January 31, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain, Travels in Spain

When I go home to the States and order myself a drink, I half expect a free tapa to magically appear in front of me. Even a measly plate of sad olives. Instead I get a glass of semi-drinkable, expensive wine with a side of nothing. Sigh.

But then I return to Spain.

To cure this season’s round of tapas blues, I went to Alcalá de Henares – Central Spain’s city full of generously portioned free tapas.

If you’ve ever been to Andalucia’s Granada, then you’re familiar with absurdly large complimentary tapas – tapas so big you should forget any notion of actually going out for a proper meal. Then there’s the Community of Madrid’s Alcalá de Henares (about a half hour outside the city), coming to the rescue for capital-dwellers looking for the same bang for their buck (err, euro).

After having visited the city a couple of times now, I’ve discovered two restaurants that live up to my free, gigantic-grub standard (I have one of those), and have pretty sweet ambiance to match. First up is Los Balcones de Alcalá, which will please you with its Andalucia-style patio area bordered by balconies and hanging plants. If the setting doesn’t do it for you, just lose yourself in a massive tapa. The last time I visited, they served me a mini-plate of fideuà (similar to paella, but with macroni-like noodles instead of rice – ain’t nothing wrong with that!), followed by more free tapas with each beverage.

Another recent discovery is Las Cuadras de Rocinante, with its small unsuspecting entrance nestled in an almost unnoticeable corner of Calle de Carmen Calzado. Until you walk down the restaurant’s long hallway, you won’t realize that it houses a cozy room filled with tables and a bar. My recent visit there came with a nice glass of wine and a fatty cazuela of garbanzo beans that made paying for food seem like a ludicrous idea.

Finally, when stuffing yourself silly with free tapas, the only logical way to conclude your day is with a box of rosquillas de Alcalá – the town’s namesake donut-style pastry slathered in an icing so tasty that I reckon it’s more than finger-licking good, it’s pretty much box-licking good (check out the bakery Salinas in Plaza Mayor).

What can I say – I like big tapas and I cannot lie. I also want to apologize for getting Sir Mix A lot’s classic tune stuck in your head for the duration of the day.

[travelist location=”Alcala de Henares, Spain” type=”img” url=”http://www.latortugaviajera.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/garbanzos.jpg”]

March 8, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Travels in Spain

P1000148Often times when you go out for a drink at a tapas bar or cafeteria in Madrid, your drink will be accompanied by a small free tapa as well. It could be a little bowl of olives, or maybe a little toast – something small though. This last weekend though, I went to Alcalá de Henares, a city which basically puts Madrid’s version of tapas to shame.

Alcalá de Henares is located about a half an hour northeast of Madrid. The city, which is home to one of Spain’s most famous universities, and is also the birthplace of Cervantes, has a historic quarter with wide pedestrian streets bordered by balconied buildings.

As with any visit to a new Spanish pueblo, the best way you can get to know the city is through the food. So, after taking a quick jaunt through the historic quarter, we set out to find our first restaurant. We popped into a cozy little spot where we each ordered a drink and were then quickly greeted with our tapa, which was a full sized plate of migas (migas meaning crumbs, but the concept is much closer to our version of Thanksgiving stuffing – I LOVE stuffing!). Two drinks served with a full plate of really good food!?! We figured that we must have just gotten lucky with our restaurant selection.

After finishing our drinks and tapa, we left to wander the city a bit more, and largely just to find our next tapas stop. At the next stop we ordered ourselves two more drinks, expecting once again to receive the usual bowl of olives or plate of chips. But this time we were served yet another full plate of migas (this one even more yummy than the last), in addition to a plate of prawns. Hmmm. Why do I get the sense that one could have a full meal just by having a few drinks? What a dangerous and yet brilliant concept!

P1000168After scratching our heads and inhaling the generously portioned tapas, we stepped out to continue our stroll through the city. We stopped in front of the birthplace of Cervantes, and even stepped inside what apparently was the oldest hospital in Spain. Then we stumbled upon a little bakery – which I suppose isn’t at all hard to do in these little towns. My eyes were as wide as Spanish galletas! Tartas, chocolates, cookies and more, all glimmering and perfectly stacked one on top of the other like a real life candyland! It was the most darling little bakery filled with the most perfect little delicacies (the bakery’s name is Salinas, and located at Plaza Cervantes 21). We ordered some chocolates, some huesos de San Expedito (only to prove to ourselves that Jacobo’s mom’s are a million times better) and lastly, some rosquillas de Alcalá (rosquillas can only most closely be compared to donuts, although I think their only similarity is the hole in the center). Sampling our goodies would have to wait, though, until we made one more stop for another drink (and by drink, I mean unexpectedly large plate of something yummy). I would be lying if I said that I’m not heavily considering changing careers to work at a pasteleria…I’m serious about this.

We found our way to another restaurant, which looked similar to the first in that it had a high skylight ceiling, inner balconies decorated with flower boxes, and vintage street lamps – almost reminiscent of New Orleans (in fact, the whole city strangely reminded me of New Orleans…which I suppose makes sense since the French Quarter of New Orleans was built while under Spanish control). We ordered our drinks, and at this point we were hardly surprised when a few moments later we were served mini-paelleras (paella pans) filled with fideua (similar to paella, but made with pasta instead of rice). I think it’s fair to say that going for drinks will never quite have the same meaning after this experience (although I hear that Granada out does Alcalá de Henares!).

Arriving at the car, we’d nearly already unwrapped our treats – mentally that is (I was already imagining the order in which I would be doing my pastry-tasting). One bite of those rosquillas and Jacobo sincerely declared them the best sweet he’s ever had, and I think I might have to agree. Given that Alcalá de Henares is on the way to the monastery where we will be getting married, I think a stop there will be in order on our wedding day.

Outside of our trip to Alcalá de Henares last weekend, I managed to whip up a mean batch of croquetas – I’m bound and determined to become an expert! Next weekend we’re off to Santander, so stay tuned!