The homey traditional dish is what we crave. regardless of what ethnic platter we are partaking, we want that comfort food. Those Tastes that somehow embody all things remarkable, distinctly different from our own origins, yet make us feel at home all the same. One would think such a dish would be easy to track down. often it’s the understated places, the humble beginnings, that have somehow mastered the art of cultivating such flavor.
Photography By Dan Austin // Styled by Lisa Malott
Brasa Latina has been open nearly two years and has remained, for the most part, unknown. Location may have played a part in that. You’ve likely passed this shopping center a thousand times, but you’d need a keen eye to spot the red sign that says “Brasa,” and if you’re lucky, “open.” If you’re one of the fortunate few to have stumbled on their door, it was likely through word of mouth, as there is no large marketing budget or online presence. But sometimes you don’t need all that.
If you’re one of the fortunate few to have stumbled on their door, it was likely through word of mouth, as there is no large marketing budget or online presence. But sometimes you don’t need all that.
I know what Brasa means, so when I caught site of their frontage, I pulled a 180 for a closer look. On my first visit, I walked in to find a diner making quick work of a half chicken. His bare hands were slicked with chicken grease, and he had the confident look of a man who’s dealt with a chicken or two in his time. I sat down solo, faced with a menu with the heading, “Feed your senses …” A bold tagline to be sure, but as I browsed the menu, reviewing the Puerto Rican and Western Caribbean favorites, I noticed the nontraditional flavor profiles. I gave the man at the bar another glance, admiring his passion, hoping someone in this world loves me as much as he loves his glistening rotisserie chicken in front of him.
As my waiter appeared, I noticed the chicken had been picked clean. The waiter doesn’t even speak before the man says, “It was worth every dime, man!” which led me to believe he took issue with the price point. Everything looked reasonable to me, but everyone has their financial limitations.
You’d think after witnessing my neighbor feast with such gusto that I’d order the specialty of the house, and that’s what I recommend you do, but this is me, and when I can’t recognize a dish or ingredient on the menu, it’s like gravity. I go with the unknown and leave the safety choice for later.
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I sampled my side of arroz mamposteao, which was technically perfect: incredibly moist, pillowy rice, cooked in a rich chicken broth and colored a vibrant orange from saffron. There were also creamy pinto beans with diced hunks of roast pork and cured ham. I had also never heard of a sandwich called “choripan.” It came on soft, sweet egg bread, similar to a medianoche, with added sweetness from red onion, red wine chimichurri. Sharp spice from the chorizo and nutty Swiss cheese kept the whole assembly savory. The sandwich composition, or construction if you will, was a testament to the skill and thoughtfulness behind the stove. Some might not think twice, but for a sandwich-o-phile, the way a hero, sub, butty, grinder, or sando is stacked, really makes a difference.
After my last bite, I felt the familiar coating of hand-made garlic mayo on my lips. At my fry cart, The Root, we make our own mayo, so when I notice a restaurant taking the time to construct their own condiments by hand, it means a lot. It’s an easy way to determine how much care is put into the food. Unfortunately, most are satisfied with buying a half-gallon of restaurant-supply mayo and calling it a day, but that won’t bring me back. Attention to detail and passionate cooking is what I’m about. As the waiting staff cleared my clean plate, he asked how it was. I honestly didn’t want to speak; I wanted another sandwich! I just paused, composed my thoughts, and echoed the sentiment of my chicken-destroying friend, “Really, really good man. Worth every dime!”
I know it’s just a sandwich, but skill is skill, and can be appreciated in a sandwich as much as anything else. Do you realize how long I’ve been waiting for a restaurant I can be proud of on the north side of town?
The next day, you’d better believe I was back to make amends and order the Chicken A la Brasa at the bar just like my nameless poultry-wrecking friend. I asked for sweet plantains and pigeon peas with rice as my sides. After devouring the entire plate, sans bones and cartilage, the waiter came to check on me again. This time, I couldn’t speak. All I could offer him was my sincerest be-schmaltzed high-five, which he happily accepted.