Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Travels with Frenchie

Part II: Donuts and tacos along the Old Spanish Trail

Posted on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2008-10-29

Welcome to the second installment of Travels with Frenchie, a monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explore our city’s culinary nooks and crannies. As with last month’s Eastside barbecue showdown, our team consisted of Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier at Le Rêve), Carlos the Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, informal taco scholar), and me (recovering vegan and known taco-truck stalker.)

We set our eyes northwest, to the Old Spanish Trail, and chose the Original Donut Shop/Cocina Mexicana at the intersection of Fredericksburg and Babcock. The allure of this restaurant is in its strong reputation and its strange combination of tacos and donuts. Though fairly common by themselves, together they suggest something exotic. And to take it to a philosophical level, perhaps this separate but equal combination of Mexican and American culinary traditions will give us insight into the dual nature of San Antonio culture. And if not, well, hopefully the food is good.

The two drive-through lanes on the north side of the building reinforce the restaurant’s Gemini nature: one lane for Mexican food, the other for donuts. I’ve been told there is little sympathy for the innocent who attempts to order from the wrong lane. Luckily, we dined in.

We first tasted a wide variety of offerings from the Cocina Mexicana side of the restaurant, with a specific focus on the breakfast tacos. I had been told the carne guisada is their trophy taco. Frenchie found it be only OK, with the meat being a little tough. I concurred. The country sausage & egg taco, however, he thought was outstanding. The eggs were wonderfully moist and not too salty, and the sausage was of high quality.

Carlos went with a taco triumvirate of chorizo con papas, papas con huevo, and tocino con papas. As with Frenchie, Carlos found the eggs to be moist and fluffy, but wished they used more seasoning or vegetables to add complexity to the flavor. The chorizo was a high point as its spice was flavorful without a burning heat. Lastly, Carlos likes his bacon a little less crisp.

At this point it would be wrong not to mention the handmade tortillas. In some ways their presence overshadows the tacos. They look wonderfully misshapen and unique as they emerge from the kitchen. As far as I know, there isn’t a classification system for tortillas, but if this were pizza, these would be considered deep-dish Chicago style.

After filling our bellies on tacos (and tortillas), donuts seemed like an over-indulgence, but we waddled to the other side of the restaurant to see what would happen. To our surprise, the donuts were simply outstanding and perhaps some of the best I’ve ever tasted. They were very sweet and also, oddly, very pure. Did they not use the typical ingredients? The donuts tasted like they weren’t cooked in oil … but what?

Frenchie was ecstatic about his Bavarian crème donut and made comparisons to a pastry from France that is glazed with pistachio and chocolate and filled with rum and crème. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t tell us the name because it’s a colloquial term for a certain sexual organ, which then prompted a brief conversation comparing French and American attitudes. With our blood glucose levels soaring through the stratosphere, we left in complete awe of the donuts, indifferent to the impending crash that was soon to come.

Next month: a trip to a Southside meat market (and no, it’s not Club Movida.) For more food options along Fredericksburg’s historic stretch, see “Dining on the Old Spanish Trail,” September 5, 2007.

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