Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Located just a few blocks down Broad Street from Orleans Parish Criminal Court is Ideal Market, a Latin American grocery store whose secret treasure lies tucked away in the back left corner of the store. Underneath the sneeze guard at this small cafeteria style service station are hotel pans full of tamales, carne asada, empanadas, and fried fish. As you stand in line listening to the customers ahead of you, panic might start to ensue once you realize that no one is speaking English. Just calm down and be thankful that the point and nod method translates across all languages.
On my first visit I watched a more experienced customer before me negotiate his order and noticed what appeared to be beans and eggs underneath an oversized, pillowy tortilla. The woman behind the counter then reached for a lunch lady like serving scoop which she plunged into a plastic container of what I could only presume was crema and then opened the quesadilla and poured it in. The same method was used on a bucket of queso fresco. She then folded the tortilla back up, wrapped it in tin foil, and wrote $2.99 on the outside with a black marker. I was confident in my ordering abilities when she motioned me forward, but within moments I reverted back to wagging my finger and shaking my head. Fortunately I was successful. The first bite took me back to Austin, Texas circa 2001 and the Taco Cabana breakfast tacos that were a Saturday morning ritual. My new hangover breakfast staple is improved with a spoonful of the spicy avocado/verde sauce which is available for $2.99 per pint.
Eventhough it is easily overcome, the language barrier can still be frustrating. Next to the service station is a large grill where whole butterflied chickens and sausages of unknown origin sizzle away; I have yet to see another customer order any of these items nor have I figured it out how to do so myself. On another visit I saw a steaming pot of tamales on the back stove but my attempt procuring a pair was thwarted with a simple “No.” But sometimes unanswered prayers workout out for the best, as I ended up with a heavy container of barbacoa ($4.99) that made for heaven inside a freshly pressed corn tortilla. Yes, they make fresh tortillas. Stewed pork (above) was meltingly tender and flavorful in a sauce of onions and cumin, the drippings seep into the overload of white rice below, which I supplemented with spoonfuls of firm black beans. A ton of food for $7.99.
Most of the stewed meats are cooked down with the bones, which makes for a better final dish but also requires hesitation when digging in. Even the tamales are stuffed with chunks chicken on the bone, plus other hidden surprises - one bite might yield a huge chunk of yucca, while the other is chock full of chickpeas.
When you're done at the back counter, don't forget to pick up dessert on your way out. Next to the check out station are two self-service display cases full of pastries. Choosing one is a crapshoot, and it seems that too often I end up with something filled with sweetened cream cheese (not my preference). But once you open the display case door and the intoxicating aroma of fresh baked goods hits your nasal passages, you just start grabbing with reckless abandon.
Ideal Market - Birdie
250 South Broad Street
Open 7 days - Morning till Night