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.

NOTE: SOMETIMES, WHEN HUNTING, ONLY A BLACKBERRY PHOTO IS POSSIBLE. APOLOGIES FOR THAT.

Polish-Mexican Nachos?

nachohunters - polish-mexican nachos?

On a quite stretch of Mayfair, literally steps south of London’s Shepard’s Market lies L’Autre, a Polish-Mexican restaurant. Over the past several years we’ve stumbled upon word of this bizarre gem on several occasions, and each time we thought, “Really must try that one day.” The day of reckoning came last Friday, during a slow and fruitful pub crawl in Mayfair.

The rumored story of the location—one of deceit and international intrigue—turned out partially true. Born at the end of the 1970s as the sister dining room to a now closed joint called This and That, it developed a following in the ranks of the nearby Mexican Embassy. Sensing an opportunity, the Vancover-bred owner hired a Mexican chef (from the Embassy) and started to appeal to this client base with off-the-menu items. As one might expect, other punters were intrigued (and here is that half of the rumors) by the Mexican dishes, which soon found a happy place on the full menu.

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Sixth Ward, NYC: A Night of Questions

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Last night I stopped by the Red Bull Snowscrapers big air event. Unfortunately it was somewhat miserable. I stood in man-made snow for an hour and felt like I was on the verge of getting frostbite, perhaps because my footwear would have been more appropriate for a game of indoor soccer than gallivanting in an ice field. On the plus side, the faux-mountain vibe and extreme cold got me in the mood to eat some nachos. So, every cloud…

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Monte Alban: A Diamond in the Rough

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Growing up in Connecticut did not afford too many opportunities for nacho hunting. There used to be a great little cantina in Canton that was a perfect stopover point on the road from Farmington Mini Golf to Unionville Mini Golf, but it’s long gone. Other than that pickings are slim, generally limited to chains and the ever-mediocre Margaritaville.

Thankfully, Monte Alban in the West End of Hartford provides a glimmer of hope. I’ve always liked this spot, though unfortunately my nut allergy precludes me from sampling the signature mole, which is apparently quite excellent. Still, it’s a solid ‘straunt for a hearty plate of enchiladas or tacos, and it’s becoming something of a go-to spot for me during sojourns to The Heartbeat.

Last Saturday my friends Greg, Tony, and I worked up an appetite for nachos in textbook fashion, playing a round of glow-in-the-dark mini golf and swinging by Cabela’s to check out the camo. It was also freezing brass monkeys, and even though nachos originated in warmer climes, it must be said that they are the ultimate comfort food on a cold day. Probably one of reasons why the best nachos orbit around ski resorts.

Admittedly,  it was hard to pass up duck wings in the Cabela’s cafeteria, but we had our eyes on the prize.

Monte Alban serves up a typical restuarant-style plate of nachos. Lard-heavy refried beans, greasy but tasty shredded chicken, and a dollop-a-piece of sour cream and guac. The individual ingredients are nothing to write home about, but everything comes together in a satisfying (if somewhat greasy) plate. Shredded lettuce and diced tomatos are a bit of a lazy cop out (a nice pico de gallo would do wonders), but the suggestion of vegetables alone, as well as the slight crunchiness of the lettuce, helps balance out the heaviness of the other ingredients. Sliced jalapenos and the thin, tasty house salsa also help in that category.

Nachos and New England have rarely been great bedfellows, but Monte Albon is certainly worth a stopover if you’re unfortunate enough to be in the Hartford area. If you do pop in for a meal, walk over to the corner of Farmington Ave. and Sisson before or after and look for the Half Door. There you’ll find an impressive lineup of beers on tap, including the excellent London Pride Porter from Fullers.