Food writer M.F.K. Fisher once described those foods that, if allowed, she could eat and eat – and never get enough of. Her list included: caviar, freshly prepared potato chips and champagne.
Many would put chocolate at the top of their list, but my personal food obsession? Cheese dip. I’m happy with a jar of it from the grocery store – or a dish full at a local Mexican restaurant. I love it with breadsticks when I’m eating Italian. I rarely buy it since I know it’s my weakness – but when I do, those are memorable occasions.
I recently discovered a brand-new dip in an unexpected location. El Alazan, at 3851 Evans to Locks Road in Evans, is a favorite restaurant of several friends, and I’d dined there based on their recommendations. It offers fabulous décor: eye-popping greens, blues, reds and yellows on the carved wooden booths and chairs, featuring paintings of animals and scenes of Mexico. But the food just seemed like typical Mexican fare.
I was willing to try again though, so after church, we headed there for lunch with our friends Brett and Grace.
“OK, Brett,” I said, propping open the extensive menu. “What should I order?”
It was no wonder I had a tough time choosing. The menu features nearly 70 entrée options (including daily lunch specials until 3 p.m.), along with appetizers, soups, salads and a la carte selections. Among the entrees, you can choose vegetarian, steak, seafood, pork or chicken dishes, along with every variety of fajita, enchilada, burrito and quesadilla and more that you might want.
Also available are enormous margaritas (regular or Texas-style) – popular for Friday and Saturday night diners (or any day of the week) – and other beverages.
“I usually get the shrimp burrito,” said Brett, so I followed suit. Then Brett decided to get away from his usual by ordering the mariachi’s platter, and Sean ordered the bandera mexicana.
I had to hand it to Brett – he definitely knows his Mexican food. The shrimp burrito had all the flavor I missed the first time I’d tried El Alazan. The shrimp were plump and coated in Mexican seasoning, and the burrito itself was thinly coated in delectable cheese sauce. With the side of rice and “salad” (chopped tomatoes and lettuce topped with sour cream), it was a hearty lunch – yet wasn’t too heavy.
Sean’s bandera mexicana featured a chile relleno, a chimichanga with cheese sauce and an enchilada with verde (green) sauce, with rice and beans. It was a little more typical – but we appreciated that the chile relleno was a real whole chile stuffed with spicy beef filling.
But all eyes went to Brett’s mariachi’s platter once it was presented before him. The platter includes two cheese quesadillas, scoops of seasoned sliced beef, chunks of chicken, four chicken wings and in the center, a glorious bowl of cheese-and-beef dip crowned with a ring of pink shrimp.
Brett generously offered a taste of the dip. Sean thought it tasted like the filling that comes in a chile relleno – and it was reminiscent of that. But it didn’t have the saltiness that filling can sometimes have. It was thin cheese that just coated the tortilla chip, rich with seasoned ground beef and just a hint of spice from fresh jalapenos. I was definitely in love at first bite.
So much so in fact that Sean and I returned to El Alazan a few Sundays later to order the platter for our Sunday lunch.
Brett had had enough leftover to take home a good-sized to-go box, so Sean and I decided to share the platter.
It’s a little disconcerting to realize that all you’re having for lunch is cheese and meat, with not a veggie in sight (unless you count the slice of jalapeño that Sean had in his first bite of dip). I resolved to have a salad for dinner and dug in.
We weren’t really sure what to do with the scoops of meat, but ended up taking a bite of beef or chicken, followed by a bite of cheese quesadilla.
The quesadilla was just like a grilled cheese sandwich – thick with melted white cheese that creamily complemented the seasoned beef and tender chicken.
The chicken wings had evidently been marinated in hot sauce judging by their red color – but weren’t too hot for my taste buds. The shrimp were very similar to those in my shrimp burrito – fresh and fat, rolled in a touch of Mexican seasoning.
The cheese dip required two baskets of chips. Rich and sweet, thick with ground beef, and just slightly spicy – it was addictive.
I even picked up the little container to make sure to scrape the last little bit with one final chip.
I think – and I think M.F.K. Fisher would agree – there are times in this world when good food and great memories connect. Sometimes it’s a $100-per-plate dinner – or sometimes it’s as humble as a potato chip in the right place, or a bowl of cheese dip with the right people. This was definitely one of those occasions.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: El Alazan Mexican Restaurant, 3851 Evans to Locks Road
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday
SECOND HELPING: (706) 922-9760