Red Hook'd: Ceron Colombian
Jolanda Ceron first set up shop over 20 years ago, making her one of the first to sell food at this storied location. And as her daughter Yezenia tells it, things were pretty different back then: far more casual, no mention of permits, ice cold beers, and a whole lot of Colombians and Puerto Ricans.
Then (as now), most of the clientele came from the Soccer teams playing at the adjacent field. So when the actual Leagues siwtched, so did the vendors. New food tents sprouted up, reflecting the changing composition of incoming players: Mexican, Guatemalan, and Honduran, to name a few.
At one point, even Jolanda herself called it a day. She left to to start a small Colombian restaurant in Brooklyn (37th & Fort Hamilton Parkway). The spot was open 24/7, which meant both long (read: rough) hours and a high-maintenance (read: drunk) late-night clientele. So the Cerons closed their doors about 7 or 8 years back, and made a welcomed return to the Soccer Fields.
Jolanda now runs the Red Hook spot with her family, and on one grey day, they graced us with some fine Colombian.
We had trouble deciding so we pretty much ordered everything, starting with an arepa, a thick cornmeal cake cooked on a griddle. Venezuelans tend to stuff theirs with savory fillings, but Colombian style is a little different. They mix cheese right in to the cornmeal, so the patty itself is savory and dense. If you try one, make sure to top it with their delicious homemade salsa, a spicy concotion of green chilies, red onions, and cilantro.
The papa reyena seemed to be a crowd pleaser, so we gave that a taste. What is it, you ask? Coarse mashed potatoes wrapped around tender braised beef, coated with a flour mix, and deep-fried. The Cerons also coat their juicy fried chicken with the same seasoned flour that lends those potato cakes their golden hue. Both (and many other items on this menu) are cooked in a pot of fresh bubbling oil. This is the hardest working oil in Red Hook, I'd imagine.
Given the remarkable assortments of chilies and spices at play around the Redhook Soccer Field, I usually end up with a serious case of hotmouth. But Colombian food is surprisingly mild. Even their chorizo proved far less fiery than its cousin, the spicy brick-red Mexican link. The Cerons score this smooth pork-beef sausage, fry it, and serve it with a boiled potato. Much to my enjoyment, I should add; this is one tasty link, and unlike what I typically associate with the word chorizo.
Ceron's fancy two-tiered grilled was probably the first thing that caught our eye, so we could hardly leave without trying one of those enticing skewers of chicken and beef. Although both hit the spot, we gave the chicken a slight nod: tender and softly marinated, with a nice grilled flavor.
Jolanda also serves Sobre Barriga (top flank steak cooked with her special onion-pepper sauce), Chicharron (meaty strips of pork skin, fried crisp: think a threesome between ribs, bacon and cracklin'), fried Yucca, and empanadas. The pinto beans, stewed with diced potatoes, were especially satisfying on such a gloomy day.
By now, astute reader, you should sense a theme: hearty, humble, well-prepared fare dished up with a smile. And while many of these dishes were new to The Porkchop Express, the Cerons keep a few familiars on tap for their less adventurous eaters. Take, for example, the young man who whispered something in Spanish. He looked content when Yezenia returned with a hot dog from the cooler, which she quickly fried and served on a bun with ketchup.
It's touches like these that illustrate the Cerons' warmth and place in the community, and I couldn't help but wonder why this was the last Colombian family standing at Redhook. Whatever the reason, we, for one, are glad these folks held tight.
Bay Street side
(seventh tent from the corner)
I lost track of the pricing on this one, but we had a lot of food for $13.