Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shock and Awful

Stephanie had to cancel our lunch date last week, which left me with a bit of a dilemma. Do I skip the Mexican Restaurant Tour and write about something else, or do I find a new lunch date and carry on, as I believe Stephanie would want me to do? Well, I did a little of both.

I chose a place Stephanie and I had already been to, so it’s not like she’d be missing out on anything new. I also chose a place that isn’t a Mexican restaurant, but one that devotes a whole page of its menu to Mexican selections. (More than a few places in Flint engage in this practice; or they devote one day of the week as Mexican day and fill the “Specials” board with south of the boarder options. Churchills and Bailiwick in downtown Flint, for example, both have designated Mexican days.

The place I chose to take my substitute lunch date to was The Red Baron, a bar and grill on Center Road in Burton. I’ll call my date Emilio, only because that’s what he suggested. I’ll also imagine that Emilio has dark wavy hair, a beautiful South American accent, and a twenty-eight inch waist. In reality, Emilio is a total goofball who generally needs the child-proof locks engaged when he rides in the car. He’s a lovable guy with a David Sedaris sense of humor who, like me, loves food.

Stephanie and I discovered this little gem of a place on last year’s Keno Only Tour. On the inside, The Red Baron looks like any other 70s style lounge in Flint: pool tables, dart boards, televisions, and a gigantic bar that usually takes center stage. If you’ve ever been to The Rain Check Lounge, Timothy’s Pub, The Jolly O, or The White Horse Tavern, then The Red Baron will feel like an old familiar place to you. Like most lounges, the lighting isn’t very good, but the vintage airplane art and the vintage Budweiser mirrors give The Baron a comfortable, uplifting feel. They claim to have the largest bottle and draft beer selection in the area, but I’m not even sure how you would determine that. Since the only other places in the area are Meijer, Dairy Queen, and a library, I guess the claim is legit.

A crowd was already gathering at the bar, and tables were beginning to fill up as Emilio and I were seated. We agreed to forgo the tried and true sandwich, wraps, and burgers portion of the menu and order strictly off the “South of The Boarder” page. After waiting patiently for the waitress to describe the chips and cheese appetizer in full detail, we opted for the jalapeno poppers, which are breaded, stuffed with cream cheese and deep fried to a golden brown. They were slightly better than what you can get from your grocer’s freezer but certainly nothing to write home about.

There are eight different Mexican entrees to choose from, and on the surface they all look pretty harmless: Fajita Platter, Nachos, Taco Salad, Soft Taco Platter, Chicken Burrito Platter, Beef Burrito Platter, and Quesadillas. The Baron must have gotten the memo from the real Mexican restaurants because I find it more than a little coincidental that black olives, green olives, onions, sour cream, jalapeno peppers, and banana peppers each cost an additional fifty cents. Let’s see, that means if you wanted to order the Nachos Platter, which has a sticker price of $8.99, your out-the-door total would be $12.99. Good grief people, don’t you all know we’re toiling through the worst recession in 80 years?

Emilio is completely undecided about what to order and I’m waffling between the beef burrito and the fajita platter, when the waitress, who is growing a little tired of our indecision, lays it on the line for us: “I highly recommend the chicken burrito. It’s far and away the best thing on the menu.” As I’m pondering what the hell she means by far and away, Emilio takes the bait and orders the chicken burrito. I follow suit because I’m feeling at this point that if I order anything else, the waitress will be disappointed, or worse mad, because I didn’t take her recommendation—which, for the record I did not ask for. “You’ll love it,” She boasts, “And it comes with a side of chips and salsa and a bed of lettuce.”

In retrospect, Emilio and I shouldn’t have ordered the same thing because it limited our look at the other options. As our chicken “burritos” were set down before us, though, I’m not so sure that would have mattered. I was fixated on the contents of my own plate, but I could have sworn I heard a faint, high pitched gasp come from the other side of the table.

Our “burritos” were actually CHIMICHANGAS, since they were tightly wrapped and well-done deep fried. I was more ok with this realization than my lunch mate because I really like chimichangas. What I don’t like, however, is being served a “burrito-changa” that has been slathered in ball park/movie theatre pumped-from-the-can nacho cheese. And I mean slathered. This goo formed a bright orange moat around my food, and a small army of nacho chips were mired waist-deep in it.

On the plus side, the nacho chips that came as an accompaniment made it feel like I was getting two dishes in one: a “burrito-changa” and a side of nachos and cheese. The bed of iceberg lettuce added a much needed splash of color to the dish, but it might have been better off stuffed inside the tortilla with the chicken.

Now, before I go off being too catty about how dreadful this Mexican experience was, let me explain two things. Number one: you should never expect to get good Mexican food at a restaurant that specializes in pub grub. It’s like going to a sushi bar and expecting to get a good steak. If you do get the culinary urge to gamble the way Emilio and I did, then don’t set your expectations too high and don’t be disappointed if the food isn’t very good.

Number two: Don’t hold the sub-par Mexican food against the Red Baron. They have some of the best sandwich selections of any bar and grill I’ve been to in Flint. In fact, since discovering this place over a year ago, I’ve been back at least seven or eight times. The prices are reasonable and, my “burrito-changa” aside, I have never had food at the Baron that was anything less than delicious. If you take a lunch date, make sure one of you orders fries and the other orders onion rings with your sandwich. It’s like getting a “half & half” at The Torch, and they’re both shockingly good.

Emilio was mostly gracious about my leading him into this lunch disaster. He only took one good-natured poke at me when he said, “Thanks for the worst lunch I’ve ever had.” I took it all in stride and as I engaged the safety lock in my truck for the ride back to work, I thought to myself, No. Thank you, Emilio. You just paid for that lunch.


  1. I can't visit these places unless I come home to visit, so I'm really enjoying reading your reviews. I feel like I've been to the Red Baron at some point, I just can't think of when.

  2. Hey Shawn, Are you in DC? That's one of my favorite cities. Great Food!

  3. Just outside DC in suburban Maryland, still working for the NIH. The restaurants in DC are pretty amazing, and there's a few good ones out here, especially in Silver Spring or Bethesda.

  4. Did they really say "South of the Boarder"? I'm wondering which boarder that might have been. Maybe the little mousie in the kitchen.

  5. It really did, Jan. I even asked them for a to go version of the menu just to verify it. Maybe South of the Boarder means Ohio. Doh!

  6. In the interest of completeness and good research, don't you think you and Emilio have to go back and order something else off this menu, if for no other reason than to determine just what 'far and away' actually means?

  7. Isn't Far and Away a Keanu Reeves movie?