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.