Grain bowls with a rainbow’s worth of veggies, cumin yogurt topped with cucumber, and squid poke seem more like standard Los Angeles fare than what you’ll find in the $1 pizza slice-filled Lower East Side, but it’s the bait El Rey uses to lure in health-minded New Yorkers—and there’s a reason why it’s working.
The coffee bar and luncheonette, now in its third year of operation, has a case of prepared foods awaiting discerning eaters in need of an on-the-go breakfast or lunch, while downtown dwellers can linger in the light space over carefully crafted espresso drinks all day long. And come dinner time, crowds flock to the intimate restaurant to sip on orange wine and dig in to plates of seasonal ingredients, often starring of-the-moment vegetables.
“The dinner menu is driven by market produce and seafood, so I go to the farmers’ market three times a week,” chef Mason Lindahl says, adding that his aim is for everything on the menu to be vibrant, clean, light, fresh, and—of course—Instagram-worthy.
He picks up nearly all the produce used at El Rey himself (the main exception being avocados—lest you think toast, the cafe serves it up in a pita), and carries much of it back on his bike—which isn’t always easy. (Lindahl recalls the time he dropped pounds of tomatoes into the street, mid-ride.) It also means that the menu is constantly in flux. “When I go to the farmers’ market I’m often really surprised, or frustrated, by what I see in front of me,” the chef explains, adding that he tries not to plan the menu in advance.
But there is one item you can expect to see this fall: Lindahl’s vegetarian take on pozole rojo, a Mexican-style stew that is super satisfying and—in this instance—shockingly healthy. In addition to featuring fall staples like turnips and cabbage, the dish also uses hominy, a fibrous, low-fat dried maize product, and is topped with a vegan cream made from cashews and apple cider vinegar. That can of chicken noodle in the cupboard can wait.
Keep reading for El Rey’s seasonal Pozole Rojo recipe.
El Rey’s Pozole Rojo
Yields 2 servings
1 can hominy
1/2 red onion, diced
6 thinly sliced white turnips (save the greens for garnish)
1/4 head green cabbage, sliced thin
1. Put all the broth ingredients in a big pot and cook on medium heat in two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for about five minutes.
2. Cover with five cups of water and two tablespoons canned chipotle chili paste. Let simmer about 20 to 30 minutes, or until the broth reduces by one-forth.
3. Strain with a fine mesh strainer, and keep warm on stove.
4. Cover raw cashews with water. Add apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt. Blend in blender until smooth, and set aside.
5. Combine the fixings and divide into large ceramic bowls. Cover with hot broth.
6. Top bowls with cashew crema, wedge of lime, fresh cilantro leaves, and turnip greens.
El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette, 100 Stanton St, New York, NY 10002, 212-260-3950; elreynyc.com
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