One of the fundamental tenets of nacho hunting is that you must always be on duty. A hunter of animals draws a distinction between the deer that he has tracked diligently through the woods and the one that wanders into the road, abiding by various rules of engagement that are presumably intended to prevent civilians from getting shot dead. But a hunter of nachos does not give a fuck what the circumstances are. If a loaded chip presents itself, it must be taken down posthaste.
This policy is the only way to explain how my brother and I found ourselves at Carlos & Gabby, a Glatt Kosher Tex-Mex restaurant in Riverdale. Taking a meandering route back from a daytrip to Peeskill, we were lost in a section of Yonkers that I’ve been lost in many times before—i.e., that incredibly depressing part that has five hundred autobody shops and nothing else (or is that just all of Yonkers?). At any rate, we finally got oriented toward Manhattan when I noticed the sign reading CARLOS & GABBY’S GLATT KOSHER MEXICAN GRILL.
“Should we see if they have nachos?” I asked.
“Basically, we have to,” Nick said.
His reluctance was understandable. After all, we had just eaten pulled-pork nachos, ox tongue pâté, and cheeseburgers at the Peeskill Brewery an hour earlier. And without knowing what Glatt Kosher really meant, we sensed that it might be an odd match for Mexican. Still, there was a thrill to being in a strange part of town and chancing upon such unfamiliar fare. This, we could agree, was what nacho-hunting was all about.
Strolling into the restaurant, I did a quick visual reconnaissance and determined that, aside from the two young Mexican women working behind the counter, Nick and I were the only people in the joint not rocking yarmulkes. This all checked out, so I moved to the counter and scanned the menu like a pro, looking for the word nachos. And there it was, clear as day: A whole section of the menu labeled “Muchos Nachos.” There would be no escaping fate. I placed the order for the carne asada “Nachos Grande” (Fiesta Nachos/Nachos Grande is the default terminology for the biggest and best nachos on any menu) while Nick retreated to a table in the back.
Given the small size of the restaurant, I was surprised to be handed a vibrating buzzer like the ones you get a Cheesecake Factory. I took it to our table and laid it down like a gauntlet. As we stared at the device, waiting for the bell to toll, I wondered who Carlos and Gabby were. Had their relationship been a scandal? Was Gabby a local Jew who had traveled to Mexico on a mission and fallen for her guide? Or was Carlos a plucky immigrant who had intercepted and courted the young lass during strolls to the synagogue?
Just as I was considering that maybe these scenarios were quite bigoted and I probably shouldn’t ever voice them (the same could probably be said of this entire review!?), I noticed a sign above the salsa station depicting two men, one white and one Mexican, wearing sombreros and thick mustaches. Mystery solved…sort of.
The rumbling of the buzzer roused me from these deep thoughts and I marched up to the counter to grab the goods. I was struck—and, given how full I felt, somewhat dismayed—by the gargantuan proportions of the nachos, served on a faux-wood grain platter. For a sense of the dimensions, think of a fully-grown Jack Russell Terrier that has fallen asleep and shape-shifted into tortilla chips.
Back at the table, we eyed them suspiciously and became to poke around the perimeter looking for a good place to start. It was difficult, because every aspect of the dish looked equally revolting. The refried beans that clung to the outer chips had a strange purplish hue, and they immediately triggered an unfortunate memory: The time my best friend from childhood, Will, told me that he defecated purple after eating a blueberry bagel. Blackened strips of steak looked like they had been excavated from Pompeii. And anemic, corn-heavy salsa (fuck outta here, corn!) was scattered liberally on top, along with a gloopy scoop of guacamole and streaks of sour cream worthy of Peter North.
But what was most disconcerting of all was a green, slimelike substance oozing through the whole pile, as if the nachos had just competed in a Physical Challenge on Double Dare. There was an explanation for this. In order to adhere to the Kosher ban on mixing meat and dairy, Carlos & Gabby had devised a “jalapeno creamy sauce” instead. It tasted as if someone had mixed the liquid from a jar of pickled jalapenos with sugar and glue. Those beans, too, tasted wholly unnatural, with none of the smoky earthiness you might ask of your frijoles. And the carne asada—chewy, dry, underseasoned—made Taco Bell beef seem like dry-aged wagyu.
After forcing down a few bites in the name of research, Nick and I began looking for an escape plan. Feeling self-conscious about leaving such a large quantity of food uneaten, I shepherded the platter back to the counter and asked if I could have it to go, explaining that “we forgot we needed to be somewhere,” and not elaborating that somewhere meant anywhere but here. Fittingly, the young girl behind the till wasted no ceremony in transferring the order to a clear plastic container; the nachos slid off the tray like so much prison slop.
As this was going on, I noticed some commotion around the entrance to the restaurant. A manager had raced out from behind the counter a few minutes ago, and he came back in enthused, yelling something about “a good fight.”
When we walked out, a man sprinted past us, then another followed in hot pursuit. The first was wearing a white dress shirt, untucked and unbuttoned halfway, and the one behind him—also in a devolved state of being dressed up—was hurling a wide range of racial slurs at his target, which was curious as they were both white guys. Curious also because it was 8:15pm.
The assailant finally got ahold of some shirt fabric and swung the other guy out into the road in front of a bus stop, cocking back his fist with drunken imprecision. He never got a punch in though, as he was immediately surrounded by three shrieking women—a pair of girlfriends and a mom, maybe—who also looked like they just came from a wedding or a funeral with an open bar. The older lady said, “What the fuck is wrong with yous?”, over and over in Bronx accent
We stood momentarily in shock, watching all this go down alongside an unperturbed, colorfully dressed gentleman carrying a Pelle Pelle suit bag. That a Pelle Pelle suit bag wasn’t even the third strangest thing we had seen in the past 20 minutes wouldn’t sink in until later.
At the time though, we decided to hop over a traffic barrier and race across the parking lot to our car, so eager to escape the street brawl that we didn’t even have time to throw out the disgusting nachos now in our possession. (Later, I deposited them in a trashcan on a Manhattan street corner.)
Never a dull moment in the life of a nacho hunter.