Biking to Brooklyn for a Carne Enchilada Torta at Nealtican Deli

by Jason Roth on March 21, 2010

The above title would seem to convey that my wife and I are such pigs that even the goal of our exercise is to get food. Not exactly so. In fact, before this morning’s bike trip from Queens into Brooklyn, Karen and I had no idea that a “carne enchilada torta” even existed. By the afternoon, we were happy to know that it did.

If the first official day of spring could arrive baring arms, then today would have smashed winter’s skull in with a spiked mace. That’s how romantic today was. We took out the bikes and headed in no particular direction. It was sunny, warm, and beautiful, and that was all that mattered.

Later, a glance at the map on my iPhone told us that, well, first of all, we weren’t completely lost. It also told us that we were edging so close to Brooklyn from Queens, we might as well go all the way. I had to admit, by this point, I had pizza on my mind. I clearly didn’t know Bushwick. The options were either Mexican or south-of-Mexican. We turned onto Flushing Ave. to head back to Queens, but soon passed a quiet deli that proudly advertised its offerings of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as its owners’ heritage.

Nealticanians plant their flag(s). Oh, and not our bike.

It was just a deli, we figured, and peddled on. But suddenly it occurred to me that a deli like this is exactly where the authentic stuff is probably hiding. If you were to, say, immigrate from Nealtican in Puebla, Mexico to Brooklyn, New York, it’s likely that your first restaurant may not be at the top of Rockefeller Center. It’s a good thing, too, because we’re terrible ice skaters. It’s convenient when the contents of the universe align just right for you.

The nice lady waits for me take a photo before completing the sandwich. I wish she didn't, I was hungry.

The deli, as you’ve seen, was Nealtican Deli (map), and anyone in the area has my recommendation to stop in for lunch. The menu has the usual Mexican fare you’d expect, as well as tortas, something I’d heard of but not had before. I saw “spicy”, so went for the spicy pork, also known as: “carne enchilada”. Karen was convinced I had the word wrong, and though based purely on statistics, you might have agreed with her, it seems “enchilada” takes the connotation of “spicy” in this context.

The very friendly lady at Nealtican Deli asked me to confirm that I wanted the jalapenos, and after promptly doing so, she explained to me that they “made their own”. I found it interesting, if purely for linguistic reasons, that she equated “jalapenos” with “pickled jalapenos”. It was as if a jalapeno wasn’t a jalapeno until it was pickled, or “made”. That’s kind of cool.

Karen and I split a sandwich. The ingredients were: the spicy pork (the only thing to be cooked), a smear of beans on either side of the bread, pickled red jalapenos, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, avocado, plenty of queso fresco, and of course, the bread, which was briefly warmed on both sides right next to the pork on the grill. The last good street sandwich I had was on our trip to Italy, where we had a panino con bollito, or boiled beef sandwich, in Florence. It was nice to discover another, here in the states.

The final moments in the life of one Carne Enchilada Torta. (Not a character from a Sergio Leone movie.)

The combination of the beans on the bread (they were refried, I believe) and the cheese almost gave the impression of mayo. The low melting point of the cheese created a creamy texture, which, along with four carefully placed segments of avocado, contrasted perfectly with the spicy, pickled flavor of the jalapenos. The pork itself was tangy and well seasoned on both sides, and of just the right thickness to hold up against everything else.

I better stop now. This is sounding too good.

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