Based on my (pitifully few) blog entries, you might conclude that I'm obsessed with Mexican food. I've mentioned tacos four times as often as I have the legendary actor/director/producer Clint Eastwood, after all, and anything that gets more column space than Dirty Harry must rank pretty high up there. I also have to confess that I do love me some plastic spoon tamarind candies:
However, I would like to state for the record that it is this town--and not me--with the fixation on Mexican food. In fact, if you were to distill Grand Forks cuisine into one base recipe, I believe it would read something like this:
1. Take a carbohydrate, preferably one fried.
2. Top it with taco meat, preferably of the Taco Bell variety.
3. Optional: Add Cheddar cheese, jalapeño peppers, or mild salsa.
Taco in a bag obviously falls into this category. So does the food at Taco John's, where I recently ordered a taco with a side of Potato Olés (I think the accent mark over olé adds an air of authenticity to what is a dish of tater tots topped with nacho cheese).
But the grand poobah of the North Dakotan take on the taco is the Grinder, a deli sandwich found at Red Pepper.
There, they take a turkey or ham sandwich, use what looks like a frosting spatula to smear taco meat and some kind of sweetened mayonnaise on top, sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese over all of that, and arrange it all on a paper plate.
The result, I have to say, is not my favorite of the taco creations on offer here, but the restaurant is charmingly quaint. I can also understand the Grinder's appeal to people who were weaned on them or to college students who just had a few beers at one of the frat houses a block down the road. Actually, I think I could see the appeal even more if the chefs put a Cheez-Whiz–like nacho sauce on top, like Taco John does with the tater tot. In fact, since I just signed up as a Potato Olés Maniac on the Taco Johns website, I just might have to go redeem my free bowl of Mexicanized tater tots now.