Friday, January 21, 2011

First Fridays and Los Primos

(While I explain our town's First Fridays to you, please enjoy these photos of ice sculptures from January's "Fire and Ice" theme.)

One hardly knows where to begin with the topics I have in my mind. I really want to do justice to the monthly street fair our town has successfully implemented, but I don't want my review of our favorite authentic Mexican joint to seem secondary.

Our town's Main Street is very typical of small towns across America: it had experienced many decades of financial success and dependable clientele that began rapid decline about 25 years ago with the availability of supermarkets and shopping malls on the outskirts of town. I won't pretend to be more knowledgeable than I am about the history of "First Fridays." All I know is that a few years ago some smart people got together and rallied the few blocks of shopkeepers to remain open into the evening hours on the first Friday of every month, promoted a theme or a happening to entice people in and sat back to watch the profits, popularity and community spirit swell.

We heard about First Fridays with disinterest and a lack of hope. Every small town wishes to revitalize its sleepy Main Street and it's rare that anyone finds the magic formula that draws people in. Sometime later we accidentally found out just how successful the monthly party was growing when we drove through downtown on our way to a Fourth of July cookout. The theme of that month's First Friday was the first annual Cruise In. My town was once known as The Cruising Capital of the World, with the heyday in the 50's and 60's when young people would come from all around every Friday and Saturday night, jumping in and out of cars, exchanging numbers, growing friendships and forming memories. They were also blocking traffic, heckling passersby and leaving behind trash. Finally, in the mid-80's business owners and responsible citizens had had enough and there was a new traffic law to be enforced on Main Street that would kill cruising in my town. So now, on the first Friday of July, the city revokes the traffic law for one night only and everyone pulls out their toughest cars, puts their best girl at their side and does the vehicular version of strutting up and down Main Street, enjoying seeing and being seen.

Imagine our surprise when we thought we'd quickly drive through town on our way to our friends' cookout, only to find ourselves in bumper to bumper traffic with 3000 people lining the sidewalks. That's when we said, "Hey. Maybe there's something to these First Fridays."

A year ago, our son's choir was asked to participate in a free concert to be offered at the old downtown theater at the November First Friday. That was the first time our family truly experienced the event up close. I was charmed. There were interesting things to see wherever you looked. Someone was actually roasting chestnuts over an open fire at one corner and sold them as a street snack. An Amishman brought an actual reindeer for children to pet, feed and be photographed with. The shops stayed open until 9PM and they were packed, let me tell you. It was heartening to see.

So let's get to what First Fridays are really about - The Food. All the local eateries are packed. They expand their menus and run specials and enjoy their good fortune. This month Mike and I took the kids to Los Primos, a Mexican restaurant that has such wonderful food....!

Tell me. What is the difference between salsa and pico de gallo? All were served (with a heavy hand of cilantro) with fresh tortilla chips as we waited for our food. It is a small, nay, TINY family establishment, with one waitress, one cashier and one, maybe two, people in the miniscule kitchen. There are eight cafeteria-style tables to choose from and "Glamour Shots" of food on the walls.

I love the fried tacos. Mike says he will only ever order the Pollo Cubana, or Cuban chicken, because he simply loves it so much. I tried something new and got pork in green salsa and absolutely loved it. Fried plantains are a common side and during this time of the year, Mexican hot chocolate (Who knew?) for a desserty kind of beverage. If you get a special (offered during the week) you can eat there very cheaply. Even their regular prices are reasonable.

Los Primos is not on Main Street, but a bit off the beaten path, so we were able to get a table, but only by the skin of our teeth. The owners looked at our party of five, counted the available chairs and spoke to each other quietly in Spanish. They pushed a couple of small tables together and brought a chair out from the kitchen in order to seat us, which used up the very last available spots in the place. It's so nice to not only get tasty food and hospitable service five minutes from my front door.

(At the four corners of the main square were four fire-breathing ice gargoyles. Cool, huh?)

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