The Taco Sisters
407 Johnston Street
March 3, 2011
“My pal Bernard Ussher told me not to miss a chance to come here for lunch and to say hello to Molly and Katy when I did,” says I to the girl at the tiny drive-up window.
The miniscule place called The Taco Sisters is about the size of a FEMA trailer. The original section was Jack’s Hot Dog Stand when the sisters opened for business in February 2009. They attached an addition, sort of like a tall caboose, when they got so popular they had to add space for coolers and smokers to keep up with the volume of business. Being able to turn around without bumping into one of the sous chefs was good too.
“Are you the guy who wrote about The Red Stick Ramblers at the Blue Moon? I loved it! I’m on my feet all day long and don’t have the energy to dance but I felt like I was there!”
The voice comes from someplace behind an unseen prep counter where Katy Richard, one of the Taco Sisters, is probably up to her elbows in fresh vegetables, shrimp, and taco shells. The tiny place puts out such good food that her compliment, as edifying as it is, doesn’t color the rave review I’m about to write.
I order the special smoked shrimp in soft shell taco, locally made and delicately chewy, fresh as the soft Lafayette afternoon breeze. Heaped atop the taco is a plump mix of smoked gulf shrimp, sprinkled with the Taco Sisters famed “Pico del Gallo,” (finely chopped onion, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, and garlic – “ Anybody can make it,”Molly smiles)... yeah, right, I’m thinking… and spring greens, tiny cubes of crisp apple, chopped celery, julienned carrots, green onions.
The smoky taste is for real. No “liquid smoke,” no chemicals or flavor enhancers, just what you would expect with slow burning real hardwood. The salads are made daily. Trans-fats and MSG are verboten. Fresh and local are the standard.
I eat my meal at one of the six bright mint green picnic tables. Cars have been streaming into the drive-through circle like seagulls following a fishing boat. Judging by the flow of traffic, orders are phoned in, picked up, and enjoyed somewhere else. There is barely enough room inside the eatery for Molly and Katy Richard and half a dozen helpers let alone customers.
Photo: Division of labor: Katy made the "art fences" and picked the colors for them and the picnic tables. Molly crunches the numbers on her spread sheet.
Being a friend of Bernard Ussher’s is a pretty good calling card around here. During a lull in the mid-afternoon business, Katy and Molly scrub their hands and come out to chat. The sisters are thoroughbred food lovers. “We don’t want a big carbon footprint,” Katy says. “We buy local fish, no farm fish.” They talk about food the way guys talk about the New Orleans Saints - with incandescent passion.
While describing their connections to local fishermen, Molly rhapsodizes over purchasing a loin of yellow fin tuna, cutting it into chunks, smoking it with a rub and a glaze with a brown sugar base, twice... then letting it cool and serving it chilled. To a bachelor whose knowledge of the art of cooking is limited to reading the directions to find out how long to microwave frozen food, this is like trying to understand a foreign language. It also makes me want to propose to Molly.
Running a small business, especially a food enterprise, could easily wear down a mortal with low tolerance for stress and unpredictability. The sisters' strategy: meld their talents the way they mix the salad dressings.
“Katy made the art fences and picked the colors,” Molly says, “ and I’m a whiz with spread sheets.” What a recipe for success – one left brained and one right brained owner!
The license plates on a truck from Texas and scores of cars from Louisiana in the drive-in circle prove that people will go out of their way to find good food. And a good value.
My smoked shrimp taco cost $5.95. The menu tops out at $9.95 for “smothered brisket, plus a sliced avocado half, sliced tomatoes, black olives, and finely shredded Italian cheeses with your choice of our hand-crafted salad dressings: our house jalapeño ranch, blue cheese, vinaigrette or soy-ginger.” The smoked chicken, shrimp of pork salads are about a dollar cheaper. Menu
The burrito menu reads, “A real favorite - comfort food our way! We start with delicious, rich beef brisket, slow-cooked in spicy adobo sauce until it falls apart - or now, your choice of our chicken or pork, smoked in-house. Then, it's wrapped in a flour tortilla with refried beans, chives and melting finely shredded cheese. Sublime - there's nothing else like it!” The cost? $3.00 for a bean and cheese burrito up to $6.95 for a Smoked Fish or Shrimp Burrito. That’s comfort food for your wallet and your stomach.
“The prices here are really affordable and we try to keep competitive. The serving portions are what people used to say was normal, not supersized. You leave with a full enough stomach and a happy palate.” Katy says as she heads back to the kitchen.
There aren’t that many places to find good food, prepared with fresh, local ingredients, and served with such pride. Katy and Molly Richard have the recipe down.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.
A view from the pickup window at the Taco Sisters place on the corner of Johnston and Vermillion in Lafayette. Katy Richard made the art fence and picked the bright colors for that and the picnic tables. Their menu includes a kids's section with stuff they would actually enjoy eating.