Sunday, October 31, 2010

In the battle of Man vs. Burrito, Burrito won

While I entertain you with a variety of burritos...warning, these are actual photos of burritos consumed during this research...

So, by the time I rounded the turn for the home stretch (and resulting stretch marks…) in the Burrito Battle, I was huffing and puffing to the finish line. In the battle of Man vs. Burrito, Burrito won. But of course, the carb coma didn’t stop me from sampling the wares of several popular places, and a few not so popular ones.

Both Boloco and Chipotle are within a 5 minute drive from my office. For a long time, Boloco was the only burrito game in town, and for a long time, I was primarily a Boloco fan; I was loco for the burrit-o. The nice thing about Boloco was they have different sizes, and whole wheat tortillas as opposed to just white flour tortillas. Also, with an extensive menu, you really had millions of choices. However, when Chipotle opened within walking distance of Boloco, a few things became immediately apparent.

First, more menu choices means more chances for mistakes. As I have previously noted, the more choices, the more room for error. The more I ate at Boloco, the more issues I had. Consistency became an issue. While I liked the perceived healthier options (wheat tortilla and brown rice), sometimes I wondered what I ordered, and whether I ordered a small or a large. At Chipotle, choices are limited, and they don’t give you any choices for brown rice or tortillas, but their speed and ability to make the burritos consistently is a by-product of their limited choices. It’s a business plan decision, but one that seems to work well for Chipotle.

Second, some things aren’t meant to be in a burrito. Variety is the “spice of life”, but I have to imagine they don’t eat a lot of “thai peanut chicken” in a whole wheat tortilla in Bangkok. Buffalo chicken with blue cheese and celery just doesn’t make it for me, or probably people in Buffalo.

I do give Boloco high marks for their sense of humor, their creative email updates, and their tremendously responsive customer service, including rapid personalized responses from their CEO. I downgrade them for their lousy selection of bagged tortilla chips.

I give Chipotle decent marks for their chips, which are cooked fresh on-site, and their lime-salt added to them. I like the bigger pieces of chicken, and that you can order off-menu items like quesadillas.

As for ratings, I think these two run neck and neck. Some people like the million options at Boloco, some people like the simplicity of Chipotle. Almond Joy has nuts, Mounds don’t…

But, the winner was not one of the burrito specialty shops. Not a little bodega with a burrito lunch business. The winner, after dozens of burritos, is exactly where you would have expected: Whole Foods supermarket.

That’s right, “Whole Paycheck” has the freshest, most delicious burritos, custom made fresh to order.

I was shocked myself, so much so, that I went back a second time to ensure it wasn’t a fluke; it was not. There are several tortilla choices, different rice (white or borwn), beans (black or pinto), salsas, fresh vegetables and toppings. Since Whole Paycheck is known for their freshness (as well as their prices), it was a particular surprise that a full sized burrito costs only $4.99, a better deal that any of the burrito places. Adding to the value is that since the burrito bar is slightly under-patronized, the employees take a reasonable amount of time making the burrito, getting you out promptly, but assembling the belly bomb in the appropriately balanced fashion. Just take a look at the photo, with the proper balance of rice, beans, meat, veggies…this is a work of art.

After months of burrito sampling, the winner and top of the burrito food pyramid…Whole Foods.

I do believe this is the first time I’ve said this after a food quest-if I ever have another burrito, it will be too soon.

For your consideration, I leave you with this image: a salami stuffed with a meat, cheese and bean burrito, all wrapped in bacon. I call it "Salburcon" picture says a million coronaries.

Flying in next...chicken wings. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Won't You take me to...Funky Town

Memories...pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories...sweetened thru the ages just like wine

Recently, with all the mixed publicity regarding the great state University, I have found myself thinking about Amherst more than usual. Perhaps it was the unfortunate passing of the great George Parks (it seems whether it was emails from alumni groups, Drum Corps International, or Facebook, tributes, well-deserved, were everywhere), or the ramp-up to the Colonial Classic this past weekend at Gillette Stadium, I really miss Amherst.

There was something special about Amherst. The “Five College” area (UMass, Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mt. Holyoke and Smith) had it’s own sensibility…let’s just say the Tea Party would not likely be warmly embraced.

Amherst was full of funky restaurants, bars and shops. I’ve seen some recent pictures of the downtown area, and it looks funkier than ever (and those that know me best often connect me and “funky”). As mentioned in an earlier post, I could not get enough Taco Villa, a little Mexican restaurant that was dirt cheap. To go, you needed to walk down a tiny alley, and go down two steps, physically and sociologically, but it was a typical college “cheap eats” and damn good at that.

Of course, Panda East was a pleasant Chinese restaurant, but Sze’s in North Hampton was the higher-end of the Chinese food chain. That was more of a special occasion restaurant, and their Sunday brunch was terrific. My parents enjoyed Sze’s, as did I, and I note, an anonymous poster, whomever that was.

The area had it’s share of funky shops too. Northhampton had plenty of consignment clothing stores, along with antique shops. Amherst had the usual and sundry array, but I especially likes “Faces”, which defies description. I also recall that there was a place called “East Heaven Hot Tubs” in NoHo, where you could rent hot tubs by the half-hour…sort of like a Russian Bath House, but more private. You can let your own imagination work it’s magic with that concept…but it’s still in business, apparently catering to more of the “spa” aspect that drunk college kids…

No walk down memory lane would be complete without thinking about the places on campus that I frequented. Mentioned in previous posts-The Blue Wall, Dirtfoods (Earthfoods), Top of the Campus…

There were lots of places…whether on Route 9 in Hadley, downtown Amherst, NoHo or Sunderland (Bub’s!!!). I’m planning on taking the Junior Palate out to Amherst on November 6 for the football game and a little fraternity tailgating, and no doubt we’ll be heading into to Amherst for a post-game meal. I just hope the “sweetened” memories live up to their reputation…

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thanks again to Jordan Rich for having me on his show to talk burritos and Buffalo wings. I appreciate all your calls, now get out there and eat some wings!

Burrito Bloat, Part 1

As I wrote a year or so ago, there has been a proliferation of burrito joints. These places seem to be popping up with more frequency than “Tribbles” or Bob Costas. The burrito places are the rabbits of the food chain.

In the Metrowest, within a quarter mile of each other, Chipotle and Boloco battle for wrapped tortilla supremacy, and now Moe’s Southwest Grill, which features the “Homewrecker”, is planning to open in Sherwood Plaza. Even with such an appetizing name, people can’t get enough of burritos. I can tell you, having eaten at six different burrito joints, I have “Burrito Bloat”. If I eat another burrito, it will be too soon.

Despite my preferences, I wonder every time I pass on of these places…why? Why now, why here? Have we learned nothing from Dr. Atkins and reducing our consumption of “white” carbs? How healthy is a flour tortilla stuffed with rice and beans and some meat? Despite containing a full “recommended daily allowance” of carbohydrates, it hasn’t stopped people consuming these football-sized meals.

At the request of Jordan Rich, I embarked on the burrito crusade, a burrito battle, a burrito imbroglio, if you will, and ate at six different joints. My methodology was to eat and compare a “fast food” style burrito, assuming that a sit-down restaurant selling burritos could take their time and make it right, but the real challenge would be making a burrito “on-demand” while the customer/consumer was standing there, watching the creation of the colon-bomb; sit-down restaurants were taken out of the mix.

After choking down all these delights, I have decided that some things just aren’t meant to be wrapped up in a flour tortilla. There are several burrito places that give you a variety of fillings to choose from. I’m not sure that Buffalo Chicken or Thai Peanut Chicken was meant to be stuffed into a wrap, whether white, or whole wheat. As I said on the radio, and have shared with you before, the more choices you give the customer, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong, whether in execution or in taste. In the case of the burrito, I think simpler is better.

Without further ado…the results.

We can take “Baja Fresh” out of the mix entirely, because they have closed all locations in Massachusetts. The closest ones are in New York. (If I’m taking a road trip, it’s to Columbus, Ohio for the last standing York Steakhouse for a Number 4, not a burrito.) Apparently for them, there’s no money in the burrito stand…

I was less favorably inclined to QDoba’s burritos, but do like an unusual menu item--“Mexican gumbo”. The “gumbo” is some rice, a little soup, some meat, some beans, etc., with some tortilla chips on top. An interesting concept, and I like it. Unfortunately, not many other people did, because the QDoba nearest me has closed. (As an aside, that location was also subject to a lawsuit prior to its opening, when a Panera Bread located in the same plaza objected to its opening, claiming they were serving “sandwiches”, which was Panera’s exclusive right in that plaza. There was an actual trial, and none other than chef/restaurant owner/author Chris Schlesinger of the “East Coast Grill” in Cambridge testified that a burrito is not a sandwich. You got that right! Valuable court time being taken up with the debate of “beef and beans” vs. “chicken salad”. The burrito won in a landslide…”blew” them away, if you will. Must have been the beans.)

Tomorrow, we continue the Aztec Death March from one burrito shack to the next…

Until next time America…enjoy “Tijuana Brass”…

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coming up, Midnight on October 23rd

Tune in midnight, October 23rd, 2010 when I'll be a guest on the Jordan Rich Show on WBZ 1030am or listen live to us streaming on the internet at

We'll be talking burritos, Buffalo wings, and maybe a few other special treats.

The lines are open...

Making whoopie...pies!

From the ridiculous to the sublime…

As I continue to suffer from “Burrito Bloat” (the ridiculous), I do want to celebrate two of the more delicious culinary delights I’ve had this week…

First, kudos to Chococoa Bakery in Newburyport (the “sublime”). I was surprised to arrive home last week to a box of little pillows from heaven-whoopie pies. Admittedly, I had not heard of this bakery, but the taste is now tattooed on my tongue. I’ve eaten a lot of whoopie pies, devil dogs, Swiss rolls and other assorted cream-filled chocolate cakes in my life, but the leader in the clubhouse is now Chococoa. Next time you’re in Newburyport, Massachusetts, stop in, tell them I sent you, and sit back and enjoy a little whoopie! If you only do one thing, do it well-Julie and Alan have taken it to a new level at Chococoa.

Second, once again, Noah’s Ark deli in NYC had brought me to my knees with the “pastrami knish”. As described last year, these things are softball sized potato and onion knishes, sliced in half, stuffed with pastrami, and then baked to a golden deliciousness…I know it’s taking a few minutes off my life, and I should be speedballing Lipitor, but it was/is/continues to be deeee-lish!

Having a Noah’s Ark knish, washed down with a Chococoa whoopie pie is like a party in your mouth…