One of the best things about this job is that when a new restaurant opens, I get to try it. And I'm not talking about new as in the same old ”I've got the best hot Brown in town.“ I'm talking about new as in restaurants that offer cuisine you've never even considered. Cuisine you wouldn't ever try unless you've traveled the world. Ever heard of Colombian cuisine? I'll admit I'd never thought about it. But that's what Tropikal Mix serves.
It's in a small strip mall in a tiny space that had been a Chinese eatery on Lexington's north side (just across from the Bryan Station Kroger on New Circle Road). Did I say small? The place has only five tables. But its food is unusual and it's good.
I went alone on this review. My dinner date stubbed her toe or something. I started my meal with a lulo fruit smoothie ($2). Lulo fruit is indigenous to Colombia, where it is very popular. It is tart and makes a wonderfully tangy and delicious smoothie.
For an appetizer, I tried the empanadas ($1). These were small cornmeal pies filled with either chicken or beef. I ordered one of each, but ended up with two chicken empanadas. Inside these pies, shredded chicken and spices had been blended with papas criollas, or Colombian golden potatoes. The pies were fried, not baked, and were served with chimichurri sauce, a mixture of parsley, cilantro, garlic, oil and vinegar. The sauce is used throughout South America to liven things up a bit, much like salsa in Mexico. The server, who also was the cook, asked me if I'd like something spicier. I said yes, so he brought out a small cup of what he called salsa. It was more like pico de gallo, drier than what we know as salsa. And with jalapeños and onion, it certainly was hot.
I ordered the pollo asado, or grilled chicken, ($5.99) for an entree. Three sides came with it. The chicken breast had been marinated in a mixture of beer, garlic, cilantro and parsley, and then flattened and grilled. It was delicious and even better with a little more chimichurri sauce. The sides I chose were sweet plantains, arepita (cornbread), and papas criollas. These potatoes, all the size of large marbles, had been roasted and served plain. The flesh of these potatoes was as yellow as an egg yolk. Chimichurri sauce went well with them, too.
There were a couple of interesting selections for dessert. Tres leches, or three-milk, cake looked intriguing. I asked and was told it's made with whole milk, evaporated milk and condensed milk. But the server-chef told me the dessert to order was maduro with cheese ($2.99). He said it is the most popular dessert in Colombia. What he brought me was a sweet plantain topped with what looked like ketchup, but it wasn't. A whole plantain had been split like a banana, covered with mozzarella cheese and baked until the cheese melted slightly. Then it was topped with a sweet red guava paste. Now I know why it's a Colombian favorite. It was sweet from the plantain and guava, but not too sweet, and it went perfectly with a good styrofoam cup of Colombian coffee ($1.50).
The only thing I didn't like about the place was that they use plastic — utensils, plates and cups.
Dinner for one, including tax but not tip, was $15.35.
On a lunch outing on Tuesday, I popped in to Tropikal Mix and tried bandejita paisa ($8). It was Colombia's version of the plowman's lunch. The plate was filled with two sausages — chorizo and blood sausage — a dry beef dish, white rice, pinto beans, and fried green and ripe plantains. This was Colombian home cooking. The food is simple and good, but not great. With its low prices, though, Tropikal Mix is certainly worth a visit. That lunch was about $13.