Dining Spotlight: El Palmar offers authentic originals

El Palmar's flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower tortilla) is a quesadilla with a refreshing difference.

Photo by Photos by Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal, Photos by Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal

El Palmar's flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower tortilla) is a quesadilla with a refreshing difference.

As anyone who dines frequently in authentic ethnic restaurants knows, a language barrier is not uncommon -- nor is it limited to spoken conversation. I've seen "lab" curries and kebabs many times, but I've always known the family pets were safe at home and the only one suffering was Mary, missing her little lamb.

But when I saw the flor de calabaza quesadilla on the menu at El Palmar on Summer, I wasn't sure if I was getting a pumpkin flower quesadilla or a quesadilla in a tortilla made from pumpkin flour.

El Palmar's flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower tortilla) is a quesadilla with a refreshing difference.

Photo by Photos by Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal

El Palmar's flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower tortilla) is a quesadilla with a refreshing difference.

 El Palmar's michelada, a beer drink made with clamato, lime and hot sauce, was a delight.

El Palmar's michelada, a beer drink made with clamato, lime and hot sauce, was a delight.

El Palmar. Located on Summer east of Graham.

El Palmar. Located on Summer east of Graham.

The menu at El Palmar features color photos of many popular dishes to help diners decide. Right: Diners enjoy a variety of salsas in the dining room at El Palmar.

The menu at El Palmar features color photos of many popular dishes to help diners decide. Right: Diners enjoy a variety of salsas in the dining room at El Palmar.

Mon, 07 Nov 2008 (nbPalmar4) Photo by Nikki Boertman.

Mon, 07 Nov 2008 (nbPalmar4) Photo by Nikki Boertman.

It was the former, it was delicious, and I'm craving one just writing about it.

I liked all the food, with one small quibble which I'll get to in a moment. First a little history on the flor de calabaza quesadilla. I've eaten a lot of food; when I find something that's completely new to me, I have to find out more about it.

From what I've picked up in books and by way of Google, the flor de calabaza was a popular item at El Bodegon de Guillermo in Tijuana, which burned to the ground in the 1970s. Sammy Davis Jr. loved 'em.

And while the recipes I found call for squash blossoms, one of my favorite reference books, "The Food Encyclopedia" by Jacques L. Rolland and Carol Sherman (Robert Rose Inc., $50), says that a calabaza can be one of many varieties of winter squash. So was I eating fresh blossoms from a winter squash or canned squash blossoms from summer squash?

The answer is that I don't know, but I will surely be eating them again. The tortilla is overstuffed with the blossoms, cheese, sauteed peppers and onions. The flavor of the squash comes through, but it's the gentle heat from the peppers that dominates.

El Palmar might have the largest menu of any restaurant in town. There are 122 selections, many of them pictured on the menu, plus items such as quesadillas and huaraches that aren't numbered. There was no way to go through even a respectable representation of the full menu. But El Palmar does a good job with shrimp; we ate every plump camarones a la diabla and put the remaining fiery sauce over the rice to finish it. (The rice, by the way, is a huge cut above the norm, full of both corn and peas.)

The meat in the lengua, or tongue, taco is the most tender and flavorful I've tasted. Tongue is so beefy and rich, anyway, but at El Palmar, it very nearly melts in your mouth.

The restaurant's weakness is the chips it serves with its salsa. Three salsas, a very spicy version, a salsa verde and a tomato version (that one peculiarly served warm), come to the table with a basket of chips that are hard and tasteless. Yes, it's a shame, but it certainly won't keep me from eating there.

I was delighted to find that the michelada was served in a frosty glass with plenty of lime. I'm on a quest for the best michelada in town, and I liked this version. The refreshing Mexican drink can be made one of several ways. At El Palmar, it's a mix of Clamato, hot sauce and lime juice. It comes to the table with the mix in the mug and you add the cold beer yourself. Drink it as is or spice it up with one of the hot sauces on the table. Either way, it's delicias.

-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223

El Palmar

Address: 4069 Summer

Telephone: (901) 323-9700

Hours: Monday through Thursday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday through Sunday 9 a.m.-11 p.m.

Price: $-$$

No smoking

Handicapped access: Yes

Alcoholic beverages: Beer

Don't miss: The flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower quesadilla; $4.50); camarones a la diabla ($11.50); lengua taco ($2.10)

What's hot: The michelada

© 2008 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 5

irvuss writes:

I, Me, me, me, me, me.
Confusing discussion of food origins.
Me, me, me, what I like.
Brief discussion about the food.
Thanks for the chips and salsa info.
I want something obscure.

Huh?
She must be a black licorice type situation; someone high up must love her and the rest just remain puzzled why.

Carly writes:

I don't understand why people complain about a restaurant reviewer's use of first-person pronouns. The review is an opinion; how do you suggest that Ms. Biggs express her personal thoughts without using the words "I" or "me"?

And why the personal attack? If you disagree with the content of the review or with her opinion, say so. Why resort to petty sniping?

I found nothing about this review remotely confusing. I look forward to trying El Palmar for myself. Thanks for the great work, Ms. Biggs.

amycdavid writes:

What is wrong with this first commenter? Get up feeling a little crabby this morning?
What are you trying to say?
A food review is I I I and Me Me Me. How's she supposed to write it, "the people across the room seemed to enjoy?" A food critic writes in first person.
And what's important to me is that she explained things I didn't know. Believe me, if Jennifer didn't know about it, the average reader doesn't either. So, pipe down and let the rest of us enjoy a great review. I depend on GoMemphis to find new places for me to visit. I'm tired of eating the same dishes everywhere I go. I can't wait to go to El Palmar and try the flor de calabaza quesadilla.
Good job Jennifer. Ignore that first post. Someone's just in a bad mood and taking it out on a great writer and restaurant critic.

Fervor writes:

Umm... Commercial Appeal, you may want to edit the text under the second photo. I don't know if "blah blah blah blah blah" translates into good journalism, english or spanish. Yikes.

irvuss writes:

First person is necessary? Crabby? No, the reality is that the CA has
staff members who write great restaurant reviews that focus on the food
and setting. Great reviews are written by Peggy Burch:

http://www.gomemphis.com/news/2008/oc...

Besides reviewing the reviewer is totally fair game.
Biggs'-her's-personally- reviews are weak.
And, it gave folks the time to come champion her cause.

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