On a visit to Springfield toward the end of 2015, I was staying on the east side of the city and I really didn't want to venture too far from the hotel for dinner that night. Doing a quick check of the area's restaurants, I found a place not far away with an interesting name - the Gourmet Taco Company. It intrigued me enough that I wanted to give this place a try.
(Since this visit, the Gourmet Taco Company has not only changed locations, but changed its name. It is now called the Great American Taco Company and has moved to a new location on E. Battlefield Road. ((see map)) The menu and basic idea of the original Gourmet Taco Company appears to be exactly the same under the new name at the new location. Owner Pat Duran hopes to be able to franchise the Great American Taco Company concept.)
Pat Duran was born and raised in Sante Fe, NM learning how to cook in his mother's kitchen. The youngest member of a family of 12 children, Duran found an appreciation for the finer tastes in food helping his mother cook for his father and siblings. After Duran got out of the nest, he joined the U.S. Army and became a paratrooper. During his time in the Army he traveled the world and tried different types of food. After getting out of the Army, Duran found that his passion for good food had heightened. He ended up going to culinary school, became a chef and lived in different areas around the U.S. learning about foods indigenous to those given regions.
Ending up in Springfield, MO, Duran became the owner and executive chef of the Metropolitan Grill on E. Sunshine. Working with local growers and food purveyors, Duran (pictured right) formed a menu that focused on natural and the freshest possible ingredients. Over the past 20 years, Metropolitan Grill has been one of Springfield's favorite upscale restaurants.
But Duran remembered his Sante Fe roots and he came up with a concept called the Sante Fe Grill that featured more of a Southwestern style of cooking. However, in a city that happens to have a number of outstanding Mexican restaurants, Duran knew that he'd have to dig deep into his Hispanic heritage to set his next concept apart from the rest.
After closing the Santa Fe Grill, he opened a new restaurant just down the street from the Metropolitan Grill in what was first a pizza shop, then more recently had been a sandwich shop. The Gourmet Taco Company opened in September of 2013. (Duran is also involved with the Metropolitan Farmer, a farm-to-fork concept that features recipes from Springfield native Chef Wes Johnson whose claim to fame in the culinary world includes stops at The Shaved Duck and the former Salt restaurant in St. Louis.)
I pulled into the Gourmet Taco Company around 8 p.m. that particular evening. There's a small bar area up toward the entrance. There were a handful of people seated around the L-shaped and they were pretty boisterous. I considered sitting at the bar to watch a game that was on the television, but decided against it.
My server for the evening, Nate, greeted me as I was looking in the dining area. I decided to have a seat in that area and he told me that I could sit about anywhere as there were only about six or seven people in the dining room. I found a table near the wall and he gave me a menu to look over. I ordered a Dos Equis Ambar beer to start out.
Nate brought out a small basket of blue corn and regular corn chips with my beer. They make four different salsas from scratch at the Gourmet/Great American Taco Co., and I got two different types of thick salsa - a rustic salsa made with tomatoes roasted in a Bloody Mary sauce along with cilantro, chopped onions and some chili spices, and a bold salsa made with chipotle peppers, roasted tomatoes, pico de gallo, and sweet corn kernals. The bold salsa had a great smoky taste with a bit of a spicy bite on the back side. I liked them both very much. It was tough to say which one I liked better.
Looking through the menu, I found over 20 different types of tacos to choose from. You can get just diverse tacos such as fajita steak or chicken, tortilla encrusted tilapia tacos, barbecued pork tacos, buffalo shrimp tacos, and chipotle seasoned sirloin steak tacos. They also had a smothered Southwest burrito; a Frito pie with ground beef in a red and green chili sauce, chili beans, and a queso sauce; and spring roll enchiladas. One other thing that I saw that I really wanted to try was one of their six different styles of guacamole. The New Mexico guacamole was mixed with Hatch green chilies, chopped cilantro, pico de gallo, fresh chopped garlic, lime juice and chili seasonings. But it sounded so rich and if there would have been someone else with me, I would have gotten that to go along with my tacos.
As I was trying to figure out what I wanted to get, I couldn't help but hear the commotion coming from the bar area. The young lady who was bartending that evening was annoyingly loud. She had a high-pitched laugh and she was carrying on with at least a couple guys sitting at the bar. The two guys were equally loud and were throwing f-bombs around like they were sailors on shore leave. Now, I'm far from a prude and my language is blue a good part of the time, but this was a little over the top. The (then) Gourmet Taco Company seemed to be a more classy place than having some jackasses at the bar carrying on like they were at a frat party. In fact, an older couple seated near me were clearly uncomfortable with the foul language coming from the bar area.
I went with two tacos - the Sriracha tuna taco and the Hatch green chili shredded pork taco. Nate asked me if I wanted corn or flour tacos and I went with the corn. I wish I hadn't.
I guess I thought the corn tacos would be small, soft and pliable. Actually the corn tacos were hard and larger than normal tacos. They sort of crumbled when I would bite into them. It made for somewhat of a messy meal.
The Sriracha tuna taco featured seared ahi tuna drizzled with Sriracha sauce, grilled pineapple chunks, a cilantro citrus sour cream, feta cheese, baby spinach, and cucumber slices. The fish was sort of fishy tasting. The Sriracha gave it a bit of a bite, but the grilled pineapple chunks were a nice balance. The taco was just, well, all right.
The pulled pork taco was much better. It featured applewood smoked pulled pork topped with a Hatch green chili sauce, pico de gallo, shredded pepper jack cheese, and finished with chopped lettuce. The green chili sauce had a bit of a smoky taste, but was mild on the back end. The pulled pork was moist and very tasty. This was a good taco.
Other than the foul language at the bar - something I thought was a bit inappropriate for a nicer place like the Gourmet Taco Company - the tacos were, well, good. I liked the pulled pork taco much more than the Sriracha tuna taco, mainly because the tuna had a fishy taste. Nate's service was exemplary - he took good care of a single diner making sure that I was comfortable and that I had everything that I needed before, during and after my meal. The only thing I would have changed is to get the flour taco shells instead of the too hard corn shells. Now that they've changed to the Great American Taco Company, I'm sure the tacos are still good - not the best I've had - but still good.