Thursday, October 30, 2014

Random October Eats IV

Late Lunch at the “Manshack” Texican

Early in the month Art and I were meeting about a new restaurant consulting gig, and we hadn’t been to The Texican in quite a while, and it’s not that far down the road from his house, and we were both feeling a bit puckish, so off we went. The Texican has been there for years, and they call themselves El Paso-style Mexican food, since that’s where the owners originated.They have long been a source for quasi-New Mexican food in town. Don’t get me wrong; you won’t think that you’ve been transported to the Owl Café or Horseman’s Haven, but it serves a need.

Normally when I go I get the Chile Colorado, which is tender, succulent pork chunks braised in a a dried red chile sauce akin to a New Mexico “Red”. It’s a steady, strong, reliable dish. Before I got hooked on that dish, I was a sucker for the stacked Santa Fe enchiladas, which come with the same deep red sauce as the Chile Colorado. Art’s a big fan of their Green Chile enchiladas, a rather recent addition, which is chicken enchiladas draped with a New Mexico-style green chile sauce. It’s not Hatch, but close enough for a Central Texan who doesn’t want to embark on a 12-hour drive for a food jones.

When we got there, they had green chile signs all over the place, saying it was green chile season, and ask about their green chile specials, and what-not. So I did, and slowly a vision developed in my mind. A vision of the Santa Fe stacked enchiladas (known as montadas in Norteño enchilada parlance), “Christmas-style”, meaning half red chile sauce, half green chile sauce, topped with a runny fried egg. Sure, it’s Manchaca, but we can play New Mexico if we want.

Manchaca Springs Stage Depot way back when

Manchaca is a wide spot in the road way down south, where the end of Manchaca Road tees into FM 1626, but it started out a long time ago as a clear-running spring that all of the Native Americans, settlers, and travelers knew about and depended on as they traversed the nearby Old San Antonio Trail and the Chisholm Trail. Several theories claim provenance of the name Manchaca. One theory says that it comes from the Choctaw word imashaka, which means “behind it”, or “to the rear”. Some think it was named after one of two spots in Louisiana with similar names: Manchac Pass and Bayou Manchac. But most folks think it was named after Tejano army officer José Antonio Menchaca, and when that Hispanic name gets Anglicized by redneck South Austinites, it morphs into “MAN-shack”; they even dropped the final “a”. There is a local school on the corner that calls itself Menchaca Elementary, but those kids say "MAN-shack"; spelling be damned.

Manchaca Train Depot

Early maps referred to the springs in the early 1840’s as both Manshack Springs and Manjack Springs, so the name was apparently being mispronounced for some time. An 1849 land agent map called it Manchac Springs. The area got its first post office in 1851, located at Manchac House. The area benefited from the opening of the International-Great Northern Railroad in 1880 (and a new post office opened up named Manchaca, although pronounced “man-shack”) and by 1884 the little town of 75 residents had become a shipping point for cotton, grain, lumber, and fence posts. By the 1890’s a Methodist church, a hotel, and a school had all opened. In the ensuing years the little town slowly grew, and then almost died in the 1970’s, where there were only 36 residents, but since that low point, growth has been non-stop, and they still haven’t learned how to pronounce the name of the town the correct way.

Maya Queso, salsa, and totopos....and my spoon!

Lately The Texican has gotten a little better; baby steps, like the chips getting thinner and the sauce spicier. Service has always been good, except when a hostess tries to seat two single men talking business next to a table of screaming babies, or lead Art, who is disabled, to the faraway corner of the back dining room. Little glitches, but the food is dependable and tasty. We usually start out with a large bowl of Chile con Queso Maya ($7.99), which is a rich, cheesy queso generously embellished with avocado and beef picadillo. It comes about the same time that they are bringing out the second container of salsa, which is spicy, garlicky, and excellent. I receive my spoon that I eat my meal with when the queso arrives, because The Texican is yet another in a long list of restaurants that have stopped bringing spoons to the table. The Maya was good, the salsa extra zippy, and the thin totopos abundant and crispy.

Santa Fe Enchiladas, Christmas-style (sort of), and 1 runny fried egg

I ordered my Santa Fe enchiladas ($11.99) filled with beef and cheese, with onions added, one runny fried egg on top, and requested “Xmas–style” which the server assured me could be done: half red chile sauce, and half green chile sauce. Everything was perfect except for one glaring problem. The green sauce turned out to be a bizarre mixture of green chile and tomatillo sauce. It was still good, but all thoughts of Santa Claus vanished immediately. Was that how the kitchen meant it to be? Did the server say “green sauce” and then go, “oh shit, he wanted green CHILE sauce”, and the cook said “No way I’m re-firing this ticket because of your mistake”. ”I’ll ladle some green chile over the verde, and maybe he won’t notice”. Or maybe the server said, “Wow, that dumbass didn’t even know the difference. Cool.”  All kinds of things could have happened. Regardless, I didn’t send it back, I cleaned my plate, and I will return.

Mick Vann ©

The Texican
11940 Manchaca Rd

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