Flouting Mexican Tradition with Gringo Flautas

We had been asked to a 40th birthday by our younger, hipper neighbors, a laid back event at Anable Basin in Long Island City. A quick look at the menu, however, revealed a meat intensive menu: skirt steak, chevapi, kielbasa, bison burger, hamburger—even the vegetables came in the form of a veggieburger! Fortunately, I’d just heard tell of a LIC Gringo-inflected Mexican restaurant attached to a comedy club, The Creek and the Cave where we could grab dinner first. My source said the chicken taco was “the bomb,” and “totally packed with chicken” for a mere $3.50. We had a plan. The Chef, as usual, even in 99° heat, would walk from our home in Morningside Heights to the Vernon-Jackson stop in LIC. I would meet him via the quick 2/3 + 7.

I sat waiting in the scant shade on the triangular square across from our favorite French bistro, Tournesol. A half hour passed.  The Chef usually walks at such a fast clip, and I usually dawdle at such a slow pace that he arrives on foot before I arrive by train. I started getting unreasonably irritated and texting “WHERE R U??? I’M HOT.” He shot back that he was just getting off the bridge and it would be another 20 minutes. “I’m outta here,” I decided, telling him to meet me at the Creek and Cave. But there I was again, about to eat while “sour,” never a good idea as you will read here.  Fortunately, though, the C&C was two blocks away, well-air conditioned, totally empty and offering Happy Hour $4.00 pint glass margaritas. Now this is a good kind of sour,” I thought as my lips puckered from the lime and salt. By the time sweaty Chef came in, I was floatin’ in a margarita-induced haze of well being.

This surprising menu item enhanced my mood further: bacon and mashed potato flautas. A flauta is a fattening Mexican morsel, a fried rolled flour tortilla, usually encasing meat, cheese, peppers onions—a taquito is the same thing with a corn tortilla. What a fun spin, though, on Gringo breakfast food, and pepped up with spicy chipotle mayo sauce ($7.95). I have to say that nothing quite surpassed those guilt-inducing mashed potato and bacon logs swaddled their fried tortilla blankets. In order to sample all of the muy barrato tacos ($3.50 for each overstuffed taco “el carbon”!), I ordered the $11.95 tacos al carbon platter—three tacos with rice and beans. The vaunted chicken taco was my least favorite, packed with pollo but not much flavor (a good dousing of tomatillo sauce helps). But oooh, the taste of the pulled pork evidenced true care in the sloooow cooking—tender, stringy chunks of cerdo that seemed almost carmelized. The seafood taco I'd swapped in for an extra buck was the best: light fried flaky battered fish pieces tossed with cabbage salsa and wasabi sauce. Once you’ve decided to go inauthentic, then go all the way! There’s even a “taco gringo" on the menu, like the first tacos we encountered in the sixties: hard shell, pico de gallo, and cheddar jack ($4.00)

And unlike authentic Mexican taquerias, C&C uses large 6-inch flour tortillas rather than small 4 inch corn ones. I liked this change-up. The flour tortillas are both easier to hold and hold so much more good stuff. However, the American spin means this food edges toward bland and healthy. I would have preferred greasier, more savory yellow rice and beans to the staid white rice, almost devoid of oil, and the black beans that seemed to come straight out of a Progresso can, with no hint of seasoning.

It seems certain, though, that the Creek and the Cave is a place where you can season your tacos with laughter. Photos of comics line the wall of the upstairs restaurant, but the real yuks take place downstairs. What is it about comedy venues, that performers are often testing their material in cellars, basements and caves?  Notoriously insecure, budding comics might find these underground lairs reassuring environments. In going downstairs to use the restroom, I saw the dark, comfy cave, one wall lined with pinball machines. The schedule is chock full of intriguing acts—from a live "filthy podcast," called "Legions of Skank," to "Fish and Bits," the world's "first and only cryptocurrency- themed comedy night," to all sorts of skewed variations on Open mic.  Come for laugh, stay for a taco, or vice versa.