Dog Vanishes

Stimulating hunger at East Elmhurst Colombian snack palace

Colombia is a nation of snackers, a fact that will become instantly apparent if you drop by East Elmhurst's Northern Boulevard any evening. Neon signs shaped like hot dogs and stuffed arepas blaze from luncheonette windows, and bakeries, in addition to selling cookies and cakes, dispense yuca-crusted empanadas and lard-fried pork ribs scored crosswise for dainty streetside consumption. Partaking of snacks, families and friends throng the sidewalks.

While mazurka is a Polish dance favored by Chopin, mazorca is a favorite Colombian snack, a flame-singed ear of fresh corn smeared with mayo and grated cheese. Mazorca is also the name of a newfangled Colombian snack parlor, dining room, and bar. Its front flung open to the bustling street, the space begins with a bakery, then progresses to an open kitchen opposite a seating area in which the booths, walls, and glassware are all hot orange and electric blue. When my friend Carolina asked the waiter about the relentless color scheme, he drew himself up to his full height and wagged his finger professorially as he replied in Spanish: "These colors have been scientifically selected to stimulate the appetite."

Beyond the dining room find a bar that radiates pink light, maybe intended to stimulate drinking. One evening a group of 'tweens practiced their dance moves as tables of adult diners looked on approvingly, gobbling giant communal plates of meat and seafood. One such is picada mixta mazorca ($18.25), an amazing square-foot haymow of meat randomized with lime wedges, lettuce, purple onions, sliced tomatoes, fibrous fried yuca, salty skin-on potatoes, and miniature masa cakes called arepitas. The meat roster includes grilled beefsteak, cumin-laced chorizo, pork ribs, and crispy pork skin. Rifling through the heap is half the fun.

In addition to such modest snacking choices as pork ribs, salchipapas, and arepas split and stuffed like sandwiches (pick avocado), there are a couple of more extravagant selections. Perro mixto ($4) designates a frankfurter bombed with so many toppings that dog and bun vanish. The oozing pile features ham, bacon, grated cheese, ketchup, green sauce, and—best idea of all—crumbled potato chips. You have no choice but to eat it with a fork. Not to be outdone, hamburger hawaiana ($5.50) puts the ham back in hamburger, stacking an oozing half-pound patty with lettuce, tomato, boiled ham, mozzarella, and pineapple salsa. Aloha! Colombians clearly have a thing for pineapple. If you had any doubts, just cast your gaze across the street at Hawaiian Pizza.

The endless menu (most of it quite good) also features breakfasts, composed salads, and "platos típicos," the peasant cuisine of Colombia. You can't go wrong with the daily soup ($6 to $9), which comes sided with a plate of rice, ribs, and salad that constitutes a meal in itself. I'm particularly taken with Wednesday's cazuela de frijoles, a bowl of creamy red beans flavored with pig parts and doused with an oily, olive-y sauce. In a seafood vein, viudo de pescado ("widow of fish," $18.95) is a creole-style red snapper that has been separated from its poaching broth, which is served on the side as a fragrant soup. It's a dead ringer for a Provençale bourride—except for the hot-orange color, of course.

 
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