With a stunning array of taco shops here in Tacotopia, we feel the need occasionally to try something that’s hard to get, elusive, off the beaten path. Today we hit two taco shops that claim to be Donut shops. Yes, they’re both spelled without the ugh, even though that’s the sound the Hat was making before asking if Matt the Hoople or I had some antacids on our persons. No, of course, was the answer. It’s never there when you need it.
Our first stop was Corpus Donuts, which I’d heard about last night while talking tacos in the surgery waiting room with my wife and her family. It’s always good to know a lot about something trivial that a lot of people are interested in when you’re trying to make a heavy situation light. Some people have sports, I have tacos (and cars). A couple of the folks there had heard of it, and said the Donuts were good.
The place was a little dark, and had a patchwork of vinyl, acrylic, and hand-painted plywood signs covering most of the facade of the building. It appeared to have once been a stop-and-rob but that must have been many years ago. Upon entering we were told we had to get our coffee ourselves, but when we sat down big guy behind the counter poured us up three cups and brought them to our table.
There was a good amount of space in the place, but only a few tables – and the lighting was very low, like a brownout, but the lighting didn’t hide the dirt that well. The hat said it looked like a bar. There were two big stacks of professional PA speakers (Peavey 2x15s on top of big Cerwin vegas). When I asked, I was told that they rent the place out for dances – explaining a lot. I knew we were doubling up today but I still had to try both of my standard tacos for the sake of science so I got a Carne Guisada and a Chorizo & Egg. Everything was fair, nothing outstanding. If you’re looking for a place to impress people from out of town how good food can come out of bad places this might be a contender. If they’re not from Corpus they won’t know that these tacos aren’t top notch, because in comparison to what most cities have they are. On the way out, the Hat bought us all a round of Donuts, and they were top notch, very fresh, and glazed with just the slightest hint of lemon.
Next we headed to the Donut Hole, a place we’ve tried at least three times to sample and were deflected on each attempt. The Hole is legendary in local taco circles, and was one of the first recommendations we received. I mentioned it to my wife, not knowing any better, and commented that it was a strange sounding place to have tacos. My wife informed me that it was a little dive, it’d been there forever, that she had been going there since she was a teenager, and that the tacos were great.
Well, she wasn’t kidding. The place is a little dive. Looking at the building it’s unclear if it’s open for business or if it’s a derelict superfund site. It’s situated across from Wynn Seale Middle School, right down the road from the abandoned Butter Krust bakery. We both pulled our trucks into the lot and finding nowhere to park, and barely enough space to drive around it, we pulled up next door and walked over. A guy speaking jibberish (or aramaic, my aramaic is a little rusty) walked up asked me for the time, and asked the hat for a quarter before wandering off to alert the illuminati that we were falling right into their trap. A dim, yellow light was leaking out the back of the building, and looking through the doorway I could barely make out the interior – which looked like a country blacksmith’s shop. We knocked and were told to come back in 20 minutes (this was at 7:20 meaning they open at 7:40).
I was ready to give it up, and to try it on a day where the gloom wasn’t so oppressive. I wasn’t sure if it felt more like a scene from ‘Conspiracy Theory’ or ‘From Beyond’ but I didn’t have a good feeling about it either way. The scene it reminded me of most was in Cronenberg’s ‘Naked Lunch’ when Bill Lee breaks the typewriter, brings it to the blacksmith shop and they melt it down and make it into a new one. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were sprinkling the tacos with the powder from the Aquatic Brazilian Centipede. This was a dangerous place, as ‘King Crimson’ says, and I had the kid to worry about so I whisked him away and deposited him at his school, where he would be protected by the holiness of the Catholic Church. Then, as I was pulling away I received a text from Kevin who had the same idea as me. Give it one more try. Acting against my better judgement I headed back, and picked up a brown bag from the second window. The holy grail of tacos, I had it right in my hands. I raced over to the Hat’s house to we could examine the goods in safety (who am I kidding, if the Illuminati wanted to know what tacos we were eating, they would already be in the house – which meant they probably were in the house, as they know all.)
Well, it was all worth it. The tacos were every bit as good as they had been described. The carne g, their signature item, was rich and the beef dense. The chorizo & egg amazing, with a strong and salty flavor you can only get from a grimy kitchen. The tacos were the size of, well, a giant taco, and the tortillas achieved a perfect balance of tenderness vs tensile strength.
As we talked ourselves down, and tried to rid ourselves of the feeling we were being watched, we made plans for next weeks trip – to another hole in the wall with ample history. Tune in!
From the Hat
Before I get to taco news today, I’d like to give a shout out to South Texas Public Radio for hosting a night of fine food and wine. Shell and I are regulars at their yearly Classic Brew event, a food and beer gig with live music but had never been to their Food and Wine Classic. The dress was everything from black tie to CC formal (jeans and sandals) – definitely a good place to break out the Black Leather SRV hat. There was plenty of gourmet fare for all. My favorite was a lobster taco with pico de gallo and avocado ice cream on a handmade corn minitort. Delicious and beautiful to look at. Close runners-up were a ginger-soy beef (or was it lamb) in a fried filo dough cone, and a sweet frau gras mousse also in filo. I’m sure there were plenty of good and great wines, but after half a dozen samples of different Carmeneres, my taste buds might have been compromised. We had a good time and will be back. It might not make my bucket list, but definitely one of my 40 things to do in Corpus.
It’s a great thing when dozens of fine restaurants are gathered together, dishing out their wares to the grazing multitudes, but sometimes one has to work a bit harder to quell that hankerin’. In fact, sometimes it seems that there might be someone working against you in your quest. Today started innocently enough. Last night’s Wine Classic had decided not to drive and ended up crashing on my heartburn. It was still there when I woke up so asked it if it wanted a taco. It did and before long my heartburn and I were on the way to Corpus Donuts, formerly Recios. I had it from fellow taco fan and go-to expert in local taquerias, Johnny H. that if it was still the same people, this place had a good brisket taco. I could tell my heartburn was looking forward to it too. I think because it was a donut shop, that Ian decided it would be a good opportunity to make a theme of it and hit the infamous Donut Hole as an added bonus feature. So I only ordered the brisket figuring I’d save myself for a good showing at The Hole. In all honesty, I was not really impressed when the plate was plopped down in front of me. After the display of beautiful food last night, the lonely grey slice of fatty brisket in a flour tortilla was not impressive. But upon removal of some of the fat and proper application of barbecue sauce and salsa, it ended up being good. The brisket had a good mesquite smoke flavor with a soft texture that comes from many after-pit hours in the oven. The tortilla was good, toothy, and held up to the barbecue’s frontal assault. The coffee was okay, but not the usual café fresh I expect. The hot, fresh glazed donuts were very good.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Last time, The Hole was rained out and we went elsewhere. Just what The Hole wanted, too I’m sure. Today, when The Hole discovered we were back, we were put off with a shout from inside the closed building, “Thirty more minutes.” Tacotopia runs a tight ship and we couldn’t wait so I resigned myself to my one brisket taco and vowed to return to The Hole in victory. But all the way home I had a gnawing feeling that we were being duped; that there was a conspiracy to keep the Hole’s secrets from the likes of us. Or maybe that The Hole would only accept our calling on its terms…I decided to go back…as it turned out, so had Ian. He was ahead of me so he volunteered to brave The Hole alone and bring tacos to the house. I left it to his judgment as to which taco I wanted. Turns out that he made the right choice – the lengua. The taco was astounding! At first I didn’t know what to think of it. It didn’t really look like any lengua taco I’d had. Tender roast beef with that unmistakable taste of cabesa. Stringy almost like the best pot roast you ever had. Half way through it I remember Matt, a Surf Club acquaintance had told me that the Hole had the best Lengua he’d ever eaten. I can say now that it’s the best I’ve ever eaten too. Wow! The torts were good too and a splash of the atomic-hot green sauce made it a great taco experience. Too bad no coffee.
Offer includes 2 tacos, an audience with the ‘tacoteurs,’ and a free tacotopia t-shirt. Please redeem this offer at Whetstone Graphics on a Friday morning of your choice. Offer subject to cancellation by order of the wives of the tacoteurs. Enter to win by emailing your name and a Robert Anton Wilson paperback of your choice to firstname.lastname@example.org.