More than 1,600 people virtually voiced their approval when Minero last month used its Instagram account to herald the debut of a lengua taco with charred-onion salsa and jicama-cucumber slaw. The handsome taco is the first from Minero to feature offal traditionally associated with taquerias.
“People went bonkers for (it),” chef Sean Brock tweeted soon thereafter, clarifying that the taco was a “verbal special,” as opposed to a menu fixture. “The first of many fun tacos on the horizon,” he pledged.
But the owner of a Mexican restaurant credited by Travel + Leisure with creating one of the country’s best tacos warns tongue support may not translate to long-term sales (although I’ll be doing my part to pump up the numbers.)
“I think people like to see tongue on a menu,” says Nick Zukin, owner of Portland’s Mi Mero Mole.
“It adds credibility to a menu. But those same people don’t necessarily want to order offal,” Zukin says. “And in the case of tongue, that’s really too bad, because it doesn’t have any strong and unusual flavors like liver, kidneys, brains or tripe. It just tastes more beefy, almost like grass-fed beef.”
At Mi Mero Mole, the tongue is smoked, and then stewed with salsa verde, potatoes and cactus. “I think our tongue dish is one of our best,” says Zukin, who likes how the salsa’s tanginess balances out the tongue’s earthy flavor.
“But it’s probably our least purchased guisado, even compared with our vegan guisados. And this is in a town that supposedly prides itself on open-mindedness and using all the parts of the animal.”
According to Zukin, tongue skittishness doesn’t only occur at the taco counter.
Tongue has shown up elsewhere in Charleston — in late December, The Glass Onion served a tongue po’ boy for lunch — but Zukin says it’s a hard sell on a regular basis.
When tongue was on the menu at Kenny & Zuke’s, a lauded Jewish-style deli that Zukin co-founded, very few customers ordered the traditional cold cut.
“I would say that without Mexican customers, we couldn’t justify keeping tongue on the menu,” he says. “Nearly every table of Mexican customers will order at least a couple tacos with tongue.”
Tongue’s position on Mi Mero Mole’s menu is precarious partly because of its high price. Tongue is typically costlier than top sirloin and certain cuts of lamb, commanding $6 per pound on the wholesale market in Portland. Allowing for weight loss from cooking; the tortilla and condiments, Zukin estimates it costs a restaurant about $1.50 to produce a tongue taco.
“They might be able to make it up with chicken or pork, but they may actually lose money for every tongue taco they sell,” he says.
But they might also gain a new crowd of lengua fans. As Zukin says, “Other than the thought of it being a tongue, there’s really nothing to keep average diners from enjoying it.”
Minero is located at 155 E. Bay St. For more information, go to minerorestaurant.com or call 789-2241.
In the realm of Southern food story ledes, this is probably as cliched as the aroma of momma’s biscuits, but I really was eating Gus’s fried chicken with Nathalie Dupree when the subject of wing etiquette came up.
At Gus’s, the meaty wings don’t need any accompaniment (except, perhaps, a slice of white bread and a cold beer.)
But when wings elsewhere are prepared Buffalo-style, meaning unbreaded and slathered with hot sauce, they’re invariably plated with celery sticks and a plastic ramekin of ranch or blue cheese dressing. The situation’s the same in thousands of restaurants and bars across the country.
So what to do with dressing? According to Dupree, it’s a vegetable dip.
Since I was under the impression that swiping a wing through dressing was totally couth, I anxiously started asking after other people’s chicken habits.
And it turns out a fair number of eaters indeed reserve their dressing for what a high-end chef would call crudite.
But a Wild Wing Cafe manager assured me that there’s nothing wrong with treating dressing as an all-access zone.
“I was raised eating chicken wings, and the dressing was always for the wings,” says Nick Heeter of the restaurant chain’s Market Street location. “A majority of our customers look at dressing as a complement to chicken.”
Still, Heeter doesn’t begrudge wing fans devising their own rituals.
According to Heeter, individuality is central to the mystique of wings, which have become so popular nationwide that Americans last year consumed more than 1 billion wings during the course of the Super Bowl.
“Wings are one of the few foods you have to eat with your fingers, and dig right in,” he says. “Wings are extremely personal. I think people appreciate wings on a level that’s theirs.”