Sipping rare-around-here atole and snacking on terrific tamales while surrounded by fanciful Frida Kahlo and dramatic Day of the Dead knick-knacks, the explosive colors and potent flavors of Mexico City came rushing back to me. It was an intoxicating moment. You can have it too if you visit the whimsical new Frida Katrina Cafe in Clintonville.
Frida Katrina is a wonderful gift emporium (attention last minute shoppers!) sporting an amusing name that conflates the steely-eyed Mexican surrealist (Kahlo) with those elaborately decorated Day of the Dead skulls (aka Las Catrinas, and a reference to Jose Guadalupe Posada, another great Mexican artist). Though the exceedingly modest cafe in the store’s rear — it’s an offshoot of Azteca Catering — isn’t ready for prime time yet, it prepares a few authentic pre-Columbian-style treats, tries to source locally (e.g. on occasion, it gets huitlacoche from the Cleveland area) and prefers to cook seasonally.
Some things you might find with the currently limited offerings are that atole ($2). If you’ve never had it, atole is like a dense, warm polenta drink (think just-sippable cream of wheat), here leavened with lots of cinnamon and a bit of orange peel. Since I’m a fan of the less porridgey versions, I enjoyed FKC’s.
Tamales are the classic — and Day of the Dead approved — matches for atole, and FKC serves really good and spicier-than-usual ones ($3.50). While my favorite was the pork in a sorta biting mole sauce, I’d happily eat both FKC’s chicken with tangy salsa verde or its cheese-with-chilies masa bombs anytime.
Among other humble and homey — if certainly soulful — fare I sampled were comforting bowls of black bean and vegetable soups ($4). The former was salty with sprinkles of cotija cheese and exhibited a neat depth of flavor. The latter had rustically hacked vegetables (such as carrot, potato and spinach) in a light, clear and clean-tasting broth.
An unusual zucchini tostada ($3.50) topped crema with a fruity-sweet, almost-mucilaginous zucchini mash. I dug it, though I wish the tortilla had been fried in-house.
Locally made Koki’s tortillas accompanied a spicy and delicious little plate of “Mexican Scrambled Eggs” ($3.50). Unfortunately, my huevos were a bit frio when delivered to me.
Bottom line: Frida Katrina’s gift shop is already completely delightful, but if and when the cafe gets up to speed, expect another longer and even more excited food review.