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Church of the Corner Mexican Joint

Mexican restaurant

Cosecha

Cari Donaldson - published on 10/21/14

Welcomes all. Family-friendly. Foretaste of heaven. Check and check.

Some people write in an office, paneled wood walls, fireplace, faithful dog lying by the fire … or, at the very least, in a room with a door.

Others flee to a coffee shop, hopping on free wifi while thoughtfully sipping warm caffeinated drinks while acoustic music gently strums in the background.

Me, on those rare occasions I get out to get some writing done (three times in the last two years, but who’s counting?) I go somewhere more productive – the corner Mexican joint for a shot of tequila or a beer served in a frosty mug, and some old school pen-and-ink writing by hand.

I love Mexican food or, more accurately, I love Mexican restaurants. They strike me as such a perfect metaphor for the Church.

I’ve lived places that had a wealth of Mexican restaurants to chose from – literally one on every other corner. You could pick a favorite, based on atmosphere or staff or quality of food, or constantly shop around, or give your patronage to the one nearest your house. When I lived outside Detroit, there was a whole section of town known as “Mexicantown,” that offered the obscure and authentic to anyone stopping by.

In contrast, I’ve lived places, like my current home in northwest Connecticut, where the choices are non-existent. I take that back, I have a choice here – go to the one Mexican restaurant in the entire valley, or eat elsewhere.

Clearly, I can’t choose the latter – where else would I go? Like those souls who find themselves in geographical locations where Catholic parishes are few and far between, sometimes the choice of no choice is the only one offered. And like Peter and the Apostles, I have seen and tasted the truth in both Church and eatery, and what else would satisfy?  

You know, upon reflection, I retract that comparison. Peter was speaking of eternal truth, and was an observant Jew –I’m speaking of perfectly spiced food and am currently eating pork.

I love this restaurant all the more for being the only one for miles and miles. I live in an affluent, sober, circumspect town. Everything here strives to fit in with the New England aesthetic: all saltbox buildings with clapboard and muted nautical colors. Everything, except this place, with its bright colors and stucco and tin-and-velvet art hanging on the walls. Art, which always seems to celebrate domestic tasks: cooking, farming, family. The picture on the wall opposite me right now is made of tin – in relief is a man attempting to shove some aquatic creature into a basket. The man’s face is strikingly composed for someone engaged in an activity I’m sure is messy and stinky. It’s Laborem Exercens in folk art form.

This place is a little oasis of … of something else. Certainly this isn’t a perfect reflection of Mexico – not with the bizarre use of an extremely robust parmesan that the chef uses on most of the dishes (you can ask them to hold it) –but this place does serve as a reminder – a foretaste, maybe? – of what a perfect Mexican meal would be.

I can forgive the head chef his use of parmesan when I look around at the clientele of this place. It does draw more Latinos than any other place here in the valley (the demographic is overwhelmingly WASPy), with a slight smattering of Italian lineage (perhaps this explains the parmesan). It’s hard to draw in people to experiences utterly outside their comfort zone. It’s even hard to get them to stay. Some modification of presentation is understandable – if only to reassure the locals that you see them as unique beings.

And so it is with the Church. An institution that sticks out like a sore thumb among the aesthetic and political tastes of the secular world. It is the stucco building in the sea of clapboard. Here, we are given a foretaste of heaven
– which is the part its detractors ignore – a foretaste, not the whole thing. So while gourmets may sneer at this little Mexican joint as being filled with cultural inaccuracies, so do critics love to point out all the shortcomings of Christians, in an attempt to discredit the Church.

But, like this restaurant I’m sitting in, beer 3/4ths done, so the Church opens its doors to everyone – the poor tippers, the loud eaters, the regulars alike. Even if they do put parmesan on their carne asada, I’ll stay, because when given the choice, there’s no place I’d rather be. This goes even more so for Holy Mother Church, as I can go a million different places to get food for my body, but only one place to get the Eucharist – food for my soul.

Cari Donaldsonis the author of“Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale”. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.

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