South of the Border

 

Mexico

I kept the passport close to home both figuratively and literally by choosing Mexico as the country and El Molcajete in Rock Hill as the restaurant.  This is a relatively new Mexican place that is just a couple of miles from me and web research pointed to them having some dishes more authentic than a lot of the standard tex-mex joints that all have the same basic menu.  You know, where you can just give them the number of your favorite combo and it’s the same from place to place.

I was excited to try them out and hoped they might have at least a couple of different items and they did.  First let me say they didn’t totally forgo the old standbys everybody knows and they have the lunch menu dutifully numbered so those more comfortable with consistency are covered.  For my purposes though they did have a few less common items and I indulged in three of them.  I got the lengua taco (that would be beef tongue), the carne con platano frito (grilled steak, eggs, plantains and beans) and some horchata (rice milk with cinnamon) to wash it down.

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I’ll be honest, having never had beef tongue before I expected it to be a little chewy but this was some tender tongue.  As you can see in the picture they keep it simple and have just onions, cilantro and a side of grilled onions on soft tortillas.  I squirted a little salsa verde on part of it after I tasted it as presented and that was tasty too.  The carne con plantano frito is just more proof that steak and eggs are good for any meal no matter your nationality.  The steak was a thin cut and cooked well but not too the point of being shoe leather.  It was lightly seasoned so the steak flavor came out.  It didn’t strike me as I was wolfing it down but I’d have to say this meal, as a whole, was very light on any flavors other than those of the food.  It wasn’t bland but more like the food stood on it’s own and if you wanted to spice it up with a condiment you could without fighting a ton of other flavors.  I don’t know that horchata is all that rare on Mexican menus because I don’t look for it that often but it caught my eye today and if you haven’t had it you should give it a try.  It is a sweet, cold, refresher that goes well with spicy foods and even non-spicy meals.

I believe this is a family place and they seem to have pride in the restaurant.  The service was good and the place was very clean and bright and still had that new booth smell.  If you live in the area you should give them a shot.

They didn’t have a web page that I could find but they do have a Facebook page, El Molcajete.

Look for a horchata recipe on the Tell Me More page and because it’s almost Easter as this gets posted you can find a bunny there as well.

Luck O’ the Vietnamese?

Vietnam (by way of Ireland)

Vietnam

When I left the house today for lunch it was to have a taste of Ireland in honor of St Patrick’s day.  My destination was Belfast Mill located in Charlotte’s Brevard Court.  Guess when Charlotte’s St Patrick’s day parade was?  Guess what was very close to the parade route?  That’s right, Today & Belfast Mill pub.  Undeterred I worked around the closed streets and found a parking deck a couple of block away that was reasonably priced.  On the way over I came across the streets closed off and covered with vendors of such Irish treats at funnel cake & fried what nots and a stage where some troubadours were belting out Star of the County Down.

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Short walk later I head into the Belfast Mill.  The bottom floor is a smallish pub with a bar area and there are some stairs going up to two other rooms with bars.  One had some folks watching soccer, excuse me, football to them, and the other just a bar and a few tables.  As I bellied up to the bar and ordered meself a pint I found out two things; they don’t serve food any longer and they are renovating the place.  I had brief chat with the bartender, knocked back the Guinness and headed out in search lunch and as luck would have it Brevard Court offered me some options like the Pho Plus noodle restaurant.

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The Pho Plus is a nice place right across from the cupcake shop (I pointedly ignored the siren’s call of those evil baked goods).  There weren’t very many people in the place when I got there, in fact the staff outnumbered the patrons at that point.  That worked in my favor since I told the guy I had never been to a pho place before and asked for recommendation.  He hooked me up with the beef pho and explained the condiments you could just dump in what you liked and helpfully pointed out the sriracha and hoisin sauces.  He did tell me if I didn’t add any of the other condiments I should at least squeeze the lime into the soup.

The soup was delicious.  I don’t know what was in the broth but it was good by itself and then the beef strips and chunks of beef ball (I didn’t ask too many questions) plus the bean sprouts, cilantro and peppers thrown in with the noodles plus that squeeze of lime and you had a hearty meal.  I didn’t have any of the tea options they offered but they did have a number of hot teas, cold teas, teas with milk plus some beer and soft drinks.  If I go back, and that’s very likely, I think I’m going to try the passion fruit tea.

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So while I didn’t start out for Vietnamese I’m happy that circumstances led me to the Pho Plus Vietnamese Noodle restaurant and Brevard Court.  Below is the link to their website and don’t forget to check out Tell Me More for bonus content on Vietnam.

Pho Plus

Back to Africa

 

Nigeria

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From the Orient I headed back west to Africa and specifically Nigeria for the restaurant this week.  I actually started out for a Liberian restaurant that turned out to be closed but thanks to the power of my smartphone, Google & Google maps I made my way to Motherland Cuisine & Market which kept it in the west African region.  I have to say I was not disappointed in the reroute.

You have to be looking for this place as the little strip it is in runs perpendicular to the The Plaza road so you won’t just stumble on it.  It is an interesting little place.  When you walk in the primary seating is at two U shaped blue counters with matching blue fixed swiveling stools that seat about 7-8 each.  There are a couple of booths against the outer wall and a couple of high tops against another wall.  I didn’t see any sign of a market but that may have been in another part of the building.

There were only two other people there eating besides me and one of them greeted me as I came in.  Nice to have the other customers welcome you.  I grabbed a seat at one of the counters and young girl came over and apparently it surprised her when I said yes I wanted a menu and would be eating lunch there.  I guess they don’t get that many guys wearing a cool green Power Ranger t-shirt with kanji all over it there.  The menu isn’t very large but they have fish, chicken, goat and vegetarian options so most people should be able to find something.  I opted for a meat pie appetizer because I was planning to try the potato greens which didn’t have meat but they were out and I opted for the goat with jollof rice and moin-moin as my side.

 

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The meat pie was ground beef with some spices in a pastry crust.  It was good, nothing exceptional and a bit cool in the center so they could have left it in the oven a bit longer.  I had no idea exactly what jollof rice was and my options for sides included fried plantains, mixed vegetable or moin-moin.  I asked the girl what moin-moin was and she said it was like a cake but not sweet so I went with it since I know what the other two were like.  The goat was braised then stewed in a moderately spicy tomato sauce.  It was generally tender and boneless and the braised outer edges added something.  I did get a chewy hunk of what had to be goat skin and it had a good flavor but I didn’t want to devote the time it would have taken me to chew it sufficiently to digest.  The jollof rice was quite good and spicy as well.  It has tomatos and spices in it as well so if you are heat sensitive opt for the steamed rice.

For me the moin-moin was the most intriguing of the dishes.  It looked like some steam lump of cake that looks orange in the picture but was closer to pink.  The taste was familiar but I couldn’t nail down what it was aside from more pepper.  Turns out it is made from pureed black eyed peas, with red bell pepper, habanero pepper and corned beef and then the whole thing is sealed in a pack of some sort and steamed.  It was soft and moist and went well with the other two dishes.  The portions were generous enough I couldn’t eat it all.

Aside from the teenage girl who waited on me there was an older lady who I assume was doing the cooking and a teenage boy a couple of years older than the girl who came over mid-meal and told me he hoped I was really enjoying the food.  As I was paying the lady at the register she asked, with African accented English, how I liked it, thanked me for coming in and made sure I had a to go menu to take with me.  While this was going on you could hear the kids in the kitchen going back and forth about something.  The lady gave them that motherly whisper-yell thing to quiet them.  “Brother and sister?” I asked.  Head shake, sigh, nod.  So it’s a family joint with authenticity going for it.  The  streak of wins continues as far as I’m concerned.

Check out the Tell Me More link for more on the Jollof rice, did I mention it calls for ground crayfish?

Thai One On

Thailand

Thailand Stamp

Staying with the warm climate but moving halfway around the globe this week, Thailand was the country and Sunrise Thai Cuisine, #sunrisethai, was the place to eat.  Interestingly (to me at least) an early iteration of this restaurant called Tropical Sunrise was the first place I visited for breakfast when I started posting weekend food pictures.

The name has changed but I believe it still has the same owners as the interior didn’t change and my waitress was the same one who waited on me before so there is definite continuity.

The menu is certainly different and has a number of authentic Thai foods including the ever popular Pad Thai.  I decided to go for the chicken larb with a #3 on the 5 point spicy scale.  My confidence in choosing the dish was reinforced when the waitress smiled, nodded enthusiastically and said “Good choice”.  It was too.

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I’ll admit when I first read it on the menu I thought it said LARP and for the non-geeky that is Live Action Role Playing and I was trying to figure out how that wound up being a salad.  After the double take and reading the description this was a salad I could get on board with.  The salad base was iceberg lettuce and cucumbers and the ground chicken part consisted of; chicken (duh), basil leaves, green onions, lime juice, chiles, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro.  Very tasty combo, throw in the rice and there was no room for dessert.  Which was a shame because I really wanted to try either the mango and sweet sticky rice or the fried bananas and ice cream but it was not to be.

That #3 on the spicy scale turned out to be just about perfect for me as 4 or 5 would probably have made me cry and the two likely would have made me focus on how I could have handled hotter.  As it was I felt the burn on lips and tongue as well as a tingling in the scalp.  Before I finished the meal a bead of sweat ran down my cheek.  It was hot enough to make my mouth sensitive to the other flavors but not so hot as to be painful.

If you are sensitive to spicy go you an do what I heard another staff member recommend at the table beside me.  Go for the one and they’ll bring you spices to tweak it to your level.

My lucky streak continues and overall I’d have to give this place high marks on the food and the staff.  Below is a link to the website and don’t forget to check out Tell Me More.

Sunrise Thai Cuisine