La Gourmandine will take over the former Penn Avenue Fish spot on Forbes Avenue
How many journalists does it take to do a junior high school-level math problem? The answer is, as of Tuesday in the Post-Gazette newsroom: at least four.
The challenge was to calculate the number of non-repeating combinations of tacos at Condado Tacos, the Columbus, Ohio-based chain that opened its first Keystone State outpost here in the spring.
Having last taken a 100-level math class at Penn State University 20 years ago, this columnist took a stab that was fantastically off. One of our web desk gurus, also a Penn State man with the added bonus of some technical expertise, was likewise stymied. An editor, yet another Big Ten graduate (Indiana), was also clueless. But, he knew who to ask, and that’s why he gets the big bucks.
He tapped the newly hired Chris Huffaker, who came to the Post-Gazette to pursue data-driven journalism after earning a second graduate degree in Paris; his first came from Columbia University. And those came on the heels of his math sheepskin from prestigious Williams College in Massachusetts.
To paraphrase Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) in “Pulp Fiction,” “Look at the big brain on Chris!”
[Note: Author concedes total jealousy.]
The answer, based on possible combinations of eight different tortillas and 10 proteins (of which you can choose one each) and the 22 total toppings, sauces, cheeses, salsa, beans and rice comes to … 335,544,320. (Munch’s original guess of 30,240 was only off by a factor of 1,100. Go figure. No pun intended.)
Put in perspective, that’s one for the entire population of the United States, with 10 million combinations left over. At roughly 6 inches long, end-to-end they’d stretch 31,775 miles, which is the circumference of the earth, plus another 7,000 miles.
Even with all those potential combinations, Condado has nine on the menu to get you started.
With psychedelic street art and music, one imagines that the pitch meeting to investors could’ve been summed up in two words: stoner tacos.
To wit: the vegetarian Purple Haze, with tofu, rice, black beans, red cabbage, tomatoes and mango habanero sauce ($4).
Then there’s the Bubba Kush, which sounds like something that Wiz Khalifa or Willie Nelson might have personally designed for the munchies: a soft flour shell wrapped around a hard corn shell (think a Gordita from Taco Bell) that’s lined with bacon, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, smoked cheddar, pulled pork, jicama, onions, pineapple salsa and jackfruit BBQ sauce. This is a highly crushable belly bomber, and the refried beans alone make it worth the order.
But over several visits, there was also quite a bit of inconsistency.
Food comes out hot and fast, but with so many ingredients and build-your-own combinations being doled out and orders read from bubble sheets akin to the ones from standardized tests in high school, mistakes are inevitable. Not once, but twice, one of the combinations ordered by a member of our party arrived: wrong meat in one instance, wrong shell and no salsa in the other.
The chronic tortilla fritos — or Steak Nachos — sounded ($7) promising, with ghost pepper marinated steak, rice, black beans, queso blanco and fresco, smoked cheddar, Chihuahua cheese, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, roja salsa, and corn salsa. But they were kind of clumped into a paper bowl with the ghost pepper so diluted as to be hardly noticeable.
Also, the music is nerve jarringly loud at times — OK for late nights and weekends, but a little too much for a weekday lunch or early dinner.
We live in an era of peak taco, and the Golden Triangle is awash in tortilla shells with options ranging from the traditional (Bea Taco Town) to the top-to-bottom technically proficient (Bakersfield) to the borderline avant-garde (Tako).
But Candado’s are just a lot of messy fun, and there’s a place for that, too. Besides, if you try one you don’t like, there are 335,544,319 more combinations out there.
Condado Tacos: 971 Liberty Ave., Downtown; 412-281-9111; http://www.condadotacos.com.
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412.