Gut Instinct: Cut the Crap


Many summers ago, while vacationing in Guadalajara, Mexico, I discovered that nothing hastens a relationship’s dissolution like a serious bout of intestinal distress.

“Oh, my God, did you…did you…?” wondered the lady friend who’d soon leave me, as aghast as Sarah Palin at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

“Nuhhhhhhh,” I moaned, writhing in a sweaty puddle and what I’ll charitably dub melted Hershey’s chocolate.
“Uh, I’ll get the towels. Lots and lots of towels,” she said, grabbing fabric that would never again be white.

“Nuhhhhhhh,” I wailed, for I was at fault for both her dumping me and dumping myself. I’m unable to pinpoint the ragged way we fell apart, but I can explain the crap: brazen excess.

Guadalajara is a grand paradise for foodies. The city’s favored noshes are birria de chivo (savory roasted-goat stew) and tortas ahogadas (literally “drowned sandwich”) stuffed with gobs of pork. They’re sold in greasy stalls strewn about town, especially in Guadalajara’s Mercado Libertad, one of Latin America’s largest enclosed markets.

I spent hot August afternoons wandering the labyrinthine bazaar, relishing a pushing, shoving, sensory avalanche of bootleg DVDs, gold-plated Jesus necklaces, wide-brimmed cowboy hats and ropey mounds of cow intestines. After haggling for knockoff Vans sneakers and blood-dipped horror flicks like Hellevator, I’d hit the cacophonic food court and gorge on hygienically suspect, but marvelously meaty and steamy birria and tortas submerged in a pepper-spiked red lagoon.

Despite the sauce bath the crusty bread refused to disintegrate, becoming as chewy and supple as its core of slow-cooked, fat-rimmed pork. I downed a sandwich a day until my stomach rebelled, leading to that revolting scene and a lifelong lesson: Find a woman who’ll love you even if you sully your underwear.

Years after the Guadalajara disaster, I still worship the torta ahogada. Sadly, in New York City the soggy tortas are rarer than rent-stabilized apartments. So you comprehend my rabid excitement upon discovering south Williamsburg’s La Superior (295 Berry St. at S. 2nd St., B’klyn; 718-388-5998). It slings Mexican street eats including tacos, gorditas (stuffed corn-masa cakes) and the elusive ahogada. Even better? It’s BYOB.

“We’re eating Mexican tonight, hon,” I told my girlfriend—so far untested by my faulty bowels—as we biked toward Williamsburg, backpack rustling with beer.

“Any special reason?” she asked.

“You’re reason enough,” I sweet-talked, as we pit-stopped at South 4th Bar and Café (90 S. 4th St. at Berry St., B’klyn; 718-218-7478). By day, South 4th is a woodsy coffee shop; by night, caffeine junkies and keyboard clackers peel off, replaced by beer fanatics cheering sports and sipping serious microbrews.

While she opted for a crisp pinot grigio ($6), I nabbed Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid ($4 until 8 p.m.). It was a floral assault, nearly weed-like in nose and flavor. “Mmm…arijuana,” I sighed.

“You haven’t touched pot in years,” she said. “It makes you crazy.”

“True. But a man can dream, can’t he?”

“No, it’s dinnertime,” said my sweetie, leading me down the block to La Superior. Previously as Kate’s Joint, the room was fallout-shelter shabby. Now, there’s bright-red paint, shaky tables and, curiously, reggae tuneage.

“I never knew Bob Marley loved tacos,” I said, opening Allagash’s sweet, strong and super-carbonated Tripel. I poured several glasses and then pored over the menu.

“Let’s just gets lots,” my girlfriend said. A chummy waiter jotted down her culinary wishes, which were answered lickety-split. Two-bite tacos ($2.50 each) were tiny and tasty, with creamy roasted peppers, chipotle-slicked shrimp and cochinita pibil (pork slow-cooked in banana leaves)—all winners. Also stellar were griddle-crisp gorditas bulging with ricotta-like requesón cheese and ezquites—corn kernels coated in mayo, cilantro and lime juice. It was squishy bliss, unlike the bland torta. The pork was underseasoned, the sauce weaker than my throwing arm. The lack of heat extended to the eight-salsa sampler that supposedly ranged from “mild to super-hot.”

“You ate all the habañero salsa?” said a waiter, impressed.

“It’s not very fiery,” I replied, taking another sip of truth-serum beer.

“Really?”

“Really.” I swear, getting an i’m not ethnic but i like it spicy forehead tattoo sounds better each day.

Still, I realize it’s silly to slag a meal that’s viewed through my rosy-hued Mexican-food prism—nostalgia deceives, smoothing lumpy memories like icing on a cake. Though La Superior may not fully match its name or my south-of-the-border recollections, its food possesses a few distinct pluses. I discovered my favorite one after we paid the tab, pedaled home through the brisk, fall night and drifted into dreams on sheets that remained laundry clean.

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