By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
I have always been a squeamish eater, and frankly the idea of pork belly stewed in a broth of hominy and chili peppers topped with sliced radishes and lettuce never really appealed to me.
So when my friend Enrique Castillo Pesado invited me to lunch on Wednesday, Nov. 24, at one of Mexico’s 20-plus Potzollcalli restaurants, my immediate response was, “Thanks, but I don’t eat pozole.”
Fortunately, Enrique can be very persuasive and, after much prodding, I finally consented to attend the lunch.
I’m glad I did.
The I-stopped-counting-how-many-courses meal was hosted by José Manuel Delgado Alarcón, head of operations for the family-run chain and son of the brand’s founder, José Manuel Delgado Telléz, and was intended to introduce a small group of gastronomic journalists to Potzollcalli’s latest poblano mole offerings.
But wanting to be perfectly honest with Delgado Alarcón from the start, I admitted on arrival at the restaurant that I had never actually tried pozole.
Amazed but gracious, he asked one the waiters to bring me a sampling of three different types of pozole (frankly, I never knew there were different types of the steamy stew)
I also happily learned that pozole can be made from other ingredients, such as chicken or beef, and doesn’t necessarily entail the use of pork bellies.
The first pozole Delgado Alarcón presented, a white traditional version, was surprisingly pleasant, albeit a little on the bland side (I later learned it was up to me to zest it up with a blend of salsas and veggies), but the second pozole, a rich, crimson-hued broth, which was appropriately identified as red pozole, was a whole different ball game.
The savory blend of the hominy kernels in the spicy red stew was delightfully piquant and seemed to burst with a symphony of flavors in my mouth.
But it was the third pozole, with a soft emerald green color, that convinced me that I had been missing out on one of Mexico’s great culinary masterpieces for far too long.
Spicy but not overly hot, the sauce was a succulent blend of chilies and ground piñon pine seeds that I literally could not stop eating, even though by this time our host had covered our table with an array of sopes, quesadillas and, of course, moles.
And it was at this point that I discovered that the restaurant’s name was actually quite deceiving.
“Yes, we are known for our pozoles, and we offer several different variations of the dish from different parts of the country, including one using shrimp instead of pork or chicken,” Delgado Alarcón said, “but we actually have more than 80 different dishes on our menu.”
And what a variety those dishes represent!
Using traditional ingredients from across the nation — like ultra tender cecina steak from Yecapixtla, Morelos, and creamy bola cheese from Chiapas — Potzollcalli provides a sampling of regional cuisines from virtually every corner of Mexico.
“What we offer is Mexican slow food,” Delgado Alarcón said. “We follow recipes that have been passed down for generations and we don´t try to modernize them.”
Even the hominy used in the restaurant’s signature dish is contracted exclusively for the brand from Mexico’s white corn capital, Cacaluaciutle, in the State of Mexico.
“We purchase most of the corn produced in Cacaluaciutle because we consider it a key ingredient in our pozole,” Delgado Alarcón said. “We don’t believe in substitutions. If you start cutting back on quality or use a cheap ingredient, the final product is just not going to be the same.”
Delgado Alarcón also told me that the pozole broth is a combination of more than 30 indigenous Mexican ingredients, although he did not enumerate them.
As for the black poblano mole that the restaurant is showcasing this month, it was beyond description.
Although a little to hot for my taste (and, having grown up in Southeast Asia, I do not shy away from chilies), the aromatic mole paste, perfumed with dark, unsweetened cacao and hints of cinnamon, cloves and coriander, was among the best that has ever come my way.
Although my tongue kept demanding relief from my “Cantarito Loco” blend of orange juice, guava puree and Oaxacan mezcal (the house special in the drink department), I couldn’t manage to pull myself away from the exquisite mole sauce.
All the dishes were served with warm, freshly made tortillas, and there was also an array of breads straight from the Potzollcalli ovens.
And the food kept coming, dish after dish after dish.
There was enchiladas suizas, made from a classic Mexico City recipe, creamy guacamoles with pork rinds, Sonoran puntas de res in a zesty onion and pepper sauce, chicken fajitas in a cucumber and carrot juliana, and chilaquiles drenched in a fiery red salsa.
I have to admit I refused to sample the cow hoof tacos (did you not read the part of this article where I admitted I am a picky eater?).
But virtually every dish I did taste left me wanting more.
And then there were the desserts.
From straight-out-of-the-oven corn cakes to double-egg flans covered in warm cajeta sauce to melt-in-your-mouth cheese soufflés with a deep, woodsy fruit toppings, there was no shortage of options to cater to every sweet tooth.
And all served in a friendly, down-to-earth setting with affordable prices and a super-amiable staff that was more than willing to box up some of the leftovers to be taken home for a midnight reheat.
The main takeaways for me from my Potzollcalli outing were twofold: First, I discovered that I really do like pozole after all, at least from this restaurant, and especially the green variety; and second, don’t be fooled by a name.
Potzollcalli has a lot more than pozole on its menu, and even if you have heard that pozole is an odious stew of pork inners and spiced hominy and don’t want to try it, there are plenty of other, less intimidating choices on the menu.
As for me, next time I go, I am ordering the green pozole!