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By MARK NIXON
I’m a huge fan of the Cosmos/Zoobies in Old Town. Their menu is creative, playful and packed with fresh, unique flavors.
Because the same folks created Punk Taco, also in Old Town, I anticipated the same sort of culinary energy.
But after two visits to Punk Taco, I found the best thing about this place is a large scrawl of faux graffiti on the north wall. It was funny and thought-provoking. The best line is a quote from Henry Rollins: “Half of life is f—ing up. The other half is dealing with it.”
And that pretty well sums up my impression of this little place. They, um, effed up.
Let’s start with the black bean tostada ($4).
Or as I refer to it, the Exploding Tostada of Old Town. I took one bite — one! — and the whole thing disintegrated in my hands and fell onto a plastic tray. No plate. No fork. I ate the remnants with my fingers.
On top of everything, it was a taste dud, and not very warm at that. During another visit, I went for a black bean and cheese tamale ($2.50). I peeled back the corn husk to reveal a slug-like trail of gray mush.
My wife, Judy, a kinder soul, took a taste and tactfully said, “It needs some work.”
Yeah, like major demolition followed by ripping up the recipe and beginning anew. Punk’s tamale rendition dwells near the bottom of my personal tasting barrel.
Judy said some of the items we tasted, like the house-made tortilla chips, were authentic. I will meet her half way and concede that the white and cheesy dip with chips ($3) tasted better than something you buy from a 7-Eleven. But I must add that tortilla chips we make at home are better, served with our homemade guacamole, which is, if I say so myself, damned good.
I hoped for good things with the crab salad taco ($7). I envisioned chunks of white lump crab, perhaps with some scratch-made aioli and a bit of lemon zest. Indeed, the menu description declared the crab came with pickled asparagus, lemon vinaigrette and spiced pepitas. All sounded wonderful.
What arrived was a mush of brownish crab that was minced or pureed into near oblivion. The texture disappointed and the various flavors underperformed.
Scrounging for positive notes, I give high marks to the ancho shrimp taco ($6). There was fresh cilantro with what appeared to be grilled shrimp, and a fine mix of habanero honey (not too spicy) and basil with black beans. It’s the best thing I tasted at Punk Taco.
I’ll also give a nod to the smoked cauliflower taco ($5). The implied smokiness was spot on.
Sadly, I have to return to some sour notes.
The Cosmos/Zoobies make an excellent Moscow Mule. You would think their bartending skills would transfer to Punk Taco.
Alas, the margarita ($6) I had was over-salted, weak and served in a plastic cup. It’s as un-Margaritaville as any Margarita I’ve tried.
Now I’m going to show my grumpy old manliness and complain about the overly loud music in this little place. It was so over the top that we chose to sit outside in a misting rain rather than ruin what’s left of my hearing.
What they seem to be pushing here is not food, so much as attitude — punky attitude. The F-bomb scrawled on the wall. The out sized and rather boring photo of a mosh pit.
I will give kudos to the servers. On both occasions they were friendly, efficient and seemed to be enjoying themselves. That makes customers feel welcomed and at home.
But nice folks don’t make up for missed opportunities. Punk Taco’s cuisine is, overall, a mess. Someone there needs to deal with it. Fix it. Or forget it.SHE ATE
By GABRIELLE LAWRENCE
The first thing you need to know about Punk Taco is that the chips alone are worth the trip. They are extra crunchy, as I believe all chips should be, they are salty, they are just on the good side of greasy. They come in a paper bag and you can order an assortment of house-made salsas, ranging from one skull of spice level to three. While the salsas were all fresh and flavorful, I couldn’t stop hammering handfuls of chips.
Over the course of several visits, various companions and I tried almost everything on the menu, which changed a few months ago. The nachos have been a consistent favorite, for a reason that can be easily summarized: Those to-die-for chips.
On my first visit, some girlfriend and I split an order of salmon nachos. The flaky salmon was blanketed in cheese, black beans, capers, pickled onions, and de-seeded jalapeno.
On that visit I also tried the ancho shrimp taco, which includes a creamy avocado sauce, slightly spicy habanero honey, black beans with basil and cilantro. The tacos are all á la carte, and you get one per order. The tortillas are made on-site and are a bit thicker than you’re used to if, like me, you have an affinity for tacos that come from a truck. That isn’t a bad thing and helps prevent a post-dinner phenomenon that I call “taco hand,” where the juices dribble out onto your skin and you have to go home and rub your hands with a cut lemon, which removes the smell of food.
On subsequent visits Mr. She Ate enjoyed a few margaritas, served in a hyper-color plastic tumbler that changes color as the cold liquid is drained. The drinks are good, he says, and the saltiness cuts through the richness of the food and the creamy chorizo dip that we were essentially spooning directly into our mouths.
On our next visit, a trout taco had made its debut on the menu. Although it might sound like a hard combination to support, I was all in once I tasted the fennel and feta. The tequila chorizo taco, however, didn’t blow me away. I find rice inside a taco or burrito to be overkill and it overpowered the chorizo. The watermelon salad was also a miss. There was too much liquid pooled in the bottom of the dish to make it palatable.
I was happy to see innovative vegetarian menu items. I eagerly tried both the smoked cauliflower and black bean tacos. After cutting out some of those pesky membranes from the jalapenos, the black bean taco was perfect.
Since the implementation of the new shuttle service between downtown and Old Town on weekday afternoons, downtown employees should branch out of their old haunts and take a quick ride to Old Town. If we’re going to continue to develop a robust, exciting restaurant scene in Lansing, we have to support what we have.
1216 Turner Road, Lansing
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
(517) 614-0927 www.facebook.com/punktacolansing