If you’ve never tried coleslaw for breakfast, you don’t know what you’re missing.
“I like curtido on my eggs,” the young waitress at El Salvadoreño says as she places an apothecary jar on the table. After opening the wire clasp, diners use a pair of tongs to fish out a helping of shredded cabbage and carrot spiked with the occasional wheel of jalapeño, all pickled in distilled white vinegar.
At first I’m not sure if she is offering the curtido as a sort of lagniappe, a little extra “thank you” for sticking around when the café chairs were still upside down on tables at 9 a.m. It didn’t take me long to figure out curtido may come as an occasional side with eggs, but it is obligatory when eating pupusas.
At lunch and dinner, El Salvadoran families and a group of laborers dressed in paint-flecked denim and sweatshirts hunched over plates of the heavy, griddled cakes made from corn masa. The curtido may be chased with a few squirts of a ketchup-style condiment that adds a bit of tomato-y flavor without any discernible trace of heat or sugar.
“It’s like how you can’t eat a cheeseburger without lettuce or tomato,” says café co-owner Benjamin Sol. “You can’t eat pupusas without that fresh crunch of curtido.”
Is curtido traditional breakfast fare?
Sol says not everyone eats eggs that way, but he does.
“It’s almost like adding salsa so your eggs are ranchero style,” he says.
El Salvadoreño joins Elsa’s, a new Ethiopian restaurant just a block down the street, as welcome additions to the downtown Overland Park dining scene.
The casual El Salvadoreño features garage doors and an interior that is clean and modern, with the sort of patio feel that is common to tropical locales. A mural of “Savior of the World,” one of San Salvador’s most famous landmarks, rises up one wall and reminds me of “Christ the Redeemer” standing watch over Rio de Janeiro.
A folk-art painted canvas hangs over the bar and a few wooden spoons on the wall. A stuffed parrot mutely greets customers at the door. The male servers often wear the national team’s soccer jersey.
Sol was born in Kansas City and grew up in Parkville. He met his El Salvadoran wife, Blanca, while both were working at Argosy Casino.
“I fell in love and got engulfed in the culture,” he says.
Benjamin’s day job: sous chef at the Embassy Suites. Blanca works as a server at the new Hollywood Casino but is in charge of the execution of her family’s recipes at the cafe. Her brother, Jonathan, manages the day-to-day operations.
Like pupusas, the El Salvadoran-style breakfast can be ordered any time of day. The hearty repast includes eggs cooked to order, slightly sweet fried plantains, a dark refried bean dish garnished with crema and some homemade tortillas.
If Kansas Citians are already familiar with El Salvadoran cuisine, it is likely because they have been to a pupuseria. From there, the family hopes to introduce diners to a wide and varied menu that includes everything from the unintimidating pinchos (shish kebabs) to the slightly more adventurous whole fried tilapia. (Each item on the menu is illustrated with a photo.)
For a crash course, try the sampler platter, which includes a bean, cheese and chicharao (chunks of deep-fried pork) pupusa, a chicken tamale, fried yucca (similar to a potato), a beef pastel (basically a meat turnover or empanada) and an enchilada, which resembles the thickness of a pupusa, with the filling served on top. All for $10.99.
Or load up on pupusas, which sell for just $2.50 a piece.
Add a heaping helping of curtido and it’s doubtful you’ll have room for the canoa, a sort of Latin banana split filled with a fluffy cinnamon leche that has the consistency of marshmallow fluff, or the flan, a rich, eggy rendition with plenty of caramel punch.