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Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

The Warm Heartiness of Puerto Rico

La Borincana brings pork and plantains to Milwaukee’s South Side

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The couple that owns La Borincana, which specializes in Puerto Rican cuisine, has expansion plans for the establishment they have operated for the past few years. If all goes as planned, outdoor dining should be possible in the building’s backyard this spring, and a liquor license might be in the offing as well. Meanwhile, the warm heartiness of La Borincana’s menu offers flavorful means by which to take the sting out of winter’s coldness.   

Among the daily specials, the highlight for Saturdays may be an especially apt fit for combating chilly weather. Sancocho, a root vegetable soup, consists of potatoes, carrots and what tasted like green plantain, the starchier relative of the banana common to much tropical cooking. There may have been another veggie or two in the broth as well, but in the middle of the liquid entrée floated a pig’s foot. Other recipes for the dish, which can also be made to the consistency of stew, call for chicken or beef, but the amount of meat on the porcine extremity included here makes it worthwhile to keep in the broth. Served with a plate of white rice, the combination fills and satisfies like home cooking whupped up with at least as much heart as thrift.

Elsewhere throughout the menu are a variety of plates featuring more pork variations, fish (only for a couple of the daily specials, it appears) fried chicken and beefsteak, all for less than $9. Sandwiches range from mainland favorites ham-and-cheese, tuna and Cuban (ham, pork, mustard and pickle) to the less-common blood sausage (one of the meats also sold by the pound here). Then there’s the jibarito, a sandwich variation of the island’s emparedado de platano reinvented by the owner of a Puerto Rican restaurant in Chicago and consisting of plantain sliced lengthwise, fried and filled with skirt steak and a salad.

La Borincana also serves the island’s signature dish, mofongo. Similar in concept, if not consistency, to West African fufu, mofongo is a heap or ball of mashed green plantains suffused with garlic and pork cracklings. That last ingredient gives it a unique crunch, especially since a pleasantly pungent mushiness surrounds the fried skin. Fried pork chunks served on the side (mofongo may also be ordered alone or with garlic shrimp, La Borincana’s priciest offering) possess a peppery quality about them complementing the garlic seasoning also present in the plantain mash. The meat isn’t, however, bereft of bone or fat, making it more of a chore to navigate with one’s mouth than would be the case were it filleted. For anyone who can endure that inconvenience, it’s worth the15-minute prep time.

Caramel and vanilla flans can top off a meal if one wants dessert after La Borincana’s already-filling, savory fare. A couple of native fruit juices, sodas and bottled water are among the ways to wash down the generous portions. More snazzily appointed Puerto Rican dining may be had in Milwaukee, but a plethora of stuffed roosters make for a few striking ganders and a recently installed flat screen TV is likely to be tuned to sports. Even as its serving space and drink selection expand, the soulfulness of the dining and surroundings are likely to remain.

 

La Borincana

1820 S. 13th St.

414-672-0200

$-$$

Handicapped access: Yes

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