Mole, rice, and strong winds in Red Hook.

As I usually have brunch both days of the weekend, and usually relatively close to home, the number of available meals on the weekend in which to explore is pathetically few.  This weighed heavily on my mind Saturday night, and after spending most of the day doing things of no great consequence at Casa King, I and my roommate decided to explore on Sunday morning, weather permitting.  Our first target was Defonte’s, but after calling and not having the phone picked up, we settled on another Red Hook destination on the 2005 Voice list in El Huipil (116A Sullivan St. between Van Brunt and Conover – B61 bus to stop between King St. and Sullivan St.).

After missing the bus by about ten seconds and walking most of the way, we caught the B61 on Columbia St. and were pleasantly surprised to discover that card reader was broken and our ride down would be free.  I guess that’s a small consequence for those of us with monthly passes, right?  But I always wonder why certain busses don’t charge.  Broken readers?  Sympathetic bus drivers?  Some kind of additional silly refund from the MTA?

Anyway, the B61 efficiently whisked us from “Carroll Gardens West” (the Columbia Street strip – what to call it – Container Port Heights?) to Red Hook’s “main drag” – Van Brunt St.  I put main drag in quotes simply because Red Hook has one of the least-likely looking main drags anywhere in New York.  Hip bakeries, nouveau-diners, Cocoran Realty signs – and dilapidated buildings, cracked cement curbs with weeds growing through, and empty lots full of waste, rusting cars, and stray pets.  It’s like the bastard love child of rural Vermont and the West Village, with a pinch of Main Street, Afton, Wyoming – and this is the main drag!

Of course, El Huipil isn’t on the main drag.  It’s actually invisible from Van Brunt St. and, if you didn’t know there was a restaurant on the block, you’d be tempted not to go down it; the encrusting of the neighborhood only gets worse upon leaving the main areas.  Having confidence in our directions, as well as quite a few hours of daylight ahead, we located El Huipil and were, to our surprise, apparently the first customers of the day at just after noon.

After the staff turned on the lights, we discovered that quick service was one very tangible benefit of being the first folks in the restaurant – our entrees were practically under our noses before we’d had a chance to really lounge around.  And it was just as well – we were both very hungry!  My roommate had ordered eggs with cured beef (which I think was $6, but I’m going by memory for prices), with a side of rice ($1.50); I’d ordered the mole-drenched chicken enchiladas ($9).

As it turned out, the extra rice was probably unnecessary – his eggs came sided with rice and beans.  I know that, in most situations, one would sort of sigh and wonder why the waiter hadn’t warned us.  I’m convinced now that it’s because the rice there is good enough to warrant ordering extra – salty, flavorful and fresh, El Huipil’s rice was the biggest surprise of the day.  I’d go back just to eat it, and I don’t often say that about any kind of rice.

The beans were also excellent, as were the corn tortillas provided as a side for the eggs.  The grapefruit Jarritos ($1.50) he ordered tasted just like the Squirt made with real sugar (Clemens’ in Windsor Terrace sells Mexican Squirt in glass bottles).  On my side of the table, the chicken enchiladas were drenched in mole and covered (surprisingly) with lettuce and some kind of powdered cheese.  I devoured the lettuce first, taking care to swirl it around in the delicious mole, and tucked into my enchiladas after the greenery was gone.

The three enchiladas were as basic as it gets – moist pulled chicken rolled in corn tortillas.  No cheese-sludge to be found here!  The mole sauce is more than enough seasoning for the chicken and tortillas, though – somewhat spicy, savory, and thick, there’s nothing else quite like it in the world.  A great ‘brunch-time’ choice – how long will it take for some enterprising chef to figure out that the chocolate base of the sauce and the non-sweet flavoring make it the perfect pancake topping?  It would seem to be right up Superfine’s alley.

Anyway, I was so entranced in my own food that I forgot to taste my roommate’s eggs and beef, but he assured me they were delicious, and El Huipil’s breakfasts are served all day.  Again, I ask: why weren’t more people here?  Perhaps Red Hook’s brunchers are of a later-awakening sort.  

After eating, we adjourned to wander the piers of Red Hook, which, on this blustery fall day, were unbelievably beautiful in their states of decomposition.  Check out my roommate’s pictures of several of the buildings at his blog.  Nothing like a long walk along the shore at this time of year, and, hey – you’re making room for the coffee and inevitable cookie or slice of pie from the bakery that’s next to the B61 bus stop.  


Filed under NYC

2 responses to “Mole, rice, and strong winds in Red Hook.

  1. Amy

    I think Defonte’s is closed on weekends. When I was by last week there was a sign near the door saying they’re looking to franchise.

  2. That would explain it – I’m going to have to hit it on a day off, then. Franchise? Totally wierd.

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