Monday, December 30, 2013

Taco Bell

10255 Business Highway 21
Hillsboro, Mo

You should be. I wasn't.
Angel's pick, and I knew exactly why. I've been bad mouthing the Bell for several years, but in all that time I've not actually set foot in one. I used to go occasionally, but I finally got tired of the lack of variety and the mediocre, at best, flavors. Every time it's Adam's turn to pick a place, his mom suggests to him that if he's having trouble deciding he should just pick Taco Bell. They go frequently for lunches, when I'm not around.
"But dad doesn't want to go there." He would reply.
When Angel told me this, I told her "Does the boy not understand the purpose of these meals? It doesn't matter if I have a preconceived notion or not, it's about going to places and gathering data then publicly declaring my official dislike."
So she picked it.
The Place:
On a hilltop north of downtown Hillsboro, next to McD's. I can't recall ever going into the place. It's been a long, long time since I've been to a Bell, anywhere.
The place was actually fairly attractive inside, browns and oranges, darkly painted ceiling tiles. There were some bistro tables and some half-booths (bench on one side, chairs on the other). It didn't look nearly as fast food-y as I recalled it. It had the look of a Panerea or Crazy Bowls.
The Food:
We stepped up to the counter and were greeted by a petite, almost elfin, young lady wearing the name 'Jennifer' on her name tag. Long brown hair pulled back into a quick ponytail, big, dark bright eyes, and a huge but sincere looking smile. Angel stepped up first and ordered like a pro. It occurred to me that she might have been there even more often that I was aware of. I'd looked at the menu online earlier in the day and had pretty much decided, but took a couple of minutes to scan the overhead to see if there was anything else that might pop out. There wasn't. Angel asked for two shredded chicken burritos and a steak taco. I took the plunge and went with my original, purposeful, strategic choice, a steak gordita and a soft shredded chicken taco. Jennifer said something in her tiny, happy voice that I didn't hear, so she repeated it. "Would you like a drink?"
Of course this offered up a comedic opportunity. "Yes, yes I would."
She smiled even bigger, didn't skip a beat. "Would you like our one dollar medium drink?" She asked. I had nowhere to take that, my shallow comedy tool box now empty. "Yes, that will be fine." was my reply. She'd won that round.
Steak Gordita
Adam stepped through, more deliberate and purposeful, still seeming a little unsure, though I knew he visited often. "Two shredded chicken tacos and a five layer beef burrito." He also asked for the one dollar drink. Copycat.
Angel was already picking out condiments at the condiment bar, packets of mild sauce and napkins. I filled my one dollar cup with unsweetened ice tea, Adam dispensed Dr. Pepper. Angel was not dispensing anything, she'd gone for the secret (in that I wasn't aware of it) drink menu and asked for a cherry limeade, which was assembled/brewed/distilled behind the counter.
Soft Chicken Taco
We found us a regular sized table. The place wasn't very crowded, and hot adult contemporary music played overhead. I don't know exactly what constitutes hot adult contemporary music, but that's how radio station KYKY in St. Louis describes what they play. I didn't recognize any of it, nor the artists names when they were mentioned, but it wasn't country or Christmas music, so I didn't hate it.
It wasn't very long before someone called Angel's name and the trays arrived. Adam sorted it all out and kept the tray for himself. I examined my gordita.
Chicken  Soft Taco, exposed
In Mexico if you order a gordita you will get what we might consider a sheppard's pie, stew served with a thick crust. Taco Bell has decided to screw all that authenticity malarkey, there it's just a soft pita taco. Taco Bell has tried twice to enter the food market in Mexico, both attempts failed, even when they offered Americanized things like fries. I don't know that it was the food that caused it to fail, I think it had to do with their slogan "Make a run for the border" which suffers an entirely different context in Mexico.
The pita bread wrapper was only slightly thicker than the regular soft taco's wrap. My strategy had been to test a gordita, not knowing what it was, and go with steak, since I didn't recall that being offered back in the 80's or 90's or whenever I'd last been to a Bell. I decided on the chicken for the same reason, and to test the soft shell.
I still had the taste in my mouth of the old hard-shelled ground 'beef' (in air quotes) that were so common back in the day. I steered far away from that terrible, greasy, bitter, salty memory.
Chicken Burrito
The steak in the steak taco looked like steak. It was cubed, charred and juicy looking. It had a good mix of toppings on it, cheese, tomato, lettuce and the wrap itself was indeed soft. The meat looked a little suspicious, and to the bite was very, very tender, uniformly so, no gristle or tough spots whatsoever. Too tender to be straight off a cow. I decided that the only way it could be that uniform and tender, other than the beast having been hand massaged and lived a life of leisure in Japan, was if it was beef, broken down and rebuilt like tofu is made from soy beans, highly processed, reconstituted, like their current 'taco meat filling' which can be, by law with that moniker, only 15-20% protein according to many accounts. (The Bell insists that it is at least 88% 'meat', but is struggling with official food labels and some lawsuits.) All  I'm saying is that beef, that smooth, uniform and consistent does not come straight from the cow that way.
Steak Taco,  Cherry lime-ade
The fact of the matter is that whatever it actually is, it did taste pretty good. I finished the gordita and  bit into the chicken taco. It took a couple of bites to find the chicken, which was also the last bite. That same ghastly salty and greasy taste was back. I was done. My feelings were mixed.
Oozing Cheese
Meanwhile, Angel was disassembling her burrito. It was like a pound of potatoes in a ten pound sack. She tore off large chunks of the tortilla and shoved them aside, revealing only a small smattering of actual ingredients, mostly rice. As for actual chicken there was maybe a heaping tablespoon of it, about the same as in the chicken tacos.  She didn't eat most of it, since most of it was the tortilla and the rice, which she said she didn't care for. The steak taco was different though, basically the same as my gordita, but with a slightly thinner tortilla. She had no complaints about that. She added that she loved the limeade at the Bell.
Chicken Burrito, exposed
Adam had no complaints about his, "Pretty good" he said adding that this was college kid food, lots of empty carbs, calories and grease to fuel the fast-burning, raging maturation metabolism. He said this as his burrito developed a leakage, cheese started oozing out a small tear in the tortilla, like thick yellow pus out of a punctured boil. (You're welcome)
Oh, and the tea. I was surprised, it was actually pretty good. Clear, fairly fresh and strong enough to actually taste. Believe it or not The Bell gets a +3.

The place was prettied up, the service at the counter was outstanding, the price, at twenty three dollars and change, very, very cheap.
Several dead trees.
The food was "Not awful".
This is the Bell's forte, the low price. With that price though, there comes a, er,  price, though. The food is made of the cheapest ingredients possible. These ingredients will not properly sustain a mature, slow burning metabolism. All those carbs and fats together will build up as excess sugars and fat in your system (don't even get me started on the sodium) unless you are super-active, or addicted to meth. I shouldn't have to tell a responsible, reasonable adult that this food, if eaten very regularly will make you and your kids fat. Of course this is true of burgers and pizza as well, it's all pretty much the same thing, bread, greasy, fatty meat and a few token veggie toppings with some kind of sauce. Taco Bell gets a lot of grief over their ingredients, but they are really not that much different than most plasticized, high-volume, low cost  fast food offerings.
That being said if you just need a quick and dirty calorie load, then go for it. They are fast and certainly cheap.
My biggest concern though after this trek, was what I noticed at the end of the meal. Look at that pile of refuse. I'm certainly not the greenest, tree-huggiest person around, but crimeny, that was a lot of trash. Some places present to-go orders and inside orders differently, not here. The paper wrappers sort of make sense for a bundle of food being taken elsewhere, but in-store it seems a bit much. The excess paper travels only twenty feet and fifteen minutes from initial deployment to trash bin. That seems to be very, very wasteful and inefficient to me.
So will I go back? Well frankly, I can't think of a reason to. Though the steak gordita was tasty, it was not as tasty as a good burger or a slice of pizza (especially Pizza Junction Pizza!)* and no more nutritious, just cheaper and faster. Hardees is just up the road and has pretty good burgers, as well as decent coffee and WiFi. There's nothing at the bell that really calls to me. I'd just as soon stay home and make a sandwich. I will say this though, The Bell seems to be trying to improve its image. They're just stuck in a price point problem. To keep the college kids stopping in they are forced to use faked, excuse me, processed and enhanced meat and lots and lots of cheap corn and wheat filler material.
You get what you pay for.

* Gratuitous plug for the place my son works.

Taco Bell on Urbanspoon

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