Found: A weekend excursion for Eaters. Well, maybe not even an excursion, depending on where you live. There's an excellent and relatively large Mexican market in Bridgeton, on St. Charles Rock Road, right across from the Lowe's. And on Saturday and Sunday, they serve tacos. Pretty remarkable tacos, in fact.
Let's talk about the tacos first. After all, it's common knowledge that one shouldn't grocery-shop on an empty stomach.
Entering the doors of El Morelia, on the right side is where one orders and pays for their food. Several screens near the ceiling have the menu in both Spanish and English, although the English is a little more abbreviated. The system is modern enough that there's no carrying a ticket across to the other side of the room where they're assembling your tacos, the order arrives electronically.
On that other side, there's a lot to look at. A steam table contains many of the taco components. A vertical spit revolving like a gyro, cooking the pork al pastor. A ripe pineapple sits atop the skewer, whose primary contents are slices of pork seasoned and impaled in a stack. Their juices drip down over two large onions that provide a base for the pork - the onions, I suspect, are the cooks' treats at the end of their shift. And there's a large table covered with do-it-yourself taco toppings. Pico de gallo, chopped white onion, chopped cilantro, lime quarters, radish slices, pickled vegetables and two large basins of salsa, red and green.
Many people get theirs to go. Eating them Ted Drewes-style, using the hood of your car as a table (and perhaps getting a beer from your cooler) this time of the year isn't an impossibility. But there's seating, albeit limited, as you go a couple of steps farther, into the market itself. Several tables and a counter with stools - and a few more bowls of those salsas - are available.
These are generously served tacos, four of them on their individual squares of paper almost falling over the edges of the plate on which eat-ins arrive. By the time toppings are added, it becomes a challenge. Persevere. It's worth it. Just get plenty of napkins, especially for your lap if you're at the counter.
Carne asada tasted very beefy, the real test of this dish. Nicely tender, it dribbled juices and went best with the red salsa. That al pastor, the orange-colored strips, really didn't call for any seasoning beyond a sprinkle of cilantro, a squirt of lime and a bit of the onion, notes of cumin and annato swaying around the pork. The pineapple wasn't really noticeable, but in my experience almost never is; I suspect it was originally included to let the enzymes in the pineapple tenderize the free-range hogs of old.
The third taco, also pork (there's a chicken option available, but I didn't notice any vegetarian choices), was carnitas, succulent pork, tender and sweet and rich. The green salsa was best here, along with some of the pico de gallo. Along with the pork were two strips of pork skin, braised for seemingly several days. There was a time in my life when I wouldn't have touched this. But I knew from experience that this could be meltingly tender - and it was - and even a small bite would fill my mouth with piggy taste - and it did. Be brave. Eat something new.
That same advice might also apply to the taco of tripa, or tripe. I've eaten tripa tacos at several places recently, and it's becoming increasingly clear to me that whatever the kitchens are doing to the rumen, it involves long, slow cooking and the results are quite different from what one finds in menudo. The bits of tripe are almost creamy in texture and the characteristic flavor, for some an acquired taste like truffles or cilantro, is nearly obliterated. This, too, is a very rich filling, and the sharpness of lime and pico de gallor and/or onion is a good contrast.
On into the grocery store, the produce department begins things. Things are generally well-labeled, and many of the prices, for things like avocados, are less than what the big chains are asking. In the back, a bakery works - at least on the weekend, and the aroma drifts around. The meat counter has things labeled in Spanish, giving the English-only shopper a reminder that chuletas are pork chops, for instance. The smell of frying reminds everyone that the chicharrones are fresh, and sometimes set out with a big of salsa for sampling. Plenty of groceries, a row of santo candles, and some beverages, plus lots of candy. Everyone I ran into speaks English varying from okay to very good. It's an easy place to investigate, and to like.
12005 St. Charles Rock Road, Bridgeton
Tacos on Saturday and Sunday only.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good