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Monday, June 24, 2013

Mole Made with Care

For great Mexican, try El Cañaveral

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El Cañaveral opened nearly three years ago, serving Mexican food in the classic Schlitz tavern some may remember as the original location of the long-gone Benjamin Brigg’s. On the exterior, a rare blue-and-white tile mosaic advertising Schlitz stands out from the ivy-covered wall. The interior still retains many touches of a post-Prohibition remodeling—leaded glass windows, wood wainscoting and parquet floors in the back dining room. The bar, for the time being, is not serving any alcohol but should be back in business in early July. Expect the usual Mexican beers and margaritas. There are a few Mexican decorative touches adding splashes of color. White imitation palm trees and a few potted plants complete the setting. They also offer outdoor dining on a landscaped patio entered from the dining room.

El Cañaveral still remains one of the best picks for Mexican fare. The difference is apparent as soon as the server brings a basket of tortilla chips with no fewer than four salsas. Two are chili purées. The hottest is a bright green and the orange is only a tad milder. The mildest is the red, toned down with some tomato. Do try a quesadilla ($3.95-$4.95) with fillings that are uncommon north of the border. These include flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) and huitlacoche (corn fungus with a unique, mushroom-like flavor).

The patio is the place to order an ensalade de nopales ($6.95). Nopales are slices of cactus paddle, crisp and with a summery flavor. Avocado, onion, tomato, cilantro, white cheese and a few dried chilis are added, creating a fine salad with the ingredients in perfect balance. Order it with one of the sopes ($3) and you have the makings of a light meal. The sopes are thick corn cakes and the spicy chicken tinga makes a fine choice.

The entrées offer many possibilities. Shrimp and fish are served with a variety of sauces. “A la diabla” is the spiciest—really just a chili pepper purée. “Chipotle” is a notch lower in heat while the “mojo de ajo” is flavored mainly with garlic. The camarones ($13.95) are more than a dozen shrimp with the tail on. All of the sauces work well. Mojarra al gusto ($11.95) is a whole tilapia best eaten with the spicier sauces. An exceptional item is the birria ($9.95), a not-uncommon offering at the more authentic local Mexican restaurants. But there is a difference at El Cañaveral. The other places use goat meat in this soup/stew. Here the meat is borrego, or lamb. The excellent broth is infused with chili peppers and is intense reddish brown. The meat is boneless and a bit fatty at times but the fat is what makes the broth so great. Add chopped onion and cilantro plus some fresh-squeezed lime juice for the proper flavor. The pollo con estilo Puebla ($9.95) is more often called mole Poblano. The boneless pieces of chicken are served in a sauce that is brown with chocolate and mild chilis. The flavors are not as complex as in Oaxacan mole negro but the price is right. Another popular dish is molcajete ($15.95-$24.95), a special plate featuring three meats.

El Cañaveral deserves to find a wide audience. The setting offers much charm and standard Mexican fare is usually not prepared with this much care. It is a true gem.

El Cañaveral
2501 W. Greenfield Ave.
414-671-7118
$
Handicapped access: No