Thursday, September 2, 2010


Juquilita Mexican Restaurant

639 Main Street

OK, we have a winner here.

Admittedly, we approached Juquilita with hesitation. The sign on the front clearly stated that it was indeed, "open", yet there was not a sole inside the surprisingly appointed venue. The soda coolers were as empty as the tables, and the look of surprise on the hostess's face supported our fears.

But first, an aside that can only happen in Poughkeepsie. I need to tell you about another (former) Main Street establishment- the notorious Joe's Bar-b-Que.

When Robin and I first arrived in Poughkeepsie, we were excited to live in a city, unlike our former home of Santa Cruz, California, that was truly diverse. By this I mean that there are honest-to-goodness black people here, not the white guys with dreads groovin' on West Cliff's African Drumming Circles, with the "Celebrate Diversity!" bumper stickers firmly pasted on their VW Buses. No, this was the real deal, and with real deal black folks, there has to be real deal bar-b-que. To my eyes, Joe's Bar-b-Que had to be the place.

Leaving Robin at home for reasons obvious to those who know her as well as this particular block of downtown Main Street, I stroll into Joe's. The woman behind the counter was just as I had expected- a matronly older black woman who probably goes to church every Sunday, cooling herself with a fan depicting a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus attending the last supper. Yes, this had to be the place.

With my best wanna-be southern tinged accent, I confidently ask for a rack of ribs.

She looks at me with a blank expression. "Excuse me?"

Her English was fine. Language wasn't a problem. Perhaps it was volume?

"Yes, ma'am. I'd like a rack of ribs, please."

Again, she just stares at me. After a long 5 seconds of sizing me up, without fully taking her eyes off me, she leans back and yells to the back, "Hey Joe!"

From the back, somewhat annoyed, "What?"

"This guy up here wants some ribs!"

At this point, Joe pokes his head out of the 'kitchen'. He sizes me up and down. Looks at her, looks at me, looks at her again....

"Well, give him some ribs!"

She hesitates, as if to say without words, "Are you sure?" Then she procedes to pile some ribs in a styrofoam box. Perfunctorily, she asks, "Collards?"

"Yes, ma'am. And some macaroni and cheese and cornbread, if you have it. Thank you."

She dutifully serves up my order, again looked surprised when I pulled out my wallet, paid the bill and left.

Worst ribs I have ever had.

A few weeks later, I went to dinner at our good friends, the Flads'. There I saw my buddy Chris, who grew up here in Poughkeepsie.

"What's up with Joe's Bar-b-Que, man? I went in there for some ribs, and they were tough as if they had been sitting there for a week! I should've know that you Yankees can't make no damn bar-b-que!"

Chris looks at me incredulously, and simply says, "Brian, NOBODY goes to Joe's Bar-b-que for bar-b-que...."

No, I didn't ask.

So, with that backdrop, yes, Zoe, Nina, Granny McAdoo and I hesitated entering Juquilita. But had we known at that point what awaited us, we would have run in.

The restaurant had only re-opened under new ownership the week before. While they were indeed ready for business, they hadn't quite dotted all the t's and crossed all the i's. The tables were nicely set, and Zoe was particularly enamoured with the chairs that had been decorated with cloths in the colors of the Mexican flag.

We were greated by Eileen and her charming daughter, Estefani. While Eileen's English wasn't there yet, the 7 year old was clearly runnin' thangs. The menu was bilingual, and had a variety usually had only by the larger establishments of the type that sell the frozen strawberry margaritas, Coronas by the bucket, and fried ice cream for the kids.

The menu boasts 6 different dishes of huevos (eggs) for breakfast, including Rob's favorite from California, Hueveos Rancheros. (She's been jonesin' for a good Mexican breakfast since leaving Santa Cruz.) We'll have to come back for breakfast some weekend day.

Eileen and Estefani brought out some warm tortilla chips and salsa, both red and green, for us to try. Zoe and Nina decided that the chips were, "Magic Chips." "They taste like ice cream!" says Nina, "Cookie dough!" "Mine tastes like mint-chip ice cream- my favorite!" shreiks Zoe. Granny agreed. Mine tasted like, well, tortilla chips....

Zoe ordered her standard tacos (con pollo), and Nina a simple quesadilla. Juquilita hit it right on.

"These are the best tacos I've had in a looonnnnggg time," says the 10 year old Zoe. High compliments from her, I assure you! "Dad, this quesadilla is better than yours!" Cut me deep, Nina. Cut me deep....

Blanca, the owner and chef, also from Puebla state in Mexico, came out with a special ham and cheese quesadilla for us to try- this one with the standard Pueblan secret ingredient- mayo, with lettuce and tomato. Not a winner with the kids, but Granny and I enjoyed it.

I honestly can't remember what Granny ordered- I think it was a torta. Whatever it was, she enjoyed it. And again, to be honest, I can't recall the name of the dish I had either. I asked for the specialty of the house, and got this amazingly tender pork dish, smothered in a spicy red salsa-based broth, served with rice and warm corn tortillas. More than I could eat I assure you, but needless to say, I ate with reckless abandon. I would have likely hurt myself were it not for my selfless oldest daughter who kindly stole my share of avocado....

Blanca boasts of having fresh food everyday. Blanca speaks the truth. Nina, with her surprisingly rich vocabulary, summed up the meal perfectly-


(pictures to be posted later!)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

El Gallito!

El Gallito

693 Main Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601-3740
(845) 471-4834

Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!

After last week's excursion to the pleasantly gringo-ized Cafe Maya on Main Street, Wappingers Falls, with their pleasant margaritas, it was nice to come home to some Poughkeepsie Main Street Mexican.

No frills, no loud music, no English (OK, the owner spoke real good)... No beer. No, sniff, margaritas. But yet again, we had some predictably wonderful Mexican food.

We began with the now standard Mexican (cane sugar) Coke, 2 Jarritos Tamarindos, and Zoe was brave to try the, and I am not making this up, Boingo Guava soda, also made with pure cane sugar. Truth be told, we reckoned it was just sub-saturated with real sugar, which they must've figured was a good substitute for guava.

The waitress, who spoke not a word of English (to us, at any rate), dropped off some fantastically fresh salsas (red and green), which had us waiting in anticipation for the chips that never came. When I asked in my broken Spanish for chips, she just smiled and shook her head. She had multiple blenders stuffed to the brim with chiles in the back, whirring away.

The offerings at El Gallito were slightly different than the other Mexican restaurants in Poughkeepsie, perhaps reflecting the restauranteur's Puebla origins (Puebla is a state in Mexico north of Oaxaca and a little east of Mexico City). The menu is quite simple, written only in Spanish. Zoe opted for the good old standard- Tacos de pollo. These tacos were a little rough, served with a healthy portion of fresh cilantro, a smattering of onions and only a small wedge of lime to dampen the rabbit food. Not exactly what even an intrepid 10 year old had in mind.

Nina and our friend Dan, who accompanied us on this week's outing, opted for the chicken burrito. Mostly chicken, rice and beans with some of that really nice green salsa. I learned of this not from young Dan, who plowed through his burro with the gusto of a 20-something who has been working the Appalachian Trail all summer, but from Nina who was horrified to find, *gasp!*, salsa on her burrito and wouldn't eat it! Punk.

Luckily, the waitress humored me when I asked for the, "Especial de la casa" in my just-slightly-less-than-useless Spanish. Pollo rostisseria! She brought out the most wonderful looking half bird I'd seen in a long time. Roasted to perfection, Nina complained that it was hard to eat because the meat just fell off the bones. I found the chicken a bit bland, but when wrapped up in a fresh, warm corn tortilla, a smattering of rice and black beans and some of that salsa... Yeah, that's right!

I shared my chicken with Nina, and she her burrito with me. Zoe snaked my Coke, and I kindly refused her Boingo (I know, that just sounds wrong...). And Dan happily munched away during this typical occurrence of McAdoo standard bliss.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cafe Maya

Café Maya

2776 W. Main Street

Wappingers Falls, NY

OK, technically Café Maya isn’t within our defined parameters. Main Street? Yes. Poughkeepsie? Well, for those Hudson Valley aficionados amongst us, what is the difference between Wappingers and Poughkeepsie, really?

Last Friday night we departed from our normal trajectory to Café Maya in the village of Wappingers Falls, NY. Zoe and Nina just did a bang-up performance celebrating the end of their weeklong Choral camp at Vassar College. Our latest intrepid adventurers of Pok-Mex cuisine, Ann and Kate, came to see the girls, and joined us for dinner. It was a consensus (amongst the adults, at any rate) that Margaritas were in order, and dammit, Café Maya pours a good one!

Café Maya is one of those wonderful Mexican restaurants that appeals to the more mainstream clientele of the Hudson Valley. Every time we go there (Margaritas), the place is hoppin’- televisions blaring over the full service bar, a host/hostess that will seat you when your party is properly assembled, and a waitstaff of high school students whose English is flavored with that particular lilt that can only come from a Dutchess County native. As far as atmosphere goes, about as far as you can get from the blissful Main St. Poughkeepsie dives.

And, did I mention, they have Margaritas?

The overall experience of Café Maya is not centered on the food, but rather the atmosphere. There is a sizeable outdoor seating area with doors that open to the bar, where said Margaritas can be had. No, I am not a tequila snob. I did not ask for the Patron/Cointreau johnson that would cost lord knows how much- just gimme what you gots. Salt, on the rocks. Anne and Kate went for the frozen flava- they have a big Slurpee lookin’ machine for those. And, props to the bartender that fashioned a sweet and sour with lime fizz for Zoe and the classic Shirley Temple for Nina.

The simple Margarita went quite nicely with the fresh Blue Point oysters they serve with lime and a slightly-too-strong salsa. The girls were sorely disappointed that the oysters won out over the tableside guacamole, which Zoe swears they made start-to-finish in less than a minute. It takes her at least 5 minutes to make her soon-to-be world famous guacazoe. But oysters on the half shell, lime, and Margaritas on a Friday night with friends? Yeah, that’s right!

I admit to being seduced by the Pollo Pibil. This is a chicken dish slow cooked in a banana leaf with achiote, a combination of traditional Mayan spices, and Sevillian orange juice. While the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and the spices subtle, I was somehow underwhelmed. Rob and I split the dish and their Ensalada Caesar, which boasts a ‘Classica Tijuana’ style, but seemed little more than iceberg with some tomatoes and croutons. Bor-ing! Nina destroyed her simple quesadilla (chicken quesadilla is a flour tortilla with melted cheese and grilled chicken on the side), and Zoe her bean and cheese burrito- and to their credit, they got it right for the kids! Anne did not quite finish her tacos de pescado (Tilapia tacos complimented with guac, lettuce, tomatoes and a ‘chipotle mayo sauce’), so Zoe and I helped out. Of course by the time we’d gotten to them, the corn tortillas were flaccid, and the bland flavor did nothing to bring them back to life. Satisfied with the Margaritas, we chose not to order from the predictable flan/fried ice cream/churro desert fair, also to the girls’ dismay.

Overall, Café Maya is a great place to go for a good time with friends- good drinks, easy atmosphere, friendly and helpful waitstaff. But if you are seeking a authentico Mexican diaspora meal, go to the real deal on the real deal Main Street in Poughkeepsie!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

La Cabanita

La Cabanita
739 Main Street

Carolina Ramirez tells us that her mother's cooking is so good, she's single-handedly covered uncounted Arlington High School Taco Bell devotees over to her Oaxacan style cuisine.

After eating at her taqueria, I understand why.

The Ramirez family shares their matriarchs gifts with the general population at their Main Street establishment, La Cabanita. Located near the corner of Main and Grand Avenue, the unassuming storefront belies the delicious food inside. Entering with us yesterday were the intrepid Jenny, with her daughters Logan (9) and Lauren (6). Old mainstays Tom, Freya (11) and Linnea (9) joined us a little bit late for lack of parking.

Carolina seated us while the girls grabbed an armful of Jarritos (pineapple was the flava of the da) and I a Sidral Mundet. When Tom finally showed, he got a Mexican Coke- a treat as it is made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. As we got settled, she hit us with some warm tortilla chips served with a blended red chile salsa. Like everything I tried, the salsa had the perfect amount of seasoning- neither to salty, peppery, nor spicy. Just right. The poor, poor children were disappointed almost to the point of tears as the menu's tantalizing advertisement for fresh guacamole was thwarted because of underripe avocados. Somehow I know that their guacamole would have been riiiight.... A little later, after Tom requested some pico de gallo (also good), she brought out some nice green salsa with a sour cream base, spiced with mild chiles and heaps of cilantro.

It was a bit of a challenge ordering over the big screen TV blaring music videos, which ran the gamut from Nortena to Nelly, so we accepted it as local color, and got accustomed to it. Zoe, however, insists that the rather racy video fare was decidedly NOT age appropriate and offended her tweeny sensibility, yet she remained glued nonetheless.

Nina very confidently ordered the al pastor tostadas and Zoe the al pastor burrito (makes a father proud, it does!). Knowing that there would be plenty of leftovers, I ordered a couple of al pastor (runs in the family) tacos. Jenny followed Nina's lead and ordered the steak tostada which she shared with Logan while Lauren plowed through a bean and cheese taco. Tom ordered his old faithful, the steak torta. The torta came slightly different than his favorite at Mole Mole as it has one big piece of steak rather than slices, and mayo (a secret weapon in Senora Ramirez's arsenal, I believe), which he found surprisingly tasty, albeit a departure from the norm.

Freya ordered the steak tacos. The tacos at La Cabanita are very small- an order comes with six soft corn tortilla tacos, topped with onion and cilantro, garnished with fresh radishes and lime. Perfect! Well, my al pastor tacos were perfect because I could actually taste the grilled pork and pineapple without being overpowered by the chiles. But when an 11 year old girl with Minnesotan-Scandinavian roots calls it, "bland", one might wonder if it might have benefited from just a bit more zing.

Linnea, not daunted by the well-meaning waitresses that seem to consistently ignore her pleas for a simple quesadilla (flour tortilla, if available, please, and only cheese. No pico de gallo. No tomatoes. For God's sake, no habaneros. No nothing. Nada.), ordered her standard. After getting her meal, she saunters over to Tom with her patented deadpan. "They put ham in it." After noticing a hint of a smile that only a father could pick up, she returned to her meal, ecstatic. (We soon learned that she did not indeed have a quesadilla, as expected, but rather a zynchronizada- a quesadilla with ham, cheese, mayo (secret weapon) and tomatoes- sin mayo y tomat.)

All was well and good until it was time to settle the tab. Then it got better. In classic style, they had a large glass container filled with fresh horchata at the counter. We ordered a large for the girls to share. They sampled it with mixed approval (Nina had no problem with that. "More for ME!"). While it was a bit on the thin side, it sure hit the spot on this impossibly hot day.

La Cabanita is truly a gem.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mole Mole!

Mole Mole
Fresh Light Mexican Food

805 Main St
Poughkeepsie, NY 12603

Our first stop on our exploration of Poughkeepsie's taqueri as brought us to Mole Mole, a favorite amongst students and faculty of nearby Vassar College.

We had the pleasure of dining with my buddy Tom and his daughters, Zoe (aged 10) and Nina's (8) buddies Freya (11) and Linnea (9). Tom and I enjoyed the Chicken Enchiladas, served with a wonderfully spiced red Guajillo pepper sauce. The sauce was not too hot- the flavor of the chilies came though nicely. If you closed your eyes and really used your imagination, you could almost taste some very subtle berry flavor (honest!).

Three of the girls opted for tacos, while the fourth chose a quesadilla. Unfortunately, despite our attempt at making a clear order with the waitress who spoke perfect English, Linnea, who preferred a very simple quesadilla with steak and cheese only, was thwarted by the cook couldn't help adding a little pico de gallo, which was subsequently scraped off.

Mole Mole offers several combinations for their tacos. You can have hard or soft corn tortillas, Texas or Mexican style. The Texas style is lettuce, cheese, salsa fresca and sour cream whereas the traditional Mexican style has onions and fresh cilantro mixed with a spicy home made salsa. Zoe (soft tortillas) and Nina (hard shell) chose their favorite filling, Al Pastor, a delicious pork and pineapple concoction, which was a little spicy for their taste. Freya ordered the taco plate with Texas style ground beef tacos, which was yummy! The Mexican Jarritos sodas (pineapple, lemon-lime, mango and tamarind), that are made with real cane sugar (no high-fructose corn syrup), were a BIG hit with everyone! Unfortunately, Mole Mole does not serve fresh horchata, one of Nina's favorites.