It's not a bug, it's a feature. The weary signage previously half-hidden by the awning of Eva Deli Grocery has been spiffed up to furnish The Wheelhouse, a purveyor of "gourmet grilled cheese," with old-school street cred. The forebear of the small Iavarone chain of Italian markets opened in 1919; one location in Maspeth, Queens, and others on Long Island, still serve a newer generation of Italian-Americans.
I'd always understood that two contrary traditions surround gumbo z'herbes, a Creole dish prepared during Lent. One treats the gumbo as a meatless dish for Good Friday, though liberal variations flavor it with the likes of ham hocks that are removed before serving. In another tradition it is prepared for Holy Thursday, for the last big meat meal before Easter Sunday.
Perhaps this bowl is evidence of a third, latter-day tradition: Be strict about the omission of meat, but be liberal with the occasions on which it is served. Year-round, chef willing. More-familiar versions of the dish are also known as green gumbo, but thanks especially to a sliver of bullseye beet (also called candy-stripe and Chioggia), this gumbo z'herbes accommodates extra color, too.
Two fresh batches of pastelitos emerge from the kitchen. One batch is filled with shrimp, one, with fish; both cool, and shed excess fry oil, in the same paper-towel-lined basket. To the untrained eye they're an indiscriminate heap of deep-fried half-moons. How does the counterwoman tell them apart?
(This venue is closed.) Even better than a Cuban sandwich: half a Cuban and half a "Meridian," split 50-50 with a dining buddy ($16 all in). The first partners traditional roast pork, swiss, and ham with grain mustard and zippy horseradish-brined pickles; the second (also shown in closeup) is essentially a ham-and-swiss with hot-pepper-guava jelly, spicy and sweet.
Both employ Jersey-made Cuban bread that the bakery identifies as pan de manteca — lard included. It takes on a splendid golden color when pressed in the plancha.
St. Brigid's, a Roman Catholic church on the Ridgewood-Bushwick border, was named in 1887 for a patron saint of Ireland, and in the early years of the 20th century it came to serve a largely German-American congregation. Today many congregants and neighbors are Ecuadorian, judging by the abundance and pedigree of the street food nearby on a recent Sunday.
This plate of mote pillo ($5) has its roots in Cuenca, a city in Ecuador's southern highlands also famous for fanesca. At the simplest mote pillo consists of eggs and hominy scrambled in the presence of onion, garlic, cilantro, and (for color) achiote. A few members of our scouting party suggested that meat would improve it, and indeed in Cuenca a related dish, mote sucio, also includes kernels of hominy (mote) that have been sauteed with pork, or in pork gravy, so they become "sucio" ("dirty").
The question then arises: What is "pillo"? The only translations I've been able to find suggest "rascally" or "roguish," which is a stretch for a dish that is not even very piquant (at least in this instance). If you can supply a better etymology for the pillo in mote pillo, please do.
On the side: quaker (Quack-air, not shown, $3), a beverage that smoothly blends oatmeal, name-brand or not, with a little orange juice. In Ecuador, quaker traditionally includes naranjilla, also known as lulo; the O.J. is a U.S. substitution. This quaker was also flavored with apple and cinnamon (nicely noted, missmasala!), giving the impression, in the best possible flashback-to-childhood sense, of packaged instant oatmeal, now in drinkable form.
El Bochinche Street cart on St. Nicholas Ave. between Linden St. and Gates Ave., Ridgewood, Queens Friday through Sunday, early afternoon till early evening, year-round
It's what we put on a taco, except we put it on a bun, said Rosie of her "Chiwawa dog" ($3). Generous chopped raw onion is the best part. Since the balance of the mixed-bag menu — which includes eggy breakfast sandwiches, burgers and gyros, tacos and quesadillas — is spelled impeccably, let's figure that the spelling of "Chihuahua" is a bit of fun by the Romania-born proprietress.
Cinco de Mayo special: a strawberry margarita doughnut ($2.50) with an unmistakable splash of flavor more often encountered during happy hour. In retrospect, a lime margarita would have been the more timely order, given the citrus fruit's current scarcity. Perhaps I'll be able to order a second round sometime over the summer.
Previously: From an afternoon when I photographed (and consumed) a Sicilian seafood bruschetta, an Uruguayan-Basque sausage sandwich, and a spicy Togolese stew, the photo that won the most favor from my friends was of a doughnut (below). Point taken: There's something to be said for the exotic, and there's something to be said for caramel (salted caramel) and pecans.