Jay Ducote first opened Gov't Taco in 2018 in order to form a more perfect taco.
Yes, the pun is intended to match the theme of the restaurant, which started out as a food booth in White Star Market and is now in new, bigger digs, which fittingly opened on Nov. 3, Election Day, at 5621 Government St.
Long lines wrapped around the parking lot that day as customers waited to cast their vote for their favorite modern American taco.
And the winner?
"The Clucks and Balances is the No. 1 favorite on our menu," said Ducote, the eatery's founding father and a Food Network celebrity chef. "It's followed by the Steak of the Union."
Those tacos are just two in a daily menu of 11 nontraditional tacos. The Clucks and Balances combines smoked chicken thigh with pimento mac and cheese, Nashville chicken skins and Ducote's white barbecue sauce on a choice of flour or corn tortilla.
The Steak of the Union offers up a mix of skirt steak, queso Chihuahua, charred tomatillo salsa, poblano and red onion, also on a flour or corn tortilla.
The running theme of government puns, even the pithy "There's something they're not telling us" scrawled in neon on one wall, is no accident.
"We wanted it to be unique, fun, engaging and smart in a way that makes people kind of realize that we put a lot of thought into it," Ducote said. "I wanted them to say, 'Oh I get it,' but I also didn't want it to be over people's heads or be patronizing to a degree."
The government theme came naturally to Ducote.
"I have bachelor's and master's degrees from LSU in political science, and I've studied politics, political science and American government," he said. "My team and I thought that we could use that government theme in a really smart way to do all of our branding, and with Baton Rouge being Louisiana's capital, we thought we could play into a lot of classic Louisiana politics and Huey P. Long kind of stuff."
Now Ducote and his staff can build on that theme after expanding from its 200-square-foot space in White Star Market, where it shared a communal kitchen with other eateries, to the 2,700 square feet in its new location.
Ducote is already planning collaboration events with Cypress Coast Brewery, which shares a parking lot with Gov't Taco, beginning with the annual White Light Night on Nov. 20.
For now, his focus is on serving up tasty tacos, salsas, queso, corn, vegan-friendly selections and a drink menu.
"That's the other thing I'm really excited about right," Ducote said. "We now have a bar program. We didn't have a bar at all at White Star. I've been in the food and beverage industry for a long time, but this is my first time to actually have control over a bar program, to be the person who's responsible for curating that list and deciding which beers we're going to have on tap and what our cocktail menu is going to be and what spirits we're going to pour, and I've enjoyed doing that."
The drink menu includes 20 beers, eight on tap and 12 packaged. There also are four wines on tap, along with sparkling wines.
"And then we have a cocktail menu with around 10 or 11 cocktails," Ducote said. "We have seven signature cocktails and another four mixed drink cocktails. We also have a selection of margaritas and palomas."
You won't find any flashy signs pointing the way to Southern Cofé in Scotlandville, and owner Horatio Isadore likes it that way.
But the entree-in-chief is still tacos, which Ducote calls a "blank canvas."
"We can create whatever flavor we want and serve it in the form of a taco," Ducote said. "Our tacos were never meant to be traditional Mexican or traditional anything else. We wanted to push the envelope a little bit, be something new, something creative in flavors that we love that go together, then serve them in the form of a taco."
Ducote and his staff didn't know how customers would take to tacos in the beginning, but they worked. Some flavors even built followings.
"It didn't take too long at White Star to realize that we were on to something really cool, that people enjoyed our concept and enjoyed our flavors," he said.
Ducote teamed up with his general manager-executive chef, Therese Albornoz, to create the flavors.
"She's put a whole lot of work into the recipe creation and refinement," he said. "Blake Faucheaux, our kitchen manager, has done a lot of work to get these recipes where they need to be, and Blair Loup on my team has been a huge part of it. She's put together the menu development and the flavor combinations, getting the textures right so that every taco is where we want it to be."
For now, the restaurant is focusing on its 11 regulars with plans to offer new weekly specials.
The new location was once a thrift store for St. Vincent de Paul. Ducote liked it because it wasn't far from Gov't Taco's original White Star location, along with its vicinity to other long-established restaurants in the area.
He signed the lease in 2019 but didn't start construction on the interior until February. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
"That certainly delayed us a couple of months," Ducote said. "In the grand scheme of things, that might have been a couple of months that we didn't want to be open, anyway. COVID affected us in two main ways. One, White Star closed, and that forced us to close. I was able to keep four full-time employees in addition to myself on payroll the whole time, but everybody else had to be furloughed. And then it delayed construction."
But then Election Day came, and Gov't Taco attracted a record-breaking crowd.
"I think if it were any other week we would have opened on that Monday, but when we looked at the calendar and said, 'Wait a second, we could open on Tuesday,' which was Election Day and Taco Tuesday," Ducote said. "It just made sense."