Friday, August 19, 2011

Kool Korner for Cuban Tamales

This week we decided to peruse another tamale (we have called Mexican hot dogs). We decided to visit Kool Korner, in the Publix shopping center at 790 Montgomery Highway. This isn’t a hot dog stand or a specialty tamale vendor but they come up prominently in an internet search for tamales in Birmingham. Kool Korner is a Cuban Sandwich shop that also serves tamales, presumably Cuban tamales. They also have a desert pastry, a guava and cream cheese pastelito. One of these can be observed in the background of the photo below.

Here we were at a Cuban sandwich shop ordering Cuban tamales. Let’s back up for a little bit. There was once a business located in Birmingham known as Mancha’s. They served these wonderful hand rolled tamales prepared for gringo tastes. They came soaked in an orange sauce that added flavor. One could also order various presentations of these tamales including corn chips, chili, cheese and various sauces. It was a real loss to Birmingham dining when the owner lost his life and the business subsequently closed as no one stepped forward to continue hand rolling the tamales.

Mancha’s, right or wrong, has been our standard for judging tamales. The ones we got at Kool Korner were presented to us plain. There was a bit of a language barrier between us gringos and the young lady taking our orders. It seems that she could recognize the names of things on the menu when spoken in English, but couldn’t answer many questions. Maybe we ask too many questions. With that said, we attempted to inquire about possible toppings or sides and were directed to 2 bottles of Mexican hot sauce, one mild and one “extra hot”. These sauces did add some flavor; but as a gringo I must admit that I find plain tamales just a little too plain. I like to eat tamales with a little something else to add flavor and supplement the high corn flour content. This could be chili, cheese, thick salsa or some other addition. I noticed they had on the menu a couple of soups and salads. These might be ordered to compliment the tamales; but the match isn’t made on the menu so you need to do it yourself.

Another thing which surprised us is the way these tamales are made. After doing some research online, it appears that this is the standard for Cuban tamales. Where Mexican tamales have a meat and chili-pepper concoction in the middle, wrapped with masa, Cuban tamales have the meat simply mixed-in with the masa so the tamales have the same consistency all the way through. . . not unpleasant, just different from our “standard”.

We had a long delightful conversation with Ildefonso Ramirez, the owner. If you go there try to meet him and hear his story. I am convinced that he is serving the real thing when it comes to Cuban food. He has been in the US for decades and moved his business to Birmingham from Atlanta to be closer to his son. We compared notes and both know and respect a local Cuban gentleman who came to Birmingham in the 1960s.

I want to report on the guava and cream cheese pastelitos. I didn’t order one but Robert raved about his. In fact he thinks that they are the big attraction at Kool Korner. I really want to return and try a Cuban (smashed flat) sandwich with a desert pastelito.

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