Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, November 21, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Light Rail

At its new location at the station, Hot Damn, Tamales! still delivers the goods without burdening your waistline.

By KEN SHIMAMOTO

Hot Damn, Tamales!

Fort Worth Rail Market, 1401 Jones St, FW.|817-332-3244. Mon-Sat 10am-7pm,Sun 1-6pm. D, MC, V.

Consider the humble tamale. Simplicity itself: some meat, some peppers, wrapped in masa (cornmeal dough), and steamed. Whether as a Mexican grandmother’s time-consuming holiday labor of love, shared with family members and their lucky co-workers, or a godawful canned monstrosity swimming in grease, consumed cold by lonely single guys over the sink, tamales are a Texas dietary staple.

A friend who studied in Cuernavaca swears that during one of four-time Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana’s periods of political eclipse, campesinos tried to cook the soldier-statesman (not the favorite historical character of most Texans — uh, remember the Alamo?) in a giant tamale. While that allegation might be more a result of my friend’s enthusiasm for a certain product of the Mexican state of Oaxaca (not the mozzarella-like cheese) than of historical fact, it is verifiable that blues legend Robert Johnson wrote a song about tamales (“They’re Red Hot”).

Hot Damn, Tamales! makes tamales with a difference — heart-healthier, with several vegetarian-friendly choices. By substituting vegetable shortening for lard, they get a lighter masa, which spares the diner the heavy, stuffed feeling that one might expect from the generous portions typical to Mexican restaurants. On my first visit, I encountered an acquaintance who recommended the three-tamale plate with the caveat that “you probably won’t be able to finish it.” While it’s true that I deliberately went to the restaurant hungry, I left the table sated but not glutted, my plate clean. But perhaps my appetite is atypical — my guest opted for the Santa Fe plate, consisting of a single tamale accompanied by a hill of black beans and rice with guacamole, sour cream, cheddar, and green onions, and some of his portion remained in front of him.

The wild mushroom and goat cheese tamale is Hot Damn, Tamales!’s signature item, and its flavor was both delicate and earthy. The poblano corn tamale was also a hit, with the slightest hint of cilantro to mellow the poblano pepper’s bite. (Thankfully, Hot Damn’s food doesn’t have the cumin-heavy taste that’s burned me out on a lot of Tex-Mex chow, and I feel validated by a second-generation Mexican-American I know who insists that real Mexican cooking doesn’t use cumin at all; rather, “authentic” Mexican cuisine relies on cilantro and other fresh herbs for flavor.)

The beef tenderloin, beer, and jalapeño tamale was a bit of a disappointment, if only because it was advertised as “spicy” but couldn’t compete with several grandmother-prepared tamales I’ve tasted in that regard. While the jalapeño wasn’t exactly fiery, the beef was soft and tender, probably the real purpose for marinating it in pale ale; the brew added little in the way of flavor.

In my experience, the enchilada plate is always the litmus test of any Mexican-style restaurant — in the same way that a cheese slice is the litmus test of any pizza joint. The New Mexico cheese enchiladas (two of ’em) had an appealing blend of flavors — lime, cilantro, green onions, and sour cream — along with an attractive visual aspect, red corn tortillas. Not traditional, but tasty. Those in search of a more substantial, meatier offering will go for the tamale pie, which layers poblano corn tamales with spicy ground beef, bell peppers, tomatoes, cheddar, and olives. The net effect is something like a Mexican lasagna, and I’m told it’s quite a popular takeout item for the husbands/significant male others of regular female customers.

At this point, we need to pause to praise the hearty black beans, which accompany all the plates in place of refried beans, along with rice, chips, and salsa. Simple, somewhat bland, they’re nonetheless beginning to seem like comfort food as I reach the age where I can detect the impact of a large helping of refritos on my waistline before leaving the table.

The fresh-squeezed limeade was tart and tangy; devotees of sweet tea might want to load it up with sugar, but it tasted just fine the way it was. The soup of the day when I visited was a simple but satisfying tortilla variety, the workaday chicken stock given character by the melted cheese and green onions. Some folks might prefer soft tortillas to chips in the soup, but others will enjoy the medley of textures (wet and crisp, soft and gooey).

Since moving to Fort Worth in May 1999, Hot Damn, Tamales! has been open for business in a couple of different locations, on Magnolia and on West 7th Street. But both of those locations had limited seating and were really just adjuncts to owner Angele Stavron’s catering and mail-order businesses — both of which are still active. The catering is done through the restaurant, and the mail-orders can be placed through 817-731-6779 or the web site www.hotdamntamales.com. (Online orders must be placed by 6pm, Dec. 18 for delivery before Christmas day.)

It’s all now consolidated and relocated to the Fort Worth Rail Market, a downtown destination that hasn’t yet realized its potential, perhaps because it’s still partly under construction, perhaps because foodies from outlying areas haven’t found the location (hint: there are driving directions on the Hot Damn, Tamales! web site and at www.fortworthpublicmarket.com). There, you’ll find ample seating, albeit in a kind of food court without the mall. There’s also plenty of seating outside, when the weather’s nice and not too damn hot.


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