The rise of the churrasco craze has given people a narrow, if somewhat authentic, view of Brazilian food. There are, indeed, a lot of churrascarias in Brazil—though in my five trips there I’ve yet to see a red-and-green block that you position according to how hungry you are. You can eat all the grilled chicken hearts you want, but until you’ve had rice and beans made by a Brazilian, you haven’t truly sampled the cuisine.
James “Jamon” Trujillo, the owner of Jamon’s Frybread Cabana, is a half-Brazilian culinary cannibal. Not the kind of cannibal that lives in the jungle and eats tourists, but a chef who takes pieces from each kitchen he’s cooked in and incorporates them into his food philosophy. Trujillo’s stint at the Pueblo Harvest Café gave him mastery over fry bread, and his atole is as sweet as Brazilian mingao (a coconut-tapioca breakfast porridge).
He offers churrasco, too—including some you may not have tried, such as turkey in bacon—but he doesn’t bring it around on a sword or put a colored block on your table. In fact, the only red and green is the chile he grew up loving in Las Cruces, which makes a seamless pairing with many of his Brazilian dishes. Take, for example, his carne adovada folded into a Brazilian pastry called a pastel.
But the masterpiece of his pan-American fusion, in my opinion, is the cabana bowl: a pile of rice and beans on a thin, tostada-like shell of deep-fried pastel dough. A skewer of churrasco tops the affair, along with your choice of chile. Trujillo calls it his “most Brazilian dish.”
The pastel flour tostada has a soft, dry crisp. It grabs onto the rice and beans nicely and creates a hybrid material of rice, bean and pastel. It's analogous to the texture alchemy at play in a grilled cheese sandwich.
The cabana bowl is the exact spot where Brazil meets New Mexico, at once humble, elegant, satisfying and full of flavor from both ends of the hemisphere. I recommend green on top and a side of red-chile-dusted potatoes, which are perfectly light.
Trujillo is hoping to succeed in a location that’s had high turnover in recent years: on Central, just west of the river, where Esperanza’s Cocina Mexicana and Delicia’s Diner used to be. I think Senhor Jamon has the chops and the wherewithal to make a run. He’s decked out the place in charming fashion, a more honest version of the seaside shack setting that Bailey’s on the Beach paid good money for. Jamon’s is brightly painted and adorned with a few key objects of Brazilian lore—a guitar, a hammock and a picture of a sailboat, under which the word “sailboat” is printed.
What I’d like to see next from the chef is feijoada—a Brazilian black bean stew that’s basically a meatier version of his beans, served ceremoniously on weekends in Brazil as feijoada completa. C’mon Jamon, make it happen!