Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Feliz Comiendo!

It’s two days until Christmas and I’m way behind. It’s not the holiday shopping or the hustle and bustle preparation that I’m backed up on. Philip’s already brought home a half gallon of vodka, a half a case of wine, and some limes—I have no idea what the limes are for. We’ve got lots of ice, so that’s covered, and we don’t have to worry about being sober for the next two days.

No, that’s all going according to plan. And the holiday spirit is beginning to blossom. I caught myself singing South Park Christmas songs the other night as I was stuck in a mile of traffic at the Miller Road/I 75 Corridor on my way to Genesee Valley Mall (where armed police officers now stand at the ready in front of stores like The Toy Hut, Sears and Victoria’s Secret. I’m not sure when this military style security came to be, but I heard they brought in pistol packing police after a teen mall concert turned into a melee. The same thing happened at Chuck E. Cheese earlier this year with a bunch of parents, and now the rest of us are forced to live through that miserable experience without a single drop of alcohol because Chuck no longer has a liquor license). Philip and I had a great time catching up on our last four months of work stories while spending an entire Saturday afternoon wrapping gifts at the dining room table. And I even felt a tinge of joy at all of the lovely holiday cards we received, including one from my parents, a Kodak picture of their new television with a sticky note on the back that read, simply “ Here’s a picture of what you’ll be watching when you visit us this Spring.” It’s shaping up to be a Norman Rockwell holiday.

But I’m behind on my blog, and like a quick, last minute wrap-job on the presents, I need to get crackin’. I have a lot to say. Not only did I have a great lunch with Stephanie last week, I had a holiday lunch today with a woman named Mrs. Hopkins, my partner Philip, and Emilio. There’s the cookie making experiment to write about, and the upcoming Christmas at the Casino story hasn’t even happened yet. It’s gonna be a long few days of writing, but I’ve just poured a vodka tonic, the tree is all lit up, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves.

Last Thursday was my last Mexican lunch of 2009 with Stephanie, and since we had a little extra time, we headed to the southern end of the county to try Sagebrush Cantina in Fenton (the owners have a second one in Lake Orion—hey Jimmy and Joy, have either of you been to that one?). As it turned out, we needed the extra time because this place was packed to the rafters. When we arrived, every table was full, and we were third in line to be seated. When’s the last time you had to wait to be seated for lunch because the joint was full? (Ok, besides poopy places like Olive Garden?)

I had read a good number of online reviews of the Cantina, and I’d say 90% of them were glowing, so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised at the ten minute wait to be seated. But I was. It took another ten minutes for the server to realize we were there, but in her defense this place is gargantuan, it’s noisy as hell, and there must have been a hundred and fifty or more other customers. But they had Keno, and that pacified me until our server actually found us.

And she was sweet. She apologized for losing us in the crowd and for taking so long to get to us. Her service throughout our entire lunch was outstanding, despite the half dozen other tables she had to attend to. We passed on her offer of Texas sized Margaritas and opted instead for ginger ale. I know, who orders ginger ale in a Mexican restaurant? Stephanie, that’s who. And it sounded good, so I followed suit. We had been studying the menu while waiting for our server to find us, so we were well prepared to order by the time she brought us our drinks.

There are so many appetizer items on this menu, I can’t even imagine narrowing the choices down to a manageable few. Luckily, Stephanie was in a definitive mood, and she suggested the Mexican Bean Dip. It was served in a shallow dish with chopped, cooked (I think fried?) onions mixed in, a perfectly flavored enchilada sauce swirled into it, and melted white cheese on top. I’m not sure what kind of cheese it was, but it had a slightly sweet taste (probably Mozzarella) that completed the flavor combinations perfectly and brought the whole thing together in a fabuloso yummilicious start to our lunch (dear God, I’m sounding like Rachel Ray. Which is a very bad thing).

The chips were warm, light, and tasty, but mostly they were filler while we waited for other food to arrive. The house salsa was freshly made, well balanced, and about a 7 on the 1-10 house salsa scale. There was no hot version, but we were directed to the metal bucket of bottled hot sauces on our table, though I’m not sure why anyone would pollute a freshly made salsa with a bottled Tabasco, etc.

In addition to the very load crowd conversation, our aching eardrums were also treated to a mix of music that ran from Perry Cuomo Jingle Bells to some Texas two-step country ditties while we waited for our entrees. This portion of the menu was also excessively expansive, but you could not accuse Sagebrush Cantina of not offering up what you were hungry for. They had everything from the Build Your Own Combination to the pound and a half chimichanga. I saw one of these monstrosities come out to another table and could not believe my eyes. This thing was so obnoxious it made every other chimichanga look like a pathetic deep fried toothpick.

Good judgment was on my side, though, and I did not order the chimi beast. Instead, I built my own three item combo: a hard shell taco, a chicken burrito, and a chile relleno. Stephanie also built her own platter, which consisted of a tamale, an enchilada, and a chile relleno. Each plate was served with beans and rice and a little mound of shredded lettuce—an attempt at garnish, I think.

Except for the chiles rellenos, our food was quite good, corroborating what the dozens of online reviews about Sagebrush have already said. Stephanie’s tamale was freakishly large and towered over her enchilada and chile relleno, but the sauces, meats, corns, and flours were all fresh, aromatic, and above all delicious. The rellenos were batter dipped an deep fried, but then they were drenched in some sauce that completely ruined them. As Stephanie aptly noted, the breading tasted like soggy corn dog batter. They were simply inedible.

Aside from that one hiccup, our final lunch of 2009 gets very high marks. While I’m not interested in the Guido Chimichanga, there is a normal sized version that I will try on my next visit. The Sagebrush Cantina is, after all, a place that should be visited more than once. In fact, it will take a half a dozen visits to get a fair sampling of the scores of appetizer and entrée menu choices. Once you finish your last minute holiday shopping tomorrow, pop in, order a fresh margarita, and prepare to be wow-ed! If you don’t make it there tomorrow, you can check them out on their new blog. It’s barely functional yet, but the address is Or go to and find it from there.


  1. What ever gave you the idea Olive Garden is "poopy?" :-)

  2. The gals at Stitches 'n' Things, in the shopping plaza behind Sagebrush Cantina, recommend the Margaritas. :)

    I enjoyed the food but was surprised that the restaurant had a smoking section!

    Feliz Navidad!

  3. I just heard from two separate couples how great Sagebrush is. This is totally on my to-do list. Thanks!