Poking around my tiny fridge, I couldn’t think of anything I could make with the meager scraps of leftovers I was looking at. There weren’t enough components to justify an omelet, so I just pulled things out and looked at them. There was some corn, a third of an avocado, some ground beef that I’d cooked with taco seasoning, a couple tinned artichoke hearts, a plum tomato.
“Taco salad,” my brain said, and I rejoiced. I heated up the meat and corn and sprinkled it with cheddar. I put a tortilla in the toaster oven to crisp up then broke it into pieces and dumped it on the meat mix. Finally, I threw in diced tomato and avocado and dug in. It was totally tasty but not like any taco salad I ever saw.
At places like Perkins, a “family restaurant” chain that my friends and I frequented in high school because a) you could smoke, b) they had free refills on pop and c) they were open 24-hours, a taco salad was a heaping mound of ground meat and C-grade vegetables in a fried taco bowl the size of a dinner plate. They were several inches deep and could probably feed three people. Every few months, after the horror of the last time faded, someone would accept the dare to eat a whole one and no ever did.
The basic construction was a pile of shredded iceberg lettuce with the aforementioned meat, handfuls of shredded cheddar, cups of diced tomatoes and onions, maybe some green onions or peppers, slathered in “salsa”. Most that I ever saw had a spiderweb made out of sour cream on top, just for fun and added calories. They were the kind of disgusting food item someone would invent as an exaggeration of how gross American food is, but Americans beat them to the punch.
In Perkins’ defense, they introduced me to the Monte Cristo sandwich, which is something so spectacular, that it could only come from America. Wikipedia tries to claim that the ‘Cristo is related to a croque-monsieur but that’s like saying fondue and Cheez Wiz are culinary cousins. The Monte Cristos at Perkins were triple-decker turkey, bacon and cheese sandwiches dipped in batter, then fried. Take that, American Heart Association.
A croque-monsieur has always been a certain kind of sandwich to me, like the ones that we made at home with a special press that my mom got, but I just realized that they’re called “Mister Crunch” and I suddenly find that I want to tickle one to death while saying, “Who’s a Mister Crunch? You are, Mister Crunch!”