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2018-11-01 / Dishing

A Taste of Home

Colombian pop-ups at the Bagel Crust Café bring owner Al Rusinque back to his childhood home.
Michele Marchetti | Photos by Matt Fern


Al Rusinque’s relationship with the bagel was borne of necessity.

A quarter century ago when he left his childhood home in Bogotá, Colombia, and arrived in Bloomfield, New Jersey, he applied for a cashier’s job at a breakfast spot and added bagel to his lexicon. “I didn’t even know how to pronounce it.”

Several bagel businesses later, he has raised three children and funded one tuition to Penn State by selling boiled and baked dough, smeared with every flavor of cream cheese, glistening with pork roll and toasted with butter.

But his own food yearnings can’t be satisfied with mere flour, water and yeast.

This past August after opening three Bagel Crust locations in State College, he launched BCC El Glotón, an appropriate name for a restaurant that’s finally feeding Rusinque the food that he spent years trying to find in the United States.

“I’ve been thinking about (opening this) for the last two years,” he says of the pop-up that transforms the Westerly Parkway location of Bagel Crust into a Latin restaurant every Friday and Saturday night.

At El Glotón, he can change the Pandora station from Top 40 to Latin, provide stemware for BYOB diners and eat all the empanadas he wants.

On a recent Friday night before a busy home football weekend, I waited 30 minutes for those empanadas.


Our party of four, two hungry adults and two skeptical kids, ordered off the very limited menu, pulling out our phones to translate the Spanish. The novelty wore off fast. As my stomach growled I couldn’t help wondering why I was sitting in a Bagel Crust on a Friday night. I poured a beer and hoped for the best.

We pined, doodled and people-watched. The crowd was more diverse than what you’d find in your typical State College restaurant and included several large groups dressed up for a night out. (My eyes, accustomed to the Penn State hoodies, baseball caps and pajamas on Bagel Crust patrons, had to adjust to the dissonance. It was like finding a bunch of people dressed in suits at a football game.)

And then the beef empanadas arrived. It’s funny how your opinion of a place can change in the time it takes your fork to find your mouth. I love any meal that starts with pastry, and this one filled the hole in my belly while signaling all the right messages to my brain.


We moved on to the main dishes. The pork (lomo de cerdo) underwhelmed me, but the steak and onions (carne en bisteck) and chicken and rice (arroz con pollo), with fried plantains or yucca (we tried both), sealed my decision to come back. While I usually avoid ordering chicken at a restaurant, this dish disproved my theory that chicken entrees are bland.

The yucca was surprisingly satisfying with a more nuanced texture than a potato and the single fried plantain felt like a tease — I could have eaten a side dish of these. The vegetarians in your crowd may want to ask for just that; otherwise, it’s slim pickings.

Here’s what Rusinque wants you to understand about this food. It is Latin, prepared by Colombian cooks, Edixon Zorro and Rusinque’s niece Karen Andrea Rusinque. It has little in common with Americanized Mexican food. You won’t find mariachi music or tortillas at this restaurant. You’ll find rice, beans, meat, salad and soup. You may even find a customer sipping guaro.

For customers who have lived, worked or traveled in Latin America, the food needs no explanation — especially the salchipapaps, the ubiquitous fast-food dish found on street corners from Guadalajara to Santiago. The simple combination of French fries topped with stubby pieces of sausage that look like miniature octopuses entertained the kids (and adults) at our table. I just liked saying the word.

Dishes like that inspire more passionate feedback than even the Tri-state area-beloved pork roll from Bagel Crust. “Please, you have to stay,” customers have implored Rusinque since he opened the pop-up restaurant.

Watch Facebook for updates on the restaurant. Rusinque plans to expand El Glotón’s hours, assuming there’s enough demand for the food. Takeout is an option, but I recommend ordering in person; when I called during dinner hours, no one picked up. Reservations are encouraged, but not required.

If you see ajiaco on the menu, be sure to order it. The chicken soup with potatoes and corn on the cob gets its flavor from guascas, a revered herb in Colombia. Rusinque’s sister found guascas in Delaware, and he replenishes his spice jar whenever he visits.

The herb is essential to the dish, so Rusinque isn’t sure when the soup will be back on the menu. More than most people, he knows that good food is worth the wait. •SCM


Ajiaco
2 large chicken breasts
1½ pounds mixed potatoes, roughly chopped (red, russets and Yukon golds all work)
2 ears fresh corn, quartered (or sub 1.5 c. frozen)
1 large scallion
1 tsp. minced garlic
4 tsp. dried *guascas

Toppings
Sliced avocados
Capers (about 10 per serving)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream

Brown chicken in soup pot. Pour in enough water to cover, and cook on high until mixture boils. Lower the heat, then cook chicken until tender.

Transfer chicken to plate, reserving cooking liquid, and cut into bite-size pieces.

Add potatoes to soup pot and cook about 5 minutes.

Add corn, scallion, garlic and guascas and simmer until potatoes are cooked. Add chicken back to soup and simmer another few minutes. Season to taste.

Serve with toppings.
*We found Colombian-imported guascas online at amigofoods.com

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