Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Highway 60 Eats

My dad (Mr. Hackknife, if you prefer) lives in Vero Beach, which is about a 3 hour-drive almost straight east from the Canteen (it's funny to think that we can travel from the Gulf of Mexico clear to the Atlantic Ocean side of the state in a relatively short amount of time). As a result, we've made several car trips over there since we moved, discovering fairly quickly that the most direct route between Tampa and Vero is Florida State Route 60. Route 60 literally runs from one coast to the other, beginning on the Gulf in Clearwater and terminating on the beach (or thereabouts) in downtown Vero. In between, you have downtown Tampa, a few nearby suburbs (namely Brandon and Valrico), two moderate-sized towns (Bartow and Lake Wales), and, for long stretches, not much besides pre-Everglades wetland, scrubby cattle ranches, orange groves, and the occasional trailer park until you cross I-95 on the far end. Usually we're hurtling across this vast landscape as fast as humanly possible (you know, before the batteries in the portable DVD players run out) to reach our destination; however, on our latest journey over the past weekend, Hackknife Jr. and I were by ourselves (the missus and Hackknifette were in Chicago for my sister's wedding shower), so we could be a little leisurely in our travels for a change. As I'm always on the lookout for unique and interesting eats, I'd noticed a lonely Mexican grocery/taqueria perched on the outskirts of Lake Wales (no doubt there for the immigrant fruit pickers who support the local citrus industry) and made a mental note to stop in at some point. This was likely the best chance I'd get to do so, and after promising Hackknife Jr. a Happy Meal if he could be patient for a bit while Daddy consumed a few backroom tacos, we pulled into the parking lot (the address is 2415 State Road 60 in case you're ever in the neighborhood) just after noon on Sunday.

The taqueria in the store is named La Botana (snack or appetizer, in Spanish) and is, in fact, set up in the back corner, with a take-out counter fronted by a handful of tables. Although there weren't a lot of customers, the kitchen was buzzing with activity, and, fortunately, one of the two hardworking ladies there was able to help me in English with my order. Menu offerings included soups, shrimp cocktail, tortas, burritos, and more, but I stuck with the basic tacos, choosing al pastor, carne asada, and lengue to go with a giant-sized horchata poured from a clear plastic cooler next to the cash register.

When the other server brought out my tacos, I was surprised to see a foam plate with four lengue and a separate one with three asada, with no al pastor in sight. After a briefly futile exchange with her during which I tried to explain my order details (she apparently spoke little English), she grabbed one of the asada tacos and returned it to the kitchen, leaving me with the six total that you see in the photo above (still not bad for less than $7 altogether). Giving up and digging in, I found the lengue meat to be a little dry and chewy (clearly not the best I've had), but the asada was fantastic, consisting of charred beefy and fatty bits that melded perfectly with the simple toppings (onion, cilantro, and a cup of green salsa with a solid kick to it). I suspect that the small corn tortillas were prefab; however, I'd gladly stop by again for the asada tacos and perhaps a giant Torta Milanese, which I saw another customer attempting to subdue while we were there.

With our lunch cravings now sated, we continued on our trip back home towards Tampa. Usually, we make a right turn in Bartow to eventually pick up the expressway, however, this time, I stayed on Route 60 for another half an hour, rolling through the phosphate industrial corridor until we reached the heavily-trafficked retail stretch of Brandon. Our target? The Revolution Ice Cream Company, a much-lauded Bay Area sweet treat joint tucked into a quiet strip mall at 220 W. Brandon Blvd. The folks at Revolution have become known for their inventive and whimsical ice cream flavors not seen elsewhere, such as Curried Sky (vanilla with curried toasted coconut), Porky's Delight (vanilla with bacon bits and bacon brittle), and Girlscouts on Espresso (espresso with Tagalong cookies mixed in), not to mention certain "adult only" varieties with various alcoholic liqueurs added that might be available on a given day (see photo of flavor cards posted below).

Hackknife Jr. gorged himself on a scoop of Chocolate Shock (chocolate ice cream with fudge, chocolate chips, and brownie pieces) while I tried out the house's version of banana pudding with a little fudge sauce drizzled on top. The store manager mentioned that a Revolution food truck was close to making its maiden voyage, so we shouldn't have to wait for another trip down Route 60 to get our next batch - it'll hopefully come straight to us...

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