suany Carcamo puts the finishing touches on a few chunks of chuck

We made surprisingly quick work of the plate... so quick, in fact, that the food was almost gone but fast. We had that edgy feeling (who gets the last bite? of what?) and so I decided to defer, and talk to the chef.

22 years ago, Suany Carcamo left her native Honduras for Park Slope, Brooklyn. She started cooking at the Red Hook Soccer Fields 6 years later, and, some 10 years after that opened the Honduras Maya restaurant in the Slope (587 Fifth Avenue). Suany serves many of the same dishes at both spots, but she seems to harbor a genuine fondness for the tent under which her culinary career began. Both she and her friend Suyapa can cook, and this venue lets them shine.
It Takes Two: Suyapa Cruz (L) shares the grill

Both women are extremely attentive to detail, and it shows in the end product: the impressively large pot of oil (which yields light, evenly fried yucca and plaintains); the rice (topped with slices of green pepper and sprigs of what looked like oregano while cooking); the beans (soooo sloooow); the chuck steak (with that unique marinade); and the veggies (fresh and crisp enough to hold their own).
Dough, yo

While trying Suany's patience with my painfully nonsensical line of “Spanglish” questioning, I noticed a bowl of what looked like balls of raw Chinese soup bun dough. So I bided some time (“que hora es banana?”) until one was put to use. The small balls turned out to be fresh tortillas de arina. Suany and Suyapa pat them down, throw 'em on the grill, then top and fold with crema, queso anejo, and some of those drool-inducing refried beans.
Ballad of the baleada

The result, curious reader? A wonderful snack that goes by the name of baleada. And yikes, is it tasty. The flour tortilla is soft, chewey, and ever so slightly charred, a fine foil to the salty cheese, sour cream, and rich beans. At $1.50, this qualifies as one of the best flavor-bargains at the Soccer Fields. It was far simpler than the other dishes, but just as satisfying; our first baleada was certainly not our last.

The long and short of it? This was a fine introduction to Honduran cuisine, and one of our favorites at the Soccer Fields. Check it out, and exercise some patience: there is plenty for everyone.

Carcamo Honduran
Bay Street side
(fifth tent from the corner)

Gimongous plates of good food: $9.00
Baleadas: $1.50

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Blogger Melly/Melody/or Mel said...

I paid 25 cents each for baleada's when I was visiting Honduras. No wonder they moved to Brooklyn!

1:02 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

Melly Mel thats funny as hell, wonder what they charge in manhattan...

4:50 PM  

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