LUNCH PICK: Authentic homemade Latin snacks at Main Street tea room
The Place: I remember stopping in to Cuppedia a few years ago for a coffee. Set in a converted old house on Main Street, the cozy low-key tea room with its stash of kids’ toys and mismatched chairs, had a welcoming neighbourhood hang-out vibe. The food, however, was uninspiring. I returned recently when a friend (thanks RS!) tipped me off to the fact that menu here had changed. As it turns out, the place was taken over by a family from El Salvador and soon the loose-leaf teas, standard sandwiches, and traditional baked goods on offer were complemented with what might be the city’s best and most authentic menu of Latin specialties.
The Deal: While the owner is Salvadorian, the staff — a warm and friendly group of women — come from Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia. The menu offers many of Latin American cuisine’s greatest hits, with Salvadorian pupusas and tamales, Peruvian ceviche (Fridays only — see you there!), Brazilian empanadas, and Mexican tacos and quesadillas. Argentianian alfajores are for dessert. Everything is lovingly made from scratch, including fresh salsa and frosty Latin drinks. Part of the charm of this place is you can watch the talented team at work, all crowded in a convivial makeshift kitchen, complete with a deep-fryer and several flat-top griddles.
The Dish: If you’re like me, the scent of bubbling cheese and crispy fried corn flour will destabilize you the moment you walk through the door. Rather than choosing a single dish, I put together a platter of small snacks: Brazilian empanadas, crispy pockets filled with gently spiced beef, onion, and potato; Salvadorian tamales, soft cornmeal dumpling stuffed with shreds of chicken and fresh salsa wrapped in banana leaves and steamed; and pupusas, utterly addictive thick corn pancakes smeared with sour cream and cheese (a choice of beans or a delicious shredded chicken and cilantro mixture can be added as well), made golden brown and crispy-edged on the griddle. The Brazilian avocado milkshake made with sweetened condensed milk is irresistible. Do not miss the Latin worlds rendition of cheesecake; called a Salvadorian quesadilla (not to be confused with the savoury Mexican quesadilla) it’s a cross between a cloud-light chiffon, a sweet corn muffin and a soft, pudding cake, topped with sesame seeds. So good, I ordered a second one — and have been thinking about it ever since.
The Cost: A steal! Pupusas and empanadas $2.50 each; tamale $3.25; Salvadorian quesadilla $2.50.
Cuppedia, 97 Main St. 613-567-0839