All I remember reading was “FREE” and “Mexican food” when I signed up to attend a Mexican restaurant tasting this past Sunday at Jalapeno Heaven in Branford, Connecticut. The event was organized by fellow CT Blogger Bonnie Dingus of the Home Place blog who has been friends with Jalapeno’s owners Hector and Gail Flores, for years.
Before I delve into my review, there are a few things that I need to disclose so that you can understand my perspective/where my head was at while I was there and when I wrote this:
- Although I have traveled to Mexico and eat Mexican food all the time, I am not a connoisseur or expert on the cuisine.
- I am Jamaican, and next to American’s we are beyond proud of our culture and cuisine (as in, we actually and truly believe that “no where no betta than yard”). As a result, we tend to compare our dishes with other “ethnic” cuisines which I did here.
- I was famished when I arrived at the restaurant.
- I’ve never written a food review before
- I included enough info to encourage others (well, at least a fellow yardie) to try Mexican food.
In conclusion, this review is written from the perspective of a newbie who has a slight bias towards Jamaican food. So there wont be a lot or anything on textures and authenticity and all of the other fancy terms that food bloggers and critics use. You can hop over to Jenny Wielk’s Sweet Jenny blog for that.
The tasting was held in the upstairs private dining room of the restaurant. We were greeted by Scott, from Karma Tequila who gave us a crash course on how tequila was made and of course, tequila. Gail Flores, the co-owner was also there with sangria, and a basket of the most colorful, delicious nacho chips that I had ever tried.
Appetizers: (First row) Hector’s Chili | (Second row) Cream of Seafood Tortilla (spicy cream soup) |Nacho chips served with salsa and salsa verde | (third row) Firecrackers (open-face jalapenos, stuffed with shrimp, covered with queso sauce), Chipotle Chicken Chalupa Bites.
Notes: The soup was actually pretty good and is something I would definitely try again. The closest dish we have to chili in Jamaica is stew peas and Jamaican stew peas has nothing on Hector’s Chili! It was delicious, mild, comforting and beyond good. I’m giving myself a huge pat on the back right now for downing two of those firecrackers. Surprisingly, the burn wasn’t as intense as I expected it to be. The salsa verde with tomatillo’s, they seriously need to bottle that stuff and sell it. My least favorite of the appetizers was actually the chipotle chicken and that’s probably because I eat chicken every day and I am developing a dislike for it. Please note that the appetizers, like most restaurants, are served in large portions and are meant to share. However, when I go back, I am ordering the chili as an appetizer. I gave the appetizers 4 out of 5. If I rated them individually though, my fives would go to the chili, the salsa verde and the firecrackers.
Entrees: Chimichanga w/Refried Beans (flour tortilla stuffed w/pork) | White Enchilada w/Spanish Rice (shredded chicken) | Filet De Chipotle w/Potato Mexican Pancakes (filet mignon grilled and served over mushrooms) | Tequila Lime Shrimp Combo (served with Mexican shrimp cake)
Notes: In my opinion, pork should be spicy and well seasoned. The pork was too bland for me and I also had no love for the refried beans. Chimichangas, this one at least, has nothing over Jamaican jerk pork. In hindsight, I think a helping of the salsa verde would have helped to kick the flavor up a notch. As much as I don’t care for chicken, the enchilada was pretty good. The filet de chipotle was excellent. The meat was tender and was DONE just like Jamaican’s like it (not red and bloody). I didn’t care for the Mexican pancake because it reminded me of hash browns. The Tequila Lime Shrimp was good, but I did not like the Mexican shrimp cake which reminded me of salt fish fritters. To be clear, I love saltfish fritters. I would have loved the shrimp cakes too, but they were too salty for something that did not include salted cod. I would also rate the entree course 4 out of 5. The enchilada and filet de chipotle gets my fives from the entree sampling.
Cocktails: (top row) Karma Tequila Cointreau Silver shots | (second row) Taking a sip of the pomegranate margarita sampler | Connecticut bloggers (photo via Bonnie Dingus of Homeplace Blog) | (third row) Karma-Rita (margarita) Pomegranate Margarita
Notes: Ok, so my liver is constructed a little different. This means that I don’t absorb alcohol really well and because of this, I actually try not to drink. I did take a few sips of each drink though and the margarita’s were great. It was smooth actually, and this was confirmed when a few of the bloggers manned up and took a shot of Karma, straight. There weren’t any scrunched up faces which tells me there was no burn upon entry or while it was going down. One thing all that free flowing alcohol did though was to give us all liquid courage. We all look like a bunch of old friends, right (See second row, photo on the right)? Some of us were meeting for the very first time. I rate the cocktails 4 1/2 out of 5. This actually should be a 5 , but I was afraid you guys would think I was a little bias.
For desert, we were served a sampling of Bananas Foster, Apple Chimichanga and Carmel Flan. They were all GREAT! I even ate the flan which is something I never cared for. It had a nilla wafer crust and the carmel was just right, not too sweet. By the way, I am not sure what happened to my dessert photos. But I think by that point, the Karma was flowing, our bellies were full which subsequently let to a lot of laughing and socializing with the other bloggers and I just forgot that I was there on assignment. I don’t care if you think I am biased by the way, but dessert was a straight up 5!
Jalapeno Heaven is located at 40 North Main Street right off of I-95 in Branford, Connecticut. It was super easy to find. The exterior and interior of the building is decorated in true Mexican style: stucco, bright colors, and lots of touristy type Mexican memorabilia. Parking is plentiful and the restaurant is located in what looks like a safe area! I think this would be a great place for a informal get together with friends, families or for foodies who like to try different cuisines.
What to Wear:
Stretchy pants or anything with spandex, an elastic waist and extra room is the best thing to wear if you are attending a tasting. I chose this floral, high-low, topless dress that my mom brought back from her trip to Montreal. It was also super hot that day which made this light and airy, roomy and festive dress the best choice for the occasion.
Ossie snapped these photos of me at the Connecticut Historical Society right before I took the 45 minute ride to Jalapeno Heaven in Branford, Connecticut.
Disclosure: We were invited to participate in the 12-course tasting by owners Hector and Gail Flores. The opinions expressed are my own.