Registry Tampa Bay

Let’s head south of the border, metaphorically speaking, and check out a dish that originated in rural Mexico as a meal for ranchers and farmers after working through the wee hours of the morning. Y’know, brunch without the mimosas.

Huevos rancheros, “rancher’s eggs” in English, date way back to the 16th Century. Along with the chicken embryos — fried, with runny yolk — the basic version includes beans and salsa over a lightly fried corn tortilla. Many current iterations add home-fried potatoes and, as is the case when dishes become widespread and urbanized, restaurants have brought in an array of other ingredients.

Welcome to another FFF edition of Tampa Bay vs. The World. Our contestants are Cantaritos Cafe in Athens, Georgia and Grand Hacienda, which has five Bay area locations. We chose the one on 4th Street in St. Pete.

Before we begin, a “my bad.” I reflexively ordered my eggs over easy when I should’ve gone with sunny side up. Damn near every online picture of huevos rancheros shows those yellow orbs, and they make for a much nicer photo. Oh, well.

CANTARITOS CAFE

Cantaritos Cafe was one of two restaurants I found in Athens that serves huevos rancheros. This place was closer, so off we went, arriving at 11 a.m. on a sunny, 50-degree day.

Cantaritos, “Little Songs” in English, sits in a shopping center that doesn’t appear to get much traffic. The restaurant’s exterior said hole-in-wall, but inside was a long, narrow space with two dining rooms and a bar. Unfortunately, ours was the only occupied table.

We were barely situated when the server brought over three small bowls of vegetable-noodle soup, gratis. My 3-year-old granddaughter dug the stuff. So did Bonnie and I.

I ordered Huevos Rancheros ($9.25) and a coffee ($3.49). The food came out quickly.

Appearance

The meal wasn’t pretty — sunny-side eggs would’ve helped — but it looked hardy. Rugged, even. The eggs covered up the the other stuff, stuff I had high hopes for.

Texture and Taste

These huevos rancheros definitely required a knife and fork. The two tortillas on the bottom were the size of English muffins and about half as thick. It took quite a bit of sawing to free up pieces. They were chewy but ultimately not too tough. Beneath the appropriately soft eggs were refried black beans, which bestowed a more earthen flavor than the standard red beans.

Mix in cubed potatoes, queso fresco and salsa, both house-made, with yolk oozing throughout, and it added up to a robust late breakfast. With no mimosas.

 GRAND HACIENDA

We arrived at the St. Pete location just before 1 p.m. on Wednesday, the sun peeking through a sheet of clouds. It was a shade too brisk for us to eat outdoors, so we sat in a big, cozy booth next to a tall window that looked out onto 4th Street. No traffic noise.

Grand Hacienda’s interior was elaborate — an array of “stars” hanging from the ceiling pushed things a bit too far — but not overly festooned with Mexican paraphernalia. About half the seats were filled, but the place was quiet, and Bonnie and I were able to converse easily, even though separated by a wide table made of glossy wood.

I order my Huevos Rancheros ($12.95) and a cup of coffee ($3.99).

Appearance

This meal looked markedly different than the one in Athens. A drizzle of sour cream covered what could’ve been, say, an enchilada. The potatoes sat separately. A scoop of guacamole appeared out of place.

Hmm. “Dónde están los huevos,” I mused. Where are the eggs?

Texture and Taste

“There are eggs, right there,” Bonnie said, pointing. “I see it. Do you see it? They exist.”

This was about halfway through the meal, and she was kidding, but only partly. I had previously detected some egg, although it was well hidden beneath layers of sour cream, queso crumbles, refried beans and salsa. There was a yolk sighting here and there.

The eggs didn’t make much of a flavor impression, though. In fact, very little of the ingredients did on their own, but instead ran together and formed a kind of moosh that was too soupy, and ultimately bland. As were the potatoes. The thin tortilla was a non-factor.

And the Winner of the St. Pete-vs.-AthensGA Huevos Rancheros Rumble Is …

Cantaritos Cafe.

The decision was not a close one.

 

 

 

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