500 Tacos: Royal Jelly
An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Hours: 4pm-11-ish daily
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 09.17.15
The first thing I did after hearing about Royal Jelly was try to figure out what the glam-metal band Odin, the funk outfit Parliament, the bee spunk called “royal jelly” and the motorcycle dude from “Bat Out of Hell” had to do with anything. They’re all part of the DIY cut-and-paste aesthetic of Royal Jelly’s website and menu. I thought for a minute I was getting catfished, like when a guy created a fake Austin restaurant a few years back just to see if the media would fall for it. (I didn’t, mostly because he just took one of my Statesman reviews and changed the names.)
Can’t blame me, really. Chef Matt Walker’s Royal Jelly menu is as trippy as a Top Chef episode of “Punk’d.” There’s an “ELT” made with crispy eel, a plate with braised goat mole, beef ribs with coconut cornbread, wraps made with sour sausage, even a sparkling buttermilk pie. Welcome to Café Spinal Tap. But the RJ team of Dominic Mauro and chef Walker come up in searches — Mauro from his days as GM at Judges’ Hill, Walker from Swift’s Attic — so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But I swear, if I see Ashton Kutcher in the kitchen, I’m kicking him right in the trucker hat.
The taco: Chivo mole
As long as we’re in DIY mode, might as well make our own tacos from this two-handled stewpot of roasted goat. It’s as rich as fudge brownie batter, laced with rendered fat and the short, rangy fibers that make goat meat the perfect carrier for mole’s spice-cabinet melange. It’s garnished with big crumbles of queso fresco and tart pickled pink onions, served with salsa verde and hot corn tortillas. It’s as messy as Sex Pistols album art, with attitude to match. ($10)
► Tortillas: These 4-inch corn tortillas aren’t made here, but they’re toasted, dusty, durable and fresh.
► Salsa: This fleshy, sweet-and-sour tomatillo salsa verde brings a balance of heat and fresh citric bite.
► Swift moves: You wouldn’t need to look at a résumé to figure out that Walker learned a thing or two at Swift’s Attic, a downtown lab of big flavors on small plates. His Thai-style lettuce wraps ($7) showcase sausage with the crispy nugget texture of a country breakfast — if that country were anyplace that worships the fermented, fishy splendor of nam pla. The wrap comes together with pickled cucumber, sweet pepper rings, roasted peanuts and basil.
► Beer cheese and ... beer: I’m with my taco people, so we can call Royal Jelly’s beer cheese “queso” if we want, right? It’s just as creamy and thick. But where queso leans on tomatoes and peppers, this beer cheese draws its power from roasted garlic and the malty, tannic twang of Shiner beer syrup, scooped with grilled baguette slices in place of chips ($6). To go with that beer cheese, Royal Jelly pours a rotating lineup of craft beers like Hops & Grain imperial ale, Real Ale Belgian tripel and a Polish smoked-wheat resurrection called Grodziskie from Live Oak.
► Not beer: Late summer heat calls for one of the city’s most aggressively refreshing lemonades, with the concentrated tongue-pull of fresh-squeezed juice spiked with ginger and a smack of fresh basil ($3.50). There’s also a tightly curated list of wines for $8-$9 a glass. Happy hour runs from 4-6 Sun-Fri, with $4 house wines and small plates.
► The place: Royal Jelly, which opened Saturday, isn’t so much a repurposed commercial outbuilding behind a tire shop as it is a Pantone clubhouse for the creative class, with harlequin stripes on the outside and a trippy, Heavy Metal-esque mural inside, watching over a collage of velvet loveseats, a counter-height communal table and bar seats that face a kitchen with nothing to hide.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)