Now is the time to get your grub on at the El Metate Authentic Mexican Restaurant.

    Jess Bengtson's 16th stop on her alphabetical tour of Crookston eating establishments took her to El Metate. Her series is featured every other Friday. 

    Now is the time to get your grub on at the El Metate Authentic Mexican Restaurant. Celebrating close to six years, owner Ostodio Martinez is as busy as ever - sometimes running from table to table during the rush hours. El Metate is all about the speedy, friendly service and, of course, their delicious authentic food. They're open seven days a week and can accommodate any craving.

    The name 'El Metate' actually means "a ground stone tool used for processing grain and seeds" or rolling tortillas.

    During my most recent visit and, this time, accompanied by none other than the Crookston Daily Times Sport Editor Jim Turvey, we were seated with a basket full of fresh tortilla chips and homemade salsa faster than you can say ¡Ay, caramba!

   I took longer than usual to peruse the menu because I wanted to try something different, although the Burrito Supreme that I usually get did sound particularly tasty. Turvey was taking the advice of our Managing Editor, Mr. Mike Christopherson, to order the Tequila Burrito with extra Cheese Dip.

    Let me just stop everything real quick and say that the El Metate's Cheese Dip must be magical because I could add it to any meal and it would make it that much better. It's a creamy white queso-like dip that, paired with their homemade tortilla chips, makes for the perfect snack. If you order this as an appetizer, be prepared to eat the whole thing before your food comes out, even with their fast turnaround time.

    As I came back down to reality, I asked Martinez what would be a good choice and he suggested the #1 lunch special, the "Grande Burrito." On the "Grande" was a choice of either steak or grilled chicken stuffed with rice, beans, pico de gallo and topped with cheese dip and onions, tomatoes and bell peppers. They had 19 other choices on their lunch menu, as well, which helps explain why their full menu is five pages long. Their lunch specials run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and, even if you only had a short break, their speed to get the dishes out will accommodate any schedule.

    Martinez says that customer favorites include the #32 Molcajete Plate and the #28, which was the Tequila Burrito that Jim had ordered. On the Molcajete (pronounced mole-kuh-het-ay) Plate, was grilled chicken, ribeye steak, shrimp, mushrooms, squash, onions and cactus, and green sauce with cheese, rice and beans. He says it's quite the large plate of food. (I might have to hurry back to El Metate to order that one.)

    After what seemed like only a few minutes of chatting with Turvey, our food was already on its way to our table. It came in piping-hot and packed to the brim with a menagerie of food. Jim's Tequila Burrito with extra Cheese Dip was huge and overflowed as he cut into it. Lucky for me, he decided to slide his colorful shrimp over which happily made its way onto my plate.

    My plate with the Grande Burrito couldn't have fit anything else on it if I tried. The burrito was surrounded by creamy refried beans donned by a melty cheese blanket and, on the other side, a softly-seasoned rice that seemed to pull everything together. Plus, it was topped with their amazingly-scrumptious Cheese Dip. After the first cut into the burrito, out poured what seemed like two handfuls of perfectly cooked grilled chicken. The cook must have stuffed it until it couldn't be stuffed any more with chicken and grilled vegetables. What else was there to do, but dive in? It didn't take me long to get towards the end of the burrito leaving Turvey in the dust. But to be fair, his burrito was a little larger being as his was stuffed with not only chicken, but also tenderly-sliced steak, shrimp, veggies and cheese dip.

    I didn't take my time and savor each bite because, frankly, I was starving. Once I did realize that it was all gone though, I quickly noticed that sudden full feeling settling its way in. It was exactly what I needed and a future nap sounded like a grand idea. (Nap, you say? Yeah right. Dream on, buddy.)

    We got up to go have another quick talk with Martinez before leaving and he sadly mentioned that his family-owned and operated restaurant was for sale.  Although he doesn't know when it would be sold, I immediately began to feel regret that I hadn't visited more often.

    Crookston is full of wonderful restaurants and residents need to visit and appreciate them more often. People like Martinez have worked hard to feed us and provide a relaxing atmosphere. Even if El Metate does close its doors soon, we will always have the memories of their friendly faces, speedy service, delicious food and unbelievable Cheese Dip.

    Side note: Do you think Martinez would give me the Cheese Dip recipe seeing as I mentioned it at least seven times in this story? (wink)