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Jolio’s: Just Your Average Tortilla…

So a few weeks ago as part of my Written Expression class I was asked to review a locale restaurant. Bellow is the review I wrote for class, and thought that you all might find it fun to read as well, so enjoy!

As a culinary student and all around general lover of food I have a special place in my stomach for Mexican food. I can remember fondly the times that I would go eat with friends and family at the local Mexican restaurants back home and some of the earliest memories of going out to eat with my family came from Mexican restaurants. So when the craving struck to get some Mexican food I went to the only Mexican restaurant in town that I know of, Julio’s.

Located on the Southeast corner of State Street and Elm Street, I was expecting the parking to be a mad house, like parking is everywhere in Montpelier VT. A few little tricks that I have learned over the time I have been here is that first, if you are going out after 5pm parking is free all over town; second weekends are free all day. With this handy little nugget of knowledge in the back of my head I confidently pulled into the lot right behind Julio’s that is used for the Farmers Market on Saturdays and walked to the restaurant. Being the last building on the strip of buildings that lines both sides of State Street it shares a door with a now empty shop. One funny little note is that the main door is also the only door out to the patio and could be a potential traffic jam in the summer or spring with customers coming in and servers taking food or drinks out to the few tables outside.

At first glance the patio looks nice as it has a rod iron fence around it and marble tables. However when you take a second glance you notice the plastic chairs and that the marble tables tops are peeling off reveling the foe nature of them. This little tid-bit aside, I walked in the wood paneled plate glass door and was greeted by a blank look from the hostess, who didn’t say or do anything until I asked for a table for one. The deer in the headlights look sliding off her face she grabbed a menu and guided me to a booth on the right side of the restaurant. As soon as I was seated she was gone, having said nothing to me at all. Having just barely opened the menu I was greeted by my server who told me the drink specials of the day and was overall polite and friendly. With my drink ordered, I took a look at the menu and was taken back to memories of my childhood at the sight of the dishes found at every American-Mexican restaurant. The menu was laid out with the different cocktails and cordials on the first page and then was a standard menu after that with appetizers, main dishes, sides, and drinks. To test the caliber of any Mexican restaurant I have two things that I always try, the cheese dip, and some form of enchilada. With that in plan I ordered the Queso and Enchiladas Suzius to test the full workings of the kitchen. My server left without saying much of anything or even writing my order down.

My order having been placed I was given a chance to look around and take stock of the decor.  I was sitting in one of the many carved oak booths that match up with the oak bar and wood paneling on the walls. The table had a red tablecloth which was covered by a sheet of glass. Looking up at the ceiling provides a view of a Victorian aged square patterned tiles, and a few ceiling fans. The walls themselves were a dull orange color with a green strip running around the interior. There were wood high rise tables up front by the giant plate glass window that would provide a great source of natural light. Along the walls are down-turned red and green stained glass wall sconces. My eyes were drawn to the numerous piñatas and sombreros along the wall, and the small carved Mexican style frogs that were hidden away, almost like a child’s game of eye spy. Three things stood out in the room, two of which being the very large flat screen TV’s hanging on the walls playing college football games with the sound off; The third being the cardboard cutout looking pine tree. I mention this because it looked so out of place and even a little bit tacky.

My observations of the restaurant were interrupted by another server or a back waiter dropping off chips and salsa and hurrying away before I had a chance to thank them. The salsa was very mild and tasted like tomato flavored water, and while the chips were good the presentation of a beat up plastic basket was a little off putting. I ended up using the hot sauce on the table that you can pick up at any grocery store to make the salsa hotter as I was never given the chance to ask my server if they had a hotter house-made salsa. While snaking on the chips and salsa I started to take stock of the other patrons. There really were people from all walks of life eating or being seated around me. There was the middle aged couple with 2 small children who appeared to be coloring and laughing. The old couple reading the news paper; the group of teenagers laughing and joking, and even the one old guy drinking by himself, eating nachos, and watching the game. The music was at a level that had I had someone to converse with, would not have prevented conversation but was loud enough to cover up the noise of the kitchen when the door was open.

The Queso appetizer arrived and I was presented with a plate that was “hot on top, but the bottom is ok to touch.” The Queso was slightly burned around the top, and was served with par grilled tortilla. I say par grilled because only one side was grilled and the other side was still soft. I shrugged it off and took my first bite. I was sadly disappointed. It tasted like melted sharp cheddar. It was clumpy like melted cheese, which was not a dip like consistency at all. I had to go looking for the jalapeños that I had read were in it, sadly I could only find one. Overall I was very unsatisfied and don’t think it was worth the money I would be spending on it. The disappointment of the Queso aside I was still having a good time as the atmosphere just lends itself to looking around. It would be a great place to take a child and be able to keep them entertained by simply playing eye spy, as the parents behind me were doing with their children.

When my main dish arrived, it too had burnt edges around the tops of the cheese and even the Spanish rice was a burnt brown in color; not the normal orange, yellow that I had expected to see. This may have been more predominant because of the white plate it was served on. Looks notwithstanding, I took my first bite and was pleasantly surprised that the enchiladas tasted better than they looked. The Swiss cheese, chicken, and enchilada sauce paired very nicely together. The Spanish rice was a disappointment, as it tasted like rice with tomatoes, onion, a little green pepper, and chili powder.  All things considered it was an average meal, which did not live up to my memories of the Mexican food I had had previously.

Julio’s, when I break it all down, is a great place to take the family, go on a date, or even to sit at the bar with a few drinks and watch the game. The décor is open and inviting and begs to be looked at, as there is something to see in every nook and cranny. The service is almost hands off and seems a little “get the customer in and out with as little interaction as possible”. While this is a very good thing for dates and families who can talk amongst themselves, or the person who is there to watch the game, for people like myself who have nothing to do but wait for the food, it might be nice if the staff was more willing to interact with the guest. The big bay windows and stained glass wall sconces around the restaurant means that you won’t have to squint when trying to read the menu, and the music isn’t loud to the point of preventing conversation but does a nice job of covering up the background noise present in every restaurant. While the meal I had was a touch burnt, or at least very close to the burnt side of things, it still tasted good. I’ll mark it as an off night for the kitchen as I think it has potential to be good.  For the price of about $25.00 for an appetizer, meal, and drink, I would put it in the upper middle price range, and wouldn’t be surprised to pay $50-$55, including tip, for 2 people. My recommendation would be to go on a weekend in the in-between times of lunch and dinner so that you don’t have to pay for parking or walk a few blocks, and so that the kitchen has the time to pay attention to how they are cooking your meal. If I was working on a rating system I would give them 3.5 out of 5 stars, as it was a little better than the average tortilla.

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