548 Court Street, South Brooklyn
A tiny and complimentary bowl of brown, chili-dusted grasshoppers landed on the table beside a little dish of charcoal-colored salt, made with the dust of ground-up insect larvae—the same “worms” you might find in a bottle of mezcal. We hadn’t planned on eating any creepy crawlers with our Mexican meal, but La Slowteria’s chef brought the grasshoppers over with such a sincere and humble promise of their deliciousness. The critters were crunchy, salty and spicy with a pleasantly grassy bite; the worm salt added depth and smokiness to everything it touched. We sprinkled it over cool salsas on warm, fresh-pressed tortillas that were attractively marbled with bright red beet juice. The array of salsas ($6) were served in little glass cups, perched in an architectural platter the shape of a carat—the sort of flashy serving vessel that might compensate for the lack of flavor in a lesser eatery. But here, creamy guacamole, zingy salsa verde, bright pico de gallo, and spicy habanero were each exponentially tastier than we expected. Paired with a cold Pacifico or a fresh-squeezed watermelon juice (with lime and mint!), each bite transported us a little closer to a Mexican beach town, as if we’d entered a wormhole through an inconspicuous doorway down where Court Street meets the BQE.
Actually, La Slowteria was transported to Carroll Gardens from its original location in Tulum, Mexico, a vacation destination known for beaches, Mayan ruins, and restorative yoga retreats. Its name refers to the slow food movement and a bingo-like card game called Loteria that involves 54 brightly colored and iconic images: scorpions, mermaids, cacti, watermelons. The moon card, La Luna, refers to a luscious grilled cheese served in a handmade crescent-shaped tortilla, a dark cloud of black beans topped with popcorn drifting across its plate ($9). The Musico card calls out a tasting plate of charred shrimp, steak, bacon and a wide assortment of caramelized vegetables in a hibiscus flower reduction ($23). The sauce, like a long-steeped hibiscus tea, offers subtle freshness to each blackened bite without imposing too much floral sweetness, and the meat could be omitted from the dish for vegans. Each deeply flavorful market-fresh vegetable—winter squash, tomato, mushroom and beet—is a treat. The tamale of the day, served in another fresh tortilla, is a must-try—ours was filled with richly spicy chicken mole—and it’s big enough to share as an appetizer or hog as an entrée. The only drawbacks to enjoying the unseasonably delicious warm-weather fare at La Slowteria are the jarringly cold winter winds that greet you on the way out—and the long walk back to the F train. But after such a hearty meal, it’s consoling that you don’t have to put on a bikini and hit the beach.