Mexican Eats: Tripe Tacos at El Tenampa with JJ Goode
You'll find fewer taquerias at the North end of Sunset Park, or where ambitious real estate agents call South Slope. Up here there are more funeral halls, delis, and pizzerias than taquerias, but there is El Tenampa, a 4th Avenue grocery doing it all right.
I'm with JJ Goode, co-author of Truly Mexican, which he wrote with Roberto Santibañez, the chef of La Fonda in Park Slope and the new Fonda East Village. He knows his pasillas from his piquins, and though it's hard to hear over the TV yelling rapid-fire Spanish, we chat salsa ingredients, pig stomach, and the bushiness factor of the chef's efficacious mustache.
Roberto, JJ's Mexican muse, first took him to Tenampa when it was a tiny back-door bodega a couple blocks South. The owners and chef moved into a larger space, expanded their grocery, built a bigger kitchen, and added a large room for dine-in service. Now there's a full-on cornucopia of a condiment cart stacked with sliced radish, cucumber, pickled jalapenos, onion, limes, a perfectly chunky guacamole, and three salsas, including a garlicky dried red chile sauce that gets its tang from tomatillos.
"I don't know which stomach this is, but I love it," JJ says, nodding towards our plate of tripe tacos: cow rumen cooked into submission, chopped, and then seared on a plancha into a hash of tender chunks and crispy tubes. It's mild with the faintest livery funk. There are other interesting cuts: pork esophagus buche, beefy suadero, panza de chivo, and cabeza, all hacked to bits with a cleaver on a gnarled block of wood, then folded into bite-sized tortillas supple with lard.
There's a platter of two forest green poblano chiles rellenos ($12) with unyielding bricks of panela cheese. Tamales ($2.00) are especially moist; the Oaxaquenos have the smoky flavor of banana leaf. And the cemitas ($7.50) would seem like tortas in disguise (they're missing the traditional papalo and chipotle) if it weren't for the traditional rust-colored rolls, dotted with sesame seeds. However, instead of ripping the corners of your mouth with its shellacked crust, the sandwiches yields: the bread is excellently flaky, slightly sweet, and accommodating to the egg, chorizo, and avocado tucked inside. It's a perfect breakfast sandwich to power you past lunch.
706 4th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11232 (map)