7/11/14

The Rough Beauty of Marco's Tacos

When I moved to Colorado I was expecting a bounty of great Mexican food--you know, it being the West and all, and sort-of the Southwest.  However, for the first few years here I lived in Boulder.  Boulder has many, many charms, as well as more than its fair share of great food, but it is not the best place to find good Mexican food.  If you are looking for great Mexican food (especially street food) you need to head to Longmont.  For great little offal tacos you can go to Las Palmeras (the tiny one on Francis street, not the larger, sister-restaurant on Main), or you can pick up some warm tortillas from Las Americas Tortilleria and make your own--and if they have churros on the counter, be sure to grab a couple for dessert.  If you don't want to bother to get out of the car to interact with other humans, you can even get a good drive-through lengua taco at the definitely-not-a-chain Taco Star on Main.  The best tacos, however, at to be found at Marco's Tacos, a concrete-enclosed set of hot dog carts located a little bit east of Main street, on 1647 Kimbark.


Over the years I have watched as Marco's literally has built up walls around those two hot dog carts, slowly creating something closer and closer to a brick-and-mortar restaurant.  On cold winter days there would often be a plastic sheet blocking the wind on one side, and on really cold days they just close up shop.  When they are open, they are hopping with business. Marcos has a really short menu--tacos, which you can order wrapped up in one or two griddled corn tortillas, or bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dogs, which you can now also purchase as a Burro Dog.  The tacos are all made strictly with griddled beef (this is not a vegetarian-friendly place) and you then add on your own favorite toppings from the little cold stand set up between the carts.  There is always fresh pico de gallo, chopped onion and finely chopped fresh cucumber, wedges of lime, and chopped fresh cilantro.  You can also add on pickled jalapeno slices or a thin, fruity and fiery salsa.  My favorite topping is pictured below; roasted whole jalapenos, submerged in a murky, vaguely oil-slicked pool of peppery goodness.  I generally pack a couple of these up on the side.



On our last visit we decided to try the new menu item, the Burro Dog.  The Sonoran hot dog is a bacon-wrapped dog cooked in a tasty slick of bacon grease, loaded into a bun with beans, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and mayo.  The Burro Dog is a version of this that is loaded into a warm, flour tortilla.  I added jalapenos on top before it was precisely rolled up and served wrapped in foil.





We also shared some single-tortilla tacos, which we topped with salsa, cilantro, pico de gallo, onion, and lime.  No, these tacos do not come with cheese.  Classics, baby.


Marco's is really popular because the food is fresh, tasty, and inexpensive.  Even when we overdo it we never spend more than about 15 dollars for dinner for two. The bare-bones restaurant means that you have a choice of eating at one of the "standing tables" next to the carts, or while perched on the concrete ledge out front.  Because they lack a public restroom they are prohibited from having public seating.  We typically take our food home, or just down a taco or two while standing in the parking lot.  Marco's hours vary a bit according to the weather, but it is well worth a drive out to have some tasty tacos. 

2/15/14

The Oskar Blues Empire

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining the Boulder Food Media group on a beer-fueled romp through three of the tasty appendages of the Oskar Blues food and beer empire.  The Oskar Blues in Lyons is the flagship establishment and remains the heart of the operation, but the body and soul now arguably reside in Longmont, home of CHUBurger (specialty burgers along with excellent onion rings and fries), Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids and Solids (full menu of the aforementioned liquids and solids), the newly-opened CyclHOPS (creative tacos and tequila), and the Tasty Weasel Taproom (BEER, plus the brewery).  

We started out at CHUBurger, where we sampled a genuinely intriguing beer and whisky milkshake, plus some beer (this will be a recurring theme), and some of the fantastic house-made onion rings and shoshito fries.  The "Handshake" is made with a unique blending method called a Pacojet, and our samples were decidedly alcoholic--pictured here with the Velvet Elvis Stout beer sample that I enjoyed:


That's beer on beer, folks, and it was good.  We also sampled the fries and onion rings--and since I have visited CHUBurger on many occasions, I already knew they were pretty wonderful.  I am particularly fond of the shoshito fries, which are fries laced with unbreaded, fried shoshito peppers.  The peppers are fruity and generally mild, though you occasionally hit a wildcard hot one.  Also great dipped into the house-made ginger ketchup. 


After this we boarded the Oskar Blues Trolley to head over to the Longmont Oskar Blues, Home Made Liquids and Solids.  See, we weren't driving.  And yes, there we started with beer:


This was an Oskar Blues One Nut Brown Ale, which I selected with the help of my food media friend from The Unchained Eatery--because he knows a whole lot more about beer than I do, and I trust his judgement (and I loved this beer, so, good call).   This was the beginning of an amazing meal, all put together by chef Jason Rogers.  Rogers is personable and has an impressive culinary background, and he made sure we were all far too well fed.  We started with a cheese and charcuterie platter featuring Haystack Mountain cheeses, as well as some house-made pickles, spicy mustard, duck proscuitto, spiced walnuts, and some cured cheek meat from the Oskar Blues farm.  Oskar Blues has paired with Haystack to make a signature cheese called "G'Knight" or "A Cheese Named Sue."  I would try to explain that name but I cannot.  I had sampled this cheese a few months ago during a Haystack cheesemaking tour, and it is a dusky, fragrant cheese that worked well with the spicy mustard.  The duck proscuitto was the stuff of dreams.  


 This was followed by a piece of beautifully-cooked blackened redfish atop a crawfish Étouffée.

AND THEN, people, Chef Rogers brought out platters of slow-smoked meats: pulled pork, brisket, house meatloaf, wings, andouille, and, lord help us all, pork belly.  The pork belly was incredible.  The earth moved.  

This was all accompanied by the completely unnecessary (but delicious) sides of fried green tomatoes, slaw, fries--and there was also more beer in there.  

I wanted to show you beautiful photos of this over-the-top portion of the evening, but I think I blacked out from pleasure. When I loaded my photos there were just some random shots of the wall ornaments on my camera from this portion of the evening.  Apologies for that.  

At this point we collective rolled ourselves back to the trolley and headed to the Tasty Weasel Taproom.  For more beer.  And some bourbon balls.  And a brewery tour.  





I would love to tell you what beer that is up with the bourbon ball, but I don't remember.  It was good, though.  I remember that.  

The brewery tour was impressive due to both the scale of the operation and the relative simplicity of the set up.  I think on some level I was expecting Oompa Loompas, but it wasn't that mysterious.  There were lots and lots of impressively shiny tanks:


And stacks and stacks of beer cans, just waiting to be filled:


They look pretty, don't they?

One of the more impressive aspects of the Oskar Blues family of businesses is the degree to which they operate as good citizens of the community.  They have a farm outside of Longmont where they raise the livestock that goes into their burgers, and the spent hops from the brewery go to feed those animals.  They partner with other local businesses like Haystack.  They generally work at being good neighbors.  I like that.  I like their food, and wine person that I am, I really like their beer.

The Blues empire has achieved that status by producing consistently good food and beer, and if you are looking for elevated bar food you can find that alongside excellent smoked meats and Louisiana-influenced seafood and sides.  Really, just go try the shoshito fries and a Velvet Elvis at CHUBurger, and then head over to Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids and Solids and get some smoked meats.  I think it will make you happy.