Friday, February 22, 2008

Saturday at Midtown Global Market

This despicable weather is said to finally be breaking this weekend. Hurrah!! Time to get out and EAT! I've found that the absolute best way to shed the woolly winter gloom is to spend an entire Saturday at the Midtown Global Market. I always show up famished and inevitably leaving before I'm ready. Like a child at Chuck E. Cheese, I just want one more fix! (Although I'm also gluttonously full.)

Here's what usually happens, I wake up, roll over and stare at Matt. Sometimes this works. Other times, I've forced to either give him sweet angel kisses, or pull his pillow out from underneath his head.

"I'm hungry," I'll mew.

"Good morning, Sweetheart."

"I'm huuuuuuuunnnngrrrrryyyy!"

"Me, too! What should we do about that?"

The goes the conversation of breakfast, yes, but breakfast where? Day by Day cafe isn't worth the money, Barbette is too far, Bennett's isn't to be trusted, Mickey's is a God send, but I don't know if I'm hungover enough to admit I'm eating lard.... And so on, until it's past 11 o'clock and I'm getting crabby and Matt starts thinking about lunch. Which usually leads to talk of sandwiches.

But, where oh, where can we get the eggs and bacon we'd already be enjoying were we not so lazy, a sandwich, something cheesy - possibly fried and get it all without going broke?

"Let's go to the Midtown Market!"

He reaches out and shoves me, "Yes!" I've learned to brace myself, so I don't usually fall of the bed anymore.

We take the winding, interesting and somewhat dangerous drive down Lake Street. The parking lot is located in some kind of mean wind tunnel that whips those chilly temps down even further. And, although you might be tempted to curl up in that fluffy looking snow bank, do NOT go to sleep.

The door whooshes open and past the cool, blue entry way, is the warm tropical beginnings of your latest culinary adventure.

The first restaurant that you will happen upon is A La Salsa. This is the little sister to what I consider the best Mexican restaurant in town, Salsa La Salsa. It's also the only full service restaurant in the place. You can sit down, order a margarita and the incredible, garlicky, butter, snappy, hot little Shrimp Devil Mary Style. Munch on warm chips and try to decide which is better, the smooth green salsa, or the choppy little pico de gallo. Last time we were there we tried the pupusas. They were tiny little masa cakes, filled with cheese and topped with lettuce and avocado. They were divine. The crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside masa gives way to the most heavenly gooey queso. It strings from bite to lip like a spaghetti noodle you have to slurp up. Their tamales are also good, but there's another place where they are even better.

If you don't feel like being waited on, there are plenty of other options. Grab a cup of the I'm-Not-Kidding-You'll-Be-Up-For-Days espresso from Mapps coffee and venture in, past Holy Land deli. The deli case filled with different varieties of olives and feta cheese is impressive, but prepared to have your socks totally blown off by the buffet of food. Swarma, gyros, chicken all piled high in bins flanked by fresh pita. There's also a part of the deli where you can buy their wonderful hoummus and pita chips.

We usually veer left, though. Past the Chinese place that seems to serve only Americanized Chinese food (the cream cheese wonton lovers need to eat, too) past the delectable desserts made by Muslim women at the Starlight Cafe to La Loma.

La Loma serves a Oaxacan tamale. It's a tamale wrapped in a banana leaf and stuffed with masa and spicy, moist shredded chicken. Traditionally, this is where we always start. Matt and I can't stand not to have them. We split it, and sit at the near by tables surrounded by families, people clicking away at laptops (taking advantage of the free wifi) or watching whatever TV is being projected onto the wall. Last time we were there it was bowling. Our lips still tingling from the heat, we're ready to move on.

Having dealt with the crazy hungries, we can choose our next food item more carefully, the edge, the desperation has been held at bay. We have time to wander.

At Farm in the Market I usually pick up some farm fresh eggs, local organic half and half and some of the Pastures a' Plenty meat stuff, so at least on Sunday, we can have a more traditional breakfast. There are all kinds of amazing fruits there, too. The organic tangelos I picked up were other worldy sweet. The juice ran down my forearms as I tried to inhale it.

On the other side of the market is Manny's Tortas. For my money, the only torta in town. The meat is hammered thin, quickly fried, and then put into the perfect sandwich. This goes back to Matt's thing about the club sandwich. On the bottom of the crispy baguette style bread is the hot meat, then a layer of cheese, then the cold ingredients, in this case, jalapenos, lettuce, onion, tomato and chipotle mayo. All served with a bag of Barrel O' Fun potato chips. C'mon! When was the last time you had some Barrel O' Fun? These little fried salt bombs are the perfect foil! And, I insist you order an orange Jarritos to wash it down. The experience is incomplete if you don't have it. They are also quite filling. Don't stop there! There's so much more to see, smell and taste!

United Noodles has a bunch of fun Asian stuff to buy. Skip Lund's for your fish, oyster or soy sauce needs. Here you can get better products for an even cheaper price. Have people over tonight? Pick up a package of mochi, the greatest entertainment desert ever. It's slightly sweet ice cream inside some kind of a fondant type coating. My friend Nami served them once at a dinner party and I can't get enough of them now. No mess ice cream! How can the white carpeted people of the world resist?

I love perusing the meat cases at the subtly named Bymore Meats. It's next to a heavenly smelling pandaera and I can never identify all the meats that I see before me. I always drool over the chiccarones. (That's fried pig skin to you laymen. Do NOT roll your eyes until you've tried it.)

I skip the seafood market with the milky eyed fish and frozen stiff shrimps. The place can't get everything right.

The next food destination could be West Indies Soul for a Ploughman's lunch. It's a savory pastry filled with juicy, mildly spiced meat that is served inside a warm fresh baked bun. (That's right - a pastry is wrapped in bread.) It's like what I imagine the Hot Pocket was based on, except edible. They serve it with a thimble full of their green hot sauce, and boy howdy, they are not kidding. I can handle some spice and this stuff is slap-yo-mama spicy. Incredible! And incredibly filling. If you order one, plan on sharing or going home for a long winters nap.

Another not to miss spot, that I only recently discovered, because geez, how much can one person eat in the afternoon, is Los Ocampo. All of their items seem to be a variation on a theme - fried masa cakes. You'd think that this is something that could get boring, but that's hardly the case. There are all different sorts of meats and toppings for you to mix it up with. I allowed Matt to order. We decided on the sopa, rather than the more traditional huarache because it was smaller, and I'm never ready to get full or stop eating at this place. The wait is a little longer than at the other food stands, but the reason for this is gently explained by sign by the pick up window (or by the register if you read Spanish well.) Everything at Los Ocampo is made from scratch and fresh. It's worth the wait if you're going to get something quality. (At this I sneared at West Indies. Last time I had ordered the meat pie at an off time of day and it had clearly lost its luster an hour or two before being served to me.)

What we were served was nothing less than revolutionary. I'm not kidding. Now, every time I go, I'm going to have to order one of the tamales and one of these Sopas. It was somewhat like the pupusas we'd had at A La Salsa. They were fried masa enveloping stringing, viscous cheese and topped with an incredible smokey, crispy, meat slathered in red sauce. That was topped with lettuce and a drizzle of sour cream. Usually, I pick up the lettuce as it's usually superfluous (and why eat a superfluous veggie?) I didn't in this instance because it played an important role in cooling down the mouth. The meat was generously spicy. I could feel the last icicle clinging to me break off and melt into the floor. Ahhhhhh. I couldn't get over how great this thing was! I asked Matt what kind of meat he'd ordered.

"Chicharron." Naturually.

Our last stop, if I can muster it, is Café Finspan, which I always call the Swedish place (or Andy's place, even though I've never been here with her. It's just very Nordic.) They have the most amazing little sweets - not to mention their refrigerator pickles! Everything is sensibly sized and hard to resist. I love the little carmelly cookies dipped in rich chocolate, or the little almond flavored cakes! Heaven.

At this point, I'm exhausted and know it's time to leave. It will be many, many hours before my stomach settles, let alone begins the call of the hungry again. I watch children pointing at pinatas, and tired punk bikers searching for vegan. Matt pointed out that as cliche as it sounds, this really is a place for everyone.


At 1:58 PM , Anonymous andy said...

If it were truly my place, nothing would be sensibly sized.


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