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Friday, April 23, 2004 05:51 am

Burritos with a twist

El Presidente co-owner and cook Tim Von De Bur

The place is small, the menu simple. (You've got your burritos, nachos, soup, and salad). But that's OK, because at El Presidente Burritos, it's all good.

The downtown corner eatery, which has been open since January, brings a bit of California cuisine to its brand of burrito. Co-owner/cook Tim Von De Bur has created six varieties of burritos patterned after West Coast versions of the Mexican staple. Fresh ingredients such as broccoli and avocado are mixed with chiles, spices, and salsa to yield interesting, refreshing fare.

As the name implies, burritos are the mainstay here. They can be ordered with steak, chicken, pork, eggs, bean and avocado, and sautéed vegetables and chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage). Your choice of main ingredient is topped with black or refried beans, queso blanco, pico de gallo, lettuce, and the house red sauce, and the whole thing is rolled and folded into a tortilla. Burritos come in three sizes: regular, large, and super.

Several homemade salsas -- fire-roasted jalapeño, corn and black bean, habanero, and smoky chipotle -- are available. Be sure to add one or two to your meal, because all are delicious. Von De Bur should bottle and sell this stuff.

Although the most popular burrito is beef (with chicken a close second, says Von De Bur), my favorite is the black bean and avocado. The large chunks of smooth avocado provide a good contrast to the rich, smoky flavor of the beans and the crisp lettuce. Fish burritos were available during Lent, and I'm sorry I missed out on them. But Von De Bur says he may bring them back during the summer. I'll be waiting.

You can also choose nachos, a soup of the day, or taco salad. The supreme nachos come with a choice of chicken, beef, or pork and black or refried beans served over tortilla chips, topped with guacamole, sour cream, homemade nacho cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, black olives, and red sauce. A regular version comprising chips, nacho cheese, and red sauce, with or without meat, is also available. Soup du jour options include beef and barley, chorizo-and-corn chowder, and blue-cheese potato. A chilled soup may be added to the mix this summer. All menu items cost $6 or less.

El Presidente is open until 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, making it the perfect place to stop for a late-night snack. The restaurant is owned by Von De Bur, Pat Gleason, and Brandon Blough. In addition to creating the recipes and doing the cooking, Von De Bur designed the kitchen area. He originally pursued a career in landscape design but worked in the restaurant business during the winter months to pay his way through school. "One spring," he says, "I just stayed in the restaurant business" and never looked back. Von De Bur, who formerly managed Café Brio, returned to his native Springfield after a three-year stint in California and decided to open his own business. When Jimmy's Sub Shop closed, leaving a vacancy in the small corner space at 235 S. Sixth St., he took advantage of the situation.

The first-floor space is only 650 square feet but packs a lot of punch and personality for its size. The soaring ceilings are covered in the original tin tiles, painted white. One wall still sports the oak shelving from the space's former life as a cigar store, as well as woodwork salvaged from the Old State Capitol.

El Presidente offers eight outdoor tables for al fresco dining and four tables inside, in addition to a lunch counter with stools. But the size adds to the charm of the place, and it's nice to watch your food being cooked to order in the open kitchen area behind the counter. I'll be back now that warm weather is approaching -- and I'll be waiting for that fish burrito.

El Presidente Burritos is located at the corner of Sixth and Monroe streets in Springfield. Phone: 217-544-9535. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Thu.-Sat.

Sweet stop

From now until late summer, maple syrup is available at Funks Grove Sirup Camp.

"Sirup" with an "i" is the preferred spelling at Funks Grove, a tiny spot tucked amid a grove of timber about 15 miles south of Bloomington. Funks Grove is a favorite stop for tourists traveling the Mother Road.

The Funk family has been making the sweet, sticky liquid since the early 1920s. Mike and Debby Funk now operate the business, which is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday through August or until the syrup runs out.

The following recipe comes courtesy of Funks Grove:

Maple-Syrup Smoothie

1 glass ice
1 glass milk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Blend all ingredients in a blender.

For more information, call 309-874-3360 or visit route66.com/FunksGrove/

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