Friday, June 17, 2011

Birrieria Zaragoza

Last Saturday morning, I made my way to the southwest side of the city for a volunteer event at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. This is something I periodically do with an interfaith group that I belong to at church called the Southwest Interfaith Team (or SWIFT, for short), which promotes dialogue and understanding between Christians, Muslims, and Jews (occasionally, I let a non-food activity slip through the cracks into my daily life, although I guess we were at a food bank, so never mind then). Anyway, Mrs. Hackknife had taken the progeny to the mall and it was lunchtime for me in an area of town I don't normally frequent. I had heard rumors that there might be a top-notch Lithuanian restaurant somewhere nearby, but in the process of my search, I stumbled across this place instead: Birrieria Zaragoza (birrieria being a restaurant that serves birria, a Mexican meat stew), a very small diner on S. Pulaski that has gotten some positive press from the North Side food media about its specialty (really, its only menu item), that is, roasted goat.

When I entered, I found only a few small tables in front of an even smaller kitchen area, within which crowded a few servers, a young gentleman with a cleaver (chopping up goat carcasses, I presume), a lady whose sole purpose was to turn out fresh corn tortillas, and an older man who happened to be the proprietor. Pegging me for the gringo I was, my waitress was very friendly (and curious about how I had heard about them), carefully explaining the menu to me (lest I think I had wandered into a Taco Bell). She recommended the goat combo plate, chunks of meat in a pool of rich consomme served with bottomless tortillas, onions, cilantro, lime wedges, dried arbol peppers, and homemade red salsa. I followed her advice and assembled little tacos out of these ingredients, which were delicious, but eventually just ate the meat on its own when I had had my fill of the tortillas (I think after the 5th one or so). I can recall having goat before on only one or two occasions (both times in the Caribbean, where it's a staple); however, this was by far the best I've eaten, flavorful and mild, not as gamey as lamb and leaner than pork. I asked the owner if they used a spit to roast the meat and he told me that they actually steam it in the oven for several hours to tenderize the meat, then roast it a bit to char the outside. Whatever they do, it's clearly working since the place was full of happy diners. The only sour note was the Mexican apple cider soda (Sidral) that I chose to wash everything down - it wasn't my favorite, so next time, I'll try another of their imported drinks instead.

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