Welcome to the adventures of a Culinary explorer...

Welcome to the adventures of a Culinary explorer...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Café del Hidalgo

Café del Hidalgo

35 Hypolita Street, Saint Augustine FL 32084

On 28th of December, 2009, my family and I went to Café del Hidalgo in the famous Main Street of Saint Augustine, for a celebration of my parents' 19th wedding anniversary (which was really on the 26th, they were just not in the mood for it then).

Let me tell you, when you enter Main St., it's like stepping into a time machine that takes you almost a century back in time. Walking down that street on a December evening, with the sun slouching to a set behind the warmth of my beret, I could smell a crisp scent of chocolate and cigars sprinkled in the air. You really have to be there to see the homeless guitar player that tickles you for some change with a pathetic original song in praise of Angelina Jolie. And believe it or not, you laugh.

We passed "Ye Old Drug Store" (with every flavor of tea you can imagine), pottery craft stores, a barrel fruit wine store (my parents had fun here, acting like wine tasters, sloshing tester sips in their mouths as though in France), many many chocolateries (chocolate stores), and finally couldn’t resist the aroma inviting us into the Café del Hidalgo.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones the aroma had captured with its tantalizing whiffs of freshly brewed coffee. The place was packed.

Now I’ll skip the whole part about finding a table (they don’t take you to one), blah blah blah, and come straight to the arrival of the steaming food. I envy you reader, this is too easy for you…

But as we sat down on a big mahogany table, with vintage European paintings on the wall (we had a bull fighting poster painting by our table which I wasn’t too happy about. Bull fighting isn’t cool… but that’s a rant for another day), my brother, Aakash’s, Meatball Parmesan arrived first. Here’s the description of his Panini: Italian meatballs, celery, tomatoes, onions, provolone and parmesan.

Know, my brother was never (NEVER) the food experimental kind. He’s the whiney little brat who picks the tomatoes, lettuce… well all vegetables out of his sandwich, the kind who won’t eat a meat dish if it looks merely close to its original form, like chicken legs or much seafood. So, as soon as he saw meatballs, and minimal vegetables to pick out, he knew he was getting that. And for some weird reason, he liked meatballs in bread, not in pasta. But anyway, Aakash offered me a bite, and in all truth, it wasn’t so bad. Actually it was the best meatball sub/sandwich/Panini I’d ever had. The cheeses blended so well together, and oozed out on the sides with hints of meat. The meatballs were promised “Italian recipe”, and I couldn’t disagree.

Next came mom’s “The Mediterranean Panini”. And my mother loved it, which comes rarely because she’s an Indian vegetarian and nothing, I say NOTHING, satisfies her as much as a good home-cooked Indian meal. But this she simply loved. I mean who wouldn’t chow down a hummus, provolone cheese, field greens, feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, and onion Panini? I simply love the risk they take with the combination of cheeses. Provolone and subtle feta here, and provolone and parmesan in the last meatball one. To be honest, I couldn’t identify which cheese is which just by tasting/sniffing it (come on, I’ve just begun. I’ll get there), but I sure can tell when flavors blend. Well.

Then came the last Panini. My Panini! (Now you’re wondering, hey Henna, what about your dad? Did you just let him starve and stare at you as you pigged through your delicious food? The answer is no, I did no such thing. Our Panini’s were cut into two giant halves that none of us could finish on our own. They were also all served with tons of chips and pickle. Dad’s like me, wanting a bite of everything. And that’s what he did. Had the half of every Panini. A platter… smart man) But anyway, my “Sicilian Tuna Panini” arrived, incasing albacore tuna, tomato, red onion, celery, lemon, salt & pepper, olive oil, and light Swiss cheese. Those of you who think I’m a freak for remembering every single ingredient, or am an insane genius Sherlock Holmes for recognizing ingredients from a single bite, then nay. I have their take out menu in my hand for reference.

The Sicilian tuna was warm, not just in temperature, but still warm after I ate it. I know this will sound a little absurd, but it was like having a cozy heat-pack snuggling the insides of my tummy. And this helped quite a bit because of the dropping evening temperatures on the now brightly lit-up Main St (Holiday lights… if you’re wondering). But, the tuna Panini was pure bliss. I could have more lemon though… the tuna was finely chopped, so it wasn’t awfully chewy like the canned ones you can find at a local mart. The onions made it crunchier, I love onions. (Yes, I carry mint)

To keep warm we also ordered dark chocolate mint coffee and macadamia nut coffee. They were good too.

After heating ourselves up with Panini’s and coffee, looking like lazy bulls after a good meal in the pasture, we still couldn’t keep our noses from lingering over to the smell of fresh Gelatos (Italian ice-cream made from fresh milk every day, instead of artificial flavors and preservatives).

To be honest, I have never liked ice-cream. OK, stop gasping, freaks like us do exist. Ice-cream always managed to seep into the core of my teeth and poke the pulpy center. Ugh the feeling is pure pain. But a Gelato… Oh a Gelato is DIVINE! (From now on, I will be using the word “divine” to describe edible wonders of the world)

We had six kinds. No we’re not fattys, there were about 20 kinds, so we did good. Here are the flavors we got: cheesecake, mango, pistachio, oreo, toblerone, and amaretto.

Pop quiz: what’s my favorite kind of nut? A pistachio! What did I just call divine? A Gelato, bravo! Now put the two together… HEAVEN! Heaven like you’ve never had. Silky, creamy, divine heaven…

And that’s all I remember floating back home from Café del Hidalgo… a place to gather.

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