Mad Mex Big Burrito Challenge

HERACLES reckons that the Greeks invented the burrito. His logic is simple: the burrito  is a copycat of the gyros (yeeros or yiros depending where you are from).

I tried to reason with him explaining that Cortes was Spanish and it was unlikely any Spaniard or Myan or Aztec would have been to Greece to deliberately rip off the Gyros and rename it a burrito (and more likely it was the Greeks that copied the Turkish doner kebab). Heracles was unconvinced and my last comment was rewarded with a psychotic glare – he was adamant that some Spaniard or Mexican robbed the Greeks of their national dish (and I can’t believe that this man is a product of a civilization that gave us architecture, mathematics, politics and philosophy!). It was obvious that something went wrong somewhere with Heracles (it might have been the shock seeing his beloved Bulldogs losing the 2014 NRL Grand Final to the mighty Rabbitohs).

Mad Mex - 1kgI wanted to give Heracles another logical explanation: that for centuries people have stuffed and encased food into things (think ravioli, dumplings, dim sims, pies and Chiko Rolls) and that the concept of the Gyros was no different to a soft flour tortilla being used to wrap meat and rice up (and that burrito meant little donkey and for him to stop acting like one), but I didn’t want to push the point because the furious Heracles was holding a 1kg burrito in his hand and I was afraid he would go all Spartan on me.

Mad Mex is an Australian chain of Mexican fast food joints and every year it holds the 1kg Big Burrito Challenge ($22). There is one rule: finish the burrito and get a Mexican lucha libre wrestling mask (handy for fancy dress parties, bank robberies or if you want to take on Rey Mysterio). The Big Burrito Challenge is held every May to honour Cinco de Mayo  (5 May) , the celebrated day in Mexican history when the Mexican Army triumphed against all odds to defeat an invading French Army at Puebla.

Heracles wanted a mask. He completed the challenge in 2014 and wanted another (possibly so as not to be identified by Police attending a Bulldogs match as there was one in the team’s  blue and white colours). Our colleague – the Silver  Fox – miffed about what all the fuss was about a Mexican wrestlers mask and big burritos, tagged along. Both Heracles and I were concerned about Fox’s presence as he was the most senior in age to us and we both believed that the defibrillator that was on our floor was put in especially to cater for worldly wise colleagues such as Silver Fox.

Mad Mex 1kg BurritoSo what’s could possibly be in a 1kg Mad Mex burrito? It is apparently double the size of one of Mad Mex’s regular  large burritos. You can chose from slow-roasted pork or beef, chicken or vegetarian (though I reckon having the vegetarian option would be cheating). Your chosen meat is put on two large overlapping soft tortillas along with rice, black beans your choice or sauce (mild, medium or hot) , cheese, sour cream, lettuce and diced tomatoes and other chosen condiments. I also asked for some jalapenos and went for the mild sauce – I was the only to do so) .  I thought about having the hotter sauce but as it was habanero based the last thing I wanted was to be defeated by the fruity pain of habanero. Both Fox and Heracles had the chicken option with mild sauce.

The burrito is weighty – you can feel the 1kg and it is an unnatural, even intimidating feeling. Eating it can be messy. The trick is to keep it half wrapped in its foil casing – if you unwrap all of it the sheer weight of the buritto’s contents will just force the tortilla to unravel and the contents spill out and you will need to eat it with a fork.

It wasn’t a bad feed – the shredded pork had a nice and mild smoky flavour to it and the medium sauce was spicy enough to add some Mexican-style enhancement. But because of the size of the burrito you don’t get the contents intertwining as the salad, meat, rice and beans are in certain sections of the tortilla (e.g. in one bite you may get a taste of the meat, in the next just some sour cream and lettuce). Mad Mex has three chili sauces sitting on the table as well – Tappito hot sauce, a chipotle and a jalapeno – and for me these were a welcomed addition to the burrito.

Mad Mex FoxNow to the Big Burrito Challenge.

Heracles, psyched up about stolen gyros and the Elgin Marbles, went for it – but not quietly. During the whole 14 minutes it took him to devour his monster of a stuffed tortilla he whinged and whined to Fox and I how he wasn’t going to pull it off, that he was full and bursting, that he would be spending the next two hours in a toilet cubicle, that he was going to be defeated, etc, etc. Because of his inability to hold such weight in his hands, Heracles was forced to use a fork to clean up the contents of his burst buritto but his 14 minutes did mean he finished first. It took me 14 minutes and 25 seconds to cleanly devour my burrito (and won both praise and disbelief from my colleagues that not only I didn’t have a burst burrito but I also met the challenge of jalapenos and the added extra hot sauce that I liberally applied after every second bite). Fox came in at a respectable 14 minutes and 45 seconds with no defibrillator required. So proud was Fox of his feat he spent the whole day proudly wearing his winged lucha libre mask around the office (and thankfully there was no “HR Event” and no restraining order required).

The verdict: Mad Mex’s Big Burrito Challenge is scary, heart-stopping, cholesterol-plugging pure gluttonary. We will be back for the 2016 challenge if we survive through the night.

What: Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill – 46 locations through Australia (except TAS, SA and NT).

Ate there: May 2015.

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Da Crack

Rocky HolmesROCKY Holmes, the sax, flute and clarinet supremo who backs up jazz vocalist Maggie Herron at Honolulu’s ultra cool Lewers Lounge at Waikiki’s Halekulani hotel recommended to me during a set break that I had to do Da Crack on Kauai as it made one of the best fish tacos in the Islands.

I’m not one to argue with a man that can play like Chet Baker and especially after Maggie had just sung Cole Porter’s I’ve got You Under My Skin for the Baroness and I, so I took Rocky’s advice on notice as we would be flying to Kauai in the next couple of days and needed some recommendations.

After a day sightseeing on the Hawaiian island of Kauai with the Baroness and the Baronets (Gob and DJ Hoot) we spotted Da Crack in a non-descript row of shops just off Poipu Road in Koloa (which is on the south side of Kauai). It is literally a hole (or crack) in the wall. There was a huge line outside, it was dusk, it was soon to close and with no seating area it wasn’t going to be that convenient for us especially with two hungry girls in a car (so we ventured down the road to the trendy Kukui’ula Village with its array of restaurants).

I thought that would be my first and last opportunity to visit Da Crack.

Thankfully, the following day, the Baronets and I were returning from Koloa Town on the public bus and it stopped right outside that non-descript row of shops. It was just on midday so I forced Gob and DJ Hoot quickly off the bus (with the promise of some ice cream from Lappert’s afterwards), and straight to Da Crack’s serving window (under great protest).

Da CrackDa Crack’s serving window is the hole in the wall and is below a humerous cartoon of a Mexican in a sombrero showing his bum crack.  When you peer into that window you may see three staff busily working in the cramped kitchen.

Da Crack merchandise (such as t-shirts and beer coolers) are fastened on the window shutters as is the menu. There’s a long stool on either side and a bottle opener on a string behind a shutter, and that’s about it.

But you don’t come for the ambience (because there isn’t any unless you like watching cars parking). You come for tasty Mexican grinds (street food).

The menu is pretty simple and features your choice of filling as a taco, burrito or in a bowl. The fresh fish or garlic shrimp is $11.99, comes with black or pinto beans; plain or Mexican rice; chipotle or wasabi sour cream topped with sliced cabbage and pico de gallo (which is a fresh salsa).

If seafood isn’t you thing then you can have meat (chicken, beef or pork) $8.99 or vege $8.50, again as a taco, burrito or in a bowl. These meals come with your choice of Mexican browns rice or plain rice; pinto beans or black beans, hot, mild or fire sauce, olives, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and fresh jalapeños. Cheese and sour cream is included and you can also order extra sides (like guacamole, etc).

You can also have the same “fillings’ as nachos or in a quesadilla.

Da Crack also has breakfast burrito (the sunrise burrito for $9.99), which consists of Portuguese sausage with scrambled eggs, black or pinto beans; plain or Mexican rice; cheese and sour cream, sliced cabbage, tomatoes, onions, olives and jalapeños.

For drinks you wash your grinds down with a Mexican Coke (it has cult status in the US) or Jarritos (the Mexican fruit-flavoured spritzers for $2.50), canned soda or juice ($1) or water ($1.25).

Da Crack Fish TacoFor the keiki (kids) there was a meat or vege burrito ($6.99/$5.99) or a meat, vege or cheese quesadilla ($6.50/$5.99/$4.99).

The Baronets were encouraged to share the beef quesadilla (they had never had one and knew as soon as we were out of there we would be on our way to Lappert’s).

I just had to order the fish taco upon Rocky’s recommendation. I was told by my server that all Da Crack’s fish was bought fresh that morning and today’s fish being used was mahi mahi. Excellent as I am a fan of this fish.

After a 10 minute wait out came the grinds.

I didn’t hear one word of protest from the Baronets. They loved the beef quesadilla with its shredded marinated meat intertwined with some melted cheese. DJ Hoot remarked that it was a Mexican jaffle or “toastie”. So impressed with this culinary discovery they have been asking for it back in Sydney when the toastie press comes out on weekends.

I was glad that I took Rocky’s advice but disappointed I didn’t go for some more extreme hot sauce. It was a large soft taco filled with firm, yet tender cubes of mahi mahi topped with cabbage, pico de gallo and jalapeños. The chipotle sauce was fine but I should have gone the habenero. The side of slightly Mexican rice was good – not over cooked and the black beans added some extra protein oomph and substance to the whole meal. I was certainly not left hungry,

When we finished and started walking back to the bus stop I thought that the joy of the beef quesadilla would suppress the Baronets’ memories of the promise of Lappert’s famous ice cream. Nope. So off we trudged across the road to the Lappert’s ice cream store in the Kukuiula Shopping Village – Kauai’s most famous export since pineapples.

Rocky was right – Da Crack had to be done – but for my keiki good ol’ ice cream was still “da business”.

The verdict: A great crack in the wall which respects the tradition of simple yet flavoursome Mexican street food made.

What: Da Crack, 2827 Poipu Rd, Koloa, Kauai HI 96756, United States of America. Open Monday to Saturday from 11am to 8pm.

Ate there: January 2015.

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Mullens Street Burgers/Café

Mullens StreetI HAVE been agonising as to whether I publish this post.

In mid December 2014 I was about to hit the button to introduce Mullens Street Burgers/Cafe to the world. The cafe is just a short walk from where I live but back in December I noticed the corner cafe has been closed for over a week. That didn’t seem too unusual as painters had been there the week before putting on some fresh paint inside and out – colourful cartoon murals now added some fun and gave the place an extra vibe. It also proudly sported the predominant colours of orange and black – the colours of the mighty Balmain Tigers as its owner, Marcello Biondi, was a huge Tigers fan (and everyone knew that).

Sprucing up a joint usually means business and life is positive and I wanted to get an updated photo of the new-look Mullens Street. As I approached the cafe it was unusually devoid of activity. I thought maybe it was closed maybe to get rid of that freshly-painted smell or Marcello was planning a grand re-opening for the start of summer and to launch the new look. As I approached I noticed bunches of fresh flowers outside the building –  almost always a sign of bad news. There was a note on the door – at the young age of 39, Marcello ‘Cello’ (as he was fondly called), had passed away and the cafe was closed until further notice.

Mullens - BurgersMullens Street Burgers/Cafe made one of the Peninsula’s best bacon and egg rolls. For $6 you got the roll and a damn decent espresso coffee. And you could get one from 6am. But it was Cello’s burgers that were the stand out – they were big, juicy and satisfying and they turned him into a local legend.

Back in December I wanted to tell you about Cello’s Tradie Burger – the best honest, hearty, manly burger in Sydney. Forget all those fancy ones out there – this was your proper old school fish ‘n’ chip shop style ones you used to get back in the 70s and 80s.

The TradieThe Tradie Burger ($8) was the quintessential Aussie  burger – a seasoned flattened beef patty with bacon, lettuce, tomato, beetroot,  fried runny egg, fried caramelized onion and barbecue sauce – all on big a Tip Top hamburger roll. It was as tough, sunburnt, robust (and thick?) as any Aussie tradie (without the dust, sweat and stubbies).

Cello also did a mean pulled pork roll with chili slaw and other sensational burger and wrap creations. It was always difficult for customers to choose from the excellent Chicken Caesar wrap or the per-peri chicken one. The Tradie Burger was the pinnacle but also satisfying was the Big O Burger with huge onion rings and the Lamb Burger which had tender marinated lamb,  fried onions, roasted capsicums and aoli.

I have been hoping that Mullens Street would reopen – maybe by Cello’s staff or family to carry on his legacy, his humor and his spirit so that you too could share in the joy of having runny egg yolk and barbecue sauce running down your hand while getting your mouth around the Tradie Burger. Sadly it seems that it won’t be. I noticed a “For Lease” sign on the building the other day and that’s why I have finally decided to share Mullens Street with you and the tragic loss of another Balmain legend.

Sadly, Marcello has passed but long live his memory and that of his Tradie Burger.

The verdict: The Mullens Street Cafe boasted as having the best burgers and bacon and egg rolls on the Balmain Peninsula. It wasn’t wrong.

What: Mullens Street Burgers/Cafe, 135 Mullens Street, Balmain, NSW, Australia.

Ate there: During 2014.

Dedicated to Marcello Biondi: 2 November 1975 – 4 December 2014.

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