Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chucherias Hondurenas

When the first words out of your server’s mouth are “would you like something good to eat,” you expect to have your taste buds blown away by either the most amazing combinations of flavors or something you wish to have never tasted. In either case, it’s a memorable experience that won’t be forgotten for many years to come.

So when our server recited those words at a late lunch at Chucherias Hondurenas, my fiancé and I were on the edge of our seats with anticipation. Located on Mason Ave. in Daytona Beach, the freestanding hole in the wall wasn’t the first place I expected to find some grade-A Hispanic food. In fact, I didn’t know what to expect from the small cement off-brown building. But if the black bean and onion aroma that teased us as we parked was any indication, it would be something delicious.

Chucherias Hondurenas, along with Chef Mayra Rodriguez trave
led a long way before settling into their Daytona Beach abode. Chef Rodriguez hails from Lacciaba, Honduras where she once worked as a server while taking culinary classes at a local trade school in an effort to learn more about the restaurant industry. In 1990 her journey brought her to New York City where she continued learning, before honing her skills at various restaurants in Atlantic City, including a Honduras fusion restaurant of her own, Chucherias Hondurenas. While reaching great success, Rodriguez felt the familiar pull of family and made the move to Daytona Beach where she re-opened Chucherias Hondurenas at its current location.

As you enter the one-room restaurant, the kitchen envelops you with the sights and sounds of a traditional Latin America kitchen: clinking dishes, fast speaking Spanish women, and whiffs of sizzling onions and peppers. You’re welcomed to sit wherever you please. Various Latin American paraphernalia decorate white walls, surrounding a dozen or so tables. Each table clad in white linen sits two to four patrons and is simply decorated with two roses in a bud vase, nothing special. It’s not the most poshly decorated eatery in town, but that’s ok because it isn’t a place where you go to be seen and to see. It’s a place where you experience the cuisine of Honduras. A place where you feel like family whose come over for dinner on a random weekday, welcomed by your cousins and fed a traditional meal by your favorite tia.

The first thing our server said was asking if I wanted something good to eat. My immediate response was “Of course, I want something good to eat!” She quickly pointed my to the comida (main dish) section and explained that each choice of meat came with white rice, black beans and sweet or green plantains. I decided today was a chicken ($8) day and passed on the beef, pork chops and fish. My fiancé heeded the suggestion as well and ordered the beef ($9.50) from the comida section.

It’s rare to find servers who aren’t just feeding you an act to benefit their tip. I’m even guilty of doing it myself during a past life of serving, but that wasn’t the case during our visit to Chucherias Hondurenas. Our server genuinely welcomed us like we were family encouraging us to try their best dishes and sit in the best seats, while smiling like a grandmother would at her grandchildren.

Before placing my order, I quickly perused the menu. Although not extensive, it’s authentic and without the typical Taco Bell like cuisine cluttering it up. They have a small Chucherias section, which includes a few finger foods in smaller portions including Pupusas de Queso, two griddled cheese corn cakes served with cabbage, salad, refried beans and shredded cheese. The sandwich selection names a few delicious subs including a traditional Cuban. Soups and salads have their rightful place on the menu along with all the expected side orders, including my favorite: sweet plantains.

Prior to the arrival of our entrees I was surprised to the see our server headed towards our table with what looked like two teacups and saucers. After being set on our table, I quickly discovered they were filled with beef and vegetable soup and even better, were compliments of the house (normally $3). The soup reminded me of a beef stew loaded with chunks of tender beef that fell apart at first touch, as well as yucca and other vegetables. Delicious, especially on a 50-degree afternoon.

Following the soup, our server brought a ramekin of garifuna sauce and one of a sweet Verde sauce. The bright red garifuna sauce really made an impression as it tingled all throughout my mouth, deep into my throat. It’s was a beyond hot blend of Habanero peppers, diced tomatoes, oregano, fresh garlic and red wine vinegar. I felt like I was on fire just after a little taste, where as the Verde sauce with all it’s fruity sweetness made my taste buds think we were someplace tropical relaxing on the beach. Two sauces, each with two very powerful tastes.

Everything was prepared and brought to us in a more than timely fashion and that’s saying a lot considering we weren’t thinking straight because we were so hungry. Our entrees arrived shortly after finishing the soup and both looked spectacular. My fiancé made sure to give me dirty looks the whole time I was snapping pictures, willing me to finish so he could dig in. I attacked the sweet plantains first unable to resist one of my favorite sides. They were perfectly cooked to a softness that wasn’t mushy and maintained a delectable seared outside. They know how to do plantains. I then noticed the unique presentation of the rice. White rice shaped like an upside down bowl was familiar, but the yellow rice layered underneath was a new experience and I loved it. The yellow and white rice mixed with black beans was not only a color explosion compared to the typical white rice/black bean combo, but tasted as wonderful as it would any where. The addition of some of the provided sauces really took the classic combination to a new level. Not to mention, the great flavor of the fresh chopped onions and peppers that topped off the rice mountain. The chicken daunted me, piled high with grilled onions and peppers, but after the first bite, I was hooked. The seasoning of the onions and peppers combined with the pan-seared chicken blew my taste buds away. When our server asked me if I wanted something good to eat, she knew what she was talking about. For an added bit of zest, I would add a smidge of Verde sauce every few bites.

My fiancé enjoyed his comida dish and was pleasantly surprised with the sheer amount of beef provided. Although it was thin cut, there were three flanks of meat hiding under all his onions and peppers.

Although we were about to explode, we decided to wrap everything up and finish off our meal by splitting the Flan con Carmelo ($3.50). The flan was a first for me. Never have I had it before, but I am sure that it was exceptional. It was presented on a beautiful dessert dish with two spoons. Each contained a cracker and leche type cookie, all sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. My date was in heaven and I was busy exploring the different texture and tastes the flan had to offer. The silky smoothness of caramel was obvious, but I couldn’t put my finger on the subtle floral taste. Flan may not be my favorite dessert yet, but it was a pleasant way to end a phenomenal meal.

As we paid for our meal, total of $26.38, we had a chance to chat with Chef Rodriquez who was now manning the little eatery alone. She warmly thanked us for coming in and bid us a good day as we headed into the brisk December air plump and pleasant.

Details – Chucherias Hondurenas, 722 Mason Ave., Daytona Beach. Open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Call 386-239-0548

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