Monday, November 28, 2005

Maxwell Street Adjustments
Keeping Track of Good Food

If you use Gorilla Gourmet to find great eating on Maxwell Street, you need to make some adjustments. It’s been noted that the “C’mon in, C’mon in/Guantajunto El Colonial” featured strongly in the documentary have been gone from Maxwell Street. There have been more changes, and the Maxwell Street eater needs to make some adjustments. Adjusted, you still eat really well.

Of course, we eaters call it Maxwell Street, but if you looked at a map, you would find the Sunday flea market and Mexican food extravaganza is on Canal Street. And right now, Canal Street is under construction, disrupting the southern end of the market. Think of the vendors down there as a bulge, squeeze the street and the displaced bulge has to show up somewhere else. In this case, the vendors have spilled over to Taylor Street on the far north end of the market. Here, one will find the twin masa specialists: Rubi/Manolo’s. Both stands have brought small vertical roasters for al pastor with them to their new locations. Manolo, however, uses a spit fired by charcoal briquettes, Rubi uses a gas heater. Still, neither cook the pork to full Wiv-crispness on the spit. Instead, it goes from the spit to a pan with lotsa salsa de chile arbol (at least Rubi’s did). Inside a fresh made quesadilla, with some cheese and the garlic heavy green-red salsa, it tasted very good (although it could have been greater with a full roasting). Of the other stands on the south end filmed by Gorilla Gourmet, the place with the very well done (double meaning) grilled steak tacos has not reappeared on the north end. I hope they return. The man who showed us his tongue in the movie, who claims to be the first taco stand on Maxwell (he's the one on the right on the Gorilla Gourmet home page), was parked near Rubi/Manolo’s. But also missing, the “saran-wrap” people, the stand at the corner of Canal and 14th where wide sheets of plastic prevented prying hands from snagging a taste of huitalachoche or zucchini flower. Stepping into the void down-there, were some people frying up fresh made gorditas and making bloody pambasos from either potato-chorizo or crispy steak-onion. My family really enjoyed the pambaso, missing the metallic taste of some.

The area roughly next to Dominick’s remains, besides the gone El Colonial, stable. Rico huaraches still are. I thought yesterday about the general criticism of “cheap-eats”, stands on the low quality of the raw materials, especially the meat. I noted that yes, the steak on these huaraches is tough in the most, but I also noted that a “better” place like Frontera just cannot produce a paddle of masa like this black-bean stuffed, fried-griddled piece. And it is the masa that matters. The Oaxacan tamal place remains about there as does the beef-birria place. The birria de Aguascaliente, steamed on avocado leaves guy, who can be intermittent in his Maxwell Street appearances, WAS there yesterday, but in the North hump. Another birria place, maybe the one normally South was North, but I cannot say if these are the same places. The one place I used to make a special trip North, the pupusa place, was not there yesterday.

New? Besides the al pastor, the only thing I really found new, as compared to moved or missing, was some roasted calabaza at the stand that also sells rice pudding empanadas and elotes. The Mexican pumpkin gets pretty dark from its roasting and seems caramelized, but the taste is not highly sweet.

I and others try to document Maxwell Street, but we can only capture one day. Each week brings new vendors, new locations, a few new products. The constant: delicious food. Here, you will find many examples of masa manipulation. One vendor molds the masa into thick disks and stuffs them with a mixture of soft requeson cheese, epazote and jalapeƱos; another manipulates the dough just bit differently, stuffs it with potato and calls it an empanada. Flat it can be a huarache, flatter and folded and it becomes a quesadilla. There are tamales wrapped in corn and bigger tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Besides tasting all that corn, Maxwell eaters get two other advantages. Lotsa steaks get grilled over live coals, something you will not see in a neighborhood taqueria. Finally, you will see at Maxwell lotsa trays of bubbling oil; your stuff gets cooked as you order. Whatever the changes, C’mon in, C’mon in.

No comments: