Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Salty Fig

901 King Street, 32205

Jacksonville has been to the food scene what the British Isles is to European cookery.  They have never identified themselves as a city with culinary prowess.  At most, it has been a culinarily boring city with chain restaurants, okay bar-b-que, and poorly treated seafood.  But there are now chefs and restaurateurs who are working to break that mold.  They are determined to show the world that Jacksonville is more than mediocre. Whether it is with shrimp and grits in a paper boat out of a food truck or seared scallops on a china plate in a brick and mortar establishment, Jacksonville’s food profile is on the rise.

The Salty Fig is a prime example of such endeavors.  The Salty Fig was welcomed with open arms as a food truck, but now Jacksonville is ready to experience their new dining room in Riverside.  They are taking the term “Southern Gastropub” and running with in the correct direction.  You see fingerprints of the Southeastern United States all over the menu.  There are many traditional culinary delights with the modern twist of the gastropub.  They even go as far as using moonshine and bourbon to create drinks that speak of the South, which are just the drink Callie and I choose to begin with.

The Salty Fig Manhattan, fig infused Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Averna Amaro, house made rhubarb bitters, $10

The classic Manhattan with a proprietary twist.  They not only chose to use a whiskey more attuned to the South (bourbon), but also chose to infuse it with their namesake -figs.  Their take uses Averna Amaro instead of the usual sweet vermouth. The fig infusion, along with a little help from the Averna Amaro, helps to soften the cocktail creating a much smoother drink than the traditional version.  The presence of the bitters is just as noticeable as a normal Manhattan, however, the rhubarb flavors get lost in the mix.  The cherry on top is tuned into one of the infused figs in the bottom of the glass.

The Dark Moon, Catdaddy moonshine, lemon, agave nectar, apple juice, ginger ale, $9.

I have no confirmation of where the name comes from, but I am sure it is because this drink will sneak up on you.  It is a light, refreshing lemonade with a bit of carbonation.  Nothing too sweet or sour, you can barely tell the moonshine is in the cocktail.  A sure treat for the sweltering summers to come in Jacksonville. 

The Salty Fig offers six other specialty cocktails, all of which sounded more than intriguing.  They also offer twenty bottled and canned beers and eight tapped beers of local, craft and big beer companies.  As well as a wine list that consists of more than 25 reds, whites, sparkling, and blends.

Crawfish Goat Cheese Croquettes, tomato coulis, sweet potato butter, $10.

A well-presented plate of four fritters with traces of crawfish sprinkled with goat cheese and finished with the accompaniment.  The dish was not bad; it was just not what they said it was.  Being a croquette, it should have been a large amount of crawfish meat bound together with a goat cheese béchamel.  There are certain things that allow for artistic direction, misleading a customer into what they are buying is not.  After delicious cocktails, the appetizer left me and my dining companion wanting.  The flavors and components were there, but there were elements missing in the execution.

Cochon de Lait, braised pork, jalapeno cornbread, poached hen egg, mushroom fricassee, scallion hollandaise, $20.
Cochon de Lait traditionally is an open pit roasted suckling pig, usually basted with copious amounts of wine, butter and Louisiana style hot sauce.  The Salty Fig’s take is a braised pork dish served over cornbread which did not seem to have jalapenos in it by flavor or sight.  The egg was poached decently; it was a little over done, but still had a nice creamy yolk to ooze over the ingredients below.  The mushroom fricassee was nothing special.  The scallion hollandaise was just hollandaise with scallions sprinkled over it, no infusion of flavor at all.  All together the dish was good, nothing done bad, but nothing to wow the guest.

Grilled Cobia, spring ratatouille, pork belly tapenade, $24.

Though the dish may be a little early for spring, it pronounces those bright, sweet flavors we associate with the first spring harvest almost dangerously.  The cobia was beautiful and perfectly cooked.  The Ratatouille was not forced by using out of season ingredients yet still had the body and flavors you would expect of the classic French dish.  The pork belly tapenade brought a nice salt and acid to the dish, though the pork belly gets lost really quick in the dish, the smell is prominent when first brought to the table. 

Nothing piqued our interest from the dessert menu of beignets, pot de crèmes, and cobbler.

The Salty Fig is doing a difficult thing in a city that still loves its meat and potatoes, but they are doing it at the right time and in the right place.  Being in Riverside and offering fare such as they do will allow them to grow to an audience that is ready for what they bring to the table.  They still have some things to improve on, namely execution and pricing.  Twenty dollars for an okay braised pork dish is a little pricey, especially when they have the fresh cobia priced at an appropriate twenty four dollars.  I will not be standing in line to eat dinner here, but a nice lunch of their Plant City Strawberry Salad and a Sunday afternoon original cocktail are probably in the near future.

The Salty Fig on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Speckled Hen Tavern & Grille


During the holiday season we love to reminisce on the traditions each of our families have established.  In the South, especially during these times, a lot of those traditions stem from the kitchen.  Whether it is Sunday morning biscuits or Saturday evening greens, we can relate many things we do during this time of year to an activity in the kitchen.  So some have taken these traditions we have grown up and fallen and love with and combined it with an artful twist to bring us a Southern gastropubSpeckled Hen Tavern & Grille is taking the classics we know and love and putting their upscale spin on them in hopes of intriguing us to come dine with them.

The Speckled Hen is located in an area most people would not think to look for nice meal out, beside a Steak ‘N Shake and Regal Cinemas and sandwiched into a little strip amongst places that seem to just come and go while they hold strong.  The restaurant is split up into three areas, two sections of booths and four seat tables split by a row of high top tables and a small bar.  At first the restaurant appears to have that perfect ambient lighting, but after trying to read a menu you realize they could turn the house lights up a little bit.  They do have a beer and wine list, but the beer on tap are written on a chalkboard that is nearly impossible to read because it is tucked away in a high dark corner with no dedicated lighting to keep you from straining your eyes.

Our hostess greets and seats us without stating the specials or taking our drink orders, and then the server shows up expecting this to already having been done.  She then goes over the beers on tap selection and I was so distracted by the huge stain on the server’s shirt that I had to ask her to repeat them, she seemed irked at what is a common request that does not force her to go out of her way.  She also explained the specials for us, one which made us all look kind of funny at each other while looking over the menu.  The soup of the day way Beer Cheese Soup, while the soup that is on the daily menu is Beer Cheese Soup.  Maren, Darryl and I order our beverages and move on to the appetizers. 

Fried Brussel Sprouts, habanero aioli, balsamic reduction, $6.
Ahh, brussel sprouts, commonly a vegetable that makes the average kid turn their nose up and sit at the table until bed time because they will not eat their vegetables is now being accepted for the versatile vegetable that it is.  And it is a welcome comeback, with chefs now preparing it in ways to appeal to several palates, by chefs frying it.  These chefs are being a little deceitful with their “fried” brussel sprouts as they are not battered and fried, as opposed to more of a method like immersion sautéing.  Finish them with a beautifully balanced habanero aioli and contrasted with properly reduced balsamic vinegar and these once lost vegetable will soon be found on every dinner table.

Duck Quesadilla, caramelized onion, white cheddar, avocado aioli, charred tomato salsa, $9.
The thing with duck is you tend to either love or hate it.  Some people just can’t stand the thought of eating the “cute animals”, while others loathe it being served for its association with Foie Gras, and other simply because it comes across to them as “gamey chicken”.  Well if you want a dish to attempt to change yours or another’s mind, do not do it with this one.  Though conceptually a good dish, we felt like it was executed horribly.  The duck was flavorless and slightly greasy, and there appeared to be no caramelized onions in the tortilla at all.  The salsa was a little lacking, but being that they are out of season during this time of year, it did not surprise us.  What did surprise us was the avocado aioli.  We would have been happier paying for and eating toasted tortillas with avocado aioli to dip it in.  Velvety texture.  Heat, acid and salt were all perfectly balanced.  This sauce was executed so well we held on to it to dip other things into the liquid love.

Tavern Fries, beer cheese sauce, bacon, scallion, $6.
Potatoes, which are just blanched and fried.  Who would have thought that something so simple would take to Americans like funnel cake and cheeseburgers?  The irony behind it all is these are all deeply rooted in European culture.  But there is definitely debate on who finally perfected them.  And you can throw Speckled Hen Tavern onto that list.  Some things are not meant to be described with words but rather experienced with the senses, so if you do not do anything else with this restaurant, go and eat some of the fries.  The beer cheese sauce did not have much of the beer flavor we were expecting but was still very good.  The only problem we had with this dish was there was no bacon on it as stated on the menu.  While it did not hinder the crispy, golden potatoes, it surely could not have hurt them, I mean, BACON!!!

Throughout the appetizers our server seemed to be getting more and more irritated that she had to do her job.  She did not like that I requested a glass to go with my bottled beer, nor that I requested for water.  At least it was not the tangible and audible teenage version of irritated, but with the leering looks and the constant setting down of the water bottle harder and harder as the night goes on, it was obvious we were being some sort of inconvenience to her.  This all leads into her not communicating to the kitchen our progress in our starters and entrees get served while we are still enjoying the perfect fries and awesome sprouts.

Grilled Meatloaf, caramelized onion whipped potatoes, bacon wrapped green bean, red eye gravy, fried onion, $14.
A traditional meatloaf, nothing extraordinary or outlandish about it.  The potatoes were grainy, almost inedible grainy, and had no caramelized onions in it.  The green beans looked beautiful but were very lacking in flavor, unseasoned and wrapped with cheap bacon.  The best part about this dish was the fried onion garnish.

Shrimp and Grits, grilled Andouille sausage, Tasso etouffee, Anson Mills stone ground grits, $19.
Mayport shrimp are properly sautéed and served with a beautiful creamy etouffee laced with the spices of Tasso ham.  All of the toppings melded into a delicious topping to a nice coarse stone ground grits.  The grits, however, were stone cold, so cold they had already congealed on the outside and bottom before they put the rest of ingredients on it.  Properly heated grits make this dish a winner, but being served cold turns it mediocre.

Grilled Flank Steak, sautéed spinach, lardon whipped potatoes, wild mushroom, roasted red pepper, Worcestershire sauce, $18.
This dish looked visibly appealing, but eating only begins with the eyes.  The flank steak was ordered medium-rare and was served just over medium.  I got the same potatoes that were served with the meatloaf.  Even to the point of mine was missing the lardons.  The roasted red peppers tasted as is they had been soaking in straight vinegar and Worcestershire mixed with the juices from the steak, a sign that it had not been rested properly before slicing and plating, and spinach and created a watery pool on the bottom of the plate, washing whatever flavor that happened to be left into it.

When the server comes to check on us, I bring up all the concerns of the meal.  Her first mistake was trying to blame us for taking a few more minutes to finish our starters being the reason behind some of our food being cold.  Then, instead of offering ways to fix it, she asks us what we would like done.  Darryl decided the meatloaf was edible enough and did not ask for anything in exchange.  Maren requested a hotter side of grits, and I decided to exchange my dish for another menu item.  She returns my dish to the kitchen while I decide on one of the burgers to replace my dinner.

Southern Burger, Cahill porter cheese, lettuce, tomato, fried pickle, sesame seed bun, $10.
This burger made up for the disaster of a plate I had not fifteen minutes earlier.  The burger was actually cooked medium-rare.  The pickles were thick cut and fried golden.  The bun was warm and toasty.  The only thing is the cheese gets a little lost in the mix.  It was still a good burger and it comes with more of those fries, I mean, I could have gotten some fruit to go with it but let’s be honest; these fries are worth eating twice in one meal.

This restaurant certainly provided killer entertainment with a meal. After all, how many places offer a roller coaster ride with dinner? The worst part is they decided to leave us in a slump.  While we were finishing our meals, our server informed us that the manager had tried my original dinner and agreed that it was sub-par.  Good to know management backs a customer, bad to know they will not come to the table and admit their mistakes.

The Speckled Hen has skills in the kitchen but does not deliver 100% of the time.  I remember seeing this place open a few years ago. They have done a good job changing their menu to keep clientele coming through the door, but good fries, concepts, and beer will not keep a restaurant afloat if your customers don’t feel like they are being given the service they are paying for.  I am hoping the next thing they work on is fixing the service side with both the kitchen and service staff. But until I hear word of that, I do not think I will be dining here again for some time.

Speckled Hen Tavern & Grille on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Maple Street Biscuit Company

“Do one thing and Do it well” has been used as a slogan and motivational tool for business and individuals of all industries.  All industries, that is, except for restaurants.  Doing only one thing well in a kitchen cannot provide the average eatery enough turn over and return business to keep the lights on.  But occasionally this model works, and Maple Street Biscuit Company is out to prove it can be done.  They have taken the beloved buttermilk biscuit of the Southern kitchen and created a menu unique and well-rounded enough to satisfy any palette.

In the former Moe’s of San Marco, owner/operators Gus Evans and Scott Moore have taken the southwest eatery and turned it upside down with a sturdy renovation.  And instead of the “WELCOME TO MOE’S!!!” upon entering, you are now greeted with the amazing smell of fresh baked biscuits that are made right behind the register.  The old hot line of beans and rice has been turned into a bar that ends with a specialty coffee station, which includes their house blend of Maple Coffee.  Along the other wall are several individual tables for two to four diners and at the very front a large community table.  It is a very casual place, much like the address’ predecessor, you review the large menu on the wall and walk up to order.  They get the customer more involved by using little questions to call your order as opposed to your name.  Today’s was “What is your favorite band?”, so instead of dining with Maren and Kelam, on this day I dined with Rascal Flats.  We sit at the community table and wait for the band names to be called more impatiently than not.

The biscuit is a difficult art, if not made with the right ratio of ingredients, it can go from the extreme of a hardtack style piece of bread to a mushy lump of school paste.  But at Maple Street, they know and understand the biscuit and what it takes to make a good one.  They would not tell me much about the biscuit’s ingredients, but I did get some insight on the technique.  I was told they do not use the Southern staple of White Lily Self-Rising Flour, but they trade it for their own made in house mixture.  And like any good mother or father in the kitchen making biscuits, they are sure the fat is nice and hard before cutting it into the dry ingredients.  Simply put, the biscuit is a biscuit, nothing to write home about, but nothing to shy away from, it is still one good piece of bread.  The major difference you will find between their biscuit and mom’s is in the texture, since they shred in the cold fat instead of cut or knead it in, it creates a more layered biscuit, but it does not affect the final product.

The Reinhold, all natural fried chicken breast, crunchy dill pickle, house made honey mustard, $6.
Not sure if named after the actor famed for Beverly Hills Cop and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but if it is, I like his style.  For a place that focuses on the delivery vehicle, they do a damn good job making sure the accompaniments are just as good.  The chicken is juicy and well seasoned, could possibly give Beach Road Chicken a run for their money.  The pickles are thick cut and just right for the dish, nothing over powering coming from the brined cucumber.  It is finished off with simple honey mustard, not overly sweet or spicy from one of the ingredients overtaking the other.  A very well balanced dish.

Squawk on the Street, all natural fried chicken breast, house made pepper jelly, $6.
The biscuit.  Then the chicken.  Now the pepper jelly.  Sweet, tangy and spicy all rolled into one tasty treat most southerners eat by the gobs with cream cheese and crackers.  Though not made from the regional favorite of Datil peppers, and I personally felt it could have used a little more spiciness, it was still really tasty.

The Squawking Goat, all natural fried chicken breast, fried goat cheese medallion, $7.50.
Apparently we all thought the idea of chicken and biscuits for breakfast would be awesome this day.  The “Goat” portion is a simple breaded and fried medallion of Chevre. They add a little twist of herbs, nothing over powering.  We felt the portion of the goat’s cheese could have been a little heavier.

The Garden Bird, all natural fried chicken, collard greens, fried egg, hot sauce, $6.
One final chicken biscuit, then we get to the others.  Nothing special about the individual components on this one, standard southern greens, an egg, a dash of Tabasco, and it turns out they all work really well together.

The Blues Biscuit, pulled pork, slaw, honey bbq, $7.
Truthfully the only one we found lacking, though it may have been because we were enjoying all the others that it just got cold on us.  The pork was not over or under cooked, and the bbq sauce was not too sweet.  The slaw was a not as creamy as we liked either.  But, like I said, this one was one of the last tried and it was most likely our fault for it getting cold, which very well may have been perfect when we first got it.  I may give this one another shot, but honestly, the others are good enough to forget this one.

The Ralphie Deluxe, spicy sausage gravy, fried egg, $6.
Biscuit, sausage gravy, spiciness, a fried egg, I am pretty sure this is how a weekend southern breakfast is depicted in magazines.  I remember my mother making biscuits and gravy rather often, and it is always hard to stack up against Momma’s cooking.  They may not get the belt in this round, but they sure did give her a run for the money.  I mean after all, Mumsie Dearest never made fried chicken and pepper jelly to go with hers. Hint, hint.

A very pleasing visit to the Maple Street Biscuit Company left us wanting to just grab a quick nap in our chairs or go for a whiskey tasting at the Grape & Grain Exchange before we go for another round.  Needless to say, I will be back for more biscuits and I will be back soon.  I am hoping I can get them to let me build my own combination of flavors.  If they let me do that with their convenient breakfast and lunch hours, and even dinner hours on the weekends, I may be there often enough to get a biscuit named after me.

Maple Street Biscuit Company on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Green Erth Bistro

1520 Hendricks Avenue, 32207

There has been a movement in the restaurant industry that has made its’ way into Jacksonville and beyond.  It is a movement that is loved by many: the chef, the farmer, the foodie.  It is the Farm to Fork movement.  A movement defined simply as food produced locally as natural or organic as possible without the use of GMOs or hormones.

Green Erth Bistro is making its push to be in that market under the Persian cuisine banner.  Not yet fully Farm to Fork, they utilize natural and organic ingredients whenever possible.  They even pride themselves on offering a plethora of vegan and vegetarian dishes, but they do not restrict themselves to these dietary restrictions alone.  The Bistro, as they like to refer to themselves as, is tucked into one of the many strips you see in the San Marco area of town.  There is not much to distinguish it from the surrounding areas as the façade on the whole strip has no definition between businesses.  What helps it to stand out is its maroon canvas overhang leading into the patio with the simple text of Green Erth Bistro in white.  It is a quant place with a large community table in the middle as well as several smaller tables skirting the main room for a more private dining experience.  My diner with me tonight is Shelly and we decide on the community table in hopes of discourse during the main course.

After a brief moment our server takes our drink order and gives us time to peruse the menu.  They offer a wide selection of organic and local beers, though Intuition People’s Pale Ale was the only local beer on tap.  They also offer a variety of specialty teas and waters as well as some unique drinks of the vegan/vegetarian and eastern Mediterranean variety.  An order of water and tea reveal drinks are served in a plastic cup, but it is a plastic cup made of recycled materials, fitting with the theme of the restaurant.

We decide to start off with the two daily special soups:  Vegan Tamarind and Coconut Soup and Vegetarian Barley Ash.

Vegan Tamarind and Coconut Soup, $?
It is a hearty soup with a scent not far off from the familiar sweet potato dishes of the South.  The flavor?  Flat.  It was a lentil based soup with hints of sweetness from the tamarind, but this soup offered nothing more than filler.  The texture was grainy, and the flavors barely reminded you of what you ordered.  This was completely different than the broth like soup we expected, but I am not sure that even that would have salvaged it.

Vegetarian Barley Ash, $? 
No this dish does not contain any amount of remnants of a burnt piece of wood.  Ash is a consistency between soup and stew, a “stoup” if you like that terminology.  Loaded with lentils, beans and peas of all sorts, this soup is heavily accented with cilantro and finished with a touch of yogurt.   It needed a little brightness - in all actuality, all it needed was to not sit in a steam well all day which allowed the flavors and brightness drop since it was finished being prepared before lunch.

Hummus Plate, diced tomato, olive, fresh basil, $4.50. 
Being a staple, it was a must to see how they perform on a basic such as hummus.  Overall a good dish, the hummus was smooth and not over powered by any one flavor.  The pita served with it was warm and slightly toasted and had the added health benefit of flax seed.  The downfall of this dish comes with the olives.  I mean we are talking about the eastern Mediterranean, an area of the world known for the harvesting of this fruit and its many varietals and curing procedures and The Bistro chooses to use canned sliced black olives.  Nothing short of the olive you would see from the cheap chain pizza delivery guys.

Kabob Assortment: Tofu and Veggie, $5, Koobideh, $4, Jujeh, $5, saffron basmati rice. 
Large pieces of bright, fresh vegetables skewered and grilled over open flame.  The tofu is seasoned with sumac and nothing else, not even salt.  An ingredient that is essentially a blank canvas of the culinary world and they sprinkle it with a single spice, not very freshly ground, and nothing else.  The vegetables seasoned with nothing at all.  Very disappointed with these, textures are there but with no flavor it became a huge let down.  Koobideh, ground meat seasoned and skewered, can be very difficult to achieve.  Getting the meat to hang onto the skewer can turn into disaster if you do not know what you are doing.  Make the mince wrong and it can be too loose to keep on the skewer.  Not loose enough and you cannot spread it out evenly creating uneven cooking.  It is obvious these guys know what they are doing; it was a near perfect skewer of perfectly cooked and seasoned beef.  Jujeh, saffron marinated chicken, was beautifully cooked breast of chicken with a bright yellow hue from the chicken.  A little seasoning could have carried this to a whole other level, but was good eats none the less.  They prepare the saffron and basmati rice in a somewhat unique manner.  With saffron being the most expensive spice in the world, instead of making large batches and over utilizing or stretching out the saffron, they make plain basmati rice and a smaller batch of saffron rice.  It also allows for a nicer presentation instead of the bland display of nothing but rice on a plate.  Though plenty of these items were in need of seasoning, all the kebabs and rice were cooked perfectly.

At first, we debated dessert, and then we heard about Persian ice cream.  So we had to try it and, of course, Baklava.

Persian Ice Cream, pistachios, $4.50. 
Ice cream, the French concoction of frozen custard that has been bought into by many ethnicities has seen as many flavors, takes on a unique perspective in the Persian eye.  Saffron and lavender accent the dessert in a way that is a bit awkward.  With the first few bites I felt as if I was being attacked by the various scents found in the candle, lotion and perfume isles of the local department store all at once.  That taste of the musky aura associated with an elderly woman fills the mouth and mind.  After you make it past those first few bites it becomes something much more real, a light creamy floral custard whose scent gently floats into you sinuses.  The pistachio flavor is pretty much lost in the lavender but add a very nice regional texture to the dish.

Bakalava, $3. 
Very traditional, very familiar, well done.

When it comes to the food, Green Erth Bistro has more hits than misses, and this usually leads to a recommendation for dining here.  But, we received horrid service.  It was not that the server was rude or impatient; it was that she seemed to not care she had guests.  At multiple times throughout the meal, she would walk from the rear of the restaurant and see us sitting there and realize she had either not talked to us in a while to see if we needed anything, or our order taken, or that she had said she was going to bring us plates so that we could eat the entrée.  Though it seems she may have attempted to rectify her mistakes by giving us the soups on the house, they are still misses that turn any meal, even one of the best ones, into the one you do never want to experience again.

I still love the choice of food they choose to serve and their most of their techniques of serving it, but with the thought of getting the same service mean I am less likely to give them repeat business.

Green Erth Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lola's Burrito Joint

1522 King Street, 32205

The Riverside and Avondale areas of Jacksonville have a lot to offer all lifestyles.  With hangouts, eateries, parks, breweries, and museums, there are endless possibilities of ways to enjoy an afternoon or evening.  The weekends provide even more opportunity to explore the historic streets with markets, special events, and organized bike rides.  

It was a lazy Sunday when I finally decided to trek out to Lola’s Burrito Joint.  Lola’s is the second venture of the people who brought us Carmine’s Pie House. Carmine’s is a place which I have come to enjoy quite regularly, so I had every intention of enjoying my meal here at Lola’s.  Lola’s serves Latin American cuisine, so I was delighted when a friend of mine, Sheena, had asked me to join her and her sister, Yara, to dine here.  I felt as if I had an insider’s view into the restaurant since these siblings are of Puerto Rican decent and Sheena had been able to experience Lola’s once before.
Walking in, you can see their tie to Carmine’s; it is decorated much in the same manner, but with a Latin flair.  It is not a far cry from the way you would have seen an Applebee’s or Bennigan’s decorated ten years ago, a bit tacky in my opinion, but nothing overbearing to make you feel uncomfortable.  Probably the most uncomfortable image of the meal was one that most people probably just bypassed.  A simple 8” x 11” sheet of plain white paper with a message printed on it.  It was not the location, the paper, or even the overall contents of the placard.  It was the atrocious grammar.  Now you can ask my parents, sisters, and even my high school English teachers, I am far and away from an English honors student, and I am sure that one of the main things I got marked on was grammar.  I understand that there are many out there whose skills are much like mine, or perhaps worse.  But when you are a professional establishment filled with professional employees and you post an atrocity such as this, it begins to speak volumes of your location before patrons even walk through the door.  

When it comes to a libation, Lola’s does not hold back. They carry a selection of over 50 beers, most on tap and a good number from local breweries, and a full bar with several house designed mojitos and margaritas.  They are still in the stages of designing the menu, and the condition in which they were presented shows it, with items no longer offered being simply blacked out with a marker.  The menu offers a twist on the average items offered at a burrito joint plus a few that are not expected.

Pineapple and Cilantro Salsa, Tomatillo Salsa, tortilla chips, $2.97 each.
I love a good fruit salsa.  They allow you to incorporate more flavors, even unexpected ones, into a well-known dish with ease.  It is a quick fix for a dish that has accidently had too much spice added to it, while also allowing new dimensions to be found within the surrounding fruits and vegetables.  That is when there is fruit actually put into the salsa.  What I received seemed more like yesterday’s Pico de Gallo with a sprinkling of pineapple.  No actually, that makes it sound like there was still a decent amount of pineapple in this salsa; it was more like the tried to capture the essence of the pineapple by placing the wrapped salsa next to a pineapple in the cooler.  The cilantro flavor was lacking as well, though the finishing garnish was a pinch of fresh chopped cilantro, it just was not enough to lift this dish from the depths it had fallen. 

Verde salsa has many definitions because the translation is simply ”green sauce”.  In Mexican/Latin cuisine it tends to denote the inclusion of tomatillos which tends to give the resulting sauce a dingy color more than a vibrant green color.  Lola’s managed the exact opposite in theirs.  Unfortunately, it seems whatever they managed to do to make the color of the salsa beautiful affected the flavor components.  It was like dipping my chip into thickened bowl of lime juice, unseasoned lime juice at that. 

Mexican street corn, Cotija cheese, cilantro, Lola’s adobo, $2.77.
Elote (pronounced ey [as in hey]-low-tay) is the common name for this dish. It can be found at most food carts in Mexico.  It is a no fuss corn dish served on or off the cob, though at Lola’s no option for off the cob was available on the menu.  The corn is grilled in the husk and once done topped with cilantro, cheese, seasoning, and finished with mayo, or the more traditional crema Mexicana.  Lola’s does away with the crema part of the dish, luckily it does not affect the dish in a negative manner and they finally fought back with a winning dish.

Spicy shrimp taco, mojo lime aioli, $2.97.
Traditional tacos with a modern twist.  The traditional part of the tacos that most people do not like is the raw cabbage, if you can get past that then you are in for a treat.  The mojo lime aioli is a citrusy and spiced sauce that cools the spicy shrimp and melds these tacos.  Though the taco was not bad, Sheena made a point to mention more than once that it was not the same taco she had on a previous visit and ranked this one subpar.

Carnita taco,  Chewie’s chimi sauce, $2.77. 
Carnitas; a twice cooked meat, typically pork, of which the second stage is recooking the meat in its own fat rendered during the cooking process of stage one, giving the meat a deliciously juicy interior and the crispy golden exterior the average American knows and loves.  Ordering this and receiving a taco filled with limp colorless pulled pork is a faux pas that irreconcilable.  Though the chimichurri was loaded with flavor, a sauce does not save a dish.

Dirty Sanchez Burrito, soft shell crab, chorizo dirty rice, chipotle tartar, $10.97.
Because burritos are such a big individual dish, some places tend to stuff it with fillers and unnecessary ingredients.  Lola’s decided to change that and put in thought out, flavor packed ingredients.  Black beans, cabbage, and salsa are the fillers and all bring flavor and more texture to the dish.  The dirty chorizo rice combined with the chipotle tartar sauce brought in the perfect amount of heat without muddling the lightly fried soft shell crab.  All the components to this burrito were good on their own and became a symphony once wrapped in the flour tortilla.  It came with a small side of marinated three bean salad, a component that could have been left out but was a nice little addition.

Lola’s rice, pigeon peas, black beans, $2.47.

Yellow rice and pigeon peas is a traditional dish in Latin American communities, especially in Puerto Rico but is not a dish you will commonly find outside of those homes.  The main reason behind it - no one can make it quite like mom.  This is much like what happened here. It’s not that it is not a good dish; it is the competition it has against the family ties and the fond childhood memories.  Sheena and Yara rated them untouchable to their mom’s, but I felt they were not that bad of a side dish.  Lightly scented with cumin and a hint of chile, the pigeon peas and rice were both cooked very well, though well under seasoned, some salt and acid would have made this dish much more acceptable.

Fried plantains, sweet, 3.47

Plantains – peeled, cut and fried.  Though I have seen these ruined six ways to Sunday, they were perfect here.  Slightly crispy and caramel colored on the outside and steamy gooey goodness inside.  The best part, they finished them with a little bit of grated Queso Fresco, a slightly salty cheese that brings in the perfect contrast to the sweet bites.

It is always rough opening a new restaurant.  You tend to face your toughest critics during this time.  But some places like to make it harder on them by pushing too much at one time.  I could imagine how much better this meal at Lola’s would have been if had they taken an extra week or two to works out these kinks we experienced.  I am hoping that they turn this around and begin to take over this block of Jacksonville.

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