New London Coffee Shop offers excellent deli and Central American food

Desayuno Carne Asada (Eileen Jenkins)
Desayuno Carne Asada (Eileen Jenkins)

This David Dorfman guy is a handy dude to have in our community.

Not only has he done a superb job as head of the Connecticut College Dance Department, but he also leads his own David Dorfman Dance company and, in 2017, choreographed the Tony-winning musical "Indecent" on Broadway.

Let me first dispel any inferences from this intro: No, David Dorfman did not teach me to dance.

And the world is grateful.

What he did do, though, was pass along an excellent food tip. It seems Dorfman and his friend Adam Schmidt — who has a home in New London, serves the United States Agency for International Development in El Salvador, and brought David Dorfman Dance to that country to work with at-risk youths earlier this year — spied a "Pupusas" banner in front of the tiny New London Coffee restaurant on Montauk Avenue.

No, I didn't know what "pupusas" are, either.

What I happily learned is that a pupusa is a thick Salvadoran corn tortilla stuffed with any and all combos of vegetables, cheese, meat or chicken fillings.

In an email, Dorman suggested I try them inasmuch as he and Schmidt pronounced them "as good if not better than those (we had) in El Salvador."

New London Coffee is in a familiar spot near Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. In the past, it has hosted a breakfast bodega, a Kansas City-style barbecue joint and, more recently, Bobby B's Deli. While the location's structure is such that take-out is the main activity, there are four small tables inside, placed in street-side of the order counter, and a few umbrella-protected picnic tables out front. In the rear of New London Coffee is the open kitchen, where any of a number of owner Jose Ramales' family members are hand-crafting and preparing everything.

Might as well knock out the pupusas testimonial immediately. The alchemical formula revolves around the tortillas, which are wonderful, thick discs of a corn flour called harina. They're almost more like griddle cakes than the tortillas we associate with Tex-Mex food. Man, they're amazing: Non-greasy and with a distinct and homey flavor. If you want, you can apply butter or either of the two house sauces, the heat-flecked red or the more nuanced green.

As for the fillings, there are eight on the menu, including ground beef, chicken, beans, cheese, spinach, squash, pork and ayote, which seems to be a squash-like gourd. You can order them individually ($3) or in sets of three ($7.50). What my vegetarian wife Eileen and I — a meat enthusiast — have done from the start is just to tell Jose to mix it up, three veggie combos and three with various meat options.

They're simple but delicious. The fillings — whether, for example, shredded chicken or the mashed squash, intermingled with refried beans and sharp shredded cheese — are almost savory punctuation marks to the tortillas themselves. Add dollops of those red and green salsas, along with thinner-but-no-less-flavorful tomato and onion broth and a pickled cabbage slaw called curtido, and this is pretty magical.

They're also quite filling. Our takeout order of three each meant we (happily) have leftovers.

We also sat down in New London Coffee for breakfast — "desayuno," in Spanish — on a recent Sunday. There's a hand-written addendum to the printed menu affixed to the wall listing five different platters that accent a different region of El Salvador.

Eileen tried the #2 — Desayuno Guanaco  ($10.75) — a gigantic offering centered around a scramble of eggs, tomatoes, onions and chilies. The veggies were fresh and finely chopped so there was flavor in every bite, and no need for salt, pepper, Tabasco or any other condiment — though we liberally availed ourselves of the aforementioned sauces. Toothsome red beans and fluffy, fluffy rice were also present along with a quarter of an avocado, a pool of crema and squares of queso, all of which worked wonderfully together.

I had the Carnitas Asada ($13.95) from Desayuno #1 — San Miguel — which had the same perfectly textured eggs, flavored rice, and beans/crema and cheese, but grouped around a large breakfast steak. I wasn't asked how I wanted the beef cooked, and it came out medium-well. That might be overdone for some, but it worked for me. To cut a bit of steak, run it through the crema and beans, then spear a cube of cheese? Fantastic!

There's much more to explore at New London Coffee Shop, and we look forward to it. I did try a giant, lean roast beef and Swiss sandwich ($8) with just-out-of-the-garden lettuce and tomato. It rivals any roast beef sandwich in the area. I'll now work my way down the extensive deli/burger menu.

I've mentioned everything is made to order with care and skill. This means it's not a bad idea to order ahead. The Ramales family is eager to please and happy to answer questions about any unfamiliar Central American menu items, and you'll want to explore.

Thank you, David Dorfman! I'm only bitter because Dorfman can dance off these hefty meals and I can't ...

Desayuno Revueltas (Eileen Jenkins)
Desayuno Revueltas (Eileen Jenkins)
Handmade Tortilla Salvadorenas (Eileen Jenkins)
Handmade Tortilla Salvadorenas (Eileen Jenkins)

New London Coffee Shop

453 Montauk Ave., New London

(860) 440-3463

Cuisine: Central American specialties, New York-style deli sandwiches and breakfasts, burgers and appetizers

Atmosphere: Very small; primarily a take-out place though there are a few tables inside and out front

Hours: 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

Handicap access: Slight rise from exterior ground level into restaurant

Prices: New York deli-style breakfasts and sandwiches $1.95-$8, Latino breakfasts and dinner $7.95-$14.95

Reservations: No, but calling ahead is strongly recommended

Credit cards: All majors

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