leave your inhibitions at the door
It’s an age old debate…
“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” – Thomas Wolfe
“Who says you can’t go home?” – Jon Bon Jovi
Thoughts similar to those raced through my head as I exited the highway just outside Chicago. The town’s name is actually Summit but it’s basically The Chi. I think at one point it was a heavily-populated with Polish immigrants who were eventually replaced by Hispanics. I’m not sure what the population looks like today but, with all due respect to the residents there, it’s a dump. The smell of the area is nauseating because of the nearby Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and some corn-processing plant that emits a strong odor of dog food. It’s just plain nasty.
But yet, I drove on. I was on a mission. I had to go back to that magical spot on the corner of Archer and 61st Place. That same spot where, in my high school days, I could be found a couple times a week at 2am. That same spot that, on the way back to college, we’d stop by and load up.
That same spot that I had my first burrito – El Farol.
We’re talking the first non-Taco Bell burrito. The big ones that are the size of a Buick that’ll fill you up for the day. The kind that count as two full meals. For you Weight Watchers participants, I think they use exponents when calculating the points. And I wasn’t the only one. This place popped many a Chicagoan’s burrito cherry.
I recently wrote about visiting the First Chipotle and that did feel like I was making a pigrimage of some sort. Chipotle is the 800-pound Gorilla in the burrito world and being able to visit that original one was surely unforgettable. But this… this is something bigger. You remember your first kiss, right? Or your graduation day? It’s that big. We’re talking the FIRST of the approximately 28,734 burritos I’ve ever eaten. And here I was with an opportunity to go back and try it.
Would it be the same? Can I go home again? Will each bite be as magical as I remember it? Will I transported back to a younger, more-innocent-but-not-THAT-innocent time? Or will I be like Uncle Rico?
I was actually quite shocked that I could find the place from pure memory. Age and the fact that I wasn’t always sober when I went there apparently didn’t erase that route. It’s permanently etched in my brain. Starting to feel really good about this.
Hold that thought…
WTF?!?!?! It’s actually called El Faro and not El Farol? That couldn’t be right. A lot of my friends remember it to be El Farol as well, so I’m thinking there may have been a change in ownership at some point. Good feeling gone.
The inside looked relatively the same.
There’s a TV there, which points to the economic progress of the neighborhood over the past few decades. Back then, that sucker would’ve been stolen. I also notice the jukebox is new but all you nostalgics can rest comfortably knowing that it still is filled with shitty music.
They’ve expanded their menu as well.
Back then, it was just steak burritos and tortas, which are basically burritos on a bun. Now they have tacos and tostadas as well as a variety of other meats – chicken, pork, lengua, etc.
And now they actually have a cash register! Back then it was just a drawer full of loose bills and change. And the amount of money that goes into those registers, as expected, increased. We used to pay $2.50 for those behemoths. Now they start off at $4.50. Not bad.
I placed my order and within a minute or two was presented with this.
Wow. It’s as big as I remember it to be. Here’s another pic to help you get the sense of how big it was-
Using my usual Burrito Guide scoring, here’s how it rated (all scores out of possible 5)
Ambiance – 5. As authentic as it gets.
Heft – 5. I really should give it a 7 out of 5.
Taste – 3.5. The meat was delicious, but there wasn’t enough of it. Too much lettuce, too.
Mess – 4. It had a decent amount of
grease juices (which is good) and was well wrapped. However, it was too clean – probably because there was too much lettuce.
Intangibles – 5. This score might be a little biased.
If this were some new burrito joint I was trying, I’d say it was a good showing. But this is no ordinary burrito joint. My expectations were through the roof leading up to that first bite. I knew that it was going to be tough to live up to them, but I also thought that – unlike the Cubs in any given year – this would be the one thing that could deliver on expectations. I felt it in my soul that this would be just as good as I remember.
I’m glad I tried though. I’ve been like Captain Ahab in search of that elusive white whale burrito all those years. Many a decent burrito failed to live up to my memories of El Farol. So I’ve learned that I need to live in the now. To not unfairly judge something based on the illusion of a memory of days gone by. Because, frankly, El Farol couldn’t live up to El Farol.
Most of all, the experience has taught me another valuable lesson – Jon Bon Jovi’s a freakin’ idiot.