by Jim Ridley
It doesn't take much to make me pull off the road in a downpour and stand in a gravel parking lot off Nolensville Road. Just a homemade sandwich board with a painting of an ear of corn and the word "Elotes."
Elotes is a popular Mexican snack, a roasted, boiled or grilled ear of corn on a stick. Elotes stands dot street corners in Chicago and Milwaukee these days. It can be doused with salt and lime juice—the lime actually enhances the corn's nutritional value, breaking down the indigestible hull of the kernel—or sprinkled with cotija cheese (powdery like Parmesan, only soft, fresher and more flavorful) and a chile de arbol sauce.
The latter is what I got at Taqueria Dona Tere, the awesome lunch trailer next to El Fandango on Nolensville just off I-440 near the fairgrounds. (Nashville GPS code: it's across from the Circle K.) For $2, the man at the counter (who even offered to help put air in my front tire) handed over a plump ear so dusted with cheese it looked almost breaded, circled with fiery streaks of sauce. The corn itself was the best I've had this awful year, sweet, full and juicy. But the combination of the light, salty cheese and the biting sauce offset the sweetness of the corn without drowning its flavor.
I almost ordered another on the spot. Instead, I saw a brimming metal pot on a back burner. A few minutes later, I held a steaming Styrofoam cup of champurrado, a boiling-hot Mexican atole drink that's essentially a cross between hot chocolate and porridge. It's made with masa flour, vanilla bean, barely sweetened chocolate, cinnamon and the cane-sugar cones known as piloncillo, but it's not very sweet: it's something like the child of coffee and soup.
Champurrado also retains heat longer than any insulation I've ever seen, something to keep in mind when seeking a future cold remedy. For $1.50, I got a cup larger than a Starbucks venti—a small!—and when I finished the bottom was filled with long fragrant strips of cinnamon bark. I'm not sure I'd get it again, but it felt great on a drizzly fall day.
On a whim, I asked the folks in the trailer if they ever had huitlacoche, the corn fungus prized for its truffle-like flavor and served in quesadillas and other dishes. They indicated it was probably impossible to get around here. Next time I go, though, I'll see if they have elote en vaso (corn in a glass), a layered cup of corn, queso fresco, crema and chili powder often sold at stands, or the sweet mayonnaise that accompanies elotes at some carts.
Image above cribbed from eGullet.