Amor y Salud

Live long and prosper

The desserts follow the same "what your mom would make you" theme. You can get a banana, sliced, drizzled with Mexican caramel sauce ($2), a banana, sliced, drizzled with Mexican sour cream, cinnamon, and sugar ($2), or a fruit cocktail with apple, strawberry, honey, and cinnamon, for $3. Even the least healthy item in the restaurant, a square of homemade walnut fudge, which Claudia calls her chocolate-roll, feels less like a decadent dessert and more like the treat you get for helping Grandma put up new shelf paper in the kitchen. Natural Escape is just wholesome, healthy, and everyday, in the best way. It's also got one of the worst restaurant locations in modern memory, so please, vegetarians of the south side, won't you make a special effort to give this tiny one-woman spot a whirl? Attention is needed.

 

Meanwhile, 34 blocksdue north, a few doors off Lyndale Avenue at Lake Street, a new little gem in the rough is struggling to find itself. I speak here of Café Limón, a mostly takeout restaurant founded by Brenda Ruiz with the help of her brother Hector, the force behind popular Spanish/pan-Latin restaurant El Meson. I say the restaurant is struggling to find itself because the majority of its menu offerings are pan-Latin/American catering-kitchen classics, like Caesar salads and lemongrass chicken breast or beef tenderloin sandwiches. Skip all of that. The truly delicious, wonderful, even, I say, stirring things on offer at Café Limón are all the most purely Mexican: The batidos and tamales are phenomenal.

Natural Escape host, cook, server, server's assistant, juicer, and pastry chef Claudia Zermeno
Nathan Grumdahl
Natural Escape host, cook, server, server's assistant, juicer, and pastry chef Claudia Zermeno

Batidos are basically fruit and yogurt smoothies made with a little sugar, but as the yogurt in question is special, ultra-thick, extra-rich Mexican-style yogurt, the things tend to taste like a dessert fruit soup: rib-sticking, joyful, fruity, and just lusciously tasty. They make the smoothies at a place like Sola Squeeze taste like chemical water. When I tried the batidos ($2.95), they were available in blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, banana, and peach, but when I spoke to Brenda Ruiz on the phone she said that there would soon be more flavors, with guava and mango heading the list.

The tamales ($1.50) are, as I said, phenomenal, but also exasperating. The restaurant regularly runs out of them toward the end of the day, except on days when they don't have them at all. That said, these darlings are worth the hunt. The vegetarian tamale, filled with oven-cooked tomato, caramelized onion, and queso fresco, tastes so big and complete, it's like the whole world of simple food in a few inches of corn husk. The chipotle chicken is tender and smoky, the dry-pepper roast pork tamale is a lot of tender corn and just enough rich, spicy meat to give it backbone.

One other fantastic dish I had at Café Limón was a fruit cocktail made with about a pound of careful squares of just-cut mango, papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon, orange, banana, pineapple, strawberry, and fresh whole raspberries, all of it tossed with crisp granola, sunflower seeds, flakes of coconut, raisins, and chopped pecans, united with a bit of honey. About halfway through this health extravaganza I felt so energetic and vital that I became entirely convinced that I was the sort of person who did things like backpack through the Yucatán. Later I remembered that the Yucatán has bugs in it, and so took a nap. Still, it was a glorious moment.

Which is to say that my hearty advice to Café Limón is to focus on its fresh and simple Mexican options. There is a whole world of Anglos out here who haven't the slightest idea how or where to come up with utterly commonplace Mexican foods like, say, a cucumber and fruit salad with lime juice and chili salt. No idea. And we will happily beat a path to the door of anyone providing them--if they're in our neighborhood and open when we get off work. Because we're all trying to live the life of Hildegarde, sashaying on toward 99 in opera gloves, looking cute and feeling good all the while.

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