Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Guest Post - MikeG
at least, Logan Square.

I promised yesterday that I would go eat something new and report back
today. Actually I think the place I went has at least been mentioned
before, as a Guatemalan bakery, Delicias Guatemaltecas Bakery, 2901 N.
Kedzie. However, I noticed some new signage on it including a new name
(La Luna del Xelaju), which suggested perhaps new ownership and/or a
fuller menu, and decided to see what they had.

The menu behind the bar was a typical all-things-to-all-people mix--
carne asada, Cuban Sandwiches, cheeseburgers and hot dogs. Instead of
ordering off it I told the lady of the establishment that I had eaten
at the Guatemalan restaurant (El Tinajon) on Roscoe but wanted to know
what they had that was different and better. That turned out to be the
best question I could have asked, not because she immediately told me
what to have but because she then gave me the full story.

El Tinajon, she said, makes city food (I assume meaning Guatemala
City). They are from Xelaju, a rural area on the Pacific coast, 90
miles away, and so their food is quite different. Initially they had
just been a bakery, making typical Mexican bakery-looking stuff, but
they had added Guatemalan and Mexican food over time, in their region's
style, and now they were about to get a complete menu change, hopefully
by this weekend if the printer finally finishes the new menus. It
would have considerably more than the menu has now, but even now it
represents a good sampling of their regional choices.

She talked me through a number of dishes but I decided to try multiple
smaller, more peasanty dishes to increase my odds. (By the way, oh
fans of sausage at Brasa Rojas and such places, there is a Guatemalan
sausage platter to be had.) I ordered a cheese pupusa (they also have
chicharron), a chicken tamale in their style, and a pache with pork,
along with a homemade limeade.

The first to come was the pupusa, accompanied by a goodly amount of
cortida (is that how you spell it? I only know it by sound from the
Maxwell St. video). My first bite seemed a bit too crisp, I would have
liked it a bit fluffier, but then she turned up again from the kitchen
with a salsa-- and what a salsa! A brick-red salsa as deep in color as
an artist's mixed oils, full of chunks of different shades of tomato
and pepper, seeds and black bits. I wept at the beauty of this salsa,
in which I could almost taste the instant that igneous mortar scraped
against volcanic pestle and released all the honesty and truth of
Mesoamerica's most noble vegetables. Any qualms about the crustiness
of my pupusa vanished in an instant, and it was only by conjuring up
thoughts of the dishes yet to come that I didn't leap up, race into the
kitchen and yell "Five more pupusas!"

(By the way, later on when she was talking about their clientele, I
asked her about the cortida. She said what I had today was the
Guatemalan style, but on the weekends they get more Salvadoran
customers and so they make it Salvadoran style, which has oregano in it
but is otherwise the same. Did anyone know that? I thought there was
a little cinnamon in the Salvadoran, but oregano?)

The next dish was the odd one out. It was a tamale, with a whole
chicken leg in the center, a very hot red pepper salsa mixed into it
and wrapped in banana leaf. But the stuff around the chicken leg was
closer in texture to the custard in banana leaf at Spoon Thai than to
the Oaxacan tamals at Maxwell, for instance. Clearly not masa, unless
it was whipped with a tremendous amount of egg or something (but no
corn flavor). I thought it might be potato (but the next dish was
supposed to be potato-based). So I asked-- it's rice flour. To be
honest, it was interesting to try but I found it too bland and slightly
icky after multiple bites (maybe because I suddenly realized it was the
exact consistency of my kids' first solid food, a rice cereal). It
needed the toothiness and flavor of something like masa, this was just

The next dish, a pache, which is basically a tamale made with potato
instead of masa, more than made up for it. The prep was largely the
same-- mashed potatoes with the red pepper salsa, chunks of pork and a
jalapeno, all boiled in a banana leaf-- but the savoriness of the
potatoes, plus a little squeeze of fresh lime over the pork, made this
outstanding. (And even better when I added the salsa.)

So, nice folks trying hard and growing in ambition, artisanal
Slow-Food-worthy homemade salsa, solid regional variations on a lot of
things we know folks 'round here-- this place is a winner and looks
likely to get better yet before they're done, if I were Cheap Eats I'd
jump on it and hand over at least three forks, maybe four pronto. (All
of the above came to the whopping sum of $8.50, by the way.) Check it
out, write it up, let's pack it, they deserve it.


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