By BROOKE WANSER
Sopapillas, a New Mexican restaurant in Franklin, was recently awarded the distinction of Overall Grand Champion at the first ever Nashville Taco Festival at the end of September.
Steve Dale, the owner and founder of Sopapillas, was born in Phoenix and moved from Albuquerque to Nashville in 1990 to pursue a music career.
He toured with Christian rock band Big Tent Revival and country band Little Big Town as a bass player, garnering three Grammy nominations and a Dove nomination along the way.
While he toured with Little Big Town for five years, Dale said he missed the flavors of southwestern cuisine.
“I’m just a musician who loves tacos,” he chuckled.
Dale began to experiment with food on the road, buying a Crock Pot to cook his favorite meals for post-show fiestas. Dale eventually quit touring and settled down, opening Sopapillas in Franklin in 2010.
The tacos that helped Dale win the award were a chicken-fried chicken taco with Hatch chile gravy, pickled onion, local honey, jalepeños and strawberries, which he said was a riff on southern-style chicken and waffles, and a slow-smoked brisket taco with barbecue baja sauce, onion straws and cilantro. Both items were judged at the festival by members of the National Taco Association.
“We got invited to this kind of at the last minute,” Dale said. “For seven straight hours, we were pumping out all the tacos we could.”
The Taco Festival is part of a multi-stop National Taco Tour. Winners from more than 20 cities will compete against other champions in the Grande Taco Finals next year. Dale said he understood the the finals would be held in Las Vegas in April.
Other tacos entered in the festival were a blue-corn, chicken and pork belly tacos and a coffee-encrusted, seared Ahi tuna taco with mango pineapple relish, jicama and pickled jalapeños, which were created by executive chef Carlos Garcia.
Each of these tacos will be served on Sopapillas’ new fall and winter menu.
“I feel like we have deep roots, with the style that we do, in the southwest, in New Mexico,” Dale said. “We’re evolving, but keeping our roots.”