When Gustavo Arellano, author of Ask a Mexican, was researching his 2012 book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, he discovered that in 1886 Buffalo Bill had opened what might have been the first Mexican restaurant in the country, a pop-up place outside of Madison Square Garden in New York City, where his Wild West Show was in residence. Thirty-one years later, William F. Cody was buried on Lookout Mountain overlooking Denver -- after his body had been held in a mortuary for five months, waiting for the ground to thaw. That mortuary is now home to Lola, where Arellano landed last week for what chef Kevin Grossi billed as Buffalo Bill's Dinner. See also: Does Buffalo Bill Haunt Lola? Here's a taste of Arellano's account of that night.
One of the sponsors of the event was Steve Friesen, director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, and a man that can connect Bill to rock 'n' roll (try him!). He lectured on Bill's story and how he ended up in Denver. I lectured briefly about how was it that Bill had his pop-up restaurant (hint: no one knows for sure. Even Friesen wasn't aware of the restaurant until my book, and his best speculation is that Bill wanted to give people a taste of the West but also didn't want to do it in the West--hence, holding it as far away as possible. Madison Square Garden was also the only known time Buffalo Bill's Mexican restaurant was ever held.). I also made the point that not only did he open the first-ever Mexican restaurant in NYC (a city with a complex about its Mexican offerings), not only was he the first celebrity to endorse Mexican food, but that Buffalo Bill was the original hipster foodie, ending his dinner with mezcal--a point that flew over most of the crowd, as mezcal has yet to become a hipster thing in Denver.
(Then again, the rest of America still doesn't know what a Mexican hamburger is)
But we tried to keep our comments short; the real star was Grossi's meal -- great alta cocina dishes any other day of the year, but downright historic that night.
Grossi promises to tackle more of Buffalo Bill's culinary history in the future -- and Arellano has a request of his own: Why not an evening dedicated to the Mexican hamburger? While Buffalo Bill might have opened the first Mexican restaurant in New York City, Denver is definitely the home of the Mexican hamburger -- another fun fact that the Mexican unearthed in his Taco USA research.
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