by Alice Levitt
1 Stowe Street, Waterbury, 244-0123
Rightfully, the bar has since gained a reputation as a mecca for beer lovers, even in bar-happy Waterbury. With eight Hill Farmstead Brewery varieties currently on tap, the casual pub may also be one of the best places to sip the best beer in the world.
But since November, the Blackback has earned another distinction: It's now a Vermont destination for Mexican food.
The third Mad Taco is just as delicious as the other two, in Waitsfield and Montpelier. And because executive chef Joey Nagy allows his chefs de cuisine room for innovation, there's something different at each.
One example is the guacamole at right, courtesy of chef Todd Cassel. The ultra-tangy, creamy dip was speckled with whole cilantro leaves, chunks of tomato and tiny squares of onion. The concoction was so addictive, I didn't mind that the whole, fried tortilla chips were a tad too thick. I just kept eating, tired jaw be damned.
The house tortillas found a greater purpose as part of the special tortilla soup. In the bright, acidic broth, they became more like noodles or dumplings. The potage came to me fiery hot in temperature, but I would have liked a bit more spice. Even the jalapeños floating in the soup, along with a welcome glut of braised chicken and onions, didn't pack much punch.
The greatest successes were versions of my classic Mad Taco favorites.
Since all the taco plates cost $8 for two, the Blackback Mad Taco allows mixing and matching. The al pastor didn't have pineapple, as I generally expect, but the braised pork within was pure fatty, umami pleasure.
Both that and the slightly underseasoned, beer-braised chicken greatly benefited from Cassel's masterstroke, a hot sauce called Pinky & the Brain.
The condiment, squeezed from a bottle, was as pink as a grapefruit. When asked what makes it that color, the chef preferred not to comment, calling it a "trade secret." It didn't matter; the tangy, lightly spicy sauce was delicious, as was the bright-orange, pleasantly sweet-but-spicy Happy-Happy-Happy sauce.
But my favorite from the other Mad Tacos was still my favorite here, even if prepared by a new chef in a new place. Carnitas sandwich, I love you more than you will ever know.
The sweet, homemade roll is the same, but the Waterbury version is slightly more austere than the one I've had in Waitsfield. But it was just as delicious. Pork belly and nature's mayonnaise, avocado, are subtracted. What's left is ultra-tender, smoky chunks of pork shoulder, a tangy slaw and lots of refreshing cilantro. The balance of juicy fat and fresh, acidic veggies, along with the fluffy roll, is simply perfection.
Add a glass of Hill Farmstead Edward or Susan, and you've got perfection plus.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to email@example.com.