With the future of the Owl’s Head General Store somewhat uncertain (the property remains for sale, as of this writing), it can be hard to find good food when traveling through Owl’s Head and South Thomaston. For over a year, co-owners Erin and Casey Dominguez have been filling that massive gap in the marketplace with The Salty Owl, an ambitious eatery located in the Owl’s Head Regional Airport, and now with the launch of the “Tacos Leon” pop-up, in partnership with the South Thomaston/Rockland Lions Club.
The Lions Club has maintained ownership of a mostly abandoned lobster shack at the town landing in South Thomaston, located directly across from the ‘Keag Store, where the Weskeag River tumbles out into the cove. It’s a somewhat rugged area, populated mostly by either customers of the store, a few people mailing packages at the town post office, the occasional skiff launch, locals testing the limits of how fast they can negotiate the almost 90-degree turn in Route 73, and confused tourists trying to figure out where and if they should stop and/or use a turn signal at the mostly unmarked intersection.
For the last few weeks however, on Tuesdays from 4-8pm, the unassuming shack has been home to something extraordinary and wholly unexpected: Real-deal Mexican street-style tacos, made from 100% scratch-made ingredients, right down to the hand-pressed blue corn and flour tortillas, stuffed with braised meats, pickled onions, and fresh vegetables. Against all odds (and somewhat to the surprise of Dominguezes), the line has stretched for hours from the harbor to the street, and the couple has sold out every single week.
The partnership between The Salty Owl and the Lions Club evolved organically, and represented an opportunity for the Dominguezes to give back to the community that was so welcoming to The Salty Owl. “We’ve been wanting to debut Mexican food or simply tacos for some time now, but didn’t really feel the Salty Owl was the right venue for it,” says Domiguez. “It just gradually dawned on us to utilize the Lions Shack as our pop up venue, and in turn we can kick back to this organization that helped us gain a footing in this community to begin with. They receive a percentage of proceeds from each event in exchange for opening up the shack to us, and also pitching in a Volunteer Lion or two (or three, as its gotten so much busier than we expected!).”
According to Domiguez, the response to the Tacos Leon pop up project has been warm and positive, if perhaps a tad overwhelming. “We had conservatively anticipated an average turn out of basically 25-30% of what we’ve done the past two Tuesdays, so we’re blown away,” says Erin. “There have been lines from 3:45pm onward until we’ve sold out both times. We’ve been brainstorming how to meet demands and work more efficiently so we can continue to serve tacos on a regular basis here, and also keep up with the growth The Salty Owl is going through.”
The welcoming response from locals has been well-deserved. We sampled both the carnitas tacos, served with pickled onions and cilantro, as well as the duck confit tacos, served on Tacos Leon’s signature hand-pressed tortillas with a full complement of handmade salsas and hot sauces. Right away, it seemed remarkable that so much care was going into tacos being served at such a reasonable price point (tacos here range from $2-$4 each), considering the labor involved in presenting such a perfect handcrafted finished product.
We suggest ordering more than you think you’ll want; the tacos diminutive size makes them two-bite affairs, making eating three or more in one sitting not at all out of the question. Tacos Leon also offers several side dishes, including beans, chips and salsa, and a take on elote which (as we heard huipil-clad mother-in-law and counterperson extraordinaire Carla Armbruster cheerfully explaining to nearly every customer) is made of satisfyingly charred kernels of sweet corn slathered with plenty of crumbled cotija cheese, mayonnaise, chile powder, and butter.
With lines beginning at 3:45 and consistently keeping the crew busy until they run out of food, Erin and Casey have begun to consider the long-term viability of the project, either in its current form or as a more permanent addition to the community. For now, surviving the rest of the Summer and figuring out how to sustain the project’s immediate growth and popularity is their focus. While the couple say they have no plans to expand the popup into a full-scale concept anytime soon, catering events or future special events remain a possibility.
“[We’re] not sure how long into the season we can sustain this,” says Dominguez. “We’ve discussed maybe continuing just until the end of August, or perhaps switching it up and doing every other week now thru September or beyond if we can get a better handle on this. It requires the help of several Lions every week, so there are scheduling variables to work with in that regard as well. We’re figuring this out one week at a time, so we appreciate everyone’s support and patience as we work out the best way to get street tacos to the public.”
Tacos Leon; South Thomaston Public Landing; Tuesdays, 4-7pm.