Monday, September 27, 2010

Fiesta at Dickey-Stephen.

HOT PORK:  Slow marinated on a vertical rotisserie
  • HOT PORK: Slow marinated on a vertical rotisserie
Went out tonight to the big to-do at Dickey-Stephens Ballpark, where the Mexican Restaurant Association held a special customers’ reception. Tickets were free (as I mentioned last week) and there were bunches of folks out there.
Wandered out there with photographer Leif Hassell to check out what was being served. We noticed right off the back that the event was already pretty steeped in Arkansas politics, with Blanche Lincoln working the crowds. Leif went off in search of great shots while I went to sample the food.
Error on my part, of course — I was thinking that the food would be similar to what I usually get when I go to a Mexican restaurant. What we encountered was much more ethnic in nature and included a fair amount of pork.
Not that I’m complaining — I went out to report, not to eat, though a fair amount of consumption did occur. I was a little disappointed when I saw the mole being served up — but Leif told me no biggie, it was all right but not spectacular. I had to pass on a pork barbicoa, pork tacos and the cracklin’ sandwiches, too.
No kidding — cracklin’ sandwiches, or as was explained to me, chicarrones, pieces of pork rind folded into a roll with pico de gallo and avocado. The good folks from El Porton actually made me up one without the fried pork skin, though I did get a few odd looks. I’m certain it was quite different with the salty, crunchy goodness but the pico was deliciously hot and nicely balanced against the avocado.
We also found a gentleman stirring up a gigantic cauldron of fish stew, which apparently was taking some time to get going. That’s all right — by close to 7pm a few of the vendors had already run out of food and this would ensure there were more for latecomers, since the gates were scheduled to be open until around 9:30 p.m.
Leif told me hands-down his favorite was the tacos al pastor, shredded pork tacos served up straight off the rotisserie. He told me the magnificent balance of lime and pineapple in the flavor was well done. The meat for these was spun on a vertical rotisserie, like a shawarma or the contraption you see lamb meat on when it’s cooking for gyros. The scent was intoxicating.
I seriously dug on the cheese enchiladas — big hunks of white Mexican cheese melted quesadilla-style in red soaked tortillas then topped with lettuce and a little hot sauce. I coulda eaten a dozen.
We both agreed that the churros were the best, the little pastries very warm and dipped in the cinnamon sugar mix only when we came up. Fabulous.
We also saw what appeared to be the tallest cake I have ever seen in person. That's right — that figure-topped monolith's a cake. Well, some of it. One lady explained that much of it was made from Rice Krispies. Still... that' pretty impressive.
The festivities are all part of the Mexican Restaurant Association Conference, which continues through Wednesday in North Little Rock. A mariachi band was playing a good deal of the time, and it got people in the mood to dance and bop along to the beat. Restauranteurs from all over the nation are in town to learn about things from each other and the like. It’s a grand opportunity that the city of North Little Rock seems to be making its best effort to court for a return trip. The weather was absolutely perfect and the crowds weren’t overbearing.
The conference continues. For more information, check out the group’s website.
Oh, and Christie — I didn't see Guy Fieri. But others say he was there. Anyone got the official word?

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