Columnist Caitlin Weigel gets friendly with a zucchini in her kitchen.
If you have a penchant for delicious Mexican food and kitschy art, look no further than El Rey (https://elreyrestaurant.com) for your next Center City dining experience.
Located at 2013 Chestnut St., (easily accessible via subway and the shoe-leather express), El Rey specializes in Mexican food with a twist. As a Stephen Starr restaurant, the atmosphere is incredible. It’s warmly lit and the walls are covered in what appears to be loot from a south-of-the-border yard sale from 1977.
The menu features standard items, such as tacos, tamales and quesadillas but with a few surprises. Every now and then, while scanning the menu, ingredients such as “hard boiled eggs” or “dried fruits” would crop up – not exactly things I would associate with Mexican cuisine, but definitely the types of food that pique an adventurous eater’s appetite.
I eventually settled on the zucchini blossom and corn quesadillas – a compromise – pushing me to explore my palate beyond the safety of melted cheese but not chowing down on anything containing cactus.
As we waited for our food, I noticed the only thing louder than the colorful artwork was the crowd. And while I’m not particularly adverse to noise, I did make a mental note not to bring any low-talkers or librarians to dinner here.
My entree was muy excelente. The juicy vegetables paired perfectly with the gooey cheese like a rookie officer who plays by his own rules and a guy who’s seen it all in a buddy-cop movie. In other words, they complemented each other well.
With visions of tortillas dancing in my head, I hit up the friendly Fresh Grocer a few days later to pick up the necessary ingredients for recreating the meal. For a grand total of $6.94, I scored a bag of frozen corn, a block of cheddar cheese, two zucchinis and a pack of 12 mini-corn tortillas.
I popped the corn into the microwave upon my arrival home and proceeded to slice up the zucchini. Starting at the end, I cut slices off the zuke and then cut those into long strips.
I poured olive oil in our ancient frying pan and fired up the stove. I dumped the zucchini chunks into the pan and poked at them regularly with a wooden spoon.
One of the most important aspects of cooking is continually poking the food. It not only makes you look busy, but it gives people the idea you know what you’re doing. I randomly put some salt and pepper into the mix too.
After about five minutes, you should fling a piece of zucchini onto the counter (this can be accidental or purposefully done) and taste it. If it’s mushy, it’s done, and this is good.
If it’s still crunchy, it’s not quite done and you can leave those green guys to fry a little longer. If it’s charred beyond recognition, you should turn off the stove and pour yourself a bowl of cereal.
Once the zucchini was done, I poured it in a bowl and added more oil to the pan. Throw in a mini tortilla and smother it with shredded-cheddar cheese, then add the zuke-and-corn mixture on top.
When the cheese is sufficiently melted, fold the sucker in half and let it fry until golden brown. Then flip it onto a plate and devour it immediately.
I was surprisingly quite pleased with my own zucchini-and-corn quesadilla. Though the ingredients cost about the same as the entree at El Rey, there was definitely enough left over to make four or five more quesadillas.
Final verdict? Go for the cheat and make it at home. The ingredients are accessible and affordable and the recipe is a step above grilled cheese on the difficulty scale.
Once you’re down inhaling the cheesy goodness, head to El Rey for dessert. The space is worth a gander and the waiters could easily double as models.
The ice cream selection features delectable flavors such as Mexican chocolate and mango, but my heart belongs to the churros. Served with a caramel goat cheese dipping sauce, this dessert is so sacred I would never dream of attempting to recreate it at home. It would be total blasphemy.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at email@example.com.