Most of the time, this column has been called Needs More Tacos. For a while, it was called Four More Things, but when it was called that, it was never actually about four more things. Which, in a meta sort of way, I thought was kind of funny. Do you know that not once did anyone write to complain? “Your column is called Four More Things? What four things? I don’t like this!”
Eventually, I went back to the original name. And as I had explained back when I named it, the title was also a call to action. Hamilton’s food scene was about as culturally diverse as a Fox News watching party. We all needed — we deserved — more tacos. Hamilton needed to give us more tacos.
Tacos are universally acknowledged to be delicious. And we had always lacked for them. When people discuss culinary diversity in Hamilton, they are usually talking about how some Italian restaurants put crumbled sausage on pizza, while others … well, no, I don’t think anyplace in Hamilton actually does top pizza with sliced sausage. (Please don’t hesitate to set me straight, my email is right there under my byline.)
I remember backintheday how Abetter Pizza, the long lost if not long lamented outpost at the Route 130 end of Kuser Road, used to serve sausage pellets on its pizza. The pellets resembled the food you get out of a dispenser at petting zoos.
If you were ordering by the slice, only plain pizzas were available; if you ordered a topping, they’d sprinkle a handful on before tossing it in the oven to warm. This worked about as well as you’d expect. Inevitably the round-ended morsels all rolled off the thin, sparsely cheesed wedge and onto the plate, where I needn’t have bothered to reclaim them because they were terrible. They looked like pellets but they tasted like Red Hots. The cinnamon candy, not the hot dog.
So anyway, 18 years after I last noshed at Abetter and 4 years since I started the column, Needs More Tacos sounds almost quaint. Because things have changed somewhat. We have sushi. We have an Afghan restaurant. We have Indian food. Well, we had Indian food in 2009, too, I had just overlooked it. Just inches over the border in Robbinsville there’s even a Thai place now. Close counts. I looked it up on Yelp.
As for the tacos, there has been progress since this column’s inception. We have, for example, two Tex-Mex fast food chains. Don’t laugh: Hamilton may no longer be the least adventurous food town of its size in America, but neither are we so cosmopolitan that we can thumb our nose at Panchero’s or Moe’s.
Perhaps most amazing of all, we have tripled our count of Mexican restaurants — to three! Look out, San Antonio, here we come. I may need more tacos — I’ll always need more tacos, is what I’m thinking — but Hamilton is getting there.
You may think it is a little strange, then, that I haven’t actually had a taco in Hamilton. I’ve had burritos, from Panchero’s and from Mariachi Grill, but I’ve yet to actually order a Hamilton taco. This is something I need to rectify.
What is holding me back? For awhile there was the baby. But he’s going on two and a half, and though he was a picky eater for a while, he’s become more omnivorous. He would eat tacos, I’m pretty sure. He likes chicken, he loves cheese, he eats refried beans (which he calls “meatballs”).
Then there is my wife’s issues with spicy food. It isn’t that many years ago that we went together to Border Grill, Santa Monica’s legendary SoCal upscale Mexican restaurant, where she ate an entrée that was strewn with jalapeños. Nowadays even black pepper sends her system into gurgle mode.
So the tragedy here is that now that Hamilton has bona fide Mexican cantinas within its borders, circumstances have conspired to keep me away from them. I am considering contacting Paul Thomas Anderson to see if he wants to turn my plight into a movie.
So far, three things are interesting to me about this month’s meandering column. 1) That you are racking your brain trying to remember what the sausage is like on any pizza, even though you’ve been eating it your whole life. 2) That you didn’t know Abetter Pizza was closed (demolished in fact). 3) You probably hadn’t realized that four years ago Hamilton only had one Mexican restaurant and no sushi.
It’s good when things change without our really observing the change. We put hot sauce on almost everything we eat now; we don’t remember that two, five, eight years ago, we just didn’t do that. Just like we feel like we’ve always had smartphones, even though it’s been six years at most since we ditched those clunky flip phones.
Many restaurants now have pizza on their menus, maybe even have pizza ovens, even though pizza is not their main cuisine. Go back not even a decade, and you’ll see that just about no restaurants did this. All this change has been happening under our noses, without us noticing. Local brewpubs like Iron Hill and Triumph now have pizza and tacos on their menu.
Ultimately, that is the diversity we are really after. Not a Mexican restaurant here and a Thai place there, but all cuisines intermingled in all places. That’s the American way, and it’s how we’ll know we really are constantly blending as a culture. If we look around we realize it’s always happening, and not noticing is our acknowledgment that we are part of the blend. And when DeLorenzo’s serves taco pizza, we’ll know we’re really on our way.