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The Truth, Mainly - 07/31/1995

Art's: Soul food for the family

Sometime back in the sixties, a music prof I knew—a guy who became rhapsodic when he talked about food—stopped by my office and asked if I wanted to try something new for lunch.

I'd just turned in my semester grades and I was ready to celebrate, so even though I didn't get rhapsodic about food, I said, "Sure. Why not?"

So four of us went to a place on 11th Street called The Taco Hut.

"Mexican," the music prof said. "You know about Mexican food?"

"Sure," I said. "My momma made chili."

But what we had for lunch was nothing like any chili my momma made. It was nothing like any food I'd eaten.

I drank a bottle of something called Dos Equis and ate a cheese enchilada, beans and rice, with green sauce out of a little bowl.

I became rhapsodic.

"Great stuff," I told the round-faced, barrel-chested man behind the cash register.

"Made from scratch right back there," he said, pointing to the kitchen. If I thought the enchilada was good, he told me, I should try the chalupas and tacos and burritos and tachas.

He said I should bring my family.

So I did. About once a week for the next 25 years.

My family not only liked the food, they liked the people who made and served it. And they liked the round-faced, barrel-chested man behind the cash register who seemed immediately to know their names.

The Hut was a place you took your kids, a place that gave new meaning to "family business." You and your family ate food prepared and served by the owner and his family: his wife, Carmen, and their five boys, Art, Dan, Rene, Dick, and Mike. You felt more like a guest than a customer.

The place became a second home to us in the seventies. When visitors came to town, we'd drive them by the Capitol, then take them to the Hut to eat food more astounding than architecture.

It was a gathering place for gourmands who cared more about good eats than fancy surroundings—leather-patch academics, newspaper folk, lawyers, old-style hippies, new-style yuppies who thought they'd discovered the place. We all came together for our regular fix of Mexican soul food.

To be there on a Friday evening was to get a working definition of a multicultural community—without anyone ever using the words.

And always at the epicenter of the laughter and the lovely smells and the scurrying kids was Art Longoria, he of the round face and barrel chest, dispenser of beans and rice, overseer of gustation, greeter of children.

Even after our kids grew up and moved out, I knew how to get them back together.

"Art's," I'd say on the telephone. "Six-thirty. I buy."

The Truth, Mainly


And then we'd all be there—me, my wife, our three kids and their mates—around two or three tables shoved together by the Longoria boys. We'd laugh with Art and drink our Dos Equis and eat our tacos or enchiladas or chalupas. And always there was the communion of the beans and rice.

We never went anywhere else for birthdays. Who but Art would present us with a celebratory tacha on the house, a single burning candle festively anchored in the melting cheese?

And when the grandbabies came along, we took them to Art's for their first taste of beans and rice. It convinced them that down the road there's ambrosia Gerber never dreamed of—and so made them incurable optimists.

Longoria grandbabies came along at about the same time, and joining Art and Carmen in that mysterious and slightly goofy consortium of grandparents, we chucked each other's latest lineage under their fat little chins and said "Hey. Hey, there."

The Taco Hut isn't there anymore. Like the Hobnob before it, the Hut was torn down to make more parking space—O, dubious trade-off! Its descendent, Arturo's, still thrives in the southeast outskirts.

It's still a family enterprise, too, but Art isn't there anymore. His funeral was last week, about a quarter of a century too soon.

I'm tempted, of course, to wax sappy here and say something about Art standing, round-faced and barrel-chested, behind some celestial cash register, trading stories about the new cherubs while he oversees ethereal enchiladas and chalupas and burritos and tacos. And the beans and rice, always the beans and rice.

I'll resist the temptation.

But nagging questions remain: Who's going to teach grandbabies yet unborn the joy of such food? And who's going to show us, without ever using the words, that a multicultural community can be something like family?

That family needs a fix of Taco Hut soul food, Art. We need it bad and we especially need it now.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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