Pot Luck

Tunnel Explorer: Pastabilities

I used to work with a guy who looked a bit like Franklin the Turtle. He was slightly narcoleptic. You always knew when "Franklin" was going to drift off, because he would bring his right hand up to his left shoulder and start massaging his collarbone. Within minutes, he'd be out. Franklin was a good guy.

He was also a tunnel-dining trailblazer, having charted an impressive mental map from his years of working downtown. Back when we worked together, he used to go on and on about Pastabilities. I never made it down there to check it out back then, so when the name popped up in the comments below a recent post, I decided to give it a shot, finally.

Once I made it down there, I wondered how I'd missed it so many times. Located underneath the Esperson Building, Pastabilities is right around the corner from my chiropractor's office. Had I known, I might have stopped by sooner, consoling myself with a slice of pizza after being attacked by the crazy lady with the belt sander who does my adjustments. Just kidding. Sort of.

The item that brought me down there, the Original Breakfast Burrito, must have weighed two full pounds. Built on a mass-market tortilla that had been unceremoniously run through one of those hinged steam presses, my burrito packed in home fries, scrambled egg, bacon, and cheese. It was full enough to be legitimately difficult to eat.

Way too many home fries lent the burrito a dry, mealy character, though the potatoes were well-seasoned. Though they were clearly browned and crisped at one point, their stay in a griddle-side potato pile, awaiting burritization, had lent them a steamed texture, all of their crunch gone. The bacon was nicely crispy with some chew to it, just how I like it. The egg was scrambled fresh, not poured from a jar, which was a surprising touch. A paltry single egg for that massive mound of starch, though, simply didn't suffice.

The provided salsa brought some heat and a nice, onion pungency, but it seemed to be made primarily from some canned tomato product. As with the egg, the single tub of salsa provided for each burrito was simply not enough. Between the tortilla and the mountain of potatoes, the burrito suffered from a serious lack of moisture.

Several bites in, I found the lone slice of American cheese. It didn't add a whole lot of flavor, but its slick, gooey texture helped lubricate the burrito. Melty and mixed with the salsa on the edges of the burrito, it worked like that mainstay of Texas couch parties, Ro-Tel and Velveeta queso. For a few bites there, the burrito was greater than the sum of its parts. Crisp/chewy bacon mingled with savory and earthy potatoes, and the ad-hoc queso added a creamy, spicy kick. It tasted like a dorm room version of a breakfast taco, but in a good way.

At least judged on the merits of this visit, Pastabilities is not the answer to my tunnel breakfast prayers. I would not seek this burrito out anywhere else in the city. If, however, you find yourself in the tunnels, craving a breakfast that offers a few simple, if fleeting, pleasures, and which will render moot the question of where to eat lunch (I wasn't hungry again until late that night), this might be a good bet. Maybe I need to get back in touch with "Franklin," and see if he has any other recommendations.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall