Monthly Archives: July 2012

It’s always nice to get something a little different – especially when it comes to Mexican.  Don’t get me wrong – I can eat burritos, tacos, tortas and quesadillas, etc all day long, but sometimes mixing it up a bit really works.

Recently I was heading down Monument Blvd, returning from  a Costco run and decided that a torta would be in order.  Now, anyone who has driven along Monument knows that choosing a Mexican restaurant there can be a daunting task, given the number of very credible options which the street offers.  In this case, however, I opted for a Mexican market I know with a decent lunch counter attached – but when I got there, the restaurant section was closed.

It was then that I noticed just a few storefronts down in the same strip mall (right next to the Afghan Market) the Pancho Villa Birrieria y Carnitas (as the sign out front says, or Birrieria y Barbacoa, as the card says – you choose).

I have to say that the strip mall itself appears a bit on the seedy and ill-kept side, but the restaurant is bright and appears to be very clean.  Even better, the employees (proprietors?) are friendly and enthusiastic.  They seem honestly glad you’re there and really want you to enjoy your meal.

The menu transcends the usual burritos-tacos-tortas-enchiladas-chile rellenos choices. Similarly, the selection of meats is not the typical asada, al pastor, cabeza, etc.

Instead the menu offers goat in several forms and lamb. Other items include quesadillas with huitlacoche (“corn smut”) or flores de calabaza (squash blossoms), huaraches (no, not the sandals), machitos (“ingredients in machito include the internal organs of the kid goat and the goat’s intestines used to wrap and tie the resulting mixture”) tlacoyos, and lots more.

I opted for the goat, which I really enjoyed.

The order comes with a pile of really excellent home-made corn tortillas – almost good enough to be a meal in themselves.

I liked the place enough to have been back several times.  I’ve had pupusas there, which were good but not outstanding.

Most recently, however, I had a borrego (lamb) burrito which was, in fact, outstanding. It was a monumental thing, loaded with meat. The lamb itself was very flavorful and the rest of the ingredients complemented, rather than overwhelmed, it.

I still need to get back to try all of the various unknown (to me) items on the menu. (I expect there to be another posting or two on this place in the future.)

By the way, I’m told that on weekends (and Fridays?) after 5 PM they have $1 tacos – yet another reason to go back.

Pancho Villa Birrieria
1500 Monument Blvd
Ste F13
Concord, CA 94518

Even on vaca, you can only sit around the lake admiring the water and the weather for so many days in a row. In an ordinary Adirondack summer, you’d have some rain to break up the monotony of one beautiful day after another, but we had no such luck for most of the trip.

Finally, in order to mix things up a bit, we decided to undertake an expedition down the Mohawk River to see what Schenectady had to offer in terms of exotic cuisine.

Like Utica, Schenectady is another city undergoing a long-term decline. The current population of some 66,000 people is far below its 1950 peak of 91,000, while some 24% of the population lives below the poverty line. Downtown, there seem to be more closed storefronts than open ones.

Looking online I came up with Orchid’s Jamaican-American Restaurant, which, according to the net was a little hole-in-the-wall place. In fact, however, we arrived to find that it had moved into an impressive new location about a month ago and had just had it’s grand opening the day before.

The day’s menu was bit limited but I opted for the curried goat plate with rhoti. The portion was generous and the goat was tasty. I enjoyed the sides – and particularly the collared greens – as well.

One of my companions ordered the stewed oxtail, which was very good – in fact, I was a bit jealous after swapping bites with her.

The only real disappointment is that they were out of the peanut butter cupcakes for desert.

1113 State Street
Schenectady, NY

I haven’t been ignoring you but I have been traveling for the past few weeks.  While the authors of many of the food blogs I follow travel to all sorts of exotic locales – Greece, Morocco, Tokyo, etc – I have spent the past couple of weeks or so in Upstate New York, hanging with family and enjoying the Adirondack Mountains.

While there I was finally able to get over to Utica, NY, to take the tour of the Utica Club brewery.

Utica itself, like most of the old industrial cities of the Northeast, has seen better days – the current population, for example, is only about 60% of what it was in 1960. (The last decade has seen modest growth, however, much of it fueled by refugees from Bosnia, who now make up some 10% of the population.)

Most of the industry that led the city’s growth is long gone, however, one business which has been a vital part of the city’s economy for well over 100 years is the F.X. Matt Brewing Company.

The brewery itself dated back to 1853, but was acquired by the predecessor of the current company (West End Brewing Company) in 1888.

Until the 1980s, the Utica Club brand was the company’s staple. (It survived prohibition by producing soda and malt-related products.) In the 1980s, the company introduced the Saranac label, re-inventing itself as a craft-brewery, while maintaining production of Utica Club lager.

So, enough history. The company offers a brewery tour twice a day at a cost of $5.00. It involves a short presentation and then an fairly brief tour of the plant. (Unfortunately for us, no bottling was taking place on the day we visited, so we missed seeing that part of the plant in action.)

When the tour is done, your $5.00 also gets you a couple of pints of your choice. (In fact, since they will let you sample any and all of the offerings, you might walk away with 3 or 4 pints by the time you’re done.)

In my case, however, as the DD, I kept it to a bit under 2. For old times sake, I had a Utica Club lager, as well as an excellent Saranac White IPA.

All that was missing were the brats.