Someone asked for Freeport tips. The following are all the recent Freeport writings from my "Chow Alert" e-newsletter (info and free issue via link below)
from chow alert #44
Freeport, Long Island has turned Central American. Eateries in the area on and around Merrick Road have set an aberrantly high chow standard - or perhaps it's just that no one's yet realized that careless food sells just as well. Shh. Don't tell them. We need to preserve the Tristate area's best Salvadoran food scene.
The keystone of Salvadoran food are pupusas, highly craveable fried corn cakes stuffed with pork cracklings (chicharron), cheese (queso), or meat and cheese ("revuelta"). They're crisp, satisfying snacks usually eaten with beer and always with curtido, or mildly pickled shredded cabbage. There are those who insist that one is indistinguishable from any other, that pupusas are commodities, like pork bellies or soybeans. I was starting to share this view, myself, because, aside from the blessed pupusas at La Palma Mexicatessen (2884 24th Street at Florida, San Francisco, CA; 415-647-1500) - where a phalanx of unimaginably wise Central American woman pound masa by hand and craft pupusas that are nothing less than sacramental - all the ones I come across are indeed uncannily similar. Even the curtido seems centrally made.
But I've just found fantastic ones that are super-distinctive. Genesis Restaurant (48 Guy Lombardo Ave, Freeport, Long Island, NY; 516-377-0258) isn't really a restaurant. It's a bright, well-lit deli, with some informal seating, offering a fresh and extensive assortment of steam table items. Their pupusas are lively and interesting, with very tangy cheese and rich corn flavor, and the cabbage and red sauce are consummately fresh.
Genesis' pork tamales were slightly water-logged late in the day, but still tasty. The ones with no meat are coarser-grained and more Mexican.
Tamale digression: just as New Yorkers often underestimate Texas barbecue, because they're more accustomed to the Deep South style (falling apart and richly saucy - the antithesis of ascetic Texas-style), they tend to mistakenly judge all tamales by a Mexican standard. While the latter are coarse-grained, firm, spicy, with just a bit of filling, tamales elsewhere can be made from much finer-grained corn and be much moister (nearly slimy) and more rife with fillings. Tamales contain multitudes.
They also had fried chicken, seemingly an afterthought, and it was so tasty, crispy, juicy that if we'd visited solely for fried chicken we'd have been completely delighted. And the baked chicken looked even better.
A very satisfying Central American preparation of fried mushy beans was deeply satisfying. There's a lot of Indian blood in Central America, and that lends a warm, earthy, simple-yet-deep character to the cooking which you can really taste in this dish.
They're very proud of their chuzos (shish-kebabs), which are actually more Dominican than Salvadoran. I hope to try them soon.
Just down the block, the unfortunately-named Taco Grill (89 Guy Lombardo Ave Freeport, Long Island, NY; 516-377-6263) would seem the more serious establishment, with real tables and waitress service. But it's quite dreary inside; the sort of deserted, blaring, bad vibe restaurant that makes you want to bolt.
But some of my favorite places were discovered via steadfast refusal to bolt, and I was glad to have stuck around to enjoy the few "play-it-safe" things we'd reluctantly ordered. Tamales de elote, made from fresh corn ("elote" means on-the-cob) are subtle and made with nary a shortcut. They're properly heavy and tender, and contain no discernible added sugar. Pupusas de loroco (an edible flower) are quiet wonders, made with extra-mild cheese. While Genesis' pupusas differ from the norm via big rich flavors, these stand out via understated subtlety. The curtido is extra tangy, very fresh and crunchy, a true companion to the excellent pupusas. Pastel de carne are like Columbian empanadas, stuffed crescents of fried corn, but unlike the Columbian version, they're filled with ground meat rather than chopped, and have that earthy Indian-inflected flavor.
The food at Genesis is far more flashy, more grab-you-and-make-you-moan in its appeal. I love and heartily recommend it. But, from what little we tried, Taco Grill's chef lends real depth to her cooking. Note that Genesis has a Dominican manager (hence those out--of-place chuzos) who speaks fluent English, but Taco Grill's staff will hardly speak with you in Spanish, much less English.
The blurred distinction between restaurant and grocery is very Central American; the first rule of thumb in chowhounding for this cuisine is to never ignore groceries. Whereas Mexican grocers may offer tacos as a sideline, Central American groceries can be totally serious eating establishments.
Long Island is fast filling with Turks and Salvadorans. In an upcoming issue, we'll look at the Salvadorans of Huntington Station.
from Chow Alert #66
HONDURAN IN FREEPORT
Gusto Latino (129 West Sunrise Highway, Freeport, NY: 516-546-0066) is a pizza place where everyone seems to order slices and calzones, but all I could focus on was one magical word casually mentioned on their sign: Honduran. You don't see much Honduran food.
It's all about the pizza. Takeout boxes stacked up everywhere. If you hunt for it, there's a small sub-menu of Salvadoran stuff, none of it seeming remarkable. Then there's a Honduran sub-sub menu with four or five dishes. You've never heard of any of them (tacos catrachos - Honduran tacos; casamiento - eggs, cheese, avocado, and yellow plantain; baliada - beans, cheese, and cream; mariscada catracha - seafood soup with fresh lobster, crab, shrimp, clams, and mussels with coconut milk; and one of my favorites, sopa de Caracol - snail soup Honduran style).
I told the counter guy I'd been looking for good Honduran forever, and he was pleased and surprised. I grabbed a takeout menu, and he said "wait, let me also give you our pizza menu." I said I don't care about pizza. He looked at me with all the weariness of the world and replied that he didn't, either, really.
I left, too full to actually try anything (I'll be back!), zigzagging my way past tables clogged with customers chomping on meatball parm heroes and sipping Pepsis.
now for the irony. The day power returned everywhere, I shlepped all the way out to Freeport, hoping for the only non-scary restaurant food in the tristate area ('cuz freeport had power thru the blackout). And guess what? Freeport's power was out.
Genesis is slightly downhill, by the way. Still excellent, but not always devastatingly so.