Southtown, Blue Star, SoFlo … the march of development continues southward, and food seems to be following. The opening of Johnny Hernández's Frutería below Probandt has got to be encouraging to new inhabitants of faux lofts. For the rest of us, it's a destination. In calling his new place The Frutería, subtitled "Botanero by Chef Johnny Hernández," the chef risks confusing us with terminology that is at once unfamiliar and familiar in another form: there are not piles of fresh fruits nor is there a counter open to the street from which one can order a fruit cup sprinkled with chile. But fruits there are in abundance in the guise of aguas frescas (the guava is exceptional), jugos and licuados (the Veracruzano with low-fat yogurt is also a winner, though nowhere is the $.75 yogurt surcharge mentioned), there is a gazpacho de fruta and, yes, even a fruit cup with chile and lime. There is also a good deal more.
At breakfast there are tortas, all with scrambled eggs. You will find chalupas served on a very thin and crisp tostada. La Azetca features scrambled eggs with chorizo, black beans, crema and a roasted tomato and ancho salsa. The tastes are fine but the revueltos are seriously overcooked. I herewith put in a request for Yucatecan huevos motuleños with black beans, ham, peas, plantains and fried eggs on a fried tortilla.
At 11 a.m. the breakfast menu morphs into lunch, and different tortas appear. The breads aren't exactly bolillos, but they are extremely good. The al pastor version doesn't seem totally traditional either; the marinated pork is unnaturally orange from achiote. But the whole package, including just enough cubed pineapple, red onion, and avocado cream, is utterly satisfying. I added some of the spunky salsa verde apparently intended for the too-good house-made potato chips — but that's what I do. The jicama salad with cucumber, melon, avocado and more could have used more generous guajillo "dust" and dressing, but everything was impeccably fresh and visually appealing. Tostadas, the likes of chicken tinga and marinated tuna, are also available.
Frutería morphs most in the evening when las botanas and los tequilascome out in force. Amongst the chilapitas, miniature tostadas from Guerrero, the one of ceviche rojo delivers despite soon-soggy underpinnings. Of the two gorditas so far sampled, the best flavors came from the huitlacoche con rajas. The guacamole variant was far less interesting, but both were disadvantaged by gorditas that were dry, crumbly and suggestive of masa harina. Sometimes a little grease is good.
Of the cazuelitas, the pork belly in mole blanco (white chocolate, pine nuts and almonds) is very respectable despite its aura of excessive invention. A mild chile güero stuffed with equally mild crab distinguished itself by a light batter coating; despite the addition of capers and cremita, the tomato sauce it sat in deserved more seasoning. An accompanying order of escabeche de verduras served in a tostada cone lacked tartness, but flavors otherwise did the job they were designed to do.
Especially in the company of a Frutería Margarita composed of Cointreau, sweet and sour, and a house infusion with El Jimador tequila. The infusion with six chiles yielded a drink that had a good bite. Surprisingly, a strawberry infusion was delicate, not cloying as expected. And the Piñacate with creamy avocado and fresh fruits? Yes. I think, however, that the best bet might be to settle in with a straight tequila or mezcal, plus an order or two of cacahuates con ajo y chile or maybe almendras con chocolate y chile. That, my friends, is snacking at its best.
1401 S. Flores in the Steel House Lofts building
Best Bets licuados, tortas, ceviche tostadas, chile relleno de jaiba
Hours 8 am-10 pm Mon-Thurs, 8 am-midnight Fri, 9 am to midnight Sat, 10 am-3 pm Sun
The Skinny Johnny Hernandez has taken inspiration from Mexican green grocers and casual snack joints
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