Raise your hand if you’ve never had Ecuadorian food. This was me, until an eagle-eyed friend spied La Gran Amazonia in a strip mall at the eastern edge of Patchogue.
And if you’re thinking "how different is Ecuadorian from other Latin American cuisines?" I’m here to tell you, "very."
For many people, "Latin American food" conjures up an undifferentiated mass of tacos, guacamole, salsa, rice and beans, all washed down with a salt-rimmed margarita. This is partly the fault of local restaurateurs who advertise "Spanish and Latin American food," but who serve none of the former and just a small, Mexican American version of the latter — even if they are not from Mexico.
But Latin America is a big place. Extending from the Mexican border in the North to the tip of Chile in the South, it’s almost twice the area of Europe, and it has as many distinct cuisines. Ecuador, sitting right on the equator, encompasses mountains, the Amazon rainforest and beaches and, according to Jhonaton Quiroga, La Gran Amazonia makes dishes from all three regions.
I ordered the bandera Ecuatoriana specifically because it featured something I’d never eaten before: guatita, tripe braised with peanuts and potatoes. If you’ve only had tripe braised with tomatoes (as in trippa alla Romana), I’m here to tell you that the creamy peanut-potato sauce is a lovely alternative. If you can’t stomach the idea of tripe, I’ve finished writing about it.
My meal also featured seco de chivo, a savory goat stew, plus rice, beans, avocado and fried coins of plantains. It also included a side of ceviche: shrimp and fish in a spicy-tart marinade. It was soupier than those I’ve had in Peruvian restaurants, but I don’t know if that’s a cultural preference of just the way La Gran Amazonia makes it.
Other intriguing dishes I’m excited to try: croquettes made of cassava (muchines) and green plantains (corviche), empanadas whose dough is made from green plantains and encocado de camarón, shrimp in coconut sauce. The menu lists three types of encebollado (fish stew), including one with tuna and cassava which Quiroga said is an unbeatable hangover remedy and is available only on weekends. La Gran Amazonia is open for breakfast, when you can get mote pillo, corn hominy with eggs and meat; or tigrillo, green plantain mashed with pork belly and cheese and served with beef stew and fried egg.
If you’re not ready to dive in head first, you can also find cheese empanadas, chicken soup, grilled chicken, skirt steak, burgers and chicken wings.
Quiroga’s parents, Angel Quiroga and Rosa Jara, opened La Gran Amazonia in August. "There are a lot of Ecuadorian people in Patchogue," he said, "but there are no Ecuadorian restaurants in Suffolk County." (I can’t think of one in Nassau, either.)
Even though the restaurant opened during the pandemic, Quiroga said, "honestly, we’ve been doing pretty well." The bright interior is set up for socially distanced dining, the kitchen is doing a brisk takeout business.
La Gran Amazonia is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at 219 E. Main St., Patchogue, 631-627-8141.