Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cheater, Cheater

The day before my lunch date with Emilio, I had an appointment with my therapist. I wasn’t there to work out the guilt I harbored for replacing Stephanie so quickly as my Mexican Lunch Tour date. After all, it was only one date, and it’s not like I was cheating on her. Nothing really happened anyway. It was all very innocent. Emilio and I laughed a little, we shared a bad meal, and so what if we both ordered the same entrée. That doesn’t mean anything. Stephanie and I have been monogamous about our Thursday lunches for almost six years. One simple lunch with someone else does not rise to the level of gastronomic infidelity.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel just a twinge of guilt gnawing at me as I sat in the waiting room, hiding behind a not-very-recent issue of Southern Living. I hate waiting rooms because I feel like I’m on display and that everyone else is staring at me trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, a pastime that would be much easier if I were sitting in a hospital emergency room holding one or two of my fingers in a ball of toilet paper, but this is more complicated, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

As I lowered the magazine to survey the lay of the land, the dumpy guy with a very bad complexion across from me, in an alarmingly loud voice says, “BOB BARNETT? IS THAT YOU? I REMEMBER YOU FROM THE UNIVERSITY!” When your therapist comes out to greet you, out of respect and privacy she offers a simple hello and motions for you to come with her. No name, no conversation, just hello. But now, thanks to this raving lunatic, everyone in the office knows who I am and where I work. My cover has been completely blown.

He was a student of mine from ten years ago, and now here he was blabbing to the whole freakin’ world that his former professor was in the house, reading a not-so-manly magazine, and waiting to see his shrink. Call me crazy, but at that moment I couldn’t help but feel that Karma had bitten me in the ass for cheating on Stephanie. The twinge of guilt I was feeling in my gut now grew to the size of a small child. I vowed to myself in that moment that I would forever resist the temptation to have Thursday lunch with anyone else and that I would make it up to Stephanie by treating her to the best Mexican lunch ever.

The place I chose was El-Especial, a much talked about local favorite that has gotten some pretty good reviews in recent months. Tucked away in a nondescript strip mall on the corner of West Pasadena and Linden Road, El-Especial claims a menu of authentic Mexican cuisine. Reviewers even lauded this place as coming closer to true authentic than any other place in town.

The inside was a bit cavernous and all the walls and ceiling were painted white. The amount of art was minimal and the big windows on the west wall let a lot of natural light into the dining room. I felt a little like I was sitting in a restaurant in a suburb of Heaven. And then I opened the menu.

Staring down at me from the inside flap of the menu was this shockingly large caricature of Our Lady of Guadalupe, wrapped in a flowing blue and white garment, rays of light shooting out from all around her body. Just then, I felt my guilty conscience return. It was as if she was admonishing me for my Red Baron affair with Emilio. Repent, my son. Lavish this woman with precious tamales, let her cup overflow with hot salsa. She is your one true lunch partner. Be faithful to her.

The words “forgive me” almost fell from my mouth as I looked up at Stephanie, but just then, the waitress appeared out of thin air and placed an overflowing basket of warm chips and a dish of house salsa between us. This was followed by a hotter version of the house salsa and a super hot salsa verde. Each was more delicious than the one before it, and the chips were light and crispy--and seemingly endless. This trinity of salsas was by far the best I’ve tasted in Flint (and now a nominee for the TTC Award of Excellence, by the way).

We ordered a side of beans and cheese to go with our chips and salsa, which turned out to be a very wise move. These beans were whipped to a smooth and oh so creamy texture and topped with real melted cheddar cheese. (They too are on my list for the TTC Award). Whatever else you order when you come here, and you really must come here, make sure you get a side of these beans and cheese because they are sinfully delicious. Stephanie seemed blissfully happy so far, and I was finally beginning to relax and put my earlier transgression behind me.

I had read from one reviewer that the Pozole here was fantastic and one of the most authentic Mexican soups she had ever eaten. Until I read about it, I had no idea what Pozole was. The price was six bucks for a small bowl, but in Mexican restaurants, size is relative. It was served to us in a small fish bowl with two baby bowls placed next to it. Our request for a ladle was denied but we were happy to scoop the soup with our little spoons, which only took about ten minutes to do.

Pozole, if you’ve never had it, is a spicy, tomato-based pork and hominy soup, served with a tray of fresh vegetables for garnish. One of the best known dishes of Mexico, this slow simmered concoction can take an entire day to prepare. Stephanie wasn’t as hot on it as I was, and my assessment was only half-hearted. It had a very earthy, animal flavor to it, but topping it with the garnish of chopped radish, cabbage, and fresh lime created a whole new combination of flavors that I think I could grow to enjoy.

By the time our entrees arrived, we had already seen a lot of plates of food come out of the kitchen, all of them stunningly beautiful in their presentation. The young couple behind Stephanie ordered burritos, which were almost a foot long, bloated with innards, and slathered in real melted cheese and a gleaming red sauce. I became fixated on their burrito beauty and could hardly stop talking about them. As my Chiles Rellenos arrived, I felt for a moment like I was with the wrong entrée. The burrito would have brought me more happiness and I really wanted us to be together, but I already made my choice and it was too late now to change my mind.

My dish was good, but the batter that the chile was fried in had become soggy from the so-so tomato sauce that was liberally poured over it. The pepper was a little over done and a touch mushy. I ate as much as I could, but in the end I pushed it away and left it altogether.

Stephanie made the wiser choice by getting the combination platter. This thing is impressive and if you’ve never been to El-Especial it’s really the only entree choice you should consider. This baby was loaded with a taco, a tostada, a tamale, an enchilada, beans, rice, and beef stew. It is the absolute Cadillac of combo plates. For the most part, Stephanie was happy with her choice. It allowed her to sample a number of different items without making six different trips to the restaurant to do so.

Not that we wouldn’t make six trips back to El-Especial. We would. In fact we both agreed that a date for a return trip was definitely in order. And we both agreed that, yes, we would order the burrito next time.

As a postscript to my little tale, I did get up enough nerve to confess my affair with Emilio to Stephanie. As I was stammering to explain to her what happened, she stopped me and simply said, “Ya, I know all about it. I read your blog post.”


  1. I'm not sure it was such a good idea to expose the fact that I see both former students and faculty in my practice.

  2. Hi Bob,

    I'm an English writing major at UM-Flint and I'm keeping a blog very similar to yours for my online journalism class. As a requirement I put a link to your blog on mine. I appreciate your effort! I've found that blogging can be very time consuming sometimes. I'm also a mento in the Writing Center right now too. I'll have to say 'Hi' next time I see you around!

  3. Hi Emma, w'ere actually neighbors. my office is just down the hall from the WC. Stop by and say hi sometime.

    Good luck with your blog project,


  4. Yay! I'm glad you liked it! This is my go-to place and I love that it's just around the corner from me. I go there so much it's embarassing. They know my voice when I call in an order and always say "What do you need today, Jon?"

    The Burrito Deluxe is pretty solid. However, don't make the mistake I did and confuse it with the Burrito Supreme. That thing is the size of my goddamned forearm.

    My usuals include the previous two items, the Bean Burrito with Cheese and Onion, Tamales, Tostadas and Nachos Deluxe. Big portion, that last one. Also good is the Golden Taco and the Taco al Pastor. On mornings where I can't wait until lunch the breakfast burritos do in a pinch.

    Did they give you any green sauce at the table?

  5. I assume the Thursday meal occurred, yet here I am with nothing.

  6. There was a wednesday night incident as well. I'm two posts behind.