Sunday, February 28, 2010

No Business Like Snow Business

I’m not sure who peed in Mother Nature’s Cheerios, but with all the attitude of a drag queen who’s lost her eye shadow, she unleashed a whole season of snow on us just in the month of February. As a Michigan native, I’ve gotten used to the long slog of Great Lakes winters. And we’ve had some doozies. I remember the blizzard of 1978, where cars were literally buried in the streets, schools were closed for almost a week, and my brother and I lightened the money purses of a lot of old Polish women in our neighborhood who relied on us to shovel their driveways and keep them connected to the rest of the world.

Most of them didn’t need to get out, a lot of them couldn’t, but all of them were starving for the company of other human beings, even if it was a couple of pre-pubescent, snot-nosed entrepreneurs. Mrs. Brysniak lost her husband years before she retired from the local garment factory, so in addition to being lonely, she was also rich, at least by our thinking. She paid us each five dollars every time we shoveled. We’d have to come in afterwards and sip hot cocoa while she reminisced about her son, who died in Vietnam, but it was worth it. We provided not one but two valuable services, and in return we were well paid for our work. Mrs. Brysniak was always first on our list to get her sidewalk shoveled.

Most of our customers weren’t as well off, so the monetary rewards were rarely bigger than a buck or two, but our pay was often supplemented with some of the tastiest sweets I’ve ever had as a kid. Mrs. Patulski made some delicious raspberry swirl shortbreads, and while she only paid us in coins, we didn’t care because those cookies were golden. And then there was Mrs. Smyzinski, who made soft batch peanut butter cookies with Hersey’s kisses stuck in the center. We considered her the original creator of the Recess Peanut Butter Cup phenomenon.

The greatest reward after a morning of hard labor, though, was coming home for lunch. The smells that greeted us from my mother’s kitchen were as comforting as they were inviting. Homemade cinnamon rolls with raisins, creamy potato soup with cloud-like dumplings, pot roast with all the trimmings. My mother’s food always helped take the sting out of the brutal Up North winters. Some of that warm fuzzy feeling returned for me last week when, in the waning days of snowy February, Stephanie and I stumbled onto the most charming little Mexican restaurant. In Mt. Morris.

El Adobe Mexican Restaurant & Drive-thru is a small log cabin-looking structure that sits on a big open lot on North Saginaw Street just north of Mt. Morris Road. From the outside, the wood building, with a covered patio for warm weather dining, looks a lot like an upper peninsula getaway. Well, except for the coat of bright orange paint and the “mountain with cactus” mural covering the top third of the building, One wants for a hint of color, after all.

The inside is even even more charming than the outside. The outside color scheme of course is continued throughout the dining room, but with enough dark brown trim, and big windows, it didn’t’ feel over the top or campy at all. That certainly can’t be said for some of our more colorful Mexican eateries. In addition to the three giant windows at the front of the building, two more formed an internal wall, which split the dining room into two smaller, manageable spaces and cut down on the noise from a nearly full crowd of diners.

Thank goodness they had an adequate sized staff because with so many diners, it could have created some serious problems. As it was, our server was prompt, attentive, and though a bit shy he was quite friendly. It didn’t hurt that he showed up at our table with an overflowing basket of chips and a pleasant looking house salsa. The chips didn’t look like they were made on site, but they were still fresh and hearty. The salsa was good, but it really didn’t stand out and distinguish itself as “hey, you gotta try El Adobe’s house salsa.” We requested a hotter version, which was chipotle based and drew the same reaction from Stephanie and me as the house salsa. That said, they were both made better when we slathered them over the top of our entrees.

Even before our food arrived, I was already falling in love with this place. Every aspect of our experience within the first five minutes of being seated was not only positive, it was happy. The robust conversations at all the tables, the steady stream of lunches coming out of the kitchen, and the almost choreographed movement of the staff around the dining room created an ambiance that almost made me forget the heaps of snow piled up outside and the new snow that was beginning to fall again. I could have stayed here all afternoon. In fact, Stephanie and I hung out and chatted for well over an hour. If there had been a fireplace off in the corner, we probably would have curled ourselves up around it and stayed even longer.

Our entrees arrived just as we were finishing our white cheese dip. I read several customer reviews that all mentioned how out-of-this-world delicious the cheese dip is. Maybe I’m just losing my zip for dip, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as my fellow diners. One reviewer thought it must have been “goat cheese or something” because the taste was so unique. After sampling ours, I asked the server if he knew what kind of cheese was in the dip. He looked at me like I was a little nutso for asking, and simply said, “It’s white American.”

Another online reviewer said “This is the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted. And I’m Mexican.” These words ran through my mind as our server delivered Stephanie’s Beef Enchiladas with Green Sauce and my Baja Chimichanga—perhaps the coolest name ever given a chimichanga. While I share the online reviewers sentiment that the food at El Adobe is pretty darn good, I’m not sure I can declare it the best ever, but then again I’m not Mexican.

Nonetheless, Stephanie and I agreed that this is definitely a place we’d want to come back to again and again. She loved her enchilada platter, which was served with lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and rice. She ordered a side of beans to go with it because, oddly enough, they were not included with her dish. The ingredients here are fresh, the presentation bright and inviting, and the taste of the food is just plain satisfying.

My Baja Chimichanga was no exception. Loaded with beef, beans, cheese, and a host of lesser ingredients, it was wrapped in a light flour tortilla that was deep fried just enough to give it a crispness but retain its pale color. Topped with a thin white cheese sauce and a bed of lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and cheese on the side, it was just enough to fill me up, even though it was not served with rice or beans. It was so good, in fact, that It is now officially a nominee for the coveted TTC Best Chimichanga in Flint award.

Food, service, and ambiance this good should cost much more than it does. The prices are low enough that even if you’re living off the money you make from shoveling driveways, you can afford to eat at El Adobe. Our combined lunches, with the white cheese dip and drinks, was only twenty two bucks. If you haven’t ventured to Mt. Morris for lunch, and if you want to feel well taken care of while you eat really good food, then shake off the winter blahs by paying a visit to El Adobe. You’ll be glad you did.


  1. All I have to say is the opening had me craving potato soup and pot roast (and more snow) .....and then we talk about Mexican. It didn't quite work. I would change the Polish women to Mexican women, and you and your brother shoveled sand off their walks after a windstorm, then went home to your mother's unique and as yet unmatched house salsa. Then the story would flow better. But then I would miss the snow. Why are you making this hard?

  2. I'm just a walking mixed metaphor, Steves. We'll be finishing the Mexican tour next month, so you'd better start thinking of another theme for us to consider.

  3. Love the blog! I enjoy the rich detail and of course the food!

  4. Let's recall my earlier posting: these are the best chile rellenos I've ever had. Get the beef.