Sometimes the third time is the charm. At least that was the case for Mike from Yonkers who had to go to plan C for our latest outing.
Plan A was a “hot tip” on a place in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He kept the tip to himself, but we nixed schlepping to Bloomfield during the “gridlock alert days” we were currently experiencing.
“I’ll save that one for next time,” he slyly added, still keeping us under wraps on what we might encounter in Bloomfield.
Plan B illustrated that Mike from Yonkers was experiencing much holiday duress. Under pressure to select a destination, he mistakenly consulted New York Magazine and choose the wildly popular Brooklyn Thai restaurant, Pok Pok. That he didn’t realize that a place given multiple stars (whatever they mean) by New York Magazine wouldn’t be mobbed by voracious foodies can only be excused by a combination of work and holiday stress. To make it clear to him, we sent him links with actual photos of some of the long and legendary lines waiting to dine at Pok Pok.
One thing Mike from Yonkers did know, at least we hoped he did after almost eight years as a member of our group, was that we never wait on line to dine. The options are too many for that. So one look at the links and he knew he had to go to Plan C.
Now, under immediate pressure, he went to his own backyard. His pick: a Salvadorian place just over the Bronx border in Yonkers called La Pupusa Loca.
And despite it not being in the five boroughs, La Pupusa Loca fit right into our criteria. A brightly-lit cafeteria where English was very foreign and Spanish novelas blared from multiple televisions, La Pupusa Loca featured large tables offering our group of five—Rick being absent after the very recent birth of his first child—plenty of room for food and flesh overflow.
Serious happenings on the tube.
Mike from Yonkers and I were the first to arrive, followed soon after by Zio and at that time, the lone waitress was ready to take our order. I started with a Pilsener, a Salvadorian beer, but waited on ordering food until the others arrived. By the time Gerry and Eugene arrived, however, the waitress was occupied with others and the wait seemed interminable.
“Is this the longest we’ve had to wait,” Eugene asked.
“I’m hungry,” Gerry bellowed. “I haven’t eaten since lunch.”
Finally, visibly harried, the waitress came to our table and took our orders. I needed to discover what the restaurant’s namesake, the pupusa, tasted like and ordered a bean and cheese. Foolishly thinking it would be too much for me, I passed on what I saw someone else in the restaurant getting: the “mariscada especial;” an enormous bowl of fish soup where, lobster, shrimp with the heads on, and crab claws overflowed from. Instead I went with a seafood combination of shrimp and fried fish, casamiento, a mash of beans, rice, garlic and other herbs, and chimol, a Salvadorian salsa.
Gerry and Eugene both also ordered fish; Eugene the whole red snapper with onions and Gerry the fried porgy.
“Where does porgy come from?” I asked.
“Long Island Sound,” Zio answered.
“Yeah and that’s why I ordered it. To support our local fishermen,” Gerry cracked.
An enormous platter of pork chops passed our table and Zio’s weary eyes were immediately drawn to them. “I’ll have what they’re having,” he said repeating the oft-used line.
After studiously perusing the menu, Mike from Yonkers went with the steak combination which included an egg, scrambled according to the waitress.
“Can I have it fried,” Mike from Yonkers pleaded, giving her a look she could not refuse.
The pupusas arrived first, which came with a tomato sauce on the side and a big container of homemade pickled cabbage. Our waitress said the cabbage was eaten as an accompaniment to the pupusa.
“Its Salvadorian sauerkraut,” Zio announced after trying the cabbage. And so it was, but not really needed, in my opinion to enhance the already deliciously crazy pupusa.
The platters began to arrive. First were Gerry’s and Eugene’s whole, fried fish, both smothered in onions. Next were the super-sized pork chops. After inspecting their enormity, Zio groaned realizing what he was in for.
Only Mike from Yonkers’ family-sized combination platter exceeded Zio’s. On the platter was a selection of beef cuts, two long “maduros,” sweet bananas, a wedge of salty hard white cheese, and a mound of rice and beans; all of it topped with the requested fried egg.
When my comparably miniscule plate arrived, the discrepancy was noticed by all. On it was just a small wedge of fish filet and a few “medium” shrimp, along with the casamiento and chimol. It was as if I ordered from the kids’ menu, if there was such a thing at La Pupusa Loca.
“Don’t worry, you can have some of mine,” Mike from Yonkers generously offered.
But I had my pride. I figured I would finish what was on my plate first before I began scavenging for more. It didn’t take long; only the dense casamiento slowed me down.
The kids’ platter: fish and shrimp.
Mike from Yonkers had hardly made a dent in his platter by the time I finished. In fact, Zio polished off the monstrous pork chops before Mike from Yonkers even touched the cheese.
Finally, I conceded. “I guess I’ll take you up on your offer,” I said to him. It wasn’t really that I was still very hungry, it was more as a prod to get him to work with a little more purpose on his platter.
He cut me a sizable wedge of “bistec,” thinly pounded grilled steak, but by the time I got to it, the meat was cold and tough as a hockey puck.
I wasn’t the only one to notice how long it was taking him to finish the gargantuan platter “Geez, we’ll be here all night,” Gerry barked.
Sensing pressure from the group, Mike from Yonkers pushed the platter away from him. “Okay, that’s it. I’m done,” he announced.
While we waited for the check, I walked around the restaurant and noticed that the placemats under the glass tabletops all had maps of Honduras. This was a Salvadorian place, wasn’t it? Was there a difference between a pupusa from Honduras and one from Salvador? Frankly, I didn’t care.
Brian Silverman chronicles cheap eats, congee, cachapas, cow foot, cow brains, bizarre foods, baccala, bad verse, fazool, fish stomach, happy hours, hot peppers, hot pots, pupusas, pastas, rum punch and rotis, among many other things on his site Fried Neck Bones...and Some Home Fries. Twitter: neckbones@fried_neckbones.