500 Tacos: Republic of Sandwich

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Republic of Sandwich
2320 Hancock Drive (map), 512-960-6566, www.republicofsandwich.com
Hours: 7am-7pm Mon-Fri, 8am-3pm Sat-Sun. Breakfast until 11am.
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 01.28.15
When I asked Pete O’Donnell if he always puts potatoes in his Green Eggs & Ham taco, his answer was a statement of the potato’s strength as an element of crunch and a declaration of respect for the ham, lying in folds like velveteen. These are the things you talk about in the morning when you run a neighborhood sandwich place. Tacos. Because your neighbors need breakfast, too. O’Donnell (the one on the right in the photo) started meeting those needs when he opened Republic of Sandwich in October with business partner Thomas Gardner (left). The two first crossed career paths at the Sonnenalp Resort in Vail, Colo., where O’Donnell was the morning sous chef and Gardner was the banquet chef. In Austin, O’Donnell’s worked for Searsucker and St. Philip, among others, and Gardner managed the prepared foods department at Whole Foods in the Domain. (This will be important later, when you see the words “bistro” and “pesto” and “broccoli rabe” in a story about breakfast tacos.)
For the morning menu at a sandwich place, a bagel makes sense, and the Republic of Sandwich retools its house-smoked ham and pulled pork, its pastrami and even its own lox for sandwiches built on Rockstar bagels. Hell, they’ll make you a regular sandwich, if that’s what you need. But at the crossroads of Hancock and North Loop, breakfast tacos are where things go from good morning to here comes the sun. At $3, these filling and fulfilling tacos have few equals for quality, quantity, value and imagination.
The taco: Green Eggs & Ham
I wouldn’t expect urbane flair from a place with an iron box smoker chugging out front. But here’s the herbal elán of smooth green pesto laid across fluffy scrambled eggs and rugged, tender, backwoods ham from that smoker. Against a background of potato hash, this taco brings together broad diner flavor and subtle bistro composition — and real value at $3 — in one foil-wrapped package.
 Bonus tacos: Exploration is painless at $3 a pop. The reward might be a taco called the Republic, with roasted pork, kimchi and potato. To the Republic, I say we want more kim and more chi in our kimchi. Don’t be afraid to kimchi it up. More funky and more of it. Or try the Steve, because Steve apparently digs rustic pastrami on his breakfast taco. So will you.
 Tortilla: It’s a small shop; no room for the Republic to bake bread or press tortillas. It’s what’s inside that counts, although the flour tortilla is big enough, warm enough and soft enough to get the job done.
 Salsa: With the forethought the Republic gives to flavor layering, there’s no real call for salsa. But you can’t spell “customer” without “custom,” so there’s a house blend squeeze-bottle red sauce called “Hot Head” that calls to mind a more civilized sriracha. There’s also a creamy jalapeño green on request.
 Not a taco: It’s called a sandwich, Mike. It’s OK to say it. The easy call would be a Reuben, but the backwards area-code rebellion of the 215 calls out with long, fat strands of pulled pork with recessive smoke, spicy mustard and provolone. But it grows fully into its $9 pricetag with an innovative dress-out of sweet-tart “long hot” peppers and stubborn stalks of broccoli rabe cooked just right, all of it built into a chewy white roll shipped from Amoroso’s in Philadelphia.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)