Five Judges. Six Tacos. One Clear Winner.
Saturday, October 8th, 2016, Grey Eagle, Asheville: Let’s Taco ‘Bout It. I was lucky enough to be a judge at the first-ever Let’s Taco ‘Bout It throwdown hosted by the Grey Eagle, located in the River Arts District, which not only has it’s own taqueria inside, it has long been my fave taco tavern in town. Well on this particular Saturday the Grey Eagle hosted five other taco vendors for a bit of a friendly contest, with a judges table, and a popular vote. I had a great time! I love doing these types of things. I ate six tacos, Betches!
Well… five and a bite.
Sorry, Grey Eagle, I normally talk-up your tacos as the best in town — fer realz — but the beef tongue taco you served us that day was a one-and-done biter for me. I admit, I’m not a sophisticated person, and beef tongue is a little difficult for me to do… psychologically as well as textually and flavor-wise. I’m just not a fan of eating other animals’ tongues, and for me to even think about eating a taco full of beef tongue… it would pretty much have to be cooked to fucking death and salted like a gottdang Slim Jim. I think some of the other judges, and probably a lot the general public feels kinda the same about tongue. Ain’t no denyin’ that it has a high “ick” factor.
I’m just sayin’! The Grey Eagle could have done a lot better at the judges table with an example of their traditional Carne Asada, Pork Pasteur, or Borracho Chicken tacos, which are all fucking killer… bahhht they still wouldn’t have won.
The clear, way-out-front winner with me and my fellow judges was…
Holy moly. I had never eaten anything off of the Belly Up Truck before, and they absolutely CRUSHED it with their sorghum glazed pork belly taco, that was topped with poblano yogurt, pickled fennel & blackberry salad, and pistachio mint chimichuri, on a handmade corn tortilla. Um… it… was… awesome!!!
The tortilla itself was very very good, and I’m still craving it over a week later. A little thicker than the average tortilla, and plenty durable, it didn’t crack, split or fall apart, so that it was a great delivery device, but also contributed as much to the over-all flavor and textural appeal of the taco as any other ingredient.
The pork belly was cooked just right and tasted wonderful. Pork belly is one of those things that, if it’s not cooked right, can have a pretty high ick factor itself. Trying to gnaw through a piece of cold, tough, rubbery pork belly is like chewing one of those big pink erasers, but with a layer of blubber attached. YUCK! Fortunately, the pork belly on the Belly Up taco was cooked just right. The meat was meaty. The fat was melty. The flavor was porky, and slightly sweet. The temp was on point. Perfect pork belly in my opinion, and the other judges seemed to be likewise impressed.
The toppings? Let me put it into perspective for you: This taco had fucking blackberries on it. Like, big, fresh, actual motherfucking blackberries. Does that seem weird to you? It seems weird beyond belief to me, so I never would have thought it would taste so goood! Serious. As I was chewing through this amazing taco, experiencing the pickled fennel, and the mint chimichuri, I was thinking to myself, “This thing is pretty fucking interesting,” when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, BOOM, I’m biting down on a whole blackberry like nobody’s bidniss, and.. loving it!
Super huge double-plus points to Belly Up Truck for creativity. They gave us something unique, beautiful, imaginative, seasonally & locally sourced, and most of all: Delicious! Their taco simultaneously challenged, stimulated, and comforted my eyes, mind, mouth, stomach, and soul. After my fellow judges and I picked them as the clear winners, but before the announcement, I ran out to the truck and ordered three more to go! Keep in mind that I had just eaten 5 whole tacos… and a bite… but I knew that I’d want more of these particular tacos later, and I also wanted to share their greatness with my GF Dawn, because I knew she’d love them, and she did.
Here’s the breakdown:
• All-in-all, six vendors offered tacos that day:
Belly Up • Chupacabra Latin Cafe • Blue Dream Curry House • Joyita’s Tacos • Salvage Station • The Grey Eagle Taqueria
• Salvage Stations‘ Shrimp Po’Boy Taco won the popular vote, so congrats to them!
• The judges at this first-ever Let’s Taco ‘Bout It throwdown were:
Me: Stu Helm the Food Fan • Chef Steven Goff (King James Pub / Brinehaus / Sovereign Remedies) • Amy Rubin (Oskar Blues Brewing), Scotty Robertson (WNCW) • Food Writer & Adventurer Jonathan Ammons (Mountain Xpress / Dirty Spoon)
• When it came to picking Belly Up Truck as the winner, there was virtually no discussion among the judges beyond, “We all agree that this is the one, right?”
• And just in case you didn’t know, this event was the brainchild of Russel Keith at the Grey Eagle, brought to life by Marianne Beasley, who is a student at UNCA fulfilling one of her requirements for graduation with a project-based internship! How cool is that?
I think Marianne did a great job, especially for a beginner! Organizing these types of things is not easy, as you can well imagine. It takes a lot of work, and a diverse set of skills that includes dealing with logistics, egos, emotions, schedules, money, math… weather! Crimenny! There’s a million things to do and a thousand things that can go wrong at any given time along the way, including on the day of the event! Of the 8 taco vendors originally scheduled, two had to drop out at the last minute, which is par for the course when you do these things, but stressful none-the-less. Other than that it seemed like a very smooth event from where I was sitting, and Marianne kept her composure all day. She certainly always had a smile on her face whenever I saw her.
Personally, I hope that this event happens again next year, and then annually forever and ever, with more taco vendors being added to the mix until it’s huge! I’ve heard that Tacos Muñoz has the best traditional tacos in Asheville, but have not had a chance to try them. I was hoping they’d be at the throwdown, so maybe next year!
In the meantime, I’m going to be stalking that Belly Up Truck taco wherever it might be, as often as possible. Like a shark. Like a tiger. Like a hungry hungry hippo on the hunt for nom noms.
Belly Up Truck
Phone: (828) 782-4524
The Grey Eagle
Address: 185 Clingman Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 232-5800
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
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