"I am Timothy Cactus Flower!" the Corn Man says gleefully and cackles, between elotes. All I did was ask him what his name was, and I received this enigmatic but undeniably charming answer. I’m sorry, what? I ask him. "Timothy Cactus Flower," he says again, putting an infarction-inducing amount of mayonnaise onto a steaming hot ear of corn that he’s just produced from a small plastic cooler.
"Timoteo Flor de Nopal," he says again, this time in Spanish. "Es mi nombre." Ahhh, ok. Entiendo. He deftly puts the finishing touches on the elote; generous amounts of butter, cheese and cayenne pepper. He then hands it to me in a small square of aluminum foil. The elote’s girth has easily doubled since about 30 seconds ago. The thing has to weigh at least two pounds.
He’s the Corn Man of Lincoln Heights. His name is Timoteo, and he’s there every night, just off the corner of Workman and Broadway, by the 99 Cent Store, from about 9:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. (unless he runs out of corn). He works a different job during the day, at a bodega, and then comes to sell his corn. Sometimes he brings his son, who acts as a translator/cashier/extra pair of eyes in a neighborhood that still has its share of petty robberies. Timoteo has been selling corn for the past 27 years.
"Business is for shit right now!" he says in Spanish and laughs, making the universal brr-it’s-cold-out gesture, rubbing his hands up and down his arms. "It’s the cold weather!" Soon enough, however, a couple of cars and a pickup truck pull into the parking lot of the 99 Cent Store, and a small line begins to form at the Corn Man’s small stand. In good weather, especially on weekends, lines can stretch halfway down the block. Timoteo adjusts his baseball cap with no logo and becomes a blur of movement. "How many you want?" he asks. "Dulce o no dulce? Sweet or no sweet?"
Here’s how you choose your own corn adventure: you get a choice of sweet corn or regular corn – mexicano. The sweet corn is self-explanatory; the mexicano is firmer and provides more of a neutral canvas on which to put mountains of unhealthy toppings. To me, the sweet corn was tastier, but I can see a case being made for both. Once you’ve chosen your corn, you decide whether you want it on the cob, in elote form, or in a bowl, which is known as esquite.
You ignore the sounds of your arteries begging you for mercy
For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve chosen corn on the cob. Timoteo jams a small, sharp stick – a handle – into the end of the corn. He spatulas out about a half cup of mayonnaise from a huge tub and spreads it on the cob. As your chest tightens, he grabs a squirt bottle of butter and thoroughly dresses your corn with a drippy yellow squiggle. While you ignore the sounds of your arteries begging you for mercy, he rolls the elote one, two, three times through a tub of white parmesan cheese. He’ll add some chile to it, if you wish, and a fresh squirt of lime upon request (which I recommend).
No, it’s not your traditional Mexican street corn. It’s not grilled, and the cheese is not the white cotija most people associate with elotes de la calle. But let’s just say that the Corn Man makes up for it with fresh corn and sheer volume of toppings. Each bite is a decadent, delicious calorie bomb, detonated in your mouth. It’s creamy, sweet (if you got the sweet corn), salty, a little spicy, and with the perfect amount of pucker from the lime juice. In short, it’s all the good things about food, rolled up into a small, extremely messy package.
And it costs $1.50, which is just about the best deal you’re going to find, anywhere, considering that this will go directly into your fat stores and allow you to safely hibernate for the next two to three months. Do yourself a favor and pay Timoteo a visit some night. Superman can fly, Batman may have nifty gadgets – but the Corn Man of Lincoln Heights is the only hero you need.
The Corn Man is located at approximately 2338 Workman St. Los Angeles CA 90031, near the alley entrance to the 99 Cent Store parking lot. He's there every day from 9:30 p.m. until 1 a.m., or he runs out of corn.