Sunday brunching with a Mexican twist

And on the seventh day, God created brunch.

Sundays, lazy ones that start when you roll over in bed and marvel at the restorative powers of sleeping in, are made for brunching. In New York, where the options are limitless, brunch on a rainy Sunday morning/afternoon is a wonderful thing. No one’s in a hurry. Everyone wants to rehash their weekends. And almost everyone can go for a bloody Mary or mimosa. It just makes the impending blow of Monday that much easier to deal with.

So when my friend Holly, who was in from out of town visiting her old roommate, told me they were going to brunch, I happily tagged along. There was talk of an all-you-can-drink special and the food being good, but I didn’t need much convincing. They had me at “brunch.”

While I typically associate brunch with the standard American breakfast staples like pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage, I also welcome variations. This Sunday, our destination, as Flaneur and I huddled together underneath a too-small umbrella and made our way down to Alphabet City in the East Village, was Mercadito Cantina.

Pineapple and mango mimosas

A small but cute and cheery taqueria, Mercadito Cantina’s brunch menu had classics like eggs (scrambled, benedict and sunny side up) but dressed up with spicier,  more exciting ingredients like habanero peppers, roasted garlic and pico de gallo. Even the mimosas had a little more pizzazz, and so that’s exactly where I started.

The mango mimosa I ordered came in a champagne flute but unlike its orange counterpart had a little spice at the end of each sip, courtesy of a bit of green chile added to the orangey-yellow drink. The mango, which already has a strong, tropical sweet taste, felt even more exotic when it was mixed with the fizz of the sparkling wine and the subtle zing of the green chile.

Flaneur had the pineapple mimosa, which also had a dash of the green chile, but had a flavor that was more sparkling wine and less brightly colored fruit.

Eyeing over the menu, lots of things sounded good, and as usual I narrowed it down to two. As it often goes in our relationship, Flaneur and I decided to  each try a different one. (If you ask me, part of the fun of a significant other is maximizing your menu tasting options.)

Chilaquiles verdes

I went with the chilaquiles verdes, a colorful stack of corn tortilla chips piled on top of black bean sauce and tomatillo salsa, drizzled with crema fresca (a sour cream of sorts), sprinkled with manchego cheese, and finally crowned with a fried egg. It was like a Mexican stylized, breakfast version of nachos and cheese. The egg had been fried just enough that the yolk oozed out in an orange stream over the chips, adding just one more component to this multi-layer dish.

Rice and beans

While at first I had debated whether it would be enough to fill me up, when the side order of black beans and rice included with each entree arrived, I knew I’d be alright. The rice was moist and peppered colorfully with flecks of bright green cilantro. The black beans, mixed with chopped onions and tomatoes were also more than just beans. It wasn’t a toast or a biscuit, but the lively side of rice and beans was the perfect accompaniment for the loaded tortilla chips.

Huevos estrellados

Flaneur’s pick, which everyone except me and another bruncher from our party of seven ordered, was the popular huevos estrellados. The eggs over easy were served atop a corn flour tortilla and joined by fat avocado slices, salsa verde, oaxaca cheese (a mozzarella-ish white Mexican cheese) and dusted with colorful little bits of bacon. Like the chilaquiles, this dish was layer after layer of colorful, piquant flavors and creamy, smooth textures.

Cornbread bites

Because the group wanted something dry and crunchy to go with its food (in the place of toast or biscuits) we ordered corn bread, which when it arrived, looked nothing like what I was expecting it to. Instead of boasting thick yellow squares of crumbly corn bread, the cloth-lined baskets came filled with hot, crunchy , toasted brown-on-the-outside, golden-on-the-inside, bite-sized corn bread squares. The light sprinkle of coarse salt gave each bite a delicious balance between sweet and salty. Being small, the corn bread bites were dangerously easy to keep popping in your mouth between bites of gooey, cheesy, salsa covered tortilla.

After a fun, belly-filling, mimosa filled brunch with friends both new and old, the only thing to complete the drizzly, sluggish Sunday was an afternoon nap, and that’s exactly what I did, dozing off to thoughts of mangoes, peppers and tortillas.


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