Sunday, June 27, 2010
1109 Davenport Blvd.
Folks from New Mexico are really picky about their peppers. Hatch, New Mexico is chile central. And not just any chile; Hatch chiles are green and large, similar to an Anaheim. The meaty flesh is usually roasted and the heat runs from mild to hot. You need the right green chiles to make New Mexico cuisine, which is one of the reasons the owners of Sopapilla’s have shipped in hundreds of pounds of Hatch chiles for their venture. Is it chile hype or can you taste the difference?
Steve and Sharon Dale started this Franklin restaurant after noticing the lack of New Mexico cooking in Middle Tennessee. Sopapilla’s is an upscale joint rendered in a classic black and dark red palate. The menu is too familiar at first glance: queso, quesadillas, tacos and enchiladas. It’s the New Mexico take on these standards that is the point. The namesake sopapilla is like pastry- fried-up and puffy. Usually a dessert item they take center stage in several of the entrees. The corn tamale is a comforting masa studded with corn kernels and those Hatch chiles. It’s mild, cheesy and pretty darn good. The chipotle shrimp taco that accompanies is spicy and tangy, when you get through the over-abundance of sliced lettuce topping. Beans, swirled with yellow cheese, are perhaps a bit too runny on one visit and then much better and served in a bowl for the next. The al dente white rice, flecked with cilantro, is a nice twist from the usual offerings around here.
The menu keeps expanding and in just the month between our two visits they added significantly, including several veggie options. Oddly the menu on our last visit included items marked coming soon: green chile stew, huevos rancheros and carnitas pork.
The stuffed sopapilla is loaded up with pulled chicken and cheese and covered up in a pile of lettuce, hatch chili sauce. The sopapilla itself gets a little mushy. It’s still a reasonably satisfying dish. The cheese crisp is a huge tortilla baked up puffy, toasty with a bit of burned bits here and there. Smothered in cheese it’s a solid starter that’s big enough for an entree and at $6.25 a bargain.
Those Hatch chiles are in just about everything and for the most part they seem pretty mild. We actually asked for some on the side on one visit, just so we could taste them directly. They have a pleasant flavor and even watered down in a sauce, a nice tang. Very mild though. We thought the chile con queso could have used more. It’s a flavorful dip, but needing a bit of bounce. Combined with beans the queso works better. The guacamole is quite creamy, almost whipped in consistency, and yet fresh and helped by a bit of pico de gallo. The salsa is dark and complex. On one visit the chips were a little stale. The waitress picked up on this pronto and brought us a fresh batch.
Veggie Eater: Let’s start with the space- earth tone reds and browns on the walls help create an understated, funky vibe. There’s not a single bleached cows’ head to be found, nor framed posters of a myriad of chile peppers. Look more closely, and you’ll find some short cuts which don’t seem to work. The tables for the booths are faux wood. The baskets are plastic, as are the Molcajete bowls for salsa. On our first visit, it was very cold inside, to the point of being uncomfortable. On to the food. ..There are few veggie options, but if you ask your server, they’ll be happy to modify most of the menu items to make them veggie friendly. On the first visit, I had the stuffed sopapilla. Take a sopapilla (think a thicker flour tortilla puffed up into a shell) and stuff it with beans, onions, lettuce and topped with a green hatch chile verde sauce and sour cream. The chilies provided a muted heat; just enough for a bit of glow, but not enough to force you to grab for water. The salsa verde could have been more generous. Our second visit found an expanded menu. A few more veggie menu items were available. I opted for the Chili Relleno combo, subbing a veggie taco for the beef and a blue corn tortilla for the standard corn tortilla. The waitress was happy to oblige my custom made veggie combo. The blue corn tortilla was delightful; almost crepe like in consistency and the refried beans were delightful; creamy and with a mild heat (assumingly from the prized Hatch chiles). Their relleno is a twist on the traditional; again the Hatch chile takes center stage. I found the relleno a bit doughy. The complementary dessert sopapillas at the end of the meal were simply prepared; no cinnamon dusting on these. A large bottle of honey sat on the table for the purpose of dressing up these treats. Info about the restaurant states they are in the process of obtaining a locally sourced honey for the sopapillas. I opined that it if they offered samples of multiple types of local honey, it could elevate a simple, good dessert item to an extraordinary one. I could see tremendous growth from our first to our second visit; the salsa finally had a little punch, the menu has become more inventive. Doesn’t look like they need an affirmation from us, though; it was the meet and greet place on our second visit.
Meat Eater: They have a great, friendly and on the spot staff. Our waitress even marked up each to-go box with exactly what it contained. It’s cool that they don’t push the New Mexico thing in the slightest in the décor and environment. With Coldplay on the stereo and the modern feel to the place they let the food take center stage. We paid $46 with tax and tip on one visit and $42 on another visit. That purchased an appetizer, two beers and two entrees each time.