OGDENSBURG When we got in the car and headed to a new Mexican restaurant in Ogdensburg opened by someone with no restaurant experience we did not have high expectations.
But we approach every review with an open mind.
Arriving at the barnboard-fronted Dirty Gringo, we immediately noticed the lack of neon beer signs flashing in the windows. Mexican food without beer? Think about it.
But stepping inside the door, we found a clean, attractive interior that has a friendly and welcoming feel to it. It lacks the typical kitsch of so many Mexican restaurants, but thats OK. If the foods good, who cares what crazy colors the walls are?
There are about a dozen tables in a relatively small dining area with subdued lighting which allowed the brightly lighted open kitchen to grab our full attention.
We studied the chalkboard menu for several minutes before placing our order. Not a whole lot of stuff, but some very interesting stuff small, creative and well thought-out.
And as the evening unfolded, we soon found out some very GOOD stuff.
Two cooks assembled our order right before our eyes. The food was arriving at the cash register practically before we even finished ordering. How could food that fast be any good, we thought?
A bowl of salsa and chips ($3.49) was a good place to start. The salsa was homemade, with fresh tomatoes and onions, a little cilantro and just the right amount of heat that kept us coming back for more.
A similar-sized bowl of homemade guacamole ($4.49) had big chunks of fresh avocado in it but lacked pizzazz. With the right dose of lime juice, it could have been something special. We even went to the counter and asked for a lime, but there werent any available.
Tortilla chips were out of a bag, nothing special.
Its not unusual to see an interesting dish on a new restaurants menu, but interesting doesnt necessarily mean good. But three of our four main selections turned out to be both.
The Dirty Gringo ($7.49) was a large burrito stuffed with chorizo sausage, jalapeno bacon (really!), hash browns, onions, peppers, fried eggs, refried or black beans and salsa.
While the ground chorizo provided unique taste, the jalapeno bacon was the real star. No grocery store bacon here it looked and tasted like bacon from a butcher shop but with a kick. Add the hash browns and fried eggs and you have a very unusual and tasty entrée.
Eating this culinary treat was like opening up an Advent calendar: Each bite had a new and delicious flavor.
The Marley ($7.59) had an eclectic combination of ingredients and flavors black beans, rice, Jamaican jerk chicken, jalapenos, pineapple, cheese and sour cream.
Initially, there was the intriguing aroma of cinnamon from the jerk seasoning. The taste of the jerk chicken and the jalapenos gave the burrito great flavor. But after subsequent bites and hitting the pineapple, it turned somewhat complex. The sweet pineapple balanced the heat and the spiciness, making this another winner.
A classic Mexican breakfast item, huevos rancheros (literally translated: ranch eggs) ($4.50) was another great creation, and with great presentation.
Warm flour tortillas were topped with two eggs sunny-side up, refried beans, sour cream, the homemade salsa and Mexican spices. We watched as one of the cooks took the eggs from the fridge and cracked them onto the hot flattop grill. A fresh-as-can-be dish and a good alternative to the massive burritos.
The tacos (three for $5) were a little less interesting. We chose chicken, beef and chorizo in soft-shell tacos. They were pretty standard much like youd get at any Mexican place except for the chorizo. All light and fresh, though.
We would have loved to try the Friday Fish Fiesta Tacos, but, alas, it was Tuesday, so we were out of luck.
We were looking forward to the spicy bean cakes, but for some reason they werent turning out to the kitchens satisfaction. Owner Murray Graveline (one of the cooks, as it turned out) came to our table to apologize and gave us two complimentary desserts to share, apple chimis with vanilla ice cream.
A warm flour tortilla was neatly folded over a filling with firm apples, lightly fried on the flattop, drizzled with caramel and topped with a huge scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream. Mexican pie a la mode!
The apples were as close to fresh as you could get. Were they, we wondered? If not, we want to know what canned brand they used, because they were excellent.
Although it was far too sweet to eat the entire portion or even half, in our cases it was difficult to stop digging into them.
The friendly staff is out to please, serving fresh, creative cuisine that tastes great, at a price that pleases, too. Four of us ate for $40.20. How can you beat it?
Except for the lack of beer and the run-of-the-mill chips, this was a top-shelf, four-fork experience excellent!
■ If youre thinking of taking a drive toward the Adirondacks to check out some fall color, you might want to stop at the Pinecone restaurant in Wanakena for lunch. They make one of the best burgers around, and you cant beat their grilled ham and cheese. If youre real lucky, Diana will be your waitress.
The Pinecones fall hours are noon to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
■ 1844 House, on Route 11 between Potsdam and Canton, has announced its fall menu.
Youll want to try the pumpkin risotto with toasted pecans, blue cheese and apple cider gastrique. Gateaux aux Fruits de Mer a seafood cake with jumbo lump crab, shrimp and scallops perched atop fennel slaw and drizzled with a tomato-herb reduction is excellent. My favorite is pork tenderloin a la Max, apple- and sausage-stuffed pork tenderloin finished with a brandied apple cider sauce.
1844 House serves from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Check the entire menu out on their website: www.1844house.com
■ Conlins Home Bakery in Harrisville is a busy little diner. We stopped one morning a few weeks ago to try some of their homemade doughnuts wed heard so much about. It was barely 10 a.m., every table was filled and most of the doughnuts were gone. We managed to get several of the last cinnamon-sugar coated little treats. I think they were gone before our car got back on the main road.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Dirty Gringo
109 Main St.
Ogdensburgs newest (and only) Mexican restaurant has us very impressed a friendly staff thats out to please, serving fresh, creative cuisine that tastes great- at a price that pleases, too.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
OUR FAVORITES: The Marley, the Dirty Gringo, huevos rancheros, apple chimis with vanilla ice cream