It is another rainy Southeast Texas day and I felt like wherever I ended up is where I should stop for lunch. As the work clock ticks down to about 10 minutes — I thought I was supposed to start at 3:30 p.m. but beginning time is instead 1:30 p.m. — I will have to quickly relate my lunch and flashback.
Where I ended up was Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp, 5555 Calder, Beaumont, next to the popular Willy Burger and their new pizza place. I have eaten at Willy’s a few times. It is usually crowded and though the place is aesthetically funky, and the food is good, it’s far from my fave local joints Chuck’s Sandwich Shop (486 Pearl St.) for its wonderful old cheeseburger basket, and Daddio’s, up the street on Calder at Lucas, with their wonderful buffalo burger and hand cut fries.
Tia Juanita’s has gone through quite a few incarnations of food places. But it still has the huge covered patio and a darkish inside setting. While it has a Spanish name and a Mexican owner, the place is, unsurprisingly, seafood-oriented. The menu includes fried fish and shrimp as well as poboys, gumbo and tacos of a different variety. When I say that I mean fish, shrimp and beef. You can order a three-taco plate with either or a combination of the three. One also has the choice of flour or corn tortillas. So I chose shrimp tacos on corn tortillas. The three tacos for $10 ($9.99) comes with a small salsa cup with a great-tasting spice enough to last through about nine tacos. It’s hot yet very delicious. It likewise comes with an equally small cup of charro beans. I likewise got an industrial-sized glass of unsweet tea.
The tacos came with cooked and spicy salad-sized shrimp, cilantro and shredded red cabbage inside two small corn tortillas each. With the salsa it was delightfully spicy and a treat. Although I really didn’t leave hungry, I was a bit put off at the size of the bean amount. Of all that was served, the beans were certainly not made of gold so the serving could have been twice the size I received easily.
Also, I am unsure if chips and salsa are automatic or if they are an extra charge. The waiter asked if I wanted anything else, I suppose I should have asked her what else was there, without sounding like a smart ass.
While I felt I waited a bit longer than normal for my food, I didn’t mind it at all. A large screen with ESPN Sports Center was on as well as a rather loud stereo system playing a number of tunes from the 60s and 70s by Jerry Jeff Walker, James Taylor and even Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Buffett. The rain also played a steady, though not heavy, beat outside the fenced patio. It was watching the rain and hearing Loggins and Messina’s rather sugary but nonetheless pretty “Danny’s Song” that I had a flashback from my military days overseas.
This recall was not from war. It was from sitting inside a pizza joint in Olangapo outside the Subic Bay Naval Station. I chose to order a few cold beers inside the big picture windows of the Cork Room Cellar watching the goings on of a hot, dusty day on Magsaysay Drive. Passing by those large windows to the world would be the whores, the Philippine constabulary in their fatigues, boonie hats and M-16s slung around their shoulders, as well as those who did everything from selling cheap trinkets to picking pockets. Inside, listening to the same songs from the same Loggings and Messina’s albums I remember feeling such sadness for those who made their living from can to can’t. Maybe it was — at 21 years old — my first discovery of empathy for those I felt who were less fortunate than I. Perhaps not the first, but perhaps the first time as an outsider of a foreign land looking in. Or maybe it was just the cold San Miguel catching up with me. I don’t know. But today I remembered it as if it was earlier this week.
The tacos were great though. Were I not scheduled to work later, and had an icy San Miguel been around — doubtful, as you don’t see San Miguel around too often in these parts — I might just have stayed for awhile.