Byrd & Barrel: Tacos & T-Ravs
I know a dish is special when I want to go back the next day and get it again.
It doesn’t happen often. Sure, there are tons of really good—great, even—dishes being served day in and day out in St. Louis. But you know the feeling when you eat something special. Something that makes you stop what you’re doing and go, whoa. I don’t want to share this dish. I don’t want to stop eating this. I want to cancel the rest of my order and only eat this until I can’t stand to look at it anymore.
For me, more often than not, I find these kind of dishes are at more casual spots. Mac’s burger. Vista’s Korean Fried Chicken sandwiches. Pastaria’s nduja pizza. Salt + Smoke’s Haley Riley. Even on a tasting menu at one of the best restaurants, I don’t feel like you’re likely to find many dishes that have that “craveability” you’re looking for.
Byrd & Barrel’s JITB tacos—that’s Jack in the Box, for the uninformed—are one of those dishes for me.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned to my girlfriend that I hadn’t been to Byrd & Barrel in a minute, to which she responded, “I’ve never been there…”
I threw her over my shoulder, fireman carried her to my car, and gunned it to Jefferson.
I knew what we were going to get. Nugs. Tots. Sauces. More nugs.
As we placed our order, the server asked if we’d tried their tacos yet. When we said no, she told us we needed to. I don’t normally give into peer pressure, thanks to D.A.R.E., but tacos are one drug I can’t resist. She was right.
I should preface this by saying I haven’t had a Jack in the Box taco since college, and that only happened once, so I don’t exactly have a great frame of reference for what they are…but I think it’s safe to say that’s irrelevant. This isn’t Next doing an homage to The French Laundry circa 1996.
On one of my many taco-centric revisits to Byrd, I ate with chef/owner Bob Brazell, a.k.a. Bobby Business, Bobby Bagels, Bobby Nugs and got down to discussing the birth of these bad boys. The answer is pretty simple, as you might suspect: they didn’t want to waste any product. At the end of the day, when nugs were left over, the staff was taking the leftover chicken, blending it up, breading and all, then making tacos out of it. They all agreed that they were ridiculously good, and so they’ve made their way onto the menu.
Corn tortillas are filled with nugs buzzed together with taco sauce, American cheese, and shredded lettuce. They’re thrown on the flattop until they’ve got a hint of char, and then pulled off and topped with parm—kind of like a European version of Cotija cheese. Voila. Tacos, served with a side of their house ranch. They’re also currently 2 for $3, which is ridiculous. You should order 6.
If taco’s aren’t your thing, perhaps I can interest you in their t-ravs? Or, if you’re truly a champ, you’ll order these and tacos. Similar to the birth of the tacos, these came as a result of not wanting to waste leftover product and then realizing that the late-night staff treat was worthy of a spot on the menu.
Once again, nugs are blitzed up, but this time they’re mixed with ricotta, parm, garlic, and herbs, then turned into St. Louis’ favorite portable meat pocket. I don’t think I really need to go on about why a t-rav from Byrd is going to be good. As a St. Louisan, it is your obligation to try them.