Cafe Mofongo Brings More Dominican to 8th Ave
Gotta love working on 8th. As far as the food hell of Midtown goes, we’re the scrappy underdog. The tourist crap doesn’t kick in until you get to the 40s, so while there’s not as much in food truck options and a lot of long-timer places that come and stay, you get gems every now and then. Two of those gems are the greats of Dominican elevator shaft cuisine, but there’s a third diadem in the crown now. A fine member of the vast Midtown Lunch
clandestine operations group readership clued us in to Cafe Mofongo, which quietly opened just off of 8th on 39th, and I’m all about another cheap, real, and tasty Latin restaurant to compete with the elevator empire.
The space is small, but well-utilized. The rotisserie had a bunch of chickens going.
The handful of people in the photo gave way to a really huge crowd for so small a spot not long after I stopped in. A couple of cops and a handful of building maintenance guys came in, which to me is the sign of really good food, doubly so for a local neighborhood joint. Hell yeah, cuisine of the workers.
I ordered the longaniza special ($5); my two co-workers jumped right on the rotisserie chicken (also $5 – now THAT is Midtown Lunch pricing!). Not on the chalkboard is the rest of the menu, which is mostly mofongo (mashed fried green plantains with pork cracklings, does it get any better?) but they had tasty sides too. Ask nicely and they’ll throw in a couple of plantains along with rice and beans, but they said normally it’s choose any one – rice & beans/green plantains/sweet plantains.
I honestly like having this as a choice to prevent massive food comas. Some times I’m totally happy to gorge only on sweet plantains, sometimes you want rice and beans. Good to have a choice without coughing up for extra side dishes.
These longaniza are my new favorite thing. Ever. These guys cooked ‘em in the style of Rutt’s Hut – they fry ‘em until they rip open. Nice and dark, crispy – CRISPY – beyond belief, with plenty of juiciness left within.
I love a good sausage and longaniza is very truly a good sausage. It has enough spicing to be flavorful but is not a hot sausage by any means, but after a few dashes of hot sauce to taste I was an even happier camper.
The red beans were nice and mushy, not really holding beany shape once they land in the food, but they still hold together a bit. They’re more of a pink bean, but they’re a damn good bean at that. There’s plenty of green pepper and onion in the mix for these in addition to whatever sofrito or recaito went in during cooking. They did need some salt, though, and my co-workers both agreed that the beans could have really been seasoned better.
I really could have used more sauce from the beans to make up for however much sauce was lost due to leakage in transit. My fault for carrying it weirdly halfway back to the office, but I really wish that the foil-and-plastic container matchup was put to the wayside in favor of either the wide folding-top brown takeout boxes or Chinese food plastic containers.
The rice is rice – standard nicely done white rice. It is what it is, and of course, there’s tons of it. TONS of it. My longaniza floated on this huge sea of rice, lonely in their isolation and starkly reminding me that I only had four of them.
The chicken tastes like it’s been nicely marinated. Nice and juicy, not overdone, they have a good thing going. It had a nice herby tartness, maybe from a vinegary marinade, and the skin was crispy with all the fat melting away in the rotisseration process. (Rotissering? Rotisserizing?)
I only saw quarter chickens being served out – wonder where the breast meat went to? Not that I’m complaining about glorious dark meat options. The biggest flaw with the chicken was that it was on the oily side, so have some moist-naps handy if you’re eating deskside and plan to pick up and gnaw at the bones.
Plaintains, glorious plantains. The green plantains were getting freshly smashed in the back as they were being served out. Mine was damn near perfect – crisp outside, just on the right side of moist inside but still dry enough to be savory. I wanted nothing more than some garlic sauce to soak and mash it into.
The sweet plantains looked baked rather than fried, like you see at Cuban and other Latin restaurants. Both have their merits and flaws, but I really missed the sticky caramelized exterior of fried sweet plantains here. It made me feel a little better about the pending food coma that all this rice and beans brought forth, though.
There were very happy noises coming from all three of us who ordered, though, and I’ll be honest – it’s good to have an actual menu and not just three or four dishes done really well. True, El Sabroso does normally have more options than Aries Cafe, but the presence of mofongo means the presence of chicharrones. With the closest other Latin food option being Cafe Nunez, which is too costly for a Midtown Lunch, and with delivery being offered, Cafe Mofongo has jumped way the hell to the top of the heap in terms of cheap good food, underflavored beans and all.
The + (What those who didn’t order lunch in an elevator shaft would say):
- Hell yes, a varied menu!
- I’ve never had sausages this crispy and perfect before.
- So damn much for so very little and so tasty!
The – (What veterans of Shaft-Food-Off 2012 would say):
- There’s way too little flavor in the beans.
- There’s way too little sauce in the beans.
- This place is gonna fill up quick – where am I gonna sit?
Cafe Mofongo, 316 39th St (Between 8th and 9th)