ABC Canteen, Fairfax

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re all alone in the house, saying to yourself: “I didn’t. I didn’t. I couldn’t have. I didn’t do it. I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have possibly done it.” All the while, methodically eliminating the other options, one-by-one, before finally capitulating, and quietly saying to yourself with resignation, collapsed on the couch, back of your hand on your forehead, “I did it.”

I went to ABC Canteen yesterday, and was really looking forward to it after hearing so many wonderful things about it – I already knew it was going to be good; it was merely a matter of where it was, what it was like, how much it would cost, etc. I pulled into one of the reserved spaces and strolled in a nearly empty restaurant for a very late lunch.

This is a tough menu to sort through, only because you get the feeling that *everything* is going to be good, but then you whisper to yourself, “I can come back anytime I want,” and the pressure eases off.

Something with corn, that much I knew – and from the Combos section of the menu, I decided on 3 Tamales with Soft Drink ($8.00), essentially giving me a Diet Coke for fifty cents, as the tamales are $2.50 each.

Choosing between Chicken Mole or Pork with Green Sauce, I asked for the Chicken Mole, and my delightful hostess told me they only had two of the chicken moles left (which made me give myself a mental forehead-slap – why *wouldn’t* I mix them up?) So I ordered the two chicken moles, and got one pork with green sauce – perfect.

I ran and got something from my car, sipped my drink as I was reading, and out came a plate with three corn husks, beautifully stuffed – I could tell this even before unraveling them (yes, I unravel my tamales, one at a time, even though it’s probably best to let the husks act as insulators for the heat, and only perform a partial unravel).

What can I say? These were superb tamales. I have absolutely no idea how to cook the innards of a tamale, but both types were obviously long-cooked, and could not be produced on short order (hence, the two chicken moles). Deep, dark, bursting with real, authentic flavors that can’t be mimicked by shortcuts or trickery. This is how to make a tamale, and I was one happy camper – I could have flipped a coin between the two types, and cannot recommend one over the other; only that you should get both. The plate was unadorned – a blue-plate-special sort-of thing, but the embellishment rested deep within, and a squirt of this, or a few of that, would be entirely unnecessary and possibly even harmful.

I could not have been any happier when I drove away, and my only regret was the concept of “fullness,” as there’s much more to this menu I wish to try, and curse human biology, I’m just going to have to wait to try it.

But I did get something for lunch the next day: a daily chalkboard special of Pozole ($8.00), hominy and pork, served with an avocado chunk (which I knew would brown overnight) and an added bonus: two Chicken Flautas.

I was chilling a drink in the freezer, and knew it would need a good fifteen minutes, so I was doing some menial household chores which needed to be done, and after accomplishing much more than I had hoped, I was ready for my Pozole. So I went to get the bag, and didn’t see it. I walked into the next room, and it wasn’t there, either. And then slowly, I began eliminating possible resting places one-by-one, saying to myself, “I didn’t. I didn’t. I couldn’t have. I didn’t do it. I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have possibly done it.” All the while, methodically eliminating the other options, one-by-one, before finally capitulating, and quietly saying to myself with resignation, collapsed on the couch, back of my hand on my forehead, “I did it.”

With a knowing sense of dread, I walked out to the recycling bin, opened the lid, and saw the plastic bag. What was this about a five-second rule by Julia Child? I kind-of “extended the scope,” and, well, you know what happened. It was all sealed off, and nothing had gotten in or out; yet, there was “the thought.” That dreadful thought.

Nevertheless, the Pozole was very good, although it came across as more of a “Grandma’s Cream-of-Chicken Soup” than the type of Gumbo-like Posole Rojo you’d get at Taco Bamba. It was a very tasty bowl of soup, but not the type of Pozole that I’m used to – there must be regional styles, because these two offerings are so vastly different that there truly can be no comparison, and I’m only even mentioning Taco Bamba because I figured others would think of the same thing.

ABC Canteen is a jewel-of-a-dive (I say “dive,” but it’s clean as a whistle; just not embellished or adorned.) If you’re traveling between I-66 and Route 123 down that little Lee Highway – Nutley Street cutover, it’s worth the detour. Dining Guide coverage initiated enthusiastically in Italic, along with the confident recommendation that this is a restaurant everyone should try if they’re in the area.

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