Friday, August 22, 2008

The Quest for the Sacred Burrito

Four days ago, an acquaintance on a discussion list posted remarks about a transcendent burrito, the kind of life-changing meal that causes one to stand up and scream “I’ve seen the light!” to a crowd of confused onlookers. The burrito was from the new Calexico Cart on 25th and Park, and mere mention of it ignited a passionate conversation from those who had tasted the wares of the original on Prince and Wooster. These disciples of the burrito raved about an essential ingredient, which they had dubbed Chipotle Crack Sauce. Well, as luck would have it, this new cart was located mere blocks from my office. If you haven’t noticed, I like food. Therefore, I needed to taste of this Holy Grail of Mexican street grub.

A couple of hours after reading the email, I dashed out the office door for this mythical land of burrito manna, but when I arrived on the spot, there was no burrito cart to be found. I stormed up and down Park Avenue, calling out, “Where are you, rice and beans? Here Chipotle Crack Sauce!” Alas, I didn’t get anything aside from strange looks, so I settled for a boring old lamb platter from Raffiqui, a chain of street vendors.

After politely voicing my displeasure with the situation to the discussion list, it was suggested that I try an earlier time. No problem. On Wednesday, I went to the magic spot again, this time at 12:30, but yet again there was no magic cart. However, I did find a place called Latin Thing (I’m not kidding-— that really is the name of it) on Lexington, and they did serve a fine pressed Cuban-style sandwich with braised beef, peppers, onions, Monterey Jack cheese, and spicy chipotle sauce (sans crack). As I did on the day before, I calmly informed the list of my frustration with this new vendor’s curious business practices. Apparently, I was not the only one who felt this way, and a couple of us formed a secret Burrito Watch Network, an alliance of foodies who would use a phone chain to inform one another if the cart ever appeared again. It was never said, but it was implied that if the cart tried to leave early, members of the BWN would lay down and block its path until all BWN members were served.

Does this seem like it was a lot of effort for one burrito? Absolutely. No one should have to jump through this many hoops in order to buy a rollup of beans, cheese, salsa, and meat.

Nevertheless, word broke out early yesterday that the cart was in its place, so a swarm of people began migrating to the neighborhood with record speed, me chiefly among them. I finally saw the cart and wondered why it was sponsored by a beer company when the cart couldn’t sell beer:

Then I placed my order and was told there would be a 10 minute wait. Fine. You can’t rush greatness.

As I waited, a friend appeared behind me. He had traveled from midtown on his lunchbreak. It was now clear that the hype had gotten out of control.

The two of us grabbed our burritos (which both arrived in less than 10 minutes) and we walked over to Madison Square Park to eat.

For starters, one of these burritos is a hearty meal. I am a man, and I eat man-sized portions. No, scratch that. I eat American man-sized portions. I cannot nor do I ever want to fit into those annoyingly skinny H&M jeans that are popular with the hipsters, models, and Heroin addicts. They won’t allow me into Williamsburg because my waist is larger than 27 inches. (Literally, a ironically leather-clad midget henchman steps onto the G-train with a tape measure, and he will not allow me to get near the egress until we’re deep into Brooklyn.) But I don’t care because I enjoy my food, and I need it. I walk fast and mine is an active lifestyle. Food is fuel, and I need a lot of fuel to survive these multi-borough exploits that last way into the wee hours of the morning. This engine does not run on diesel-- well, maybe sour diesel, but I digress…

Anyway, it’s a substantial log of a burrito, measuring almost 8 inches in length and nearly 3 inches in diameter.

My compadre ordered a side of rice and beans, which was totally unnecessary unless he was trying to make up for the recent lack of imports of Russian natural gas.

I ordered the Carne Asada, i.e. grilled hangar steak with rice, beans, cheese, pico de gallo and avocado salsa, although there was nary a trace of this avocado salsa. I also asked for the Chipotle “Crack” Sauce, which to my amazement, is actually called “Chipotle ‘Crack’ Sauce,” and they didn’t charge me for it. The sauce was on the burrito, and it was tasty and went well with the meat, which was a little salty and maybe a little dry but still filled with flavor. The burrito was really well-constructed, guaranteeing that you get equal parts of everything in every bite, and there were lots of chunks of steak on board.

The tortilla also had the right consistency. It was not too wet and not too dry and there was just the right amount of it. Sometimes you get burritos that are nothing but tortilla or ones that are falling apart for lack of tort, but this one was just right. My amigo ordered the chicken, and he liked it but felt as though the Chipotle “Crack” Sauce overpowered it.

For good measure, I went back again today and ordered the Chipotle Pork, i.e. pulled pork in chipotle sauce (no word on whether or not crack is involved), rice, beans, cheese, pico de gallo, pickled red onions, and sour cream.

I again asked for the Chipotle “Crack” Sauce and stressed that I definitely wanted it on the burrito. Again, I was not charged for it. This tortilla was a little dryer, which was probably a good thing because the burrito was very wet and leaking out of the bottom. The drippage was certainly there, and it was not easy to eat like the Carne Asada. However, it was much tastier, undoubtedly thanks to the delicious Chipotle “Crack” Sauce. (Have I mentioned that enough times yet?) The whole burrito had a mellow chipotle flavor, and I was not complaining about it.

I do get the sense that the guys who run this stand are a tad too laid back about things. They say they “try” to be there every day, but we already know we can’t count on it. I can see that while their flavors are good, they might not be offering the same consistency on a regular basis. Plus, God only knows what the deal is with the crack sauce and why you never have to pay for it. If they took a little more serious approach, I could see this cart doing some big business. Yes, $7-8 is expensive for a burrito, but it’s a filling lunch, and let’s be honest, most takeout lunch in New York costs about this much money, if not more so. If it tastes good, we’re all willing to pay out the ass for it.

I will now admit that people might be a little free with their hyperbole-laden praise for these burritos. I’m no burrito connoisseur, but I did think they were pretty good and probably the best non-knife-and-fork burrito I’ve had in the city. That said, I think that Calexico probably fell short of the life-altering experience that many have claimed it to be. Then again, exaggeration is the hallmark of my friends’ reviews. After all, earlier today I had to suffer through some asshole’s long winded blog entry about some show about Fela Kuti…


Anonymous said...

what time does the cart usually show up?

Brian Ferdman said...

I've been told it's 11-4 during the week, but I don't think they've been too reliable lately.

Kristin said...

damn, i wish i was still in the city...i'd like to try one of these... oh and i really liked the visual aids...

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