El Corral has restyled the interior, livening the walls with a vibrant green, removing the booths and replacing the drab tables with amazing wooden tables and chairs from Ecuador.
If you live on the north side, you already know that the restaurant choices there are few compared to other areas of town. There are certainly places to eat, but what the north side really lacks are destination restaurants -- places would prompt somebody to make the drive across town. The exceptions are probably upscale steakhouse The Mariner's Inn (actually in the town of Westport) and, for barbecue fans, Smoky Jon's #1 Barbecue.
I hope we can add to that list the north side's latest restaurant, El Corral. Its grand opening is set for March 14, but it's already serving food -- dishes from Latin and South America, particularly Peru.
Menu items may remind you of the fare available at Inka Heritage, the Peruvian restaurant on South Park Street; the manager and chef at El Corral are former employees of Inka Heritage.
We started dinner with a pork tamale appetizer. The cornmeal is mixed with rice, and both were rich and flavorful, although the pork was somewhat scarce. The tamale comes with a salad side of raw purple onions, tomatoes and an excellent tart citrusy dressing that plays well off the mellower flavors of the tamale. Other appetizers include fried yucca, ceviche, and Peruvian potatoes.
As a main dish, nido de aji de gallina ($8) is essentially the same dish as Inka Heritage's aji de pollo, a rich stew of chicken in a parmesan cream sauce with potatoes, decorated with a half a hard boiled egg and an olive. I've had this dish at Inka Heritage and El Corral's was even a little better (though both were great) -- rich and comforting. Here, the underlying potatoes had a pleasing roasted-over-the-campfire taste.
We also tried the lomo saltado -- steak, onions and tomatoes served with French fries and over rice. This makes for a starchy combo, but the steak part of the dish was quite good.
Soups, some pasta dishes, and a number of fried seafood entrees I'm looking forward to trying also are on the menu, although the kitchen is still making some adjustments to the available items before the grand opening.
El Corral is in the building formerly occupied by The Runway, and prior to that, Jimmy Frank's. The new occupants have restyled the interior, livening the walls with a vibrant green, removing the booths and replacing the drab tables with amazing wooden tables and chairs from Ecuador -- tabletops made from cross-sections of tree-trunks and heavy chairs carved with tropical and animal motifs.
Before the official opening date, it may be a good idea to call ahead (242-9799) and check open hours. The location may be obscure to those who don't know the area well, because most traffic heading north on Packers Avenue turns, along with Hwy. 113, to veer toward Warner Park. To get to El Corral, 3302 Packers Ave., continue straight; it's less than a half-block north, and just minutes from the airport.
In fact there's an overview of the airport land out the front windows, in case you enjoy watching planes land. The site over the years has not proven all that successful -- out of sight, out of mind? I hope not.