Welcome lowly readers, to the Pot and Pan Handler’s blog Barrio Café edition. Barrio Café is where we learned what comida conchinga is, enjoyed a signature dish originally created by nuns and find that Mexican street food by any other name will taste as sweet. Get in the low rider, because we’re going to the Barrio, destination, Barrio café. http://www.barriocafe.com/
Our family holds a family reunion every year. This reunion is an effort to fight the grisly reality that we as people have a mortality rate of 100%. After years of only seeing one another at funerals, someone said: “Well, hell, if we’re going to force ourselves to see each other, we might as well all be alive.” And with that totally made up statement the annual family reunion was born.
When my parent’s turn came up, it was official, we were going to one of the hottest states in the nation; Phoenix, Arizona. As a direct result of my parent’s residence is in one of the coldest states in the nation, they choose instead to live in the desert, at least during winter. We went last spring & spent 3 days feeding dozens of people 2 times a day. We also learned a lesson; if you are cooking for 60-70+ people in a residential kitchen, it can feel like you’re cooking with an E Z Bake Oven and a Fisher Price, My First Cooking Pot, but that’s a different post.
When we heard we were going to Phoenix, the first place that came to mind was Barrio Café. I had once seen Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza on Food TV’s Diners, Drive In’s & Dives and took notice. Though it’s true they go to some funky, eclectic, unusual and tasty restaurants on that show. However, rarely are the Chefs in these funky restaurants, James Beard Award Nominated and Chef Esaparza is. Four times she’s been nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Chef Southwest. That’s right four times, she’s part chef, part gangsta and all boss.
Lesson one of the Barrio Café edition: take time to admire the graffiti murals outside. Graffiti is an oft overlooked art form, it’s usually free, and it never stops to appreciate itself, Barrio Café is no exception. Once inside we were quickly seated and our drink order was taken. A margarita and something near and dear to our hearts, the love child of a Bloody Mary and beer, a Michelada were ordered.
Soon our drinks appeared, alongside fresh bread and an olive tapenade. The margarita is a textbook rendition, the Michelada is exceptional. Spicy tomato juice and beer served in a glass rimmed with chili powder, I wish I was drinking one right now. The airy and light fresh bread and tangy olive, roasted red pepper and oil mixture are a nice accompaniment to the alcohol. But then again, what isn’t?
We were still hungry. Fortunately at Barrio Café there’s an app for that, appetizers, we decided on Barrio Café’s take on elote or esquite. Mexican street style corn, refined, instead of leaving the corn on the cob slathered in mayo, Barrio Cafe, removes the corn from the cob and roasts them in butter. Mixing the kernels with lime, chipotle cream, cilantro and queso fresco. Served with chips on the side, this is no taco truck elote. For that we thank them.
Appetizer two: salad, though it may be true that you don’t make friends with salad, it does help ya’ keep a waistline. Barrio Café’s salad was tasty, not overlooked like in many restaurants, and it’s with a powerful fundamental relief that I tell you they do not put salads in a fried burrito shell. Simply mixed greens with diced tomato, dried cranberry, lightly dressed and garnished with queso fresco, it’s light and refreshing and palate cleansing. A refreshing second course but… STOP! It’s entrée time.
Tacos, who doesn’t love a good freakin’ pork taco? We bet an accomplished chef like Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza knows how to make a great fuckin’ taco. Wrong. Like the obligatory and overlooked chicken dish at your local steakhouse, these tacos are only on the menu because stupid gringos like us expect them. “What do you mean you don’t have tacos, I thought this was a Mexican joint.” This chant would become a constant litany if they did not have tacos, but you can get tacos at a taco truck. When you’re at the Barrio Café, stick to the specialties, this is a Chef driven restaurant after all.
Chiles En Nogada is such a specialty. The predecessor of Chile Rellenos, Chiles En Nogada was first created by Puebloan nuns in 1861 to celebrate the colors of the Mexican flag. Easily, Chiles En Nogada is my favorite Mexican dish of all time and Barrio Café did not disappoint. If you take my recipe for Chiles En Nogada and multiply it by sparkly unicorns with rainbow juice and garnished it with brilliance, you’re in the ballpark. Barrio Café took my favorite Mexican dish in the world and made it better. Far better.
The roasted poblano pepper is piquant and stuffed with a spiced chorus of chicken, apple, pear, dried apricot and pecans. This well stuffed pepper blooms on a bed of almond cream is reveling in the traditional Mexican flag colored garnish of queso fresco, cilantro and pomegranate seeds. The resulting flavor explosion dances across your tongue, a sublime culinary Mexican hat dance. This dish is sweet, salty, savory, spicy, creamy, zesty, tongue stimulating, and subliminally provocative peppery brilliance. When we eat that dish again, it won’t be soon enough to suit either one of us.
We had eaten far too much to entertain dessert, so we got a Barrio Café T-shirt. Comida Conchinga it reads; roughly translated this means, bad ass mother fuckin’ food. Exactly.
Coming soon: we’re still in the southwest with our stomachs focused on Chicken & Waffles, when we go to Lolo’s, same bat time, and same bat channel. Until then, may the odds be ever in your flavor- Pot and Pan Handler