Quesoff at the Mohawk

25 Sep

Ever since I was a chubby 10 year-old at summer camp who regularly paid a quarter for a side of nacho cheese at the pool, I’ve been a queso fanatic. Unfortunately, growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I know all about deep dish pizza and why you should never put ketchup on a hot dog, but I had no idea that queso could be so much more than hot cheese. After two and a half years in Austin, Caitlin has exposed me to the artform that is queso and we often debate whether Torchy’s or Kerbey Lane do it best*. When we heard that The Mohawk was having a “Quesoff” and there would be free queso to try, we had to go in double fisting chips. Sure, we were going out to dinner with Caitlin’s mom immediately afterwards, but I couldn’t bare to tell 10 year-old me (who ate that 25-cent hot, plastic-tasting cheese with his bare fingers) that I was going to pass up on free world-class queso.

*It’s Kerbey Lane for me, all the way. I love that their queso is a little sweeter and oh-so-heavy on the cheese.

Once inside the Mohawk, I loaded up with the first three quesos I could find and insisted we sit down, so I could dig in with both hands. There was one generic-tasting queso (pictured on top)** that tasted like that one time I tried to make queso and decided to walk to El Milagro to buy chips (not realizing it was nearly a mile away) and left the pot on the stove the whole time. The bottom queso is my old favorite, Torchy’s, who masterfully blends guacamole, queso fresco, and their fiery habanero Diablo sauce to give just enough spice that is cooled down by the guacamole. I was happy to be reunited with an old favorite, and I’ll get to the vegan walnut queso in a minute, but I quickly became distracted by a monster. Torchy’s: 9/10 

**That generic-ish top queso was my favorite, and appropriately put together by Slacker. It reminded me (fondly) of the nachos I’d get in elementary school. Nacho day was the best.

Queso Monster stole the show. Caitlin noted that she could tell it was my favorite immediately, just by watching my face as I ate it. The abundance of green chiles was their secret, but it was the consistency that got me. It was thick and hearty and truly a monster. They were completely out of it by the time Eric, Lisa and Alex got there, and with good reason. I need to track their trailer down. 9.5/10Sorry, vegans, but I have issues with calling something with no cheese in it “queso.”*** Just call it a dip. Having said that, this was a tasty dip. The walnuts were a nice touch and the smooth, creamy taste was enjoyable. I ended up having more than half left over when I decided to try some real queso, but Eric was happily dipping his taco all up in this non-queso concoction. Well done, for vegan queso. 6/10 

***I really enjoyed the vegan queso — and I totally think you can call vegan queso, vegan queso. It was subtle and light, a gentle compliment to any chip or tortilla.

 Speaking of things that aren’t really queso, but are delicious, say hello to this concoction. It’s more of something I’d serve at a fancy dinner party, but it was spicy, hot cheese, so I’d say it’s closer to queso than a vegan alternative. I was happy to find out that it’s served at Papitinos, which is just down the street from us on E. 6th. The chef read the ingredients in spanish and I can’t find the dish on their Web site, but it had a real kick to it and there were mushrooms and other veggies on the cheese square. I went for a chip and a cracker full. 8.5/10The sign should have said meatiest queso I ever tried. It was a tasty dish, with sausage and more meat mixed in. I’ll admit, my reluctance to love this one has something to do with me never being a huge sausage fan (insert joke here) but it was the kind of queso I’d enjoy in winter to keep me warm with a belly full of meat (Again, insert joke here.) 5.5/10

I did a pretty good job of taking pics when they weren’t expecting it, eh? Also, I was the smooth operator who spilled briskety queso all over the sign and in front of it. This was another amateur booth, but it tasted like a pro move. Despite spilling on the sign, I loaded up on this bad boy and ate brisket like grandma made it. (Not that a Jewish grandmother would ever consider putting brisket and cheese together.) They don’t have an official booth or stand, but made “What Would Cheeses Do?” shirts because her husband is a screen printer. I would eat it fairly often if it was a legit stand. 7.5/10It was fun to see amateurs name their booth. While one made a laminated sign with Obama saying mmm and “The Best Queso You Ever Tasted,” some wrote “2 Hookers & 2 Mexicans” on a yellow piece of paper in pen. There was one “hooker” and one “Mexican” behind the booth when we stopped there. I love goat cheese enough to convince myself their queso was half decent, before my taste buds woke up. It was kind of a trainwreck, but still…goat cheese! 3.5/10As unprofessional as the pair of hookers and Mexicans were, Frank**** had some next-level queso on their hands. They kept layering the dish with beans, brisket, cheese, guac and pico until they had a full meal in a dish. What a masterpiece! I almost think this one deserves its own category, because it was so much more than just a queso. I was pretty full by the time I attacked this beast, but had to finish every bite. Frank can do no wrong. 9.5/10 

****Although I couldn’t try Frank’s meaty queso, I will say confidently that their veggie hot dogs that I got to sample during Austin City Limits weekend are the best I have ever had. We love you, Frank!

After devouring every queso they had, I was a sweaty cheese-filled mess. 10-year-old me would be proud. Caitlin was smart enough to not go bearish on the queso and had room for dinner. It was lucky for her. She was able to avoid this bear attack without a lot of queso in her tum. 

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