The small bodega, trading in beer and candy, on Gaston Avenue had been opened for 10 months before a kitchen was set up in the back of the shop. That's when business began to pick up for Big E's Food and Beverage, sparsely decorated with beer and soda memorabilia, signs, trays and figurines, beneath exposed beams and ductwork.
The cook responsible for the grub, Yolanda Lopez, of course offers tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And they're not half bad, especially the carnitas taco, a heap of roasted and pulled pork with a texture buoyed by crispy bits of skin and char that impart a sense of surprise. More surprising is the inclusion of balls of mashed potato to the pork filling. Aside from juxtaposition, the extra starch was a neutral element, as neutral as the industrial flour tortillas.
The chicken fajita was a moist allotment of grilled poultry strips and sautéed onions and peppers. It was messy, succulent and diverting -- the garnishes had to be slurped.
The brisket was a cracked pile of meat, with a gray tint and tough to the teeth, but it had a hefty flavor augmented by the one-two punch of the red and green salsas.
The ground beef was the traditional taco-meat stuffed job with cubes of tomato. It skewed dry, but its simplicity earned my respect.
Unfortunately, the kitchen was out of shrimp, stopping my curiosity dead in its public-transportation riding tracks.
The managers, Eric "Big E" and his wife, Amanda Hunker, along with the owner, Big E's mother, Janet Shaw, would like to operate 24 hours a day and open up the vacant space next door, accessible from a doorway in Big E's exposed-brick wall. The increased square footage would be a round-the-clock restaurant with table service intended to pick up the diners left stranded by the closure of Metro Diner. A tremendous what-if needs to be attached to that desire. "Nothing is set in stone. Nothing is 100 percent sure yet," Mrs. Hunker said. "But we'd like to do it."
Big E's location, Deep Ellum, gives it a built-in customer base. It's within walking distance of Baylor Medical Center and across the street from the Elbow Room. During lunch, Baylor employees sat at one table, while at another two construction workers, contractors by the looks of them -- they wore clean, pressed button-down shirts, jeans and dusty cowboy boots -- hurriedly gobbled up plates of cheesy enchiladas that glistened under the lights. A pair of men with tucked-in shirts and ties laughed between bites of tacos.
Tacos, which also include veggie and steak fajita options, and enchiladas aren't the only foodstuffs available at the bodega. Lopez also makes a cheeseburger platter with fries and a 32-ounce drink for $6. Aside from standard breakfast tacos, a hungry-man pancake platter is on the menu. It includes two pancakes, eggs and bacon or sausage. While I live too far to patronize Big E's for my morning meal, I am frequently in Deep Ellum. The pork taco, sans the potato, please, is worth a return visit, perhaps munched while sinking my ample rear into the red couch at the front of the store.