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The Rochester Edge; When In America, Deviate From The Eaten Track For Puerto Rican Food…Puerto Rican Home Cooking In Roslindale…A Taste Of The Islands

The Rochester Edge; When In America, Deviate From The Eaten Track For Puerto Rican Food: There’s Far More To Cross-Border Meals Than Boring Old Burgers And Fries

Jennifer Bain

April 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Toronto Star. All rights reserved.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- - There's at least two sides to every good story. This tale, a hunt for delicious, cross-border food, begins on the north side. For outsiders, that's code for the "poor" part of town.

North Clinton Ave. Friday afternoon about 1 p.m.

Fresh off the thruway from mild-mannered Toronto and famished, the vibe is foreign.

Scattered clutches of men linger along the desolate street. Storefronts that are alternately open, boarded up and burned out. Houses with boards nailed over street-level windows. Cars slink down the street with plastic tarps covering smashed-out back windows and Latin music pulsating from souped-up speakers.

"Tired and afraid because someone you love gambles?" billboards proclaim.

"R.I.P. Pucho," graffiti shouts, lamenting a burned-out grocery.

Then, a beacon: Chimos Sandwich Shop (1038 North Clinton Ave. at Avenue A, 585-266-1405). Flags flutter outside the earth-toned storefront - American, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican and Cuban. Bright colours - yellow, blue, red, green - splash through a tropical scene painted on an exterior wall.

"No drugs. No loitering," warns a notice above the door.

Inside, a riot of sensations. Sights (people of all ages, colours, genders in a patient, polite lineup). Sounds (upbeat, inviting music). Smells (succulent pork).

Nothing fancy. This is a "cheap and cheerful" joint. So, let's dig in to pollo al horno (baked chicken), pollo guisado (stewed chicken), bistec (steak) or plantains. Nah - roast pork and yuca will do the trick. Finger-licking shredded pork on buttery yuca. And a Cubano sandwich of ham, pork and turkey with fixings on a long Dibella bun, grilled and flattened. Yum scrum. And just $4 U.S. each. The sensory memory of the pork lingers for days.

"My husband's secret is his seasoning - he won't let anyone else mix it. And his secret is the way he stabs the pork lots of time and rubs the seasoning in," confides Margarita Martinez-Montero.

"And he only deals in fresh meat - never frozen."

Seasoned pork shoulders on the bone are roasted at 450F for two hours, then refrigerated overnight. The next morning they get another three hours in the oven, and remarkably stay moist before being shredded for sandwiches.

Owner Freddy Montero has one other trick to maintain Chimos' deliciousness level - he's a control freak who does the shopping instead of relying on deliveries.

The payoff? Devoted customers.

"We have lots of people in here all the time," says Freddy's Rochester-born wife Martinez-Montero. "Different kinds - whites, blacks, Latinos. We have people from Xerox and Kodak, and young people from different places. Everybody comes into Chimos."

Even tentative tourists? That remains to be seen when the Rochester-Toronto ferry launches in May. Nicknamed the Breeze, it can carry people and vehicles across the lake in just over two hours. (You still have to clear customs and immigration). It's not cheap, though: The one-way fare will be $38 for an adult to walk aboard, or $54 for most cars plus $27 for each adults in them. (See

Rochester, a "typically American" city in tourismspeak, has a population of about 220,000 people. Statistics say whites make up 50.2 per cent, blacks 40.1 per cent, Asian, mixed and "other" the rest. The Latino population is estimated at 28,000 in the city, and almost 48,000 if you count the six-county region.

North Clinton Ave. - a.k.a. La Avenida ("the avenue") - is a beacon for these Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans and others from Spanish-speaking countries. There are groceries, restaurants and bakeries (Carolina Bakery, 1195 North Clinton Ave., has spectacular Latin pastries. A 10-minute drive away, Sabor Bakery, 850 Merchants Rd., has even more temptations).

"You can go to Puerto Rico and everybody there will have heard of North Clinton Ave. in Rochester," says Martinez-Montero. "A lot of people come here and don't even speak English. They know if they get lost, just go on Clinton Ave. and we will help them."

Her husband, Freddy, arrived illegally in 1983 from the Dominican Republic. Needing a fake name, he created Chimo, from Kimo Sabe, the name Tonto called the Lone Ranger. Now living legally as a landed immigrant, the ex-office cleaner and his wife (a former home health aide) have run Chimos since 1996.

They keep crime at bay. They're only open until 5 p.m. Nobody has graffitied their wall mural. Police are called if people loiter nearby.

Martinez-Montero does double duty as president of the North Clinton Avenue Business Association. It tries to beautify the stretch between Upper Falls and Ridge Rd., and "to have businesses run legitimate business." Thus you'll see flower pots and planters, colourful paint jobs, banners, more security cameras and a broom and dust pan project.

Nearby, the groundbreaking for "La Mercata," a Latin market and mall, is expected this summer.

And yet, there are Rochesterians who've never ventured to the north side. "They think about us as lower-class, inner city and in the ghetto," concedes Martinez-Montero. "But here among ourselves we have everything - professionals, lawyers, doctors."

Latinos like to live out loud. That likely means cruising down Clinton Ave. in a convertible, dancing outdoors and socializing loudly.

And no matter what, Chimos offers a friendly respite where Martinez-Montero makes people "feel at home."

Rican Home Cooking In Roslindale


April 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

The Boston Globe

`My dream come true." That's how Maria Parrilla describes El Taino, the Puerto Rican restaurant she opened four years ago to give local islanders a taste of the foods of their native home, and to introduce island cooking to the uninitiated. What is Puerto Rican cooking? It combines Caribbean, African, Indian, and European foods and seasonings, reflecting a melding of cultures.

That means plenty of fried and baked meats, especially chicken and pork, as well as seafoods like conch, red snapper, and king fish. It means lots of plantains: served mashed with garlic and oil, or fried into chips, or grated and wrapped around meat and beans. And it means delicious tropical juices and nectars.

It can be heavy, filling food - starchy root vegetables, rice and beans, deep-fried pork belly thickly rimmed with fat - or light and healthful, like boiled lobster, baked chicken, and sauteed shrimp in a tremendously flavorful sauce of red wine, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers. Parrilla, a Puerto Rico native, cooked these foods as a teenager with her mother and late grandmother. Those kitchen memories "are like Thanksgiving dinners - unity," she said. "We'd cook these big meals, and that usually meant a lot of us were at home having a lot to do with the process. That's our culture."

It's also the culture she created at El Taino, named after Puerto Rico's indigenous Indians. She hires cooks with little or no experience so she can teach them to prepare her family specialties exactly as her family prepared them. That my-way-or-the-highway policy pays off in dishes like pernil asado ($8.95), a tender slow- roasted pork shoulder marinated in garlic, onion powder, and a blend of Caribbean seasonings known as sofrito, then served atop iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. The lean, aromatic meat is pork at its finest.

Bistec encebollado ($10.95) is also extremely good. It's a pan- fried steak, but not the thick slab of beef found in most American steak houses. Here, it's pounded thin, seasoned with the same herbs that infuse the pork, and heaped with big loops of sweet, soft, sauteed onions.

Then there's that fantastic red wine sauce. It was the backdrop for three dishes we tried: excellent camarones enchilados ($14.95), or crunchy sauteed shrimp; disappointing serrucho ($14.95), a swordfish filet that was malodorously fishy; and fantastic mofongo ($5.95 appetizer, $10.95-$14.95 entree), mashed green plantains mixed with monstrous amounts of garlic. Eaten alone, it's dense and dry, which is why Puerto Ricans pair it with meat and sauce. We chose goat in red wine sauce, a special, which was tender and gamey and gave the mofongo rich flavor and moisture.

From the outside, El Taino looks like a tavern, but inside it's a dark, intimate place with a gas fireplace, knickknacks on the window ledges and an 80-seat dining room that tapers into a tiny stage holding a sound system, which hints at the restaurant's other identity: At night the place transforms into a Latin nightclub. As the evening progresses, the music ratchets up, and tables are removed to create a dance floor, which fills with people of all ages dressed to party, clutching cellphones and downing drinks from the bar - margaritas, sangria, pina coladas.

On Fridays after 10 p.m. there's Latin karaoke for a $5 cover, waived if you're having dinner. On Saturdays it's classical Latin, with salsa and merengue (a DJ, not live music) from the '70s and '80s. Sundays are "international Latin nights," which means bachata and more merengue.

But El Taino is truly a restaurant first, and its kitchen serves authentic Caribbean cuisine, including dishes too labor-intensive to be made regularly at home. "Your typical Puerto Rican working 9 to 5 can't take the time to make traditional Puerto Rican foods like pasteles and mofongo, because they take a long time," said Parrilla, who ran a Puerto Rican restaurant in Cambridge called Batey Taino in the late 1980s.

Pasteles ($2.95), for example, are made with grated green plantains, green bananas, yautia (a root vegetable), potatoes, and calabaza (a squash) mashed into a paste, wrapped tightly into a tamale of sorts that's filled with stewed pork and garbanzo beans, and boiled - a laborious process. Other foods are simpler. Tostones ($2.50) are unripened plantains fried into chips to be dipped in garlic and oil or a ketchup-mayo-garlic salsa. Fried ripe plantains, or maduros ($2.50), are sweeter and softer than tostones. In rellenos de papa ($2.50), tasty mashed potatoes are shaped into balls and filled with ground beef. Chicharron ($6.95 chicken, $7.95 pork) is a belly buster: small pieces of deep-fried meat, including hunks of fat. "If you want to cheat on a diet, you get chicarron," Parrilla said.

Dessert is mainly mediocre flan ($3.95-$4.95) tackily topped with aerosol whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. The tropical shakes and juices ($3.50) are far better choices. They're a blend of frozen fruit concentrate and milk or water - except for the coconut shakes, which are made with ice cream. Another great drink is morir sonando, a mixture of milk and orange juice that tastes like a liquid creamsicle. Its translation? "To die dreaming," which aptly captures its frothy sweetness.

RESTAURANT REVIEW CHEAP EATS / SACHA PFEIFFER El Taino 417 Hyde Park Ave., Roslindale. 617-325-5900. Major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible. HOURS Tues.-Thurs. 5-11 p.m., Fri. 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Sat.-Sun. noon-2 a.m., Mon. closed. GOOD CHOICES Tostones, maduros, rellenos de papa, pernil asado, bistec encebollado, camarones enchilados, mofongo, tropical shakes and juices.

A Taste Of The Islands / Houston's Caribbean Restaurants Serve Foods That Reflect Flavors Of Africa, South America And Europe


April 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Houston Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Carmen Gonzalez insists I try the mofongo.

The dish is a mainstay in Gonzalez's native Puerto Rico and a specialty appetizer at Tex Chick, the Montrose-area restaurant Gonzalez has operated with her husband, Teo, for 21 years.

"You like? You like?" she asks while maneuvering between tables in the tiny restaurant designed comfortably for about 14 people. Any more is a crowd.

Maps of Puerto Rico hang on the walls, and a small Puerto Rican flag waves in the breeze.

"I like," I say, thinking that it tastes much like garlic mashed potatoes with a bit of spice added. Mofongo actually is made of fried, mashed plantains; garlic; and pork rinds. It resembles a mound of yellow mush. It may not be pleasing to the eye, but mofongo tastes good.

Tex Chick is part of a diverse group of eating establishments that specialize in Caribbean cuisine.

Caribbean food is a unique mix of tastes from Africa, South America and Europe, most notably Spain. Seafood, pork, plantains and rice are staples complemented with sweet drinks and tropical fruits, such as mango and pineapple. The food typically is seasoned well with garlic, cilantro, saffron, curry and jerk seasonings.

At Tex Chick, the food is fried, a little greasy and not too spicy. It's good and cheap.

The mofongo runs $3.50 and is served alone or with an entree. Entrees - steak and onions, cod with mofongo, chicken stew - range from $7.50 to $10; all include beans and rice. The chuleta (pork chops), like most entrees, comes in healthy portions.

"We stay because people come. When people stop coming, we'll stop serving," says Gonzalez, who at age 68 is eyeing retirement; husband Teo is 70. "I hope it's soon."

The New Reggae Hutt on Almeda offers some of the best authentic Jamaican cuisine in town.

House favorites include jerk chicken ($7.10), which is marinated and slow-cooked in a spicy jerk sauce, and curried chicken ($7.10), which is fried. Other popular offerings include curried goat ($8.80), oxtails ($8.80) and red snapper (market price) in a choice of island sauces that include brown stew, lemon butter and escoveitch. All entrees are served with brown rice and a mixture of cabbage, corn and carrots.

The Jamaican patties ($1.75) in chicken or beef or the coco bread ($1.50) are great ways to start the meal. The patties have peppery jerk seasoning that is divine; the bread is light and almost sweet.

No good Jamaican dish is complete without a Caribbean soda (ginger beer, pineapple, champagne and grape) or a Red Stripe beer.

The menu at the New Reggae Hutt, which has new management, has changed little, but the service is noticeably better and friendlier.

"When we started, most of our clients were Cuban. Now, it's majority American," says Guido Piquet, owner of Cafe Piquet on Bissonnet. "I think people get tired of what's out there, and want to try something different."

The restaurant fare reflects the foods Piquet ate as a young boy growing up in Cuba.

"It has a Spanish flair with an African twist," he says, referring to the yuca and plantains.

Piquet's popular dishes include pernil asado (roasted pork, $8.95), camarones enchilados (Cuban shrimp creole, $13.95), ropa vieja (shredded beef, $8.95) and palomilla (top sirloin steak).

The yuca con mojo (yuca in garlic sauce) is a light complement to any entree or can be ordered as an appetizer. It tastes remarkably like a potato.

The plantain chips at Cafe Piquet ($4.95) are light, crispy and delicious. Desserts range from flan ($3) to tres leches ($3).

"There aren't many Cuban restaurants here, so we try to keep our food as Cuban as possible."


Fast facts

For Caribbean food in Houston:


The New Reggae Hutt, 4814 Almeda; 713-528-1999.

Caribbean Cuisine, 7433 Bissonnet; 713-774-7428.

Puerto Rican:

Tex Chick, 712 1/2 Fairview; 713-528-4708.


Cafe Piquet, 5711 Bissonnet; 713-664-1031.

Bossa, 610 Main, 713-223-2622.

Cafe Miami, 6114 Bissonnet; 713-772-3042.

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