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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Freddy’s Return

Plantains aplenty

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A sign at the street corner simply proclaims, “Freddy’s back,” in reference to the Puerto Rican restaurant owned by Eliu and Julio Quinones. A decade ago, despite its dark and somewhat dreary interior, Freddy’s still attracted customers who appreciated authentic Puerto Rican food.

Freddy’s is returning to its previous location, inside a restored Victorian building, but the facility has been remodeled and now offers ample window space. The two dining areas boast gleaming, white tile and a glass display case holds pre-cooked snacks available for carryout. You’ll find specialties of the island, including pasteles, empanadillas and a number of cooked meats.

In Puerto Rican cookery, certain ingredients are prominent. Plantains, related to the banana, are ubiquitous, and many of the dishes here will include tostones, fried slices of plantain. At other restaurants, they tend to be dry and flavorless; here they’re quite good. However, the true specialty at Freddy’s is mofongo, a ball-shaped serving of mashed plantain prepared in 11 different ways.

The servings at Freddy’s tend to be large, providing an abundance of starch. Mofongo con ensalada de camarones ($13.95) has a serving of mashed plantain larger than a billiard ball. This is true to the flavors of Puerto Rico, seasoned with copious quantities of fresh garlic. A salad of shelled shrimp accompanies the dish and provides a refreshing counterpart to the starchy plantains.

Beyond the items available for carryout, nothing really qualifies as an appetizer, except perhaps for a few seafood cocktails. Vaso de pulpo ($7.00) is a bowl of a simple octopus salad. The tender pieces of octopus are marinated in olive oil with chopped onion, tomato and a dash of salt. This makes a light starter course before the big plates arrive.

The meat dishes of chicken, beef and pork come in large portions. Bistec en salsa ($7.75) is a thin slice of steak topped with sauted onions in a garlicky tomato sauce. Though the steak has been pounded, this remains a chewy undertaking. Pernil asado ($7.75) is slices of roast pork. If you prefer meats that are very “well-done,” you have come to the right place. Both entrees include tostones, a simple lettuce and tomato salad, and a plate of rice. The rice is either steamed or served in the Puerto Rican manner, acquiring a golden hue from sofrito, a cooking base that often uses annatto. The rice is interspersed with gandules (also called pigeon peas).

One of the best items on the menu has to be pollo guizado ($7.75), a stew of chicken with the bone in and a red sauce with Spanish olives, onion, green pepper and white potato. In addition to the other sides, there is also a bowl of beans to be served over rice.

Servers are friendly and the chef makes occasional visits from the kitchen to see if customers are enjoying the food. Though the meals would go well with a bottle of Medalla (the beer of Puerto Rico), no alcohol is served here. For sheer quantity, Freddy’s offers good value—but you really have to be in the mood for garlic and a lot of plantains.

FREDDY’S
1039 W. National Ave. (414) 385-9894 $-$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoke Free Handicap Access: Yes

Photos by Jessica Kaminsky