Peels on the Bowery: Southern-Latin Swirl
We last stopped by Peels a few weeks ago for a drink and a fantastic squid appetizer. Now that it's been open nearly a month, we headed back for a full meal.
Lamb shank with beans, mezcal and mole
Peels' menu cobbles together an appealing, oddball mix of Latin and American Southern influences. Poblano and corn soup, squid with padron peppers, and "Baja salad" rub shoulders with fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and andouille corn dogs. If the meal wasn't quite as great as that first taste of squid suggested, it was still thoroughly enjoyable--and the 80s New Wave didn't hurt.
About those corn dogs ($9), they're puffy with sweet corn batter and harbor a very pink, slightly spicy sausage that has an emulsified texture more like a hot dog than an andouille, which is generally coarser. Dipped in the grainy Creole mustard, the greasy snacks are delicious in a junky kind of way. But the Baja salad ($11), a mix of lettuce with tomato, avocado, and sharp cotija cheese, was a little dreary, with too-firm, acidic tomatoes.
Don't expect a full-on mole flavor from the braised lamb shank and beans cooked with mezcal and mole ($22), shown above. Peels' Latin touches seem more about inspiration than recreating the traditional. The smoky-sweet dark flavors of the booze and the mole are subtle, infusing the beans with a hard-to-place savoriness. The shank is cooked perfectly, with lush meat hanging from the bone in fleshy petals, topped with crisp onions similar to tobacco onions.
A special of cornmeal-crusted catfish with jalapeño grits and hushpuppies ($19) makes for a tasty feed. It features a fish fillet with a crisp coating and moist flesh but which needs just a dash of salt. The grits are of the dryer, porridge-like sort, rather than rich and runny. The hushpuppies are nicely fried and lean toward sweet.
Peels' catfish special