Can a Taco Make You Famous?

There's been a nagging in the back of my head lately. It's like an errant bit of cuticle you want to pick at, or a tiny crack in your windshield that makes driving hard because you can't stop staring at it. As much as I love all the aspects of my life - work, family, pageant, home, blog - life is hard, life is long, life is short, and there are times when you pick your head up, or maybe you hang it down, and even the most upbeat of us lets the shameful thought slip: is this it? 

At work, I try my best, and still receive feedback that it's not enough, I'm too emotional, that I should blindly accept more and more and more workload with a smile and perfect execution. For Miss TI, my family and I and our incredible network of volunteers work for an entire year to put together a competition that will honor the past and the future of our wonderful organization, an organization that cherishes and honors the strengths and voices of women, and ugly cowards on message boards undermine it all with a few careless digs. Is this it? Is that the best I can expect for years of hard work, accepting criticism from people who fundamentally don't know how to speak to other human beings, and from jerks who hide behind anonymous screen names? I can accept my weaknesses and approach things with an openness and willingness to improve, but I also care about protecting the part of me that's emotional, that cares about others and that wants to find a path to success that isn't punitive or painful for everyone involved. 

It's in times like this that I want to put even more kindness out, perhaps in hopes I'll get some back in return. And you know what's great? When it's easy to say great things about someone or something, because you can tell they're doing their best, too. So I might brag a little too much on some of my friends, some of my pageant girls, and some of my favorite chefs. And I'm about to do it again. Because every time I run into Chef Gabe Aubertine, good things go in my belly.

As you've already read here this summer, Gabe is at the helm of Gabe's Taco Kitchen in Clayton, a temporary gourmet taco shack making good eats while the new folks running the Thousand Islands Inn continue to renovate this landmark. Most of the time these days, the word gourmet is thrown around haplessly, and doesn't mean what we wish it would. This is not one of those times. You guys, these are tasty tacos.

And this is where all my is this it? postulating meets tacodom. Because Gabe named one after me, and it is good. The Big Hungry has pork loin, Brussels sprouts, bacon jam, and sweet potato fries jamming every square inch of space that flour tortilla has available, so you might say it has wall to wall flavor. Or you might point out that while you would expect the bacon jam to steal the show, it's the Brussels sprouts chewing the scenery, popping with crisp, bright texture and that earthy funk sprouts have. Gabe was wise to keep the bacon jam on the savory side, as the fries are packing so much sweetness, and the herb-crusted pork is snowy white and crispy on the sides from a trip to the flat top. This thing is savory gluttony at its finest, and for me, half the fun was ordering my namesake dish. I got to tell other diners that it was named after me, and be proud of my contribution to the North Country's culinary landed scape. I don't know if this taco can make me or Gabe famous, but here's hoping.

I didn't think it was possible, but it might have enjoyed The Codfather taco even more. I love a good fried fish taco, and this one with cilantro rice, pineapple salsa and pickled red onion, is banging. I'm not always a huge pineapple proponent, so I wasn't sure how I'd feel about all the sweetness, but the tang balanced well with the prickly vinegar of the onions and the crunchy lightness of the battered and fried cod. This taco was intensely summery, crunchy, sweet, and light. The acidity and sweet levels were perfectly balanced, and I could eat one every day for the rest of summer and be pretty happy.

Our pageant friend Deltra wanted Le Canadienne, but can't eat tortillas due to dietary restrictions, so she requested the taco fillings on salad greens. The kitchen accepted this challenge without a blink, and even topped this duck confit wonder with crispy, crunchy fried duck skin. So imagine a salad with unctuous, salty, shredded poultry on top, sweetness from caramelized onions and Granny Smith apples, the funk of a whipped up mousse made of tangy goat cheese, and a gorgeous, mellow thyme vinaigrette. Again, these flavors are complex, and Gabe combines them in the right ratios to achieve harmony. This is terrific. And I want a bag full of those salty, crunchy duck skins right now.

My parents both went for the Americano, and Mom was pleased with the savory, rather than overtly spicy taco meat, while Dad squirted on some hot sauce and ate with gusto. We also got some chips and salsas, and we were all impressed with the ranch flavoring on the chips, which cooled everything down and added zing when paired with the ultra fresh pico de gallo and guacamole. 

The following day, I brought some beauty queens over for lunch, and went for the Dirty Sanchez, an almagamation of chorizo, slaw, dirty rice, and black beans. The flavors in this taco were less pronounced and more traditional for me, but thats not a bad thing. The chorizo was on the milder side, but very spiced and savory and deliciously fatty, and I adored the crunch of the slaw. I would recommend more liver in the rice to make it "dirtier," and I think this would be a good place to deploy some heat with roasted serranos or something of that ilk, since you have the slaw and lime aioli right on hand to cool down the finished product.

Quite simply, both my meals at Gabe's Taco Kitchen were superb. Yes, I wish there was indoor seating, because even though I love sitting outdoors in Clayton, this past weekend was so windy, I got a mouthful of hair with each delicious bite of food. But that's just me. I know you're built of sturdier stuff, Big Hungries. 

Oh, I shouldn't forget to tell you about the ice burger, which Gabe brought out on the house. This creation, from the mind of one of the Inn's owners, is a sweet brioche bun topped with a chocolate ice cream patty, sliced strawberries and kiwi, shreds of dried coconut made to look like lettuce, and drizzles of caramel and strawberry sauce. It's a sugar bomb, of course, but so fun. My favorite part was the juxtaposition of the creamy ice cream and tart fruit against the dense bread texture.

Again, I don't know if we can get enough people in tiny Clayton to risk mealtime on gourmet tacos, and I don't know if having a taco named after you is enough to garner fame, but I do know that people like Gabe and his bosses, who take risks, who care enough to feed people and nourish us, and who gamble on something as fun and insane as a burger made out of ice cream, are bound for some kind of greatness. Here's to the good ones, you guys. May each of us know more of them. Viva Los tacos! 

If you're smart and you like to eat yummy things, you'll make that short drive up the River and get your hands on one of these pronto. And you'll stay tuned to BHS, because I have a review from Syracuse coming next week, and tales and recipes from the Broome County Legislature's Corn Cookoff coming soon. My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!


  1. Dinner next weekend at Clipper but lunch will surely be tacos. We will drop your name like we are good friends! My wife is having a tough week at M&T and wants to go Downtown Bing. for a few drinks and maybe some apps. HELP! If you are in the mood for a loud trashtalking band(AND WHO ISN'T), we will be at Barlycorn's fri. night.

    1. The best cocktails and specials in Bing right now are at Loft at 99 and Social on State. I'm traveling this weekend, but have fun at the Barleycorn! What kind of music does your band play?

  2. Parlor Cats is a blues band. On our way to Loft parked by Zona and decided to try because it was nice to sit outside. Drinks-eh, Fries-v.g. Quesadilla- perfect and huge, Shrimp po'boy- Oh BABY!

  3. I'm sorry life is kicking you in the shins lately. I dislike those times. They make me feel disillusioned, like nothing is ever good enough.

    Aside from those tacos, of course...they look far beyond good enough.