If you like piña coladas (and getting caught in the rain), this new Mexican restaurant has a drink for you. Tepache, which opened last month in Valley Stream, celebrates an iconic Mexican drink made from cane sugar and funky, fermented pineapple.
A pre-Columbian elixir that was sacred to the Mayans, tepache is typically sold in open-air markets or by home brewers on the street. But the bubbly pineapple drink has been gaining prominence across the U.S. and now there's a canned version at Target.
The drink is typically fizzy and low in alcohol, almost like a kombucha or a pineapple soda, but the Valley Stream restaurant prepares it differently, said Pablo Fuentes, who owns the restaurant with his wife Luzdey and son Juan. Health department regulations don't allow on-site fermentation, so they instead make a pineapple syrup by cooking down the fruit with piloncillo cane sugar. This simple syrup is shaken together in the Tepachito ($16) with Buchanan's Scotch and mango syrup, then poured into a pineapple-shaped glass. There's a faint glimmer of fruit funk and an effervescent feel to the drink, but it tastes of pineapple juice, more flavorful than the boxed version. Not too boozy, and brimming with pulp that you suck up with your straw.
You can also get the tepache mixed with Corona beer in the tepache encervezado. The Corona amplifies the bubbly texture and adds an extra funk factor to the drink, so that it straddles the line between sweet and savory. Bar manager Juan also mixes an array of micheladas, margaritas, palomas and mezcal drinks that keep the crowds coming and the bar bumping, even on weekday afternoons.
In the former home of the lively Italian restaurant Pomodorino Rosso, Tepache maintains the energy with salsa music and a bright, tropical theme like a restaurant you'd find in a Mexican beach resort. It also keeps the tableside theatrics. At the previous incarnation, servers tossed spaghetti in a hollowed out wheel of Grana Padano. Now at Tepache there's tableside guacamole, and it's glorious. Mixed to your spice preference with jalapeño, chopped red onions and tomatoes, the ripe avocado is served in a stone bowl with a pig head at the front, to complete the anthropomorphic theme.
It's the highlight of the meal, although there's an excellent steak on the menu. A fat cut of aguja Norteña ($41.60) a specialty of Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico, is slathered with Argentinian chimichurri sauce. The marks from the charcoal grill are fierce but the steak is juicy medium-rare, expertly cooked and lovingly presented alongside spinach and buttery mashed potatoes.
Pablo, who branched out on his own after working as a corporate chef for 25 years, thought that Mexican food was the right choice for the neighborhood, and set about researching the regions and culinary traditions that honor Mexican foodways. The restaurant also serves tacos and other entrees like Oaxacan mole, enchiladas rojas and chile rellenos, and has a large patio area in the back for summer celebrations.
“Mexican food never goes out of style, with a good drink program and a welcoming environment," he said.
Tepache, 47 Franklin Ave., Valley Stream. It's open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 516-400-9238, tepachetasteofmexico.com