Grand Island Nebraska report: a treasured find, and mega-pan. Quite long.
Saturday lunch, dinner + Sunday breakfast in Grand Island, Nebraska. March 16-17 2002.
The lunch was *spectacular*. If there was (highly unlikely!) ever to be a Guide Michelin of the Midwest, El Tazumal, at West 4th & Cedar, would be a One Rosette (worth a detour) restaurant with out doubt. In the Hispanic enclave (always a surprise in Grand Island how many "tipico" establishments there are) is this little Guatemalan gem. You walk in and the staffs children are attempting to embezzle the gumball machines, and the TV blares Mexican soaps. But you know something is right from the smell that wafts around the block even before you enter.
The menu is small, always a good sign, and the take-out business brisk on a Saturday afternoon. (What would one give to have a place like this as your local Mickey-Ds which is a terrible insult to it, but you know what I mean.)
The food! (Get on with it!!) Superb. Orbital. Wayyyy up there. Ordered far too much food. Reckoning that the low-low prices (3.75) indicated a lack of portion size---wrong! Taco and tamal for me, and taco and enchilada for my wife. The waitress persuaded us to try the pupasas (I hope that is right). She asked if we wanted chips: sensing that no was the answer destined to please, I declined. It appeared to work.
We moved up a notch in estimation.
My wife & I were talking, and became aware of a noise I had never expected to hear . . . let alone here in shadow of the UP tracks and adjacent to the corn stubble. A pat pat pat pat pat pat . . . I thought it was a clapping in time to some music. But then (jaw drop) I see that the kitchen staff are hand crafting tortillas to our order. From this point on it only got better.
The food arrived a dinersize macho portion for incredibly low price. I have to say the tamal was superb. A sort of hand-patted pair of soft-masa cakes, filled with pork beans and sauce. I noticed these being bought by the locals in quantity. They were superbly cooked. Seasoned and served with rice and stellar refried (lard lard & more lard!) beans. Also beautifully seasoned. The tacos were fresh tortillas, filled with the most succulent pulled pork. All was served with four sides. A light crème . . . a prom-dress pink pickled cabbage, with much oregano in evidence---a sort of sauerkraut de Rio . . . and two salsas, red & green, both excellent and unusual.
A glance in the kitchen later betrayed nary a machine in sight and a spotless and highly appetizing line-up of ingredients. (Are you getting the picture: this place deserves, and I am doing my best to give it, a *rave!* :-) )
The papusas (if I got the name wrong, it is the item on the menu that are three for $275) are bananas filled with brown bean filling and deep fried and served sprinkled with sugar. They are curious. For a start they are fried in lard and the beans are savory. So there is a tug of flavors: sweet / savory. With no clear winner. The beans appear to have had chocolate added, but it could just be some mole or maybe a trick of the combination. The effect is of a beany chocolaty filled fried banana. And its good.
Another clear winner was a soft burrito type affair in a green-tinged masa wrap. My wife almost stole it off my plate.
We had three bottles of lemonade. Our tab for lunch was $17.10 plus tip. Nothing mass-produced or not "hands on" in sight. Wonderful.
While there are several intriguing looking establishments in the vicinity, I find it hard to believe it will be as well run or with food better than El Tazumal. Boy it was good.
DINNER WAS A DISASTER however.
If one had to name the restaurant that anyone knows in Grand Island it would be Dreisbachs Steak House and I have to say after this my second visit, I have to ask the question that was foremost in my mind after my first one: why?????
On the first visit I excused it because we arrived early (off hours) and were not doing the full dog night out dinner. But this time we were. And it was . . . absolutely hideous. First of all two gin & tonics were served as gin & club sodas. It was a big fuss to get them changed. Then mushrooms with ranch dressing arrived sans dressing. The salad bar---(at a prestige steakhouse you expect something about like a city bus in size and bristling with marinated herring and such)---ha! This looked like seventeen dressings and a big bowl of weedy lettuce and onions sliced with a razor. The most bizarre aspect was a fishing net that made it totally impossible to get anything out of the bar anyway.
The steaks were not cooked as ordered. My 20oz T bone was ordered rare. It would have been an OK steak (quite a lack of trimming) had it not been served medium rare to medium. At this stage, I did not even think to complain. The waitress (an older lady) was accommodating enough, but seemed how-shall-we-say as though she was less than interested in complaints. Perhaps she hears a lot of them. My wife ate 2 bites of her strip and no more. The fries were ersatz extruded ones. My choice of wine was not available, replaced by the highest priced alternative. The water jug was not refilled though empty most of the meal. Even the other clientele were quite annoying. You go to a place like this to eat meat and be "looked after" in compfort . . . no luck here. Oh, and it was far too hot and stuffy.
In short . . . this place may have once been good, even great, but someone has stopped trying. No one in the kitchen or bar knows what they are doing. There is a feeling of a large ocean ship reeling about the ocean with an ingénue crew or older ones who cant be bothered any more. I would not be able to recommend it. After giving it the benefit of the doubt one time.
There is a new place called Texas T Bone across the street. In a cruel final sentence, but I think true, it just . . . cant be worse.
Oh and a lagniappe tip for breakfast Tommys 24 Hour Restaurant is up to snuff. True diner atmosphere. Even a colorful old timer talking to himself at the counter for a little added grit factor. What I love good bright yellow eggs with taste.
Anyway, two out of three in Grand Island.
Thanks for reading.
Anyone considering stopping at El Tazumal in Grand Island, note that Mike's post is from 2002. Things are a little different now. We stopped in yesterday and spent about 15 minutes in the restaurant with none of the staff approaching us (e.g. with a menu) or even making eye contact or otherwise acknowledging our existence. Maybe they thought we were from Immigration, maybe they just don't like people who aren't from the neighborhood, but if you want a meal in Grand Island, you'll probably do better elsewhere.
Thanks for a wonderful post, keep it up! As an aging midwesterner, I guess I hope that the traditional american cuisine is going strong in places like Grand Island, notwithstanding your experience, and that there are still great steaks, chicken and dumplings, biscuits and pies to be had across the center of the country.
But the steak and chicken palls after a while - what a delicious and unexpected treat you found! Cross country drivers, make a note!