Thursday, February 7, 2013

The greatest corn ever born

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 10:27 AM

There are few things in this world that are not made better by the addition of a little butter and cheese. If you can think of any, please let me know…I’d be willing to take that challenge. Corn is no exception. To be completely honest, naked and unadorned corn is not one of my personal favorites. I’m not sure why, exactly, and I adore corn when incorporated in any number of stews, salads, pastas, or even breads. But corn on the cob? Not really my thing. Always gets stuck in my teeth, too, which doesn’t seem to help my overall opinion of the experience. Go ahead and dismiss all remotely favorable opinions you may have of my general aptitude to critique food, but I’m just being truthful here. However, one dish has always whisked away any such aversions as if they never existed, making the bright golden kernel feel much more like a tiny, tasty treasure. I’m speaking of the Mexican street corn known as esquites.

On a recent visit to Southwest Little Rock, while entering the welcoming walls of Mercado San Jose, I noticed a woman sitting outside the building behind a large metal cart. A single, hand-written sign hung on the makeshift wall beside her announcing her wares...elotes, esquites, and hot dogs. Though I welcomed a hearty and filling Mexican meal inside the restaurant, I could not resist this humble cart and its promised esquites. I took my corn indoors and treated it like an appetizer as I waited on the rest of my order to arrive.

The esquites are made up of fresh, golden corn sheared off the cob, filling a small styrofoam cup. To this comes the addition of butter, lime juice, salt, and a topping of crumbly queso fresco—a self service bottle of hot sauce and chili powder provides an optional accompaniment. So simple a combination, but how lovely the flavor. The interplay of bright, earthy corn with rich butter is expectedly tasty, but the addition of sour lime complemented by salty, creamy queso fresco makes for a fabulous way to start any meal. Elotes, a close relative of esquites, simply takes the same flavors and finds them slathered onto corn still clinging to the cob...if you prefer to work a little for your corn, you may want to go this route.

Someday, if we're lucky, we'll see esquites/elotes carts scattered throughout the city...but for now you're likely to see them only in Southwest Little Rock neighborhoods. The gussied up, gentrified West Little Rock Mexican safe haven, Local Lime is doing a version they're pushing under the guise of "Market Corn," with cheese, chili, and crema. People are going nuts for they rightly should. But that same dish can easily be found at a fraction of the price outside of Mercado San Jose (and I imagine a number of other locations I've yet to discover)...well worth another adventure to this neck of the woods.

You'll find Rossy, the corn lady, outside of Mercado San Jose at 7411 Geyer Springs Rd, Little Rock.

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