I can hear them now. In their drawlin’ Nawlins twang.
“That ain’t no po’ boy. Po’ boys ain’t got no bean sprouts. Po’ boys ain’t got no arugula.”
And I must admit. I’m a bit of a purist too when it comes to food traditions. But when a sandwich is this good, I figure they can call it anything they want.
It was a guy called Eric Brady who told me about the place where I got the po’ boy. His email read, “I enjoy a really good sandwich, something beyond the ordinary, so may I suggest you try Cocineria del Campo on the second floor of the new organic mercado on the Ancha (old Don Pedro building). Their sandwiches are gourmet and healthy.”
The word healthy might not get me out of the door. But the word gourmet will get me sprinting. And, like Eric Brady, I like a really good sandwich.
The mercado that Eric referred to is called Mercado Sano and, on the top floor, is a mini food court with six or seven chef-driven stalls. I arrived on a Saturday to seek out my sandwich. I was sad to see the place almost empty. I was happy to see that Cocineria del Campo at least had a couple of customers.
I squinted at the menu, on a series of blackboards at the back of the stall, but it wasn’t until the last one that something came into focus. Po’ boys. Two different to choose from. A blackened chicken or what’s that I’m reading? Wild turkey?
“Really, wild turkey?”, I asked the good-looking woman who was attacking a soon-to-be omelet in front of me.
“Really, wild turkey”, she replied, without looking up or missing a beat.
Now I thought the only way to eat wild turkey required you to first kill one and, as I usually shoot with a camera not a gun, it’s a rare bird on my table. The domesticated North American turkey derives from another rare bird, Meleagris gallopavo, a species of wild turkey that originated in Mexico, so I liked that I’d be eating a little history.
“One wild turkey po’ boy, please,” I said to one of the two hefty guys dressed in chef’s jackets that were also behind the counter.
I like watching people work. Especially other people. And from one of the six stools at Cocineria del Campo I had a ringside seat for the preparation of the po’ boy.
The procedure begins with the slicing of a roll about six inches long that’s a lot like a French baguette except for a little less crisp on the crust.
”It comes from Miga de Pan”, the good looking woman who, by now, I had learned was called Claudia Ledesma said, “the artisan bakery on Stirling Dickinson.”
The bread was then smeared with a homemade roasted red bell pepper mayonnaise then the first layer, Mexican Manchego cheese, was added.
Next came the turkey. Wild turkey. Smoked wild turkey in fact. With a rosy pink glaze on it.
The only wild turkey I’d ever seen before in San Miguel was in the liquor store, La Europea, and it came in a bottle from Kentucky. I had to know where this meat came from.
“A tienda on Calzada de la Estacion”, Claudia told me, “but I can’t remember exactly where”.
I knew, just from looking at that moist, dark meat, I would be traipsing down towards the bus station very soon.
On top of the turkey was carefully stacked arugula, bean sprouts, slivers of carrot, rings of raw Spanish onion and slices of green and yellow pepper. Then in it went to a sandwich press while I went into a counting the seconds mode.
One of the things about gourmet food courts is that you have to remember they’re not like your conventional, common, chain-driven, fast food courts. Sandwiches don’t instantly appear from under a counter sealed in cello. They take time and patience, something I’m not exactly famous for having a great deal of.
As I amused myself with a mint and rose agua fresca, wishing it was a Coca Lite, I was praying that this po’ boy might be as good as it looked.
It was almost ten minutes from start to finish before the sandwich was in front of me, ready to get my hands on and teeth into. The presentation was attractive. On a wooden board with a side of very crispy potato chips and an olive oil, balsamic and chiles de arbol dip.
I’m not that exactly wild about roast turkey and you’ll hear my “why can’t we have roast beef whine” almost every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am big on smoked turkey though and now I’m very big on smoked wild turkey. And, even though carrots, onions, sprouts and arugula may not be very po’ boyish, working in harmony with the meat, cheese and mayo, they really take this sandwich up to taste nirvana.
When Mercado Centro, just down the street from Mercado Sano went dark, we lost the porchetta and muffuletta, two members of my San Miguel sandwich hall of fame (no, Dorothy, there isn’t really a hall). I have now, however, officially put forward a nomination of the smoked turkey po’ boy at Cocineria del Campo to the board of directors (no, Dorothy, there isn’t really a board). I’m expecting a unanimous vote.
I like the name Cocineria del Campo which translates as country cooking. Though most of what’s coming out of Claudia Ledesma’s cramped kitchen is pretty darn citified. When is the last time, for instance, that you had a blackberry and cheese sandwich on banana bread?
I like that Miguel and Francisco, the two guys on Claudia Ledesma’s team, aren’t called assistants or sous chefs or line chefs. They are referred to simply as chefs and there seems to be equality in the distribution of the tasks and passion in the way everything is crafted.
I’m still humming and hawing about whether Mercado Sano will survive or whether it will, like Mercado Centro, become just another San Miguel hotel. I do know that entrepreneurs like Claudia Ledesma are the future of the San Miguel food scene. I do know that innovative sandwiches like that wild turkey po’ boy will keep me coming to Mercado Sano. And, I hope, you too.
Cocineria del Campo is located in Mercado Sano, Ancha de San Antonio 123, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The market is open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, seven days a week.