We tried in vain to calculate how many goats the massive barbacoa pot held at El Jarochito.
Alongside Sunset Park, East Elmhurst, and Corona, Brighton Beach and Coney Island are collectively becoming one of the foremost destinations for southern Mexican food. That was confirmed last weekend as a group of friends and I motored down Neptune Avenue past a string of south-of-the-border bodegas. We stuck our heads into a couple to see if tacos were being made in the back, and were disappointed, though one was making sandwiches something like Egg McMuffins.
A pound of richly flavored and textured goat sets you back only $6.
Eventually, a shopkeeper pointed us in the direction of El Jarochito (“Little Insolent One,” perhaps referring to the figure of cartoon character Speedy Gonzalez on the awning), near the busy corner of Coney Island Avenue and Neptune. As expected, the front of the place is packed solid with Mexican candies, cosmetics, and dry goods, but just beyond that — betokening the bakery in the rear of the store — are rolling big racks of fresh baked goods, including sweet breads with crumbly toppings, round bread rolls with teeth along the edges, and, best of all, lard donuts topped with granulated sugar. Beyond that, we found herbs, vegetables, tortillas, and dried chilies.
In the back a short counter with a few stools dispenses tortas, cemitas (round Pueblan sandwiches), tacos, tacos placeros, tostados, and burritos — though not exactly the kind we’re familiar with from Cal-Mex cooking. These burritos are rolled from giant yellow-corn tortillas freshly made on the griddle. Tacos are made with either the standard white-corn tortillas or with “gringas” — larger flour tortillas with a piece of American cheese annealed to the surface. Gringas, indeed.
The donut paved with granulated sugar was super.
Priced at $5, the tongue cemita was particularly sumptuous.
But this being the weekend, a humongous pot of barbacoa (steamed goat) sits on the stove, taking up more than one burner. Customers — some wearing baseball caps, some wearing cowboy hats — make their way to the rear of the store and order the barbacoa by the pound. The cook climbs up on a step stool, and fishes around in the pot with a long fork, pulling up shanks, ribs, and other amorphous hunks of meat, still steaming, then deposits them in a length of aluminum foil. The guy in front of us got three pounds, and ran out with it, without wrapping his prize further.
Served with a red homemade hot sauce with plenty of heat, the goat is tender and fibrous and mild-tasting, and my friends and I pulled every shred of meat, fat, and sinew from the bone, standing at a narrow shelf opposite the lunch counter. A plaster Jesus mournfully presided over our feast. We also ate a wonderful cemita filled with tongue, Oaxacan cheese, papalo leaves, mayo, and ripe avocado, then hopped in the car and sped off into the night.
Dressed up for winter weather, our crew next headed for M & I International and KeBeer in Brighton Beach.