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!)