New Honduran, Moroccan and Jamaican options6/24/2015
Growing up in Des Moines during the 1950s and ’60s, I graduated from college before I knew what an avocado tasted like. Ashamed that I did not know what this fruit was when first offered one, I bit into it as if it were an apple, skin and all. I then claimed I was “into whole foods.” Des Moines has changed a lot since then. The last few years, I have talked about a bucket list of cuisines — will I be able to sample them in Des Moines’ cafés before I die? I crossed two more off the list recently.
El Rincon Catracho translates “Honduran corner.” Hondurans have been referred to as “catrachos” and “catrachas” since the middle of the 19th century when the Xatruch brothers led a coalition army against Nicaragua, then under control of the American mercenary William Walker. “Xatruchos” morphed into “catrachos” in the next 160 years. Honduran flags also proclaim the identity. BeIn TV has been tuned into Latin American soccer games on my visits. That’s a channel many sports bars don’t even carry even though it has exclusive rights to Italian, Spanish and most Latin American leagues.
Their menu is not that different from Mexican and Salvadoran menus in town. The most significant distinction is that most dishes include a large side of fried green plantains, thinly sliced and unbreaded. Beans are nearly nonexistent here. Also, most dishes I have ordered also included a marvelous side of pickled onions and root vegetables, plus cabbage slaw and tomato and jalapeno salad. Entrees included braised chicken legs, fried pork chops, carne asada, tamales, ground beef, mojarra filets and whole mojarra, fried crisply producing delicious skin.
Flautas, tacos, tortas and burritos were sold with pastor (pork), carne asada and chicken. Weekend specials include huge bowls of soup — chicken, seafood, beef and mondogo, which is the Honduran version of the hangover cure. It’s made with tripe, root vegetables, and at El Rincon, with coconut cream. The “typical” breakfast included fried plantains, cream, cheese, beans and eggs. Balleadas are like breakfast burritos, in wheat flour tortillas. American and Latin American soft drinks were both offered.
Little Moroccan moved up recently from pop-up status to a real café. Its venue is a freak of sorts, with 200 square feet in the service area upstairs and a 1,600-square-foot kitchen downstairs. It’s actually about the size of many Moroccan cafés in souks. Obviously, they built to support catering. Walk-in service is mostly carryout, though a few tables on the patio are available in good weather.
Pastries are special here. Ghoribas are shortbreads. They are made here with sesame, chocolate, coconut or lemon. Gazelle horns, described as the most popular of all Moroccan pasties, are thin, flaky pastries filled with almond paste. Almond briouats are similar with honey added. Souk specialties (dips) were also exceptional.
Checkoucha is Rabat’s most famous dish. It’s a relish made of tomatoes and peppers. A preserved lemon hummus has become my favorite garbanzo dish of any kind with a wonderful lemon flavor one does not get with juice or zest. Bakoula is a tapenade made with artichokes and spinach. Sandwiches, all served on pita, include a Marrakesh chicken salad with chermoula (a de Burgo-like marinade of olive oil, herbs and lemon juice) and chekoucha; a Tangiers tuna salad with harissa mayo and slaw; and a Fez vegetarian with peppers, zucchini and spicy mayo. Salads included one based on cous cous and several vegetables, none of which was lettuce, and Casablanca, which starred Romaine lettuce, artichoke hearts and a za’atar vinaigrette.
Side Dishes: Eastman’s Jamaican Cuisine opened at 1100 East 14th St., specializing in jerk and jerk stir fry… Red China Bistro has vacated its Ingersoll space. CV
EL RINCON CATRACHO
3310 E. 14th St., 803-3382
Sun. – Thurs. 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.;
Fri. – Sat. 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.
843 42nd St., 864-6800
Tues. – Fri. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.;
Sat.10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.