I don’t exactly know or care what went on in “El Mejillon” between a certain Mr. Cabrera and the Argentine broad who ordered goat and got a sandwich instead – if it is indeed what lead to the birth of the chivito then I’m sure they worked it out. Constantly tempted, when in Uruguay, to order rabas or anything that once swam in the ocean (blah blah I’m from Boston, blah blah no seafood in BsAs), there is only one thing that can make me turn the other cheek to pescado/mariscos and that is a well-prepared one of these bad boyz, filling yet somehow light and exactly what you need after sweating out half your body weight on the beach. Start by ordering a Patricia. This is key. It is good (blah blah no good beer in BsAs, blah blah I miss American microbreweries) and it will wash the sandwich down perfectly, leaving you with a pleasant buzz.
The set-up is the following: Thinly pounded and sliced churrasco beef, mayo (sometimes with bits of heart of palm), mozzarella melted on, ham and sometimes bacon, fried or hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, sometimes lettuce and sometimes green or black olives (sometimes made into a tapenade-type spread) served on a lightly toasted slightly sweet bun with a side of fried. The signs of some places that I passed boasted other ingredients as well – and I mean they went really crazy – beets, cucumbers, peppers, onions, peas to name a few possible add-ons. Here’s what I had, all three of them recommended by friends, all three hitting the spot perfectly:
This one popped my chivito cherry and oh did it feel nice. The beef had a delicious grilled flavor and was tender. Velvety, still warm mozzarella oozed out, sticking ribbons of salty Canadian bacon to the churrasco, uniting beef and pork in a frenzied embrace. Crunchy cool lettuce and juicy, thick tomato wedges broke up the romance a bit, adding a fresh lightness as a much-appreciated contrast. Gigantic, plump green olives popped out of the mayo here and there to say hello and add a tart tone. The bread could’ve been toasted a TAD more and there could’ve been a BIT less mayo but this is Uruguay’s national sandwich, not San Fransisco’s. When in Rome… shut the hell up about the mayo and eat your goddamn chivito.
Well apparently the thing to get at this place is milanesas because they’re the best in town, but I’ve had quite enough of THAT sh*t in BsAs so I went with this figure-friendly alternative. And woo am I glad I did. This one had no olives like the Canadiense but it had pillowy-soft slices of hard-boiled egg and a more impressive bun (slightly toasted, as desired, with nutty sesame seeds sprinkled over the top making me feel right at home). The amount of mozzarella flowing out of this sandwich was also impressive, melting over the ham beautifully and creating a little jamon-y-queso nook right above the egg. The churrasco was perfect again, not chewy – as expected – but tender, and not under-salted – as expected – but perfectly seasoned. Chunks of tomato were refreshing, lettuce unnecessary.
And finally, the Chivito Completo at Rex, the self-declared “Best Chivito in Town” (and the only one of these places with an ocean view off its balcony and a website…and the website has catchy tropical background music!) The bread was pretty impressive, thin brown crust with what I recall were toasted sesame seed stuck on, fluffy and airy, yet not cake-y bread, still sweet without becoming too much like a donut. The lettuce and tomato were fresh-out-the-fridge cool which added a nice cold contrast to the warm meat. And the eggs – they were fried, as they should always be in this kind of pile-it-high style sandwich. They were thin, not too greasy and the still slightly-wet yolk added a comforting, velvety protein mush to each bite. The ham was thin and bound to the, again, easy-to-chew, tender and flavorful churrasco with only a humble portion of cheese, which let both of the meats shine through more clearly instead of suffocating them. Very little mayo. Tap-it bottles of Heinz ketchup and mustard on the side was appreciated. American diner-chique pizzazz recognized, acknowledged and surprisingly not out of place in painfully cool La Barra.
The chivito train does not stop there though. On a recent return to Punta I was introduced to an even better one, at a place called El Poligrillo in Maldonado. Kinda looked like a van was parked there and eventually a wooden bar built around the kitchen area. Add some plastic Coca Cola chairs and tables (food taste better off of them always, fact) and a lovely family-business type environment and some bomb chivitos and I’m in heaven. We had the Chivito Poligrillo: yummy churrasco, bacon, hard boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, cheese and, what made it the best chivi I’ve had so far, a mayo spread with bits of pepper and heart of palm in it giving it a fantastic little crunch. Plain bread because all the other ingredients took over anyway. Wish I had my camera for this one, it was sexy.
So that’s my experience with this wondrous sandwich so far. I will be back for more. Argentine lomitos just don’t do it for me.
Oh hey and Tony likes them too, so you know they’re aiight.