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Savannah Foodie

La Comarca

I’m prone to rant about authentic foods — dishes that genuinely represent an ethnicity and its nation’s native ingredients. That’s why I’m a regular at places like La Comarca, Mi Vida Loca and La Xalapena.

Generally, these ethnic–owned eateries express themselves with the real food of their countries, not Americanized adaptations meant to skim a few pesos off of food coasts at the expense of dumbing down consumer palates.

I was sidetracked by the expanded market at La Comarca the minute I walked through the door. A full butcher shop, a few bags of house–smoked peppers and an array of seasonings, canned goods and other foods not found on the shelves of the giant food marts briefly distracted my appetite. Oh, but not for long, mi amigos.

The hot buffet line was waiting, and I bee lined for the pork skin stew, a texturally challenging dish that’s rich with warming broth and salty bits of gelatinous pork skin. I usually get plenty of broth and eat it from a soup bowl – topped with lots of fresh chopped peppers and others crunchy veggies. Today, I shook off the broth and picked my way through the solid bits.

My palate now fully engaged, I bit into a chicken empanada. Hmm, nice masa wrapper, boring inside. The chicken was fresh and good but needed some seasoning.

I did fill a soup bowl with a hearty serving of pinto beans topped off with chopped onions and a dollop of housemade hot sauce. Kudos on the beans — cooked to perfection — and the hot sauce was bold enough to get my attention but not so hot as to kill the taste buds.

I picked through some tender cactus leaves and a tamale, both of which I suspect are among the very few shortcuts taken at La Comarca. I’ve seen the cactus preserved in cans, and the tamales bore an uncanny resemblance to the frozen variety sold by the area’s Mexican food wholesaler. Still, both presented nicely, had plenty of flavor and don’t pop up on any mass market menu that I’ve seen.

For the rest of the meal I grazed through a variety of stewed and slow–cooked concoctions that feature beef, pork and chicken. There’s even a nice mixed veggie dish and plenty of hot flour and corn tortillas.

Words like “trendy” or “ambiance” will never be used for these joints, which are at the least austere and at the best kitschy. Do, however, make the journey, practice your Spanish and enjoy a meal as close to south of the border as we’re going to get in the Lowcountry.

4811 Ogeechee Road/401–0039

Public’s crushing it

Open an anticipated new restaurant in Savannah and prepare to be slammed.

The Public Kitchen & Bar opened on Monday of last week at 1 W. Liberty St. and, true to form, was swamped by folks who had apparently not eaten or drank in quite some time.

I ran into an old friend at Starbucks a couple of days later who rolled his eyes about the restaurant’s first week.

“I’ll just stay away until everybody who thinks they need to be seen has been,” he said.

When the rest of us can get in, expect an upscale casual menu, rooftop seating with a commanding view of the Bull and Liberty streets’ intersection and sidewalk seating that’s prime turf for the neighborhood’s dog owners. I’ll allow some time for the restaurant staff to work off opening jitters and report back.

Whiskey treat

Some of my favorite craft distiller’s whiskies will be showcased in a whiskey dinner at The Olde Pink House on Oct. 18 beginning at 6:30 p.m. The six–course dinner and whiskey pairing will be held in the comfortable Study dining room, located on the restaurant’s second floor. There will be a cocktail reception on the terrace overlooking St. Julian Street and Reynold’s Square. To book a seat or for more information, call 232–4286.