Pot Luck

Tunnel Explorer: Zaytona

While my forays into the tunnels occasionally reveal bright spots, signs that, perhaps, someone is trying to make good food underground, I'm still overwhelmed by the sheer mass of careless, pointless dreck foisted on us tunnel dwellers.

It's our own fault, I suppose. Certainly, we could come above ground, brave the weather and the cross-walks, and have an actual meal. Still, I don't think it's too much to ask that I be able to find, for example, a decent breakfast down here. That's what I was looking for a few weeks ago when I found my most recent ray of sunshine.

In this case, I suppose I should have known better. Expecting the bright personality, lively flavors, and attentive execution of, say, Melange Creperie from a dimly lit tunnel stall is practically begging for disappointment. Still, it shouldn't have been too much to ask that my breakfast be competently prepared. Sadly, that was exactly the case.

Off-the-beaten-path options are always a bit of a crap-shoot in the tunnels, but I tend to see someone doing something different as a sign that they're trying, at least. So when I saw crepes listed on Zaytona's menu, and a round crepe griddle on its counter, I decided to give it a shot.

I should probably be grateful that they were out of the smoked salmon required to make my requested crepe, defaulting me back to something simpler. I ordered a PB&J crepe, but quickly changed my mind when the utterly disinterested guy behind the counter, still chewing his own breakfast, inquired as to which type of jelly I would like. He reached into the wicker basket next to the register, filled with single-serve tubs of Brand X grape- and strawberry-flavored spread, offering a palm full for me to inspect.

"Do you have Nutella?" I asked, the worry almost certainly creeping into my voice. They did. I changed my order again. Peanut butter and Nutella. "Want a banana, too?" He asked. I agreed, not noticing the basket of still-green fruit at the other end of the counter. I watched as the cook ladled batter onto the griddle, momentarily optimistic as it bubbled merrily. I grinned as he used his long spatula to whack the edges off, making that familiar clanking sound against the sides of the griddle. I cringed as he flipped it over too soon, its pale and slightly sticky looking surface a harbinger of things to come.

A thin smear of Nutella went on the ghostly crepe, followed by a large glob of industrial peanut butter, and a cluster of thinly sliced, almost certainly under-ripe banana. Rather than the elegant, concentrically folded cones doled out by Buffalo Sean, that sainted Crepe Maker whom I will never take for granted again, this was haphazardly rolled up like an ungainly burrito, and flopped unceremoniously into a Styrofoam takeout box.

Back at my desk, the first bite confirmed my fears. The crepe was flaccid and flabby, with none of the taught, slightly crisp-edged textural interest of a proper specimen. Overly thick and doughy, partially undercooked, the pancake tasted of dust, cooking spray, and failure. It was cold (certainly the fault of the walk back to my office) and disturbingly textured. The fillings tasted as they should, though the bananas were indeed tart and green-tasting, their starch not yet converted to sugar. The inelegant presentation proved not a simple matter of aesthetics, the open cavity of the crepe collecting the filling into an awkward mouthful, tearing the bottom of the flabby crepe. All those fanciful folds Buffalo Sean executes are not just showy, but architectural.

It was, in short, an utter disappointment. I went from hopeful, to worried, to dejected through the course of ordering, observing, and eating. It was not a good moment for the tunnels. I'm not really sure what the lesson is here, or even that there is one. Certainly, I don't take this as a sign that I should give up the hunt. I just wish I'd let this one get away.

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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