Review: Carlos & Gabby’s Glatt Kosher Mexican Grill

ImageOne 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.

ImageThe 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.

ImageBut 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.

Nachos at John P. Field’s in Clayton, Mo.

A guest post by Ms. Cary Randolph Fuller

In the words of the poet Murphy Lee, “the Lou is more than the Rams, Cards, and little Arch.” It’s also a city full of great American bars. No frills, just baseball on the flat-screen, girls in jeans, and extensive, exhaustive menus. As a rule, if Mike Shannon can fry it, you can eat it, and you’ll pair it with a big cold pint of Bud Select.

John P. Fields is one such bar. Tucked away in the yuppie enclave of Clayton, it prides itself on an atmosphere “accented by close ties to NHL hockey.” And the atmosphere is ideal…if your name is Dave or Norm and your palate comfortably unsophisticated. These nachos looked terrific: bright colors and a perfect distribution of cheese, chili, and jalapeno peppers. Great nachos to eat on a date: pick up a chip and nothing falls off. They are neat, tidy, aesthetically pleasing. But something was amiss. They lacked any kind of kick. Flavor? Stale chips? A second trip is unlikely so I may never find out. But one thing is certain: when three grown women split an order of nachos and don’t even touch half the plate…something ain’t right.
Because like Nelly I am “representin’ Saint Louis every time I breathe,” these nachos get a 5/10 rating. Without my loyalty, they really merit just a 2 – for presentation and portion size.

Coyote Flaco

A chain with some rather dubious locations… not least of which Mansfield, CT, where I ate these nachos… Coyote Flaco has an old school vibe. The food is typical 1980s/early 1990s Eastern Tex Mex, heavy on cheese and sour cream, light on nuanced flavor. Still, there’s something comforting about essentials. These are the nachos we grew up with. Cheese meets chips, topped with grilled chicken, beans, and the three amigos of sour cream, salsa, and guac. Wildly filling. Wildly damaging to ones gastrointestinal system.

Over all a 5 on 10. True to our motto – “Any nacho is better than no nacho.” But, also true to one of our regular faults – if fajitas had been ordered, the meal would likely have been better.

Something to keep in mind though, Coyote Flaco serves the second best nachos within striking distance of UCONN’s Gampel Pavilion. The best will be reviewed in the very near future.

Nachos at a Museum

Our first attempts at making nachos involved round chips, a bag of shredded cheese, and the family microwave. At ages 9 and 6, respectively, Christopher and I spent several months perfecting a rudimentary nacho recipe. Cooked for 1 minute, we had creamy melty (to steal from Taco Bell) cheese. Blast for 2 minutes, we had a type of nachos we referred to as “crispy” – the cheese loosing all moisture and hardening.

A Pittsburgh’s contemporary art mecca, the Mattress Factory, nachos are made using the first of the Nacho Hunter’s two microwave cooking method. Round chips are topped with ample cheese and finished with a healthy portion of veggie chili. The microwave, in this case, can be forgiven for two reasons. The first, simple enough, is that the Cafe doesn’t have an oven. The second, a bit more complicated, is that the overwhelming surprise of having nachos available at a museum cancels out complete lack of building technique.

These nachos are adequate. Delightfully basic, the nachos fill a single man’s hunger and prepare him to look at art.

Ultimately, while just a 5 on 10, nachos at the Mattress Factory do succeed in ranking highly among least likely places to eat nachos.

A visit is recommended (for the art, primarily).

Duck Nachos

Given our previous misadventures anytime nachos and English people are combined, it is something of a marvel that these unique nachos are prepared at a restaurant, Perro Salado, owned by Brits. It is an even greater marvel that they are produced in the WASP bastion of Newport, RI.

Perro Salado’s Duck Nachos are heavy. Some of the heaviest nachos encountered in the many years we’ve engaged in nacho hunting. Thickly sliced duck breast joins duck confit to form a robust topping. Such topping requires firm chips… achieved here through use of blue corn tortillas. However, the nachos are served in a bowl makes for one immediate problem… a soggy base. The juice of the confit and the duck breast combined pools significantly in the chosen dish. These are, for better or worse, knife and fork nachos. Another deficiency comes in the mingling of ingredients. The cheese doesn’t quite melt into the duck. These leaves coverage of chips mixed… and if you know us, you know we crave fully loaded bites, each and every bite.

In idea, Perro Salado’s Duck Nachos are an 8/10. They bring a regional bird to the dish, and a touch of gourmet flavor. In execution, they fall to a 4/10. Balance of ingredients fails, as does the composition of the plate.  Don’t discount for technique though, the Duck Nachos have terrific flavor. Our final thought – one which may again appear – are these truly nachos, or a very special taco salad?

Visit Perro Salado for yourself to join the discussion. We hear they now offer an ambitious brunch nacho as well.


Thanksgiving Nachos

What do Nacho Hunters do with thanksgiving leftovers? Make fucking nachos, that’s what.

Christopher kindly supplied the family with more than enough expertly roasted turkey from Torrisi (famed for having the best turkey sandwich in NYC), which we cubed for the purposes of the nachos. Rather than add beans or any other heavy accompaniment, we simply carmelized a few onions. For cheese we used cheddar, pepperjack, and Habenero jack. Store bought chips served as base. We baked all at 350 for 30 minutes.

We finished the nachos with a drizzle of warmed “Harvest” salsa from Brooklyn Salsa Company. The sweet pumpkin and squash mix hit perfectly with the turkey and carmelized onions.

Images follow.

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Larb Nachos

These nachos are inspired by Christopher’s trip to Cambodia. There he ate nachos with gloriously spiced ground chicken. Here, we took a rather simple larb recipe… with ample lemongrass and hot chili… stolen from Foodnetwork and paired the meat with a very thin cheese sauce prepared with Habanero jack. Our initial desire was to use freshly fried wantons. However, a sample batch proved the wanton too weak to handle the heft of our topping. As such, we reverted to our preferred chip – freshly fried corn tortilla wedges.

The pictures after the jump tell the full story.

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