Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, July 25, 2002
Salsa Mantra

Food is ritual, tradition, social expression, love — OK, OK, whatever it is, it shouldn’t, if it’s at all avoidable, be fast. But when the wallet is thin, the craving Tex-Mex, and the locale is South Hulen — or even South Chicago — Chow, Baby can’t help it. Chipotle does it, with food of heavenly, or at least heaving, proportions.

When a customer steps through those doors and bellies up to the retro counter, more than a meal is in store — a challenge is being offered, and accepted. Chow, Baby has watched the weak and the boastful learn their places in these taco-frontations. Cultural barriers, not to mention belts and waistbands, have burst over the piled-high plates.

Take the Barbacoa (bring friends to help, if you must). It’s a misnamed (truly authentic Mexican barbacoa usually includes brains as an ingredient) but massive burrito stuffed with copious amounts of shredded beef, cilantro lime rice, pinto beans, shredded cheese, salsa, and sour cream ($5.25). Chow, Baby and a fellow Texan once took on these monsters with a Windy City friend at a Chicago Chipotle. Southern appetites prevailed, while the poor Midwesterner was doing deep-breathing exercises. Chicago may be the city of Big Shoulders, but it’s not the winner in Big Burrito-eating.

Back home, a visiting French student accepted the gordita — um, gauntlet. He ordered a Barbacoa — with extra hot sauce! — and finished it. At that moment, the language barrier that had been hindering the conversation disappeared like a burp at a jalapeño-eating contest. As the endorphins overtook him, the new burrito buddy spoke. “C’est l’amour,” he sighed.

Melting Dreams

Curly’s Frozen Custard has a nostalgic name, and the owners have turned their little slice of land at Camp Bowie and Crestline into a friendly, old-fashioned-looking ice cream stand, with a border of plants and grasses, an upscale version of a chicken-wire fence, picnic tables, a big awning, even a fountain. Prices, however, are definitely 21st century — $2.45 for a large cup of gourmet ice cream (just vanilla for now; chocolate coming soon), stirred up with any of a long list of flavorings (one flavor is included; additions are 50 cents each). The owners hope this will be the first of several Curly’s to come. Chow, Baby was hopeful, too — a cup of the finest custard, with pineapple and butterscotch, seemed just the thing for a hot July afternoon. But, hmmm. Seems Curly’s doesn’t just add toppings, it whips them into the semi-soft ice cream. In this case, they whipped so well that Chow, Baby could barely taste the flavors. And then there was that nice patch of shade — inexplicably, the awning was just made of screen cloth, which gives something that looks a little like shade but isn’t.

Still, the experience was inspiring, tickling the memories of long-ago summers. Sure enough, a few hours later, Chow, Baby was enjoying a Hawaiian Blizzard (same amount of ice cream, with the equivalent of three toppings) at the ol’ D.Q., for $1.99 — in the air-conditioning.

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