The Stephen (Minnesota) High School graduating class of 1993 had 22 students, including 19 who had been together since kindergarten, including myself, and three from a Mexican migrant family who were with us only that senior year.
To Marcelino Martinez, wherever you are brother.
I remember my buddy, Shmo, and I attended the Martinez graduation ceremony. We always enjoyed doing things like that, and we weren’t disappointed. We got to take our swipes at the pinata and enjoy great food and hospitality, the whole enchilada.
It’s this love of doing something a little different, of finding things that are a little out of the ordinary (relative to my own life), that has led me on adventures. That includes working with migrants on a potato wash plant in Mississippi right out of high school, visiting 30 states and taking trips to Thailand, Poland and the Dominican Republic and Mexico multiple times.
I’m willing to try just about anything, but no, I didn’t buy any bugs from a street vendor in Bangkok, even though I had the chance.
I’ll stick to a little safer bets, and sometimes, of course, you don’t have to go too far to find something unique.
The Northland has a number of these places, and my latest favorite is Bucktales, located just 12 miles south of downtown Superior on Wisconsin’s Highway 35 (right down Tower).
This is where Mexico meets redneck, as evidenced by the deer mount wearing a sombrero that greets visitors when they enter.
Bucktales is owned by Mexico City native Dee Morales.
Morales, 45, moved to the U.S. in 2000 and has been working in the restaurant industry ever since.
Morales says he “fell into the business,” filling various roles from line cook to manager positions. Turns out, he discovered he had a knack for it. Boy, does he have a knack for it.
It was always a dream of his to run his own business, and when the opportunity presented itself in 2014, and Bucktales became available, Morales took the buck by the antlers and bought it.
Keep in mind, Bucktales didn’t even have a kitchen then. It was just a bar. Morales admits his family was nervous, having been uprooted from Minneapolis and moving north to the great unknown.
Sometimes you have to take risks to get rewarded, as Morales has discovered. With hard work and talent, along with friendly and welcoming locals, he made it work. Morales slowly built his business and has a dedicated staff of local worker bees. While you will still see him back there slaving away in the kitchen, mask on, sweat glistening, he no longer has to do all the cooking himself.
I told the one young woman busing tables, “You haven’t sat down since I got here.”
“That’s what we’re here for,” she said.
When I first mentioned to my coworkers I planned on writing about Bucktales, regional editor Jennifer Zettel-Vandenhouten, who has become something of a regular, laughed and said, “What do you like on the menu?”
I answered, “What don’t I like on the menu?”
Another perfect answer.
And you hear that a lot. On a recent visit, an older couple was belly-up at the bar when I heard the woman mention to Morales, “We’re working our way through the menu, and there hasn’t been anything we haven’t enjoyed.”
I took my brother there once. A week later, he sent me a text, saying he was up for a “real meal.” I asked him, “Where?” He said, “I’m thinking the same place as before.”
While the menu isn’t huge, what Morales does, he does well.
You have your Mexico staples, enchiladas, burritos, tacos and chimichangas (how do you go wrong with deep-fried anything?), mixed with American fare, burgers and a melt-in-your mouth Philly steakhouse, as well as a gyro so loaded with goodies that the poor pita doesn’t stand a chance. Better grab a fork. This is all proof that a good cook is a good cook. What they don’t know, they’ll figure out.
Morales, who has done cooking segments on Fox Ch. 21, clearly prides himself on his signature queso sauce — it’s the creme de la creme that tops many of his dishes, including the Philly. It’s rich, not runny, and it’s certainly not too spicy, even for a northern boy.
If you’re going to build your business around something, that queso sauce is a great place to start. The enchiladas are smothered in it.
Morales has all kinds of cocktails and beers, including Mexican favorites like Corona, Dos Equis and Pacifico, to wash it down. While it’s not cheap by Superior standards — a 25-ouncer of Bud Light is six bucks — there’s a different drink special every day. One day it’s mojitos for three bucks, and another it’s Bloody Marys, done Wisconsin-style, with a big chunk of meat and cheese.
Most of the meals are quite reasonable, around $11 apiece, and will fill you up, with to-go boxes aplenty. But if you’re not full, oh yeah, there’s fried cheesecake and chocolate lava cake for dessert (not that I’m into sweets).
Long before Morales knew what I was up to, I asked for extra sauce with my enchiladas.
He said, “OK, but I’m putting it in a side dish. Otherwise, it’ll be falling off the plate.”
No doubt, but if you were expecting enchiladas dripping in red sauce, what we’d consider traditional, you’re not going to get it. Morales’ dish is “enchiladas Suizas,” Swiss-style enchiladas said to have originated in Mexico City about 1950 when Swiss immigrants moved to Mexico. Though the enchiladas do have a red sauce inside the tortilla, here, at Bucktales, it’s all about the queso.
Just putting the photos together for this column made me hungry and wanting to go there. I don’t mind the drive. Being a small-town type, growing up where the nearest fast food restaurant was 30 miles away, I’m used to that, and I appreciate country hospitality, “the county” as they call it around Superior.
Morales said there is no great secret to his cooking, only a passion and desire to experiment with food to create a twist on comfort foods while providing a few diverse options for customers to enjoy with each visit.
While he keeps the staple items, a couple times a year, he changes up the menu, taking something out that hasn’t been working as well and trying something new. It’s that part of the job, the mixing it up, that Morales enjoys the most.
And we do, too.
“Taco Jon” Nowacki is normally a sports reporter for the News Tribune, but with no sports to cover, he has been doing a lot more eating, if that is possible. He is deeply saddened that buffets are closed and can’t wait for this COVID nightmare to end. He can be reached at email@example.com or 218-380-7027.