Submitted by Ellen Rhudy
For a child in New Jersey in the early nineties, there was a clear winner amongst the ice cream truck’s offerings: the Choco Taco. The Choco Taco was the platonic ideal of an ice cream sandwich, the perfect delivery system for its package of vanilla ice cream, crisp chocolate, crushed peanuts, and soggy waffled taco shell. The Choco Taco cost somewhere north of a dollar, and thus required a special plea to my parents, an explanation of why I, a sunburnt eight-year-old who had spent the day crafting murder mysteries prominently featuring Sunny Rhudy, the family dog, deserved this rarest of treats. The Choco Taco couldn’t be found in the grocery store, so when you could buy one from the Mr. Softee truck or at the Raccoon Valley Pool’s snack stand, you had to seize that opportunity for everything it was worth.
Only, apparently you could buy the Choco Taco in grocery stores from about 1996 on, and for the past twenty-two years I could have been eating Choco Tacos whenever I wanted. I learned that this morning when reading my local IGA’s circular, with a picture of the Klondike Company’s Choco Taco on the front page. The Choco Taco is, therefore, a new food in the sense that it is newly reintroduced to my life after many years of unnecessary and tragic absence, and in the sense that it is now made by the Klondike Company rather than (as I had pictured) a grandmotherly type supervising an ice cream assembly line in her kitchen. The Choco Taco of 2018, further, is much smaller than I remember, or maybe I have just grown: I estimate that the box I bought, containing four silver-sleeved Choco Tacos, would hold one of the Choco Tacos of my dreams.
Other than that, maybe they haven’t changed so much. The taco is more slender than I remember, sealed by an inch-wide strip of chocolate containing an occasional peanut crumble in lieu of the liberal coating I remember. The taco shell has sadly lost its soggy nature and odd resistance to teeth, Klondike having apparently figured out that by coating the inside of the waffle shell with chocolate they could better protect it from the ravages of melting ice cream. Still, something about the chocolate imparts a chewier texture than expected, with the peanutty chocolate layer, in particular, requiring more toothwork than seems reasonable. If you are the type of person who eats celery because you burn more calories on chewing than the waterstalks can provide you in return, you are probably experiencing a growing attraction to this wonder of the ice cream world. Speaking of which, I have forgotten to mention the ice cream until now: it is unremarkable.
Is the Choco Taco less than I remember it being? Yes. Would I have been better off living in the world of my memories, having done this with such apparent satisfaction for most of my life? Probably. But I’m happy to have learned the Choco Taco is still around, claiming its single slot in the IGA freezer, surrounded by dozens of flavors of Klondike bars. Apart from the shell “upgrade,” the Choco Taco has stayed mostly true to itself. Maybe the problem today wasn’t with the Choco Taco, but with its source – I should have bought one from the ice cream truck down by the rec center, instead of from the grocery store. Maybe – like a soft pretzel that has sweated enough to create an ooze of salt on its gummy surface – the Choco Taco is best served in slightly diminished circumstances, kept at not-quite-the-right temperature for hours on a hot summer day, to be purchased just after the sun has set and you’ve eaten a hamburger made with a packet of Lipton Soup Mix and Sunny Rhudy has put to rest another neighborhood mystery just in time to run after the Mr. Softee truck with her faithful owner (me), who has a pocket jangling with all the quarters I could beg for our mission. The Choco Taco is a food that can never live up to its fullest potential in my home freezer. It is a food that deserves to be worked for. I cannot think of much higher praise than that.
Flying Dog’s Honeydew Jalapeño Wheat Beer
Submitted by Kevin Tasker
The tongue burns sharply, tingling and frightened, as it supplicates to the first charge of jalapeño. Someone blundered in selecting this beer, the tongue has reason to imagine. Used to the searing, ugly nature of certain infernal chicken wings, it doesn’t quite know what to do with this sensation from that most innocuous summer refresher: the noble Flying Dog beverage. The familiar is suddenly grotesque, unseemly. The cascading hoppy richness infused with a violent undertow. The tongue, if it could scoff, would certainly be scoffing. There is such unrest among the taste buds. The drinker pulls the bottle back from the joyful glugging posture to study the label and take a tentative sniff. Is there a smell? Not really. This makes the incinerating pepper flavor all the more beguiling. Another sip is in order… for the sake of science! Here comes the honeydew now, thank heavens, arriving late to the party like a guest who refused to use Waze — just in time to battle the jalapeño. The war is fierce and maddening as the tongue arches, struggling to maintain a sense of itself amid the carnage. Is the melon winning? The cooling salve of fresh ripe fruit — signifying summer. Or will the jalapeño — that spicy specter — triumph? Another sip is in order to decide. It dawns on the drinker that a victor may never surface from the maelstrom of sweetness and heat. The tongue, in limbo, resigns itself to a full six-pack worth of experimentation.