When it comes to Mexican sandwiches, restraint is not an ingredient. Consider the creations of Corona’s Galdino “Tortas” Neza, the largest of which, The Pumas contains a larder’s worth of ingredients, including a chorizo omelet, fried hot dogs, and a deep-fried chicken cutlet. The humongous hoagie calls to mind the adage: Never eat anything bigger than your head. Good as his tortas are there’s one sandwich you won’t find on the Mexico City born and bred chef’s menu: the cemita Poblana. That’s because it’s a specialty of Puebla. In fact I’ve never had a good version of this sandwich until I tried the Super Cemita Poblana at Villa Cemita in the East Village.
The $15 behemoth is slightly smaller than my head. The Super Cemita’s contents—a schmear of chipotle, avocado, deep fried steak or chicken, more chipotle, more avocado, a fistful of queso Oaxaca, ham, pickled onions, and the lemony papalo leaves—are barely contained by the brioche-like semita roll. It’s the kind of sandwich you have to roll up your sleeves and remove your watch to eat.
I used to think that some fragrant papalo and a sesame studded roll were all it took to make a Mexican sandwich a cemita. It’s so much more than that though. The Super Cemita Poblano is a study in flavors and textures: soft bread, crunchy fried steak, creamy avocado, stringy salty cheese, pickled onions, citrusy papalo, and a sweet and spicy chipotle. The latter, a confit-like spread, really surprised this gringo who’ s used to the harsher smokey canned version of chipotle peppers. Alejandra Aco says her Pueblan style chipotle, owes its complexity to a 3-hour simmer with cinnamon, cane sugar, thyme and other herbs.
Aco proudly pointed out that now that it’s spring she’s able to get papalo, a lemony herb that ties it all together. “In Puebla we have many different kinds of cemitas,” she said “but over here it’s a little bit hard to find the ingredients.” For now the restaurant offers only two, the standard and a brunch version that subs in a chorizo omelet. Given its name my hope for Villa Cemita is that it adds more sandwiches to the menu to become something like a Pueblan answer to Tortas Neza’s roster of more than a dozen Mexican sandwiches.
Villa Cemita, 50 Avenue A, 646-964-4528