500 Tacos: Turf N’ Surf Po-Boy
An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Turf N’ Surf Po-Boy
Hours: 11am-9pm Tue-Sat; 11am-8pm Sun
Also at: 407 Lavaca St. inside Lavaca Street Bar (map)
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 11.24.15
From the second you fumble its flip-flopped name, you start to appreciate the ramshackle vibe of Turf N’ Surf, a place where beach food gets an Austin makeover. I got a taste of that during my 50 Burgers, 50 Days tour when I met owner Ralph Gilmore — brother of Jack Allen’s Jack Gilmore and uncle of Barley Swine’s Bryce Gilmore. In 2011, his trailer was still a surfer’s version of the Beverly Hillbillies across from the swanky Austonian downtown. But there he was, this outsized cook and biker-style swashbuckler (swashbiker?), doing po-boys for a landlocked heels-and-ties clientele.
The way it works is you pick a protein — seafood, beef, pork, chicken — then pick a po-boy, salad, basket or two tacos. At $10-$19, it’s a hard-sell proposition for trailer food. You get table service and sides at an indoor place for that price, so these guys have a lot to prove. But consider this: Gilmore’s unorthodox po-boy burger made my Top 10 Burgers last time; this time his tacos hover near the top of a game few can afford to play.
Taco A: Blackened tuna
With an $8 trailer taco, the first question is where does that money go? Storebought tortillas? Coleslaw? Paper boats? For this one, at least, the money goes into thick, clean pieces of seared and blackened sushi-grade tuna still glowing red at the core. The blackening spices give the tuna a tough street look and the sassy mouth to go with it. All the more reason to appreciate the sweet dressing running through a simple cabbage slaw and a dress of field greens, tomato and red onions. Among the best fish tacos in this series so far, right up there with Santa Catarina. ($16 for two)
Taco B: Blackened ribeye
Moving from surf to turf, it’s clear that the smoky, grassy growl of blackening spices is better suited to beef than tuna. It forges an armor to lock in the quick char on the outside, preserving a butter-soft interior marbled with fat that knocks on our primordial doors. But the sloppy-sweet dressout that made the tuna cute makes the ribeye seem like beef in drag. Still, it’s a contender for Top 10 steak tacos in this series. And it should be, because come on: $17 for two tacos? With no sides? At a trailer? Somebody’s high on their own supply.
Taco C: Fried oyster
By all rights, these cornmeal breaded oysters belong in a chewy po-boy bun with all that full-slaw Louisiana dressout. But give this taco guy a break, because I haven’t had oysters this delicately fried, this supple and this appropriately matched in a very. long. time. And certainly not in a tortilla. ($14 for two)
► Jalapeño hushpuppies: Fleshy bits of jalapeño cling like stowaways to the outside of these crispy cornmeal hushpuppy spheres. But for every sharp chile note they drop, they also lay down the bitter sharps of an ingredient that burns before the rest of the dish is finished cooking. ($4)
► Tortillas: Herbed flour tortillas from Fiesta add surprisingly little to the experience. But for storebought tortillas, that’s an accomplishment: at least they don’t mess anything up.
► Salsa: Given the sloppy coleslaw dressout, there’s not much room for salsa. Given the skill and quality of tacos like this, neither is there much call for it. But if you must, there’s spicy remoulade, dill tartar sauce and sharp horseradish cocktail sauce for the asking, or bottles of Tapatio, Cholula and sriracha for the taking.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)