City Bakery – The Decline of Western Civilization

I think this may not have been painted by a professional sign painter

808 South 19th Street, Corpus Christi, Texas 78405 • 361-885-0128
Carne Guisada: $1.50 • Chorizo & Egg: $1.00

Corpus Christi is a wonderful city, filled with hard-working people, entertainment, and the best tacos in the world.  And while the taco scene here is better than it has ever been, many other things in Tacotopia have been in steady decline for decades.  It’s easy to point to (and I often do) the outsourcing of US oil profits to Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC as the cause of our problems but there is more to it than that.

The best decade for population growth in Corpus Christi was the 50s during which we added 60,000 people.  I’d estimate that we’ve added around 10,000 in the last 10 years. Young people don’t want to live here and our community continues to age as does the municipal infrastructure and the entrenched system of local politics. All this means to me is that I can look at this city and love it, and at the same time see so much of it that is crumbling and broken, from the 100 year old downtown plumbing to the many vacant buildings with absentee landlords who’d rather let the buildings crumble and depreciate than do anything with them, and urban blight that scars downtown (again with the downtown). Small business owners from downtown and the West side organize functions to drum up business, but even in the heart of one of the most successful blocks of businesses in the area I get very few walk in customers.

Our taco shop today is a place that resembles the city itself.  City Bakery is a place that was once great.  Long a hub of activity in the West side it was the place where local civil rights leaders met during the creation of LULAC and MAYO, demanding a fair shake for a culture that existed here for longer than the Republic of Texas itself. I have been told by ‘El Gran’ Dee among others that there would be lines snaking around the block in the morning to buy this bakery’s signature item, the biscuit, and that most of the wedding cakes and local restaurants’ commercial baking moved through this establishment.  Sadly, this is no more.  The restaurant shows every day of 50 years of wear, with none of the benefits of its toil and yet it is still there, still open, still operated by the same family.  It’s not a great place to eat, and it is confusing to think that it has managed to pass health inspections all these years.  Dee spoke of the utter lack of pretense in the decor, and how after eating here in the morning he felt seasoned to deal with any comer throughout the rest of the day.

How is the food, you ask? The menu is limited, written in stilted hand with 4 different markers on 5 year old poster board.  Half of the items have been crossed out, and one or two have been written in, crowding for space.  Like downtown, or the Memorial Coliseum therein, no one wants to tear it down and start with a clean slate, thinking it’s better to hold on to something broken than to let go of the past. It breaks one’s heart. The carne guisada was crossed out but I asked for it and the lady at the counter said she had it.  It was not good, but it was edible.  The chorizo and egg was a little better, but just a little.  A bit peppery, and I didn’t add any pepper.  The chile salsa was fair.  Shell’s water came with a 1/2 lb chunk of ice that might have come off a piece that had been in the back since the place opened.  While we waited for our food, which all of the attention of the two employees to prepare, a steady stream of kids in their catholic school uniforms and shuffling street people lined up.  No one grumbled about the wait, and the ‘ring for service’ cowbell was only politely rung once.  By the time our food came out (at least the first part, we ended up eating in shifts) there must have been eight people in line.

The tortillas, however, were very good – I’d guess made fresh to order – and the biscuits were excellent, made fresh and pre-buttered.  The Hat says he couldn’t recommend anyone eat there, but I could.  It’s got atmosphere in spades.  If you want to eat at a place you’ll remember, this is the place.  If you want to eat food you’ll remember this may also be the place, but not for the reasons you’d like.

From the Hat

Usually I joke about the dangers of breakfast tacos – cholesterol, blah, blah, blah.  But not this morning.  Today I felt the danger in that singular, crystal-clear way that the rabbit must feel in the presence of a bobcat.  Struck tharn, wanting more than anything to move but unable to, knowing that he’d be seen.  My worry was that I’d already been seen.  Traffic had me pinned in behind the Bakery and I was being seriously-eyeballed.  Eyeballed in that very threatening way that makes you bow your head and look askance so the big Silverback doesn’t knock the shit out of you.   I locked the doors and waited for the traffic to clear; very aware of the two approaching eyeballers and feeling a bit vulnerable, armed with only my whitebread sensibilities.  The traffic cleared just as they got to the car and I didn’t wait around to see what they wanted.  For a few minutes, life was crystal clear. Missing was the calliope that usually inhabits my head.  There was no worrying about what I’m doing when I should be doing something else.  No worrying about time, about deadlines, about schedules, people, or meetings. Nothing. Just silence.  And awareness of life.  It was exhilarating.  Like jumping out of an airplane.  It wasn’t long before the ride was over and the calliope was running at full steam. Unlike the City Bakery.

What a dump!  I’m having a hard time with metaphors, but it might be like the proverbial truck stop queen.   If you look close enough, look back in time, through the grime, you can see what she was in her heyday; Heart of the neighborhood, vibrant and full of life.  People lined up around the block to sample her wares.  Now the lines are on her face and the people around the block are a weird mix of young boys saggin’ their khaki school pants and hoodlums of the scary clan.  The run-down restaurant had a limited taco menu.  I had a chorizo and egg and a picadillo, both on flour.  The C&E was so-so and the picadillo not that good.  The salsa was a watery red.  It had a bit of heat, but mostly like canned tomatoes.  The coffee was hot (heat hot) and refills were not convenient.  The tortillas, though were very good and definitely the star of the taco, but not of the taqueria.  That honor goes to the biscuits.  They were soft and held together in a perfect way.  Not too dense, not falling apart.  They didn’t need butter at all but were of course slathered with it.  A must if you find yourself in the City Bakery.  It looked like they had a pretty good assortment of fresh pan dulce, too.  Shell and I had a total of three tacos, a coffee and a biscuit for $4.25.  They definitely know their market.

Thanks again to Don Dee for his enlightening conversation on old-time CC.  You have a way of description that makes one able to feel some of what the city was like, what the people were like – bringing to life the history of the city like no one else I know.


Our free taco winner for this week is:

Christina Hendricks

Making the little screen big for three seasons, Christina’s marriage to Geoffrey Arend should give hope to all men who have to count on their personality to get them through life.

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

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