Berwyn's Pulqueria Chicago has the sort of broad, comprehensive menu that usually makes my eyes glaze over. How good can a Mexican restaurant be that also serves Spanish tapas, fettuccine Alfredo, french fries, and chicken wings? On the other hand, among all that disparate stuff it also serves two things not frequently seen around these parts that prove to be pretty remarkable.
First, there are 14 flavors of pulque
, a milky, foamy alcoholic drink made from aguamiel
or "honey water," the fermented sap of the maguey plant, (the heart of which is used to produce that other magical potion, mezcal). The drink, which is imported from Mexico, comes in many flavors: cherry, strawberry, oatmeal, red wine, pineapple, peach, tomato, celery, and more.
Pulque traditionally goes hand in hand with the restaurant's lesser-known specialty, lamb barbacoa. But on Sunday mornings at least it's not likely that you can consume a glass with it. That's because on weekend mornings, when the tables fill up with folks hungry for the delicacy, it runs out pretty quickly—and due to Berwyn's liquor laws, the restaurant doesn't sell pulque before 11 AM.
Barbacoa, from which we get the word "barbecue," comes from the Caribbean Taíno people. In Mexico, it's spread all over the country in different regional variations. It generally refers to a hunk of meat cooked underground and covered with leaves—sometimes with beer or pulque in the mix. In the mountainous central state of Hidalgo that meat is generally lamb, aka borrego
, barely seasoned, wrapped in maguey, and cooked in a wood-burning oven with a catch basin to collect its juices for consomme. Typically that consomme is also thick with chickpeas.
At Pulqueria Chicago the borrego is sold by the pound and presented in a way somewhat at odds with the sports-bar-type ornamentation that festoons the walls. The tender, fatty, shreddable meat comes packed in an aluminum takeaway container along with a plate of onions, dried chiles, cilantro, and salsa for garnish, tortillas, and bowls of that savory consomme. There are a couple methods you can follow to consume this feast: drizzle the consomme over the borrego and pack it into tortillas, or pull apart the meat and throw it into the consomme. No one will look at you side-eyed—unless you put it in your Alfredo.
6543 Cermak, Berwyn, 708-788-7400, pulqueriachicago.com