Taqueria Mi Pueblo

Mexican food, as many Americans know it, is very cheesy, not texturally pleasing, and the freshest ingredients aren’t always used.  Additionally, many of the dishes have no real cultural foundation in Mexican cooking. For me, Mexican cooking must use fresh ingredients, well spiced meats, and hot chiles as the foundation.

Taqueria Mi Pueblo is on Dix Highway in Detroit.  A traditional Mexican restaurant in the heart of the Hispanic section of town, Mi Pueblo has been serving the community for years and doing it well, too.  Upon entering, the first thing I noticed was the clientele – all Hispanic/Mexican/Latino.  Usually when an ethnic restaurant is filled with people of the same ethniticity, it is doing something right. Second, the menu was in 2 languages – another good sign.

I’ve been looking forward to try Mi Pueblo ever since Rico’s Market on Gration closed down.  Rico’s made excellent tongue tacos and I was at a loss for finding other places that served them.  A tip from a friend who used to live next door to me pointed to Mi Pueblo.

We’ll get to the tongue tacos eventually, but first we start with the shredded pork botana. 

The pork was seasoned perfectly – slightly spicy, but not too much for Heather and Laila, who both like mildly spicy foods.  It was fall apart tender as well.  As mentioned above, I’m not a huge fan of slathering cheese on top to hide imperfections.  In this case, the cheese was a welcome addition and it didn’t overwhelm the dish.  The veggies were all fresh, except the jalapenos, which were pickled.  This is a pet peeve of mine – I love fresh jalapenos, but it is extremely rare to see them served in Mexican restaurants.  Why don’t more places serve fresh peppers? Imagine fresh jalapenos, serranos, and habaneros at your local taco place – that would be incredible.

My dinner plate consists of pig stomach, beef tongue, chopped onion and cilantro, spanish rice, and refried beans.  Notice there is no cheese on the plate, rather a lime is on the plate to cut the richness of the meats.  This was my first time trying pig stomach and I was delightfully surprised.  The texture is definitely not for everyone – it is kind of like a steamed bacon so slimy and chewy with a very faint pork flavor.   The tongue was supremely tender, much more so than Rico’s ever was.  Very beefy and rich, tongue is a decadent treat and the lime, onions, and cilantro make for perfect additions to the taco.  A pleasantly spicy hot sauce was also served with this dish. We also ordered 3 varieties of tamales as a side dish.  Puerco, pollo, and fresca – puerco had pork and chile verde, pollo had chicken with red mole sauce, and fresca was strawberry with pineapple chunks.  All were good, but the strawberry one wins the prize for odd color. The rice and beans were also very good and could stand up on their own as a main dish.  If there is one flaw in the dish, it was the tortillas.  They were soggy and tasted reheated.  A small complaint given the absolute lusciousness of meats.

Speaking of luscious, what followed was quite possibly one of the finest desserts I’ve ever had.

Tres Leches cake is a yellow cake that has punctured and then has 3 kinds of milk (whole, condensed, and evaporated) poured into it.  It is tremendously moist and dense.  Mi Pueblo’s version has a wonderful caramel flavor and a perfect consistency.  I was absolutely amazed at how wonderful this cake is. Even though I was full from dinner, I still found room to put away half of a very large piece (and finished the rest later in the evening at home).

A couple additional notes: I ordered horchata (a Mexican rice drink) to drink.  It tasted like rice pudding, but had the consistency of skim milk.  It was actually quite refreshing and was a nice foil to some of the heat present in the dishes.  The wait staff was very friendly and helpful.  Our waiter asked me after he brought my plate out if I was sure that I wanted what I’d ordered.  I assured him it was fine and I was overjoyed to be eating there.

Overall, a wonderful experience – one that I fully intend to revisit many more times in the coming months.

Beer Seasons

It’s cold in Michigan.  Brutal, in fact.  My beer drinking changes with the seasons.  Like the seasons, distribution and availability fluctuates as well. For example, Bells distributes Oberon from roughly April through Mid November.  Oberon is for days where the sun is out and the weather is warm(er).  A summer wheat beer with a golden sunshine like hue – Oberon is summertime.  But, as I said before, it’s COLD in Michigan so we can’t have an Oberon.

Nope. Tonight I poured a North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.  Dark as night. Big, rich, flavorful, warming.  On a cold night there is nothing more comforting than a chocolately warmth of a good imperial stout.  Old Rasputin is a good one, too. Rich, creamy – vanilla, coffee, heavy on the roasted malt and on alcohol (over 9%).  Stouts should be drunk at around room temperature – not a rule, but my preference.  I feel like the colder a stout is, the less complexity can be tasted.

The seasonality of beer is the perfect marketing tool.  There is nothing wrong with drinking  an Oberon in December, but a guest might think that your Oberon isn’t fresh since “that is a summer beer.”  Marketing tells us what our tastes should be – dark stout = winter/golden wheat = summer – even Bell’s Winter White looks like snow.  We then situate each beer with a particular moment, which can be comforting.  There is a feeling of relief that comes over me when I see the first batch of Oberon on the shelf – summer is coming, I think.

Seasons revolve around beer.  Nothing wrong with that.

Have a Beer with Me #2

Another (greatly delayed) installment of my beer notes for our newsletter:

Discussions of beer & wine can sometimes be confusing and needlessly opulent. We have veered away from describers like delicious, refreshing, and gross towards words like piney, tannic, and earthy. Not saying the latter words are not helpful, but for someone whose interest is just beginning these words are hard to swallow (pun intended).

Let’s take a step back and remember that beer tasting is a totally subjective experience. What I claim is good or bad might not be to the next person, meaning no one should be afraid to respond honestly to the question, “What beer/wine/any product would you recommend?” We are not experts by any means, but sometimes guidance is requested. Don’t be afraid to share your recommendations.

The idea, then, is to come to some sort of agreement on what to expect from beer. Beer is a fermented beverage brewed with barley, wheat, corn. Many times the fundamental flavoring agent is hops, which can also function as a preservative. For example, India Pale Ales (IPA) are usually very hoppy (read: bitter). When someone says, “I like hoppy beers,” an easy recommendation to make is with an IPA (specifically – Bells Two Hearted, New Holland Mad Hatter, or any beer labeled IPA). Conversely, when you hear, “I don’t like bitter beers,” avoidance of IPAs is important with a push toward beers with less (or no) hops. For example, Simpler Times lager is all malt, meaning it is very smooth with very little bitterness. Additionally, Bells Amber, Trader Joe’s Vienna, and Gila Monster are all good examples of beers with very little bitterness.

Still uncomfortable? Try some beers.  Buy a bottle of 2 or 3 different kinds and take notes on what you taste, smell, see, etc.  Look the beers up online at http://beeradvocate.com and compare notes.

Until next time, keep on drinking.

Drink Your Beer: An Introduction

I love beer. There I said it.  Some folks are afraid to admit it and others are scared of beer altogether.  Beer can be a scary thing.  Remember back when you first turned 21 (no one drinks before that, of course) and your “cool” cousin offered you a can of Old Milwaukee’s Best Light.  You cracked open the can, moved the aluminum to your lips, and took a huge swig.  If you were anything like me, you forced the rest of the can down – forever wondering why ANYONE would willingly drink “The Beast” or any other beer for that matter.  Memories like these can dissuade us from trying new beers or making recommendations when others ask.  Occasionally, there’ll be a bad beer, but with a little know-how we can find the perfect beer for almost anyone (sorry, celiacs).  In the coming weeks, beers will be reviewed, questions will be answered, and pairings will be made.  

Here’s a quick introduction to pairing.  Trader Jose’s Premium Lager is nearly identical to Corona, Tecate, Pacifico, or any other Mexican style lager.  Therefore, the flavor profile of Trader Jose’s matches those of its predecessors, which is to say there is a strong corn and citrus profile.  Therefore, Trader Jose’s is an ideal beer to drink very cold with a wedge of lime served along side our Marinated fish tacos and refried beans. A quick breakdown of the pairing:  the corn & citrus from beer complement the corn tortilla and citrus used in the salsa and fish in the tacos. If there are any beer questions you want answered in this column, shoot me an e-mail at montageman@gmail.com and I’ll answer them next time.

IPA Thoughts

As I enjoy a Stone IPA, I have to wonder why drinking this beer is a pleasurable experience for me?  After all, it is not what most palates would describe as delicious.  Quite bitter – the flavor is reminiscent of lemon rind and pine.  Additionally, there is a hefty floral component as well.  Of course, this is expected when an IPA is opened – these are the flavors imparted by the hops. Stone uses hops very well and without any fear.  I pick Stone to stand up next to other assertive flavors – pizza, salami, spaghetti and meatballs.  Assertive beers mix well with assertive dishes.  The hoppiness holds up well against the acidity and saltiness.  The bitterness is a welcome addition.  I crave big hops.  Sometimes I need Stone IPA or Bells Two Hearted to make sure my taste buds are still working.

Terry’s Sub Shop

Having started this job in Mount Clemens, I’ve taken it upon myself to eat my way around the city.  Terry’s is a tiny place on near the corner of 15 Mile and Gratiot.  I went in there a month or so ago on a whim and ordered Terry’s special (hot ham, hard salami, & brick cheese).  First off, Jeff – the sandwich guru – is a very friendly guy.  He was talkative and genuinely happy to be behind the counter.  I wasn’t expecting much – Jeff said business was doing fine, a far cry from the “BUSINESS IS AWESOME!” I was expecting.  Each sandwich is made to order, so after about 10 minutes or so, I was handed my lunch.  I ordered a half and was taken aback at how heavy the bag was.  The sandwich is huge – hard to even fit in my mouth.  The ingredients are all very fresh – lettuce, peppers, pickles, and onions.  The bread, which can make or break a sandwich, is excellent.  Crusty and chewy all at once, the bread is an ideal sub roll.

Look at the layers of flavor!

Tonight I went back to Terry’s for round 2 and to get a sandwich for Heather.  Steak and cheese (above) sounded good to me.  Heather went with the Turkey Club.  Aside from the jalapenos (which I added), everything on my sub was really great.  The steak was actually steak, the mushrooms were large and flavorful, the onions were grilled well, and even the American cheese was a welcome addition for its creaminess.

Heather’s club was equally impressive.  Roasted turkey, honey ham, bacon – all good quality – the bacon was even crispy! Lettuce and pickles were also fresh.  We added Annie’s Organic Honey Mustard at home since we didn’t want the bread to become too soggy before eating.

Terry’s is a great little sandwich shop.  High quality food that someone is proud to be serving.  A welcome change from the norm, we’ll be going there more and more to be sure places like this don’t fade away.

Lagers

Lagers are brewed with bottom fermenting yeast that work slowly at around 34 degrees Fahrenheit and are often further stored at cool temperatures to mature, which makes sense since the word lager comes from the German word lagern meaning “to store”. A number of different styles are considered lagers – some examples are pale lagers, amber, bock, dopplebock, dortmunder, all-malt lager, maibock, pilsner, among others. Most ubiquitous is the macro lager – a style made famous (or infamous) by Budweiser, Coors, Anheuser-Busch, and any other humongous American brewer. Oddly this style has been mimicked all over the world by breweries such as Labatts (Canada), Desnoes & Geddes, Tsingtao probably because of the popularity of the style in the US and the need to market to American tourists all over the world. The macro lager lends a feeling of comfort to the tourist similar to the taste of a Big Mac. Whether this is a good thing or not is another story.

At Trader Joe’s we have a number of lagers: Heineken, Stella Artois, Trader Jose’s Mexican lagers, Vienna lager, Bohemian lager, Winterfest Double Bock, Edison Light, Frugal Joe’s Ordinary beer, and others that I’m missing. Given the lager’s status as such a popular beer, that also means that the price point can be kept low to attract all consumers. The peak price of a 6 pack in the above mentioned examples is $8.99 with the mean price somewhere closer to $6 per 6 pack. Essentially, this means that these are “everyday” beers that can be paired with virtually any meal. Additionally, the lower alcohol by volume of these beers (usually around 4-6%) makes them ideal to pair with spicy foods. Higher alcohol beers will tend to exacerbate the spiciness of Mexican, Thai, or Indian food, so a lower alcohol lager makes an ideal pair. I am not advocating the pairing of a Bud Light with a good plate of Tandoori Chicken or Pad Thai, but rather the seeking out of a Bell’s lager to pair with that dish. As an aside, that same Bell’s lager is tremendous with Detroit style deep dish pizza!

The lager is the most accessible style for the beginning beer drinker who does not have access to many craft brews. This is, however, a double edged sword because the most readily available lagers are not the best examples of the style. Nothing against Budweiser or Coors, but as beeradvocate.com argues regarding American macro lagers, “Light bodied, pale, fizzy lagers made popular by the large macro-breweries of America after prohibition. Low bitterness, thin malts, and moderate alcohol. Focus is less on flavor and more on mass-production and consumption, cutting flavor and sometimes costs with adjunct cereal grains, like rice and corn.” Not exactly the ideal starting point for the novice beer drinker – right? – so my advice would be to seek out a craft lager/pilsener whether it is from a local brewery or even a decent Euro Lager (like Stella Artois) and pair it with a favorite food (pizza, pasta, hamburger, hot dog, chili, whatever) and notice how a well crafted lager can be a wonderful accompaniment to any meal.

The flavor profile of lager ranges along the lines of the beer’s darkness. As a general rule, the lighter the beer (not including “light beers”), the hoppier it will be while darker lagers will have a stronger malt presence. Essentially this means that as you move toward bocks, dopplebocks, and rauchbiers, the flavors become more intense and pairing may prove tricky. More specifically than stated above, try some good grilled salmon or a Vermont white cheddar with a Bohemian lager or some spicy nachos with the Vienna Lager. For those who are more adventurous, try the Dunkelweizen with a plate of grilled Hofbrau Brats and pierogis.