Two of my Mexican friends, Jesica and Martha, have been teasing me about my high concha roll standards. They can't understand how I didn't like Maque's conchas. "We're going give you a blind taste test!" they said. My response: Bring it. A teensy part of me was starting to lose faith, though. How could I have only found one great concha roll so far, after so much testing? The concha gods must have felt my pain, because yesterday, they redeemed my faith. I finally tried the conchas at El Cardenal,
the famous restaurant in the Centro Historico. Mexico guidebooks tout the place as having the best breakfast in the city. And some of you also recommended the restaurant's conchas in the comments. I admit, I wondered whether the hype would be justified. In my experience in Mexico, people rave about a place, I go, and half the time it ends up being just okay. But this place was different. We waited 20 minutes for a table -- which my dining companion Ruth told me was typical for a weekday -- and were given menus full of amazing-sounding breakfast items: "apporeado con huevo," or scrambled eggs mixed with thin slices of beef in a guajillo chile sauce; "hacienda de Puebla," a concoction of sunny side-up eggs on tortillas with refried beans, cheese and strips of poblano peppers; "revueltos con chilorio," or eggs Sinaloa-style mixed with minced pork, tomatoes and dried chiles. We chose three plates and decided to share. First up were the gorditas hidalguenses, a dish from the state of Hidalgo comprising tortillas soaked in salsa verde, filled with shredded meat and topped with shredded cheese. They looked like they'd taste heavy, but they didn't. The dish was light but still comforting, and brightened up by a big dose of cilantro.
Then came the huevos ahogados, two poached eggs that sat in a stew of warm black beans, onions, chiles and thick chunks of panela cheese, which is made at the restaurant's own dairy. The bean broth was so good, you just had to soak it up with a crusty piece of bread.
We had a tortilla, or Spanish omelet, with escamoles (ant eggs) and diced nopal. It was the first time I'd tried ant eggs, and sadly, they didn't really taste like anything. In the photo below, the ant eggs are those little white-bean looking things.
Before all of it, though, we had the concha. It arrived on at tray, carried by a black-and-white suited waiter. I pointed at it and he placed it on my plate. It was still warm.
Fork in hand, I cut into it and it gave easily -- good sign. The last thing you want is a concha that's so tough, it requires a knife. This roll was still soft. Pliable. I took a bite and tasted warm butter and just a smidge of yeast. The topping crunched slightly, due to all the sugar granules. It was everything you'd want a concha roll to be: comforting, lightly sweet, moist but not too dense. And actually, I almost liked the topping better than Bondy's, which tends to smother the top of the bread. El Cardenal's concha topping looked more authentic, with thin stripes quilted over the roll's crown.
The best way to experience this roll is with a cup of the restaurant's homemade hot chocolate. The waiter offers it as soon as you sit down. I'm not generally a big hot chocolate fan, but the experience of the two together was -- I'm going to say it, and I don't care if it sounds overstated -- luxurious
. It's one of those things that leaves you shaking your head in awe. Or at least, it left me shaking my head in awe.
Can't wait to go back. I only tried two pieces of sweet bread from the waiter's tray.