In Mexico, vendors on the street will happily sell you an ear of corn on a stick that has been boiled or grilled and then slathered with butter, mayonnaise, chili powder, lime and cheese, or any combination of the above. Now elote, or Mexican street corn, is showing up on a lot of Madison area menus, so you can enjoy this treat without heading south of the border.
Food Fight’s newest addition to their restaurant family is Canteen, a bright Mexican taqueria on the Capitol Square in the long slim space that formerly housed Nostrano. The side of street corn ($4) packs a lot of exciting flavors into one bowl. The dish, which can be made vegetarian or vegan, mixes a hearty helping of corn with a double dose of chili and lime, in both the butter and a creamy aioli that lightly binds the kernels together.
Topped with sprinkles of piquant cotija cheese, the corn is punctuated with color, spice and crunch with chopped raw scallions and serrano chilies. Tajín spice adds an extra flavor punch, with its combination of chilies, dehydrated lime juice and salt. It’s plenty for two to share and a delightful accompaniment to Canteen’s signature snack duritos; light, crispy wagon wheels of puffed wheat, also spiced with chili and lime. (The first bag is free, additional servings are $1 apiece.)
At Pasqual’s Cantina in Hilldale, street corn ($2.85) falls under the menu category of “street food” along with a variety of tacos and spicy fries. Flavored with both jalapeno and guajillo peppers, the small bowl of creamy corn comes surrounded by corn tortilla chips, designed for dipping. Bathed in a generous sauce of aioli, it’s brightened up by thin slices of fresh basil. Though it is not very spicy, this version of street corn is good as a condiment served alongside guacamole and salsa. (In fact my dining companion concocted her own mix of corn and Pasqual’s fresh salsa, which she scooped up on chips quite happily.)
La Michoacana is known for its extensive varieties of Mexican style ice cream, featuring flavors such as tequila, goat’s milk toffee, pine nut, soursop (a South American fruit that tastes like strawberries and pineapple) and mamey fruit (an orange melon found in the Caribbean). In a freezer case full of popsicles, one can also find such exotic combinations as mango with chili, cucumber with jicama, and tamarind, alongside strawberry, watermelon and passion fruit pops.
La Michoacana also sells a few savory snacks, including a number of variations on nachos and simple, delicious street corn. Warmed in a crock pot, the corn “with everything” came topped with a dollop of mayonnaise, tiny crumbles of cotija cheese and a sprinkle of chili pepper ($2.50 for a generous portion). This version was the simplest that I tried, but it was also one of the most flavorful, since it used fresh corn — kernels were still stuck together, having been recently cut from the cob. For anyone not in the mood for a frozen treat, the sweet, well seasoned corn is an excellent choice.
La Nopalera opened recently in a former Subway shop on Schroeder Road, and has completely erased the former business’s bland menu and plastic, pre-fab interior. The operation is part grocery store, part restaurant, focusing on fresh fruit, salads, tortas and tortilla wraps. I enjoyed this version of street corn ($2.95) with a Sincronizada (a quesadilla filled with ham, tomatoes, cheese, avocado and chipotle sauce, $5.95). Perhaps because the restaurant has such a focus on fresh fruit and produce, this rendition featured the crunchiest, most flavorful corn and the most lime. The sour dressing stood up to the toppings of cotija cheese and the spicy dusting of tajin. Two dollops of mayonnaise topped the plate for diners to stir in at will.
The Ohio Tavern, a quirky bar in the Atwood neighborhood offers a nouveau take on Mexican food, with tacos that range from traditional to trendy. Alongside my tacos I sampled two of the three varieties of Street Corn on the menu, available for $4 each. The Diablo version consists of roasted corn, chipotle crema, “lava sauce,” queso fresco, bacon, paprika and cilantro. Although the crispy bits of bacon were a nice addition and the chopped cilantro that topped the corn gave it a fresh flavor, this devilish recipe didn’t contain much spice and instead of creamy, the dish tasted a bit greasy overall.
The Kona street corn was much more successful, blending the corn with roasted pineapple salsa, (more) bacon and cilantro. The sweet and tangy pineapple infused the red onion and tomato that completed the salsa and gave a light and bright taste to the side dish. If diners wish to add even more ingredients to their street corn, they can top it with meat (chicken, lamb barbacoa, or carnitas) for a $1 and add other toppings for a quarter apiece.