Taco Farm: All Kinds of Fresh and Local
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘Looking back now, I can say with conviction that we absolutely did not think things through,’ Taco Farm’s Natalie (‘Nat’) Benninger remarks with a nervous laugh. I chuckle at her candidness before sinking my fork back into the Queso Fundido – a hot skillet of melted cheeses and chorizo. I carefully spread the gooey deliciousness onto a warm corn tortilla, then gobble it down. Nat continues: ‘We had no idea how much it would cost to ship it here. Or how often it would need loving care. Or that it would need its own staff person to operate.’ She reaches across the table, grabs a tortilla, and loads it with the melted cheeses and chorizo, before adding: ‘And yet I think we’d do it all over again.’
Nick Benninger, Nat’s husband and partner – in this enterprise as well as all Fat Sparrow Group restaurants – nods his head. ‘Yep,’ Nick remarks, ‘Taco Man Randy Savage has ultimately earned his keep.’ That’s right – Taco Man Randy Savage. Or, to most of the restaurant’s staff and patrons, Taco Farm’s fresh tortilla-making machine. Positioned in clear view behind the counter at Taco Farm, this marvelous (and imposing) contraption functions as the heart and soul of the operation – pushing out fresh corn tortillas from morning through to close.
‘We’re one of the only restaurants in the country to have one of these,’ Nat notes of the contrivance that was imported from warmer climes. ‘And it makes all the difference in the world – having fresh corn tortillas made in-house every day.’ I couldn’t agree more. I reach for a Carnitas taco – well spiced and slow braised pork shoulder, pico de gallo and guacamole on a warm corn tortilla – and agree more and even more with each bite. I love it so much. ‘And nothing goes to waste,’ adds Nat, ‘because we use the day-old tortillas for our house-made corn chips.’ Devilishly good chips that Taco Farm sells both on the eat-in menu and on their own in sealed bags at the front counter, to folks looking for something to take away.
I lift my eyes from my plate long enough to take in the lunchtime clientele. Lots of Uptown professionals and colleagues, to be sure. A handful of very merry groups of friends – some of whom, I see, are sampling Taco Farm’s impressive range of tequilas. ‘One of the largest selections in the region,’ Nick notes proudly, before adding: ‘We hold Tequila School at least once every two months, which has become a super popular event for us.’ And families with small kids – all of whom are ambitiously scarfing down their food. A fantastically diverse and embracing ambience, indeed.
Nat follows my eyes and tells me: ‘For us, Taco Farm has always been rooted in a very clear mandate: to appeal to everyone, to serve great-tasting food, and to offer a menu that is made fresh in-house from as many local ingredients as possible. In fact, everything from our jalapenos to our tomatillos are sourced locally. And we make every single thing on the menu right here at Taco Farm – except our cheeses and ice cream.’ Nick jumps in: ‘But we know the folks who make them. And they’re from around here too.’
I let this all sink in. And silently applaud Nick and Nat for what they’re doing in this lively, inviting place. And then I reach for another taco: fried cauliflower, chipotle hot sauce, guacamole and pico de gallo on a fresh tortilla. And take a bite. And quietly imagine that I could stay here all afternoon. Every afternoon, actually. Just eating and drinking and chatting and laughing. Taking another bite, I look over at Taco Man Randy Savage. He’s going full tilt – turning out fresh corn tortillas that will soon be eagerly consumed by the people all around us. And I note that while not all these folks know the machine by name, they’ve certainly come to know it by reputation. And keep coming back for the fresh, warm comfort it produces each day.
I certainly do.