When you find yourself gazing up at the Statue of Liberty, who is astride an airborne motorcycle crashing through a brick wall while brandishing a burrito the size of a large Thermos and flanked by winged accordions, you have found the funk. You have found Freebirds, my friends.
Originally a Santa Barbara, Calif., creation, Freebirds World Burrito was created by two college roommates. One of the roommates bought out the other and created a separate company in College Station, Texas. Since then, Freebirds have popped up in Austin, Houston, Dallas, Lubbock and San Marcos.
However, the Freebirds location on Huebner Road retains as much charm and independent spirit as the College Station original. Classic rock music blares from speakers and the walls are covered in a mural of clouds – some of which form obscure objects such as a pterodactyl or a (now ubiquitous) accordion with wings.
The flying accordions, fleets of which dangle from the ceiling, are a nod to the influence of Tejano and Conjunto in San Antonio rock, and newspapers are tacked to a wall and a burrito bar. According to Huebner location manager Pat Smiley, the burrito bar at the College Station location is so long employees have to tack up two copies of the Houston Chronicle and two of the Texas A&M University paper, The Eagle. Lyrics from local band the Texas Tornadoes cover one wall and a memorial to a passed employee is nestled in another corner.
Figurines sculpted by guests out of tin-foil leftover from their burritos line the walls and hang from ceilings. Some are as simple as figures while some are Star Wars fighter ship and popular video game Legend of Zelda replicas.
“We tried to be a little different than everyone else and it worked for us,” Smiley said. “Kids are exposed to us in college and they grow up with us, bring their kids and families here. A lot of restaurants would think the foil sculptures are junk, but we love it.”
While the atmosphere at Firebirds is laid back and carefree, there's a deeper message in the burritos. The restaurant prides itself on fostering freedom and independence, preferring customers customize burritos to their liking. Local artists and music are celebrated and students can be seen camping out at tables with their laptops after lunch.
“We try to offer something pretty fresh and customizable,” Smiley said. “When I have newbies come in, I describe it as the Subway of burritos. You're making it up. I'm just helping you put it together.”
To order, customers pick the size of their burrito and then the fillings: rice, beans, steak or chicken, vegetables, cheese and extras such as guacamole, sour cream, salsa and more. All food is cooked fresh and their beans, both black and refried, are cooked without lard. Hungry patrons often choose the Monster or Super Monster, which are measured in pounds, not ounces.
But Freebirds isn't just “guy food,” as Smiley states. Freebirds also offers chicken enchilada soup, salads, quesadillas and taco meals. Smiley, who has worked at all the College Station locations and several Austin locations, says he has never seen someone who doesn't like Freebirds. He says people bring their relatives from out of town in and their families up to try the burritos. According to Smiley, his most memorable moment was when a soldier from Iraq literally climbed off the plane and had his wife drive him to Freebirds for a Monster.
“Guys love us. Girls love us,” Smiley said. “Parents love us. Kids love us. Everybody comes here. For me, it's really the idea of good friends and good times. It's like I get to invite people to my house and have them sample my feed. I've seen people from College Station (when I worked there) I've seen kids grow up. It's great to be invited to snapshots of people's lives, as cheesy as that sounds. It's cool.”
Recently, Freebirds World Burrito opened up a new location on Highway 151 by Sea World and Westover Hills. Burrito “fanatics” kicked off the grand opening by holding an event supporting Penny's From Heaven and Fisher House, the charities Freebirds supports.
“We chose this spot because we feel this area is a developing area,” said Annette Beavers, Freebirds World Works director. “We like the idea of being near Lackland Air Force Base. We think San Antonio will become a great destination area, even more so than now. We're building three more locations in 2010.”
Freebirds lovers shouldn't fear – they can get their beloved Supermonsters at any location, though the comparatively minute Freebird is still the most popular burrito requested.
“All are Freebirds locations are the same – hippie inspired restaurants,” Beavers said. “We serve fresh food every day, and all our employees are enthusiastic. We expect this one to be a success as well. This new location not only provided new jobs for locals; it's providing support for people in this area who work with military and families. We're proud to assist them in our efforts”
Freebirds World Burrito is located at 11224 Huebner Road, Suite 101, and at 8603 Highway 151. For more information, call (210) 877-9606 or visit www.freebirds.com.