Yes, even the Mystery Diner can sometimes overdo it. In my case, it was a four-day gastronomic bender that started with lunch on Saturday at our July 4th “Y’all Come!” family cookout, and ended with my dining partner’s Tuesday pre-Pepsi Fireworks feast of grilled burgers, salad and fresh corn on the cob.
That night, in my fevered dreams I was a rogue balloon in the Macy’s Parade making for the Brooklyn Bridge with half of New York City straining on the mooring lines.
I awoke a chastened sinner in search of a new leaf to turn over. Fortunate indeed that my redemption was so near to hand, specifically the capable hands plying their trade at Johnson City’s Hot Head Burritos.
In business less than three months, Hot Head has made a lot of friends, thanks to the tireless efforts of manager Lori Fedele. Her shop is located a couple of doors down from Earth Fare on West State of Franklin Road. It is well-appointed, squeaky clean and offers seating inside and out.
The Hot Head Eight-Step ordering process couldn’t be simpler. You start by deciding in what form your meal will appear on your plate. Burritos and Bowls come in two sizes, Regular ($6.19 to $6.59) and L’il ($4.29 to $4.49), Bowls being the burrito contents without the tortilla. You can also order your meal as nachos or as a quesadilla, but your topping selections get limited when you do.
Next up is the kind of fiber you want. You can choose from rice (brown or white), beans (black or pinto), or peppers and onions. Then there’s your protein, chosen from chicken, steak, pork, barbacoa (barbecue), taco meat and vegetarian. Any of these can be ordered regular or spicy.
Salsa’s next, with pico, verde, corn or wild. The first one’s mild, the rest add increasing levels of spicy heat to your creation. More pepper and onions; this time it’s choosing between banana peppers, jalapenos and a good fistful of chopped Texas Early White onions.
Step Six is the killer: choosing your sauce. Hot Head’s motto, “Mild 2 Wild” refers to the heat index of their 14 sauces (measured using “hot heads.”) in increasing levels of heat and spice. Everything from Ranch Dressing (zero hot heads) through Tabasco Chipotle (three hot heads) to Extreme Habanero (seven hot heads) is available to challenge your palate and pain threshold. A cautionary word about the Extreme Habanero sauce: ingestion may require getting your palate and tongue vulcanized.
Step Seven adds toppings, from sour cream and lettuce to shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheeses. Lastly, order a drink and/or chips, and then find a seat to enjoy your creation.
My own trip through Hot Head’s Eight Steps took less than five minutes, thanks to the guiding efforts of Ms. Fedele and Tyler, her capable burrito prepper. I decided on a Vegetarian burrito, ($6.19) which Tyler built for me, adding extra pinto beans, guacamole and corn salsa. He then doused it with Sweet Habanero sauce when I asked for it.
My dining partner, tagging along on my quest for digestive salvation, had a Chilotta, a Hot Head specialty that turns a burrito into an enchilada of considerable heft. Eyeing the quantities that friend Tyler was lining up on the prep table for this item, my partner wisely decided on moderation. Tyler then piled in a goodly amount of taco meat and other fresh ingredients until the bowl looked pretty full. Chips in various forms were offered but not needed.
We then found our seats in the neat-as-a-pin dining area and proceeded to have at it. My Vegetarian burrito measured 4 inches across by 8 inches long and required silverware for proper dining. The flavorful mixture of pinto beans, lettuce and corn salsa with the brown rice provided an excellent foundation to the meal. The onions and banana peppers mixed well with the Sweet Habanero sauce, adding a tangy, spicy note with just the right amount of residual heat in every bite. My partner’s Chilotta was good, though I found the taco meat a bit salty for my taste, especially when sauced with ranch dressing. My sauce choice for the dish would have been Tabasco Chipotle. I said so, and got a snort and a look for my efforts.
The cost of the meal for the two of us was less than $17, tax and drinks included.
Ms. Fedele has several special offers running throughout the week, both to tempt the curious and make new friends of everyone. Sunday’s offer is two burritos for $10.99, Monday’s the same deal, just after 5 p.m. plus free cookies all day. Tuesdays are ”Double Sticker” days, where every purchase gets you two stickers on your Hot Heads Free Stuff Card. Fridays are Facebook Special Deals: a special offer that can be found only on their Facebook page. Stop in and say hello to our new neighbors Ms. Lori Fedele and Tyler at Johnson City’s Hot Head Burritos, where salvation never tasted so good.
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