January 29, 2009
John Dorroh - [email protected]
As we age our taste buds seem to change. For example, when I was in elementary school, I despised mustard. Now I could eat it with a spoon. There are numerous nuances of the stuff, most of them not yellow, and each one representing a mini-thrill for my tongue.
The same is true for alligator meat, sushi with extra ginger and Polish food from my friend, Mariusz. These are foods for which I have developed a taste.
Recently a buddy wanted me to do lunch with him.
"What''s it gonna be?" I asked.
"Let''s do Mexican," he said. I became silent, a rare thing for me.
"No? So what''s up with that?"
I admitted that my taste buds no longer get excited about Mexican food. It all tastes the same to me.
There are exceptions, like the hole in the wall at the bottom of 30 steep steps in downtown Eureka Springs, Ark., a unique Mexican restaurant called "The Oasis." The food there is creatively prepared in a small fully-viewed kitchen by a mother, her daughter and niece.
The six or seven tables in their small kitchen-dining room hold gourmet dishes such as shitake mushroom with three-cheese enchiladas with homemade verde sauce. Even the beans have an exotically different taste, fresh and exhilarating, leaving you guessing.
"You''re just spoiled," he said.
"You''re right," I agreed. "Plus, I''m not in Eureka Springs. I''m in Columbus."
Not giving up ... yet
I am not saying that I have completely given up on local Mexican food. I''m always willing to give it one more try.
To tell you the truth, it was their restaurant sign that made me wheel into the parking lot behind Chili''s on Monday.
The colorful "Mi Hacienda" neon blocks reminded me of a Toys ''R'' Us store. I ventured inside and asked for an interview with the owner, Phillipe Hernandez, who, by the way, has two other apparently successful Mi Haciendas, one in Starkville and another in Decatur, Ala.
Hernandez moved from California in 1996, after having been involved in all sorts of work -- construction, painting and the food industry.
"I opened a restaurant in Vicksburg in 1998, and another in Starkville in 2003," he said.
He mentioned that his food is representative of that in Central Mexico, within a couple of hours either direction of Mexico City.
People seem to forget that Mexico is a relatively large country with many regions. Each region, just as in the United States, boasts its own types and flavors of food.
Tampico, a seaside city, has its own particular taste, while the Baja region has its own specialties and tastes. Spices used and methods of preparation result in unique dishes.
"Our food is authentic," said Hernandez. The sauces, which they use liberally, make use of a nutty white cheese that is so good I wanted to drink it.
Every other Tuesday (the next one is Feb. 3) from 6-9 p.m., Mi Hacienda treats its patrons to a mariachi band. There are drink specials, too.
Speaking of specials, Mi Hacienda offers specials from 5-9 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Monday is fajita night (Fajitas Jalisco, $9.25, or for two, $14.50), and Tuesday is combination night. (Buy certain combination meals at full price and receive a second one at half-price).
Wednesday is kids and senior citizens night. Every child 12 and younger eats free with every combination ordered, while seniors receive a 10 percent discount. Thursday is "Noche de Pachanga Party Night" with regular margaritas for $2.99. Oh, I should not forget to tell you that any nacho order (supreme, beef or chicken, beans, cheese or any combination thereof) is half-price on Saturday.
"We also want the community to know that we like to get involved in local school, church and civic projects," said Hernandez. "We can accommodate parties up to 230, so just let us know what you want for us to do to make your dining experience a good one."
Angel Johnstone, a regular at Mi Hacienda, likes the shrimp fajitas and quesadillas.
"This is my sixth or seventh time to eat here," she said. "The food is really good and I like the atmosphere. Everyone is very nice here and it feels like family."
What''s on the menu?
The menu hosts more than 100 items, including appetizers, combinations, mariscos (seafood), children''s plates, side orders, desserts and drinks, including five flavors of margaritas, frozen or on the rocks.
When I ate there Tuesday night I had special No. 65, Pollo Tampiqueno, which was a chicken breast, grilled and cut into bite-sized pieces, with vegetables and mushrooms.
It was served with rice, beans, lettuce, sour cream and that white cheese sauce on the side, at my request, and three flour tortillas. ($7.79) It was very tasty, and I had enough to take home for another meal.
My friends ordered typical Mexican items -- soft tacos, burritos and enchiladas, etc. They, too, thought the overall taste was very good, not overpowering and definitely worth a return trip.
"I liked the openness of the restaurant," said Kay Jones, "and the atmosphere was lively and nice."
Kay''s husband, Tommy, said, "Our server was attentive and accommodating. ... I was surprised about the amount of food that we got."
Some of the other specialties include Camarones Chipotle, No. 73, ($10.79), Pollo y Camaron a La Pina, No. 79, (chicken and grilled shrimp in a pineapple sauce, $10.59), and Mushroom Quesadilla Supreme, No. 63, ($7.29).
You can order from the lunch menu Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m.- 3:30 p.m.. Average prices range from about $5-$7. Twenty selections make it easy for everyone to be happy.
The regular menu lists 15 side orders, 15 combination dinners, at least 17 appetizers, including chicken wings and jalapeno cheese bites. Forty-nine specialty dishes and eight seafood dishes make it even more difficult to choose.
Yes, taste buds change as we age, but try not to be so quick to eliminate an entire cuisine like I did before you are really certain those taste buds are truly dead. After eating at Mi Hacienda, I can say that there is still hope, at least for me.
Mi Hacienda is located next to Spiller Furniture, directly behind Chili''s on Highway 45 North. Look for the colorful neon blocks above the door. They open at 11 a.m. every day. Closing time varies: Monday through Wednesday they close at 9:30 p.m. They close at 10 p.m. on Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, they close at 10:30 and at 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Oh, it is a non-smoking facility for those who like to know.
John Dorroh is a semi-retired high school science teacher, who writes a business column for The Dispatch.