The choreography and the cuisine of the perfect breakfast burrito
It starts with the chiles, true.
But before that, it starts with the sizzle, and the smells and tastes and memories of the high desert.
And even before that, it starts with a new child, a new dad, hoping to make ends meet and to have time to learn to be a parent.
But really, it starts with the chiles.
• • •
It's a shockingly bright, shockingly cold Saturday morning in January, 32 degrees out and frost tips the grasses on the PSU campus. The farmers market vendors are just setting up. The market opens officially at 9 a.m., but at 8:30, the hot-food tents can start serving.
Under the Enchanted Sun tent, Michael Martinez is cooking. Simple stuff: eggs in this pan, bacon in that one. Sausages over there. Cheese, potatoes. He has bags and boxes and tins of iridescent green chiles and a blend of spices, all speaking to his heritage: New Mexico, born and raised.
To his right stands Dagny Martinez, his son. Michael cooks, but it's Dagny who assembles the Enchanted Sun breakfast burritos: the yellow wrapper, the flat tortilla, then the food, steam roiling off of it, hearty proportions.
To his right stands Alanna Fagan. Enchanted Sun's sole employee, an actress in the Portland scene who's "front of house" — if you can call a small, tented space "house." She takes the order, takes the money; cash or Venmo. "Hi, what're you having? The combo? Nine dollars. Thank you." She takes a moment to blow on her frozen fingers. "I've been here since 2019. Being an actor in a pandemic; that's been pretty rough. This helps. Miller? Miller? You have a combo. Need sauce or napkins? Green or red?"
Miller takes a green sauce. And a napkin. He'll be eating his standing up, wandering the market.
To Alanna's right stands Michael. More eggs, stir. More bacon, a thick bramble of rashers, grease snapping and popping.
Cooking to assembling to serving. Michael to Dagny to Alanna. Moving left to right. Over and over and over.
How many times? Michael ponders. "If we're lucky, we could sell maybe 500 today? Something like that. It all depends on the weather; the weather's huge. Cold, like this? Cold is good for us. Man, a nice, hot burrito in your hand? Who doesn't like that? The only thing that really slows this market down is rain. I mean, a lot of rain. Otherwise, we'll do OK."
Five hundred; the profit for the entire week.
And he's been doing it for 17 years.
When he and his wife were having their first daughter, Michael needed a job that would make some money but give him time to be a dad. He had a friend who was selling breakfast burritos at the PSU farmers market, and who wanted out, so Michael took it over. "That was back in 2005. We've been at it a while," he says. "There are definitely moments when you're, like, overwhelmed with the amount of business we're getting. But it's fantastic. We do have a lot of fun and it's also a lot of work."
Another friend steps up and orders two combos, two with bacon, one veg for his whole crew at a downtown tattoo parlor. "I met Mike in '95. I stop by to get my crew fed on Saturdays," says Cheyenne Sawyer. "I'm watching the masters at work."
Michael to Dagny to Alanna. Again and again. The best and most practiced hand-off since the Chicago Cubs' Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Another customer swings by, another big grin from Michael. "Yo, bro! Cold out here. Good to see you." He spots a Street Roots vendor and nudges Dagny. "Hey, can you get something for my man, here?"
"Sure, man!" Dagny throws together a quick burrito. On the house. Street Roots vendors come from the ranks of the homeless. But at the farmers market, it's just another fellow vendor, doing the work. "Here you go. Still thinking about going back (to California)?" The vendor accepts the steaming burrito, inches the zipper up on his jacket to just under his chin. "Oh, yeah, yeah." His breath blooms with fog. "Think about it all the time, man."
As he heads off to sell more papers, another friend joins the quickly growing line.
"The food's great," says Greg Giersch. "But it's fun to watch them. They make burritos with attitude! I've stood in the pouring rain and watched them work."
Michael starts up another conversation with a friend.
"We have customers that I've known now going back 12, 13, 14 years, who come every single week," he says. "They know my family; know my son's family. I've seen their kids grow from babies to being in high school. We see them every week. And that's, honestly, one of the most satisfying parts of this. Just knowing that we've got this community behind us. We're liked to that extent. Y'know? It's pretty great."
Alanna: "Hi, what are you having? The bacon? Okay. Johnson! Johnson you have a combo!"
Michael spots another old friends: "Hey, man! How you doing? Yeah, it's cold today. You want your regular?"
• • •
A yellow wrapper goes astray in the wind and Dagny chases it down, throws it away. No litter at their tent. Nothing out of place. "It's a ridiculous amount of work!" Dagny laughs. "You get ready for the weekend and then you get a few days off to get ready for it again. So it's kind of like you have the prep time to mentally and physically prepare yourself."
Michael digs into his stash of chiles and seasoning as the line grows and grows.
"They say that the breakfast burrito was invented in Santa Fe, so you know I'm using New Mexico green chiles. Also red chiles. The chiles are kinda the key to what we're doing. Pretty good amount of heat but not too much. A lot of flavors."
Alanna, behind him: "John? John? You've got a bacon. Do you need sauce or napkins?"
Michael gets another rasher of bacon sizzling. "I try to keep it as authentic as I can, given that it's 1,700 miles away or whatever. And y'know, some people get it and some are like, 'Oh, that's not how my grandma did it.' Whatever. Of course we can't make 'em as good as your grandma did! It's a burrito! Nobody's gonna do anything as good as your grandma did it. Right?"
Dagny does his magic act; edible origami, blended and folded and tucked into its wrapper, handed to Alanna, who hands it to a customer.
"I've owned a restaurant before," Michael says. "It's a lot — a lot — of work. This is a lot of work, too, but it's different. We work for one day. We hope it goes well. And then we're hands-off for a few days. I don't see us having a brick-and-mortar any time soon. I mean, we've been doing this 17 years and we haven't done it yet, so.…"
More eggs. More potatoes. The handoff to Dagny is flawless; his handoff to Alanna the same.
Is it science or art, this culinary bit of tai chi?
"I think any cooking is kind of a mix of the two, really," Michael says. "At this point, this is a lot about the repetition. Y'know? I mean, I think we've nailed the flavors and got the routine down. That's kind of the beauty of doing the same thing over and over and over. We're not trying to change anything up. We just do one thing over and over and over."
He grins at his son. "Right?"
Dagny nods. The next burrito comes together.
"Jenny? Jenny? You've got a veg. Sauce and napkins? Okay, thanks! Andy? Andy…?"
Michael stops to smile. And to stir the eggs. "I never thought, when I started this, that it would be as successful as it's been, or the longevity that we've had. Y'know? And I'm also very fortunate that I get to work with my son every weekend. I take a lot of pride in that. It's an old-timey thing. We're a father-and-son business, which I think is pretty cool. You don't get many father-and-son businesses that are there, in the trenches, every weekend. Y'know?"
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