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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Red Hook'd: Vaquero Elotes

Brooklyn has its share of landmarks – the Bridge, Prospect Park, Coney Island, chez Slab – but for The Porkchop Express, one spot towers above the rest. I'm talking, of course, about a veritable Bermuda Triangle of flavor known as the Red Hook Soccer Fields. Many a proverbial sailor has journeyed to these parts in April, only to wander out in late October with spicy pork on their clothes, crema on their face, and a fat dopey grin. Which stands to reason. In these parts, your only real option is to go with the flow, watch some soccer, and eat as much as you possibly can.But where to begin? Consider the Vaquero Fruit Stand. The first tent you see when entering the fields, we like to consider Vaquero's a sort of flavor ambassador, a welcoming committee to all who enter the Red Hook food scene.And welcome they do, mostly with fruity offerings: chopped watermelon, canteloupe, pineapple, and coconut; sliced chili mango and cool cucumbers. They also sell aguas frescas, those light, refreshing drinks you'll need to wash down all the food you're going to eat. Try whetting your palate with a bright green lime, pale brown tamarindo, or deep purple jamaica (made from hibiscus flowers).
Now all this is well and good, but Vaquero's real flagship dish is the mighty elote, a grilled ear of corn, splashed with a little lemon juice, slathered with mayonnaise, rolled in grated cheese, and sprinkled with red chili powder.As snacks go, this one is hard to resist. Take last weekend, for example. I was fresh off a huarache/pupusa/ceviche/etc. breakfast/lunch/dinner/etc., when I smelled the corn grilling. What happened next was beyond the pale of science or logic. With Ms. Slab rolling her eyes, I stumbled up to the Vaquero's tent, sucked in my gut, and ordered an elote. I can't really explain it but I just had to have one. Maybe it's that Bermuda Triangle effect, good reader; delicious often hypnotizes.
Long story short, I'm a big fan of those nicely charred golden ears. Sweet and smoky. Salty and creamy. Smooth and spicy. Attractive enough for the living room yet delicate enough for the kitchen. And (bonus), it's served on a stick. Corn-on-a-stick is fun to eat.

After debating why Ms. Vaquero makes such tasty elotes, we decided the secret ingredient was “love.” Love and cheese. Lots of cheese. You see, this is a very generous elote. No skimping whatsoever. The queso blanco is freshly ground, so it tastes especially moist and salty and creamy. There is enough mayo to hold everything in place. And chili powder delivers ye olde knockout punch.
The mastermind behind this modern marvel of corn engineering is one Maria Vaquero (above). She first came to the states from Puebla, Mexico in 1962. After decades working in other peoples' homes, she decided to change careers and open something a little closer to heart. So 6 years back, she started a fruit stand at the Red Hook Ballfields.

To hear Maria describe it, fruit stands characterize Mexican hospitality and community. They offer a place for folks to congregate, hang out, sip cold lemonade, eat chili mango, chew on elotes, and watch the day go by. So it goes at Maria's tent as well. From the family atmosphere (both her sister Yolanda and niece Shaina keep things moving), to the smell of grilled corn and freshly cut fruit, everything about Vaquero Elotes says kick back and eat me.

When asked if she wanted to relay anything else, Maria just blushed a little and smiled: “come enjoy some fruit.” And elotes. And genuine Pueblan hospitality, of course.

Vaquero Fruit & Elotes
Bay Street side
(first tent at the corner)

Elotes & Chopped Fruit: $2.00

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Blogger carey said...

Hey all:

Following up on my comment from J. Slab's last post [Red Hook'd; May 8th] I'm sorry/overjoyed to report that I went again today to the Ball Fields (May 19) and was so engrossed in the flavor, I forgot all about the gringo premium.

I've decided that I don't care about it anyway. If I can't even remember to listen in on Spanish speakers' purchases - a despicably paranoid act, come to think of it - then it doesn't matter.

Eat on.

9:18 PM  

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