It has become clear to me in recent times that my unintentional life’s pursuit is to eat as many tacos as I possibly can before I die. Part of that quest is to find out just how many different ingredients can be successfully placed into a shell or tortilla and then enjoyed.
Hey, a guy has to have goals, right?
River Road BBQ recently offered an assist by way of the habanero sausage taco for $4.25. Yeah, the first time I read that phrase, I did double take. A sausage? In a taco? How can this be? My first thought was that the sausage would be ground up to resemble more standard taco meat — that made sense to me.
But when I stopped in at River Road BBQ, which is located near Water Tower Park at 3017 River Road, I was surprised to find that the sausage remains intact. So, it’s like a hot dog and taco hybrid, if you will.
River Road BBQ owner Jon Gudmundsson told me he gets the sausages from Troyer Foods Inc., and chose this particular sausage for a specific reason: Gudmundsson likes to be in control when it comes to smoking the meats he serves.
“It’s the only sausage I can find that does not come pre-smoked,” he said. “Most people just don’t know how to smoke it.”
Gudmundsson does. And once the sausages come out of the big smoker in front of the restaurant, they go into two simple, flour tortillas layered one on top of the other, topped with a sour cream-meets-barbecue sauce blend, and finished off with a mound of the barbecue joint’s house-made coleslaw.
The sausages are close to a quarter-pound of meat so, predictably, the ends hang out of the small-ish tortillas. I got one to go for lunch recently — one is all you need if you’re not extremely hungry — and when I opened the Styrofoam box at home, the delicious, smoky aroma enveloped me. The thing also was appetizing in appearance, in the way something you’d find at a minor league ballpark is enticing.
My first bite was just a hunk of the sausage, which has a nice snap to the outer casing followed by tender, juicy meat inside. And, at first, the heat is minimal. But once you swallow a bite, the habanero hits, leaving a lingering burn at the back of the palate, which then gets mostly extinguished by the sauce and slightly sweet and cool slaw in the next bite. And so it goes, bite after bite after bite.
The smoky flavor of the sausage easily cuts through the other ingredients, though, and takes center stage, while the balance of the vinegar-based coleslaw keeps things mostly even and honest. It’s a nice blend. As you would expect, however, this is one messy meal, with the long strands of cabbage in the slaw flowing everywhere, and sauce running down my fingers. Don’t forget to grab some paper towels on your way out of the restaurant.
By the time I took my final, messy, delicious bite of the beast, I found that the habanero burn was present and warming, but not off-putting in any way — at least not for my palate. I love habanero peppers, and the accompanying heat, but those with less-tolerant palates might want to use a bit of caution here. Honestly, it’s pretty tough for me to gauge how spicy something might seem to a different palate. (River Road BBQ also has a Polish sausage that is served as a taco for just $3.75, so that might be more friendly if spicy heat isn’t your thing.)
Gudmundsson likes to experiment — he recently rolled out smoked-fried chicken (since discontinued) that I will forever crave — so don’t be surprised if he comes up with something new as well. In fact, it might happen sooner rather than later.
“We are getting samples of [Troyer’s] chorizo next week that I would like to put into a taco as well,” he said.
Smoked chorizo tacos? Yes, please, and the spicier, the better.