A Not-Quite-Restaurant Faces the New Reality

When friends dropped by, she made them pupusas, of course, and they started jokingly calling her home Mirna’s Pupuseria. Now that name belongs to this storefront on Flatbush Avenue, two blocks from where she and Mr. Garcia live, and far from the gentrified neighborhoods whose bars were still drawing reckless crowds last weekend.

The pupusas — savory cakes of masa harina, fine corn flour that Ms. Marroquin mixes with nothing more than cold water — are soft and thick, their curves comfortingly inexact, patted into shape by hand. Patches of bronze testify to crisping on the comal. Break off a corner and the cheese inside oozes and stretches, refusing to let go.

These are breakfast, lunch, dinner and all-day snacks. The cheese alone is rich enough: mozzarella, milky queso fresco and queso duro with its lode of salt, anchored by heavy cream. Green flecks announce the presence of loroco, a flowering vine whose unopened buds are deployed as a chive-like herb, only milder.

Other pupusas come filled with inky refried beans and chicharrón — not cracklings but pork shoulder, anointed with orange juice and browned in a pan, then pulverized with tomatoes, onions and green bell peppers and returned to the stove to darken further.

Swap in rice flour, whisked with boiling water, for masa harina and the resulting pupusas are crispier and spongier, airy lunar disks quicker to char.

No pupusa is complete without a tuft of curtido, a bracing slaw of cabbage and carrots blanched and tumbled in vinegar and salt. Giant jars of it are kept in the cold case, with fistfuls prepackaged in plastic bags for takeout. It’s traditional to add a daub of gentle salsa roja, but I like the fiercer, full-force crush of chile de arbol, barely tempered with tomato.

Each morning begins with the staff — Ms. Marroquin, her husband and two of her nieces — scrubbing down the entire storefront. They make chorizo, lacing the pork sausages with achiote, and prepare tamales for steaming: savory ones with the masa velvety from chicken broth and close to custard, wrapped in plantain leaves; and sweet, buttery ones inside corn husks.

Some days, quesadillas are stacked by the cash register — shallow cakes, maybe an inch high, dense with cheese. You taste sugar, then salt, then sugar again, each yielding the stage to the other.

Mirna’s Pupuseria is but one of the hundreds of small neighborhood spots that quietly sustain our city’s daily life. Often relying on the labor of a single family, they have little defense against the ravages of fate, and appear and disappear without fanfare, mourned only by those privileged to have known them.

Come Tuesday morning, the kitchen was in action, making orders for pickup and delivery. But Mr. Garcia wondered if it would be worth keeping the place going during the shutdown. “We cannot be open for eight hours and make only $20,” he said. “We have expenses.”

He was worried about the virus, too. “If it’s going to be safe for my family, we will stay open,” he said. “If not, we’ll close.”

Mirna’s Pupuseria 1350 Flatbush Avenue (East 26th Street), Flatbush, Brooklyn; 347-730-9001; brooklynpupusas.com

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