Previous home to a Mexican restaurant and a uniform supply company before that, the building at 375 S. Main St. in Pleasantville now houses El Rancho del Pollo serving Colombian cuisine.
From the outside, the building has changed little. Inside, the dining room has been transformed into a kitschy, homey, respite from the cold weather outside. While the decor transports the diner to another place and time, the food is mostly recognizable by ingredient if not by the way it is utilized.
Our server in crisp, white dress shirt and black pants was warned right away we knew little about Colombian cuisine. He rose to the occasion by answering questions and pointing out typical dishes and even a few of his personal favorites.
A basket of crispy tortillas chips, still warm, were served with a tomatillo salsa.
Appetizers, a short section on the menu, offered breaded and fried calamari, chicken wings with celery and blue cheese, some more exotic sounding dishes including three types of stuffed empanadas and a $20 plate for two to three guests called Picada, offering a sampler selection of meats and starches.
We ordered one each of three different empanadas ($1 each); meat, chicken and Hawaiian. We liked the ham and pineapple filling with its sweet and sour tang. The other fillings seemed interchangeably bland with potato as an added filler. One in particular had absorbed too much fat in the deep fryer. A Chimichurri-like sauce added little to the plate.
When we asked about soups, our server recommended something called Ajiaco ($6.50). It turned out to be a hearty potato soup, slightly creamy, with several kinds of potatoes, chunks of chicken and a piece of pork that was falling apart tender and a chunk of corn on the cob. Served on the side was a timbale of white rice and a fried plantain. We shared the bowl and happily finished it off.
My dining partner was in the mood for something unfussy and ordered the 1/2 pollo a la Brasa ($6), the Colombian style marinated rotisserie chicken. A good bet, we thought, since the restaurant was called El Rancho del Pollo. A bite of the breast meat revealed a much too dry bird, simply seasoned and mostly overcooked. Two sides at $2 each, tostones rancho or fried plantains and yuca frita added little to the dish, we took most of it home.
An entree called cazuela con camarones ($16) was a winner. A shrimp casserole served in a dish so hot the liquid arrived still boiling. The flavorful broth tasted of white wine and was enriched with heavy cream and coconut milk along with plenty of peeled and deveined shrimp. The side of rice gave the dish some added texture but so rich it was hard to finish. We focused on dessert.
At El Rancho del Pollo flan is served plain or with mango or pineapple. We chose the flan de mango ($4.99), a sturdy custard with what tasted like mango preserves smeared over the top. Brevas con queso ($3.99) was described as candied figs with caramel and farmer's cheese. We would kindly describe it as an acquired taste. Both desserts had the unfortunate addition of whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Maybe a nod to American tastes, but unnecessary on either plate.
Our beverages included a crisp apple soda called Manzana ($2) and a mango-flavored drink called mango agua ($3.50). Coffee was not offered.
My companion described the burgundy curtains as neglected, meaning dusty and wrinkled. Every space, every shelf, and even the walls were stacked chock full of someone's assorted memories. Many things were arranged in a kind of collection; four leather Western saddles, four tiny table lamps and three beer steins were among the things grouped together, possibly making some allusion to the many influences behind Colombian cooking.
Interesting concept, but hardly executed well enough to return for a second meal.
El Rancho del Pollo
375 S. Main St.
Hours: 11 a.m.
to 10 p.m. daily
Liquor license: No
Credit cards: Most major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $1 to $20, entrees $10 to $26