Sometimes a good meal can take you places. Today, brunch transported me from Texas into the colonial heart of Mexico.
I’m in San Antonio for a few days doing research for an upcoming magazine article. It just so happens that my trip coincides with Culinaria, a four-day foodie event that highlights some of the best flavors of San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. So in addtion to visiting tourist spots like the River Walk and the Alamo, I’m taking advantage of some of the delicious opportunities that Culinaria offers.
The events at Culinaria range from large-scale gourmet tasting fairs to small, intimate winemakers dinners. Today’s event might be my favorite of all. Called ‘Sabado at Casa Herman,’ this small brunch took place in an intimate new restaurant called Casa Hernan. The restaurant is owned by chef Johnny Hernandez, who has made a reputation as one of San Antonio’s foremost purveyors of authentic Mexican cuisine. This new restaurant is located in the ground floor of Hernandez’ personal home, and features architecture and artwork that you would find in many of Mexico’s colonial towns.
Hernandez hosted this ‘Sabado’ (or ‘Saturday’) event to showcase one of his favorite styles of Mexican cuisine — traditional barbecue. Unlike American barbecue, which focuses on pork prepared in large smokers, Mexican barbecue features lamb and beef, which are smoked for hours in holes dug in the ground. A traditionalist, Hernandez dug pits in his own backyard to smoke the lamb and beef head that he served for brunch. As several dozen guests arrived at the event, Hernandez took them each out back to show them his barbecue pits and explain his traditional techniques.
Barbecue was the highlight of the brunch, but certainly not the only component. Our brunch buffet featured many other classic Mexican dishes, including tamales from Oaxaca and Veracruz, black-beans hand-made tourtillas and black beans with queso fresco. My favorite dish was the chilaquiles, a chicken and tortilla caserole traditionally served as a breakfast item in Mexico. The deep, complex and authentic flavors took me back 12 years and thousands of miles to my days as a student living in Morelia, a colonial Mexican city.
I ate as much as I could muster at brunch, washing it down with traditioanal ‘aguas’ — Mexican fruit drinks made from coconut and guava — and finishing with colorful sweat bread pastries. For a blisfull noon hour on a May Saturday in San Antonio, I got to taste the best of Mexico all over again.
Traditional Mexian limes — a condiment for all occsions.
‘Pan dulce’ — Mexican sweet bread pastries
Authentic tamales wrapped in banana leaves