When I first moved to the Center of the Universe (CotU) - New Ark, Delaware - I was excited to learn of a place where one could get "a burrito the size of one's head". This establishment, at the time known as 'PICNIC', offered a lunch-time burrito bar that delivered on that promise. And the price was right - 5.99 got you a Texas-sized burrito and a fountain drink of your choosing. I once held the burrito next to my [rather large] stomach and asked the waitress how she expected this monstrosity to fit inside.
Even the procedure for building one's burrito was incredibly satisfying. One walked in the door to be greeted by an acrylic sneeze guard with a tortilla packing expert behind the counter. On the wall were five tortillas highlighting the choice given in burrito-skin selection - plain flour, roasted garlic and herb, spinach, sun-dried tomato, cheese. There they hung, preserved in lamination, like the rings of the Olympic games, multi-colored and flavored, giving hope to the hungry.
Upon selection of your tortilla, the burrito technician provided further enlightenment on the choices you were given to sate your noshing needs:
Spanish rice or Mexican rice?
Black, Pinto, or Refried beans?
Chicken, steak, pork; pulled or grilled?
Salsa: green, chipotle-orange, pico di gallo, guacamole?
Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream, cheese?
Any or all of the above to satisfy your growling gut.
Anyway, dear reader, I considered PICNIC to be a well-kept secret. Only a select few, and mostly Mexican or Mexican-American at that (adding to the authenticity of course), seemed to know of the bargain. And when some new proprietors bought PICNIC and renamed it "Sante Fe Grill" I remained unworried because the burrito bar went unchanged.
Well, it turns out that the new proprietors have been the best and worst things to happen to my beloved PICNIC. You see, upon acquisition of their new investment, the owners decided to try for a liquor license. The logic, of course was flawless - after all, what complements an elephant-esque burrito better than a well-mixed margarita?
The new owners seemed to build big on the solid foundation laid by a Wal-Mart shopper sized-burrito bar. The margaritas were fantastic. Delivered in a pint-glass (a FULL pint glass mind you), the frozen 'ritas packed more punch than Evander Holyfield's disembodied ear. Oftentimes, I noted that one ordered the second margarita only to be too drunk to consume it by the time it arrived at the table. On top of that, during happy hour, these MEGA-ritas were only $2.99 in tax-free Delaware dollars.
Begin the downward spiral. Any secret begs to be free - the dirtier the secret the more it screams to be heard. And nothing speaks louder than cheap booze in a college town. The CotU is home to a large state University packed with Jersey flotsam and the less-offensive DE native. It didn't take long for the students to find this gem. Like bloodhounds on the scent of an escaped convict, they slobbered and drooled, clawing their way to a cheap drink. And for a while it seemed like a good thing - a local establishment, locally owned, was getting good business guaranteeing its survival in the kill-or-be-killed world of food service.
However, the sudden influx of capital combined with the obvious opportunity for growth has proved to be PICNIC's Achilles' Heel. Happy Hour, the provider of the bargain-rita, was shaved by an hour on Fridays to take the edge off of the rush. Seating was expanded nearly 100 percent while the now overtaxed kitchen remains unchanged in size. The food quality has dropped significantly as the managerial staff tries to cope with the new supply-and-demand model - sometimes a meal is even missing ingredients as they've "run out for the night".
The reason I bring you this story, dear reader, is as a cautionary tale. You see, even as the food quality has withered, the MEGA-ritas have been a source of constancy. Strong with cheap tequila and thicker than an Old Fashioned Milkshake, their specialty was guarenteed to give you an unforgettable mind and body experience.
Well last night, that last brick in their foundation crumbled. The sting of the wound is still fresh, but I bring forth the story for your sake. After a nice night of climbing at the DRG, some friends and I gathered to relax around some cold pint glasses. Not only was the appearance of our refreshments greatly delayed, but the frozen margaritas arrived as liquid. In addition, mine had some unidentified particles floating around in it. The irony, of course, was that I drank my melta-rita extremely fast only to numb the pain that comes with such a loss. The waiter seemed ambivalent to my woes, and despite the free extra chips he brought in an attempt to rebuy my love... well...
Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice... well, we won't get burned again.