|Chevys Fresh Mex
Weve heard the buzz and witnessed the light speed construction of the new building on Rt. 2 near the Harbour Center, but as with any new restaurant, the proof is in the pudding (or tacos). Piqued by curiosity, we braved the crowds and chaos to uncover the food behind the façade at Chevys Fresh Mex in Parole.
Part of a national franchise with over 150 locations (most on the West Coast), Chevys was brought to Annapolis by local restaurateur Tom OLeary. The concept is well tuned with a freshness pledge assuring no cans in the kitchen, salsa made fresh hourly, tortillas served within three minutes of baking and all foods prepared fresh daily. No small task when factoring in the size of the restaurant, which seats 290 under roof with an additional 60 available al fresco.
Since Chevys opening in early December, a busy parking lot has indicated that the word was out. Luckily, a prime spot was waiting for me in the front row, so I began my dining experience at Chevys with optimism. Hoping to hit during a lull, I had also done a little planning by calling ahead for the restaurants peak hours. I was advised that the prime dinner rush usually slowed after 7pm during the week. Surprised and encouraged by the early opportunity, I decided to pad my arrival time and pulled in at 8pm. Either I was misled, or I was not alone in my strategic timing.
The crowd was thick surrounding the hostess stand. It would be a 45-minute wait for a table for two.
We had plenty of time to explore the warehouse-style facility and observe the clientele. As in most large buildings with high exposed ceilings, sound resonates. I was later told that spicy fiesta music is pumped throughout to add atmosphere, but who could tell.
Aside from the three main dining rooms, a large (everything is big here) comfortable cantina offers full table service (it pays to be a stalker; the hostess list is only for the dining rooms), a long L-shaped bar, televisions and smoking. Thinking we would bide our time with a beer at the bar, we once again had to refigure our strategy as we only seemed to be in everyones way and had no luck attracting a bartender. A quick retreat was made to the front porch (it was a tepid night). The speaker system kept us on our toes, as did the camaraderie of other hungry waiters.
Almost an hour later, our name was called. We were swiftly directed to our booth and immediately presented with a basket of fresh tortilla chips and a small dish of homemade salsa. After such a journey, our immediate desire was libation. It was hard not to notice the huge glasses being shuttled throughout the restaurant. Margaritas are available in three sizes, regular (big), super grande (real big) and pitchers. They are also made in a variety of recipes, including a holiday special cranberry margarita. The tried and true Cuervo Gold margarita was just what the doctor ordered (regular $4.75)
The menu is full of the usual Mexican suspects, with a few novelties here and there. Burritos, quesadillas, flautas, enchiladas and fajitas come with your choice of filling (mesquite chicken, tropical chicken, steak, pork loin, jumbo shrimp, BBQ chicken, salmon, portabello mushroom). Mesquite wood-grilled Baja baby back ribs ($13.99), fish tacos ($8.99) and fresh fish specials add some variety. Mix and match to your liking and create your own Mexican platter, or go for the Plato Gordo ($13.99), which includes a little taste of a lot including ribs, mesquite-grilled chicken breast, jumbo shrimp, skirt steak and grilled veggies with all the trimmings.
To start, we bypassed the tempting fresh Mex sampler ($9.99) with wings, tamales, chicken fajita nachos and chicken quesadilla, and went for the hand-rolled tamales (3 for $4.99). We chose chicken over pork and were pleased with the presentation and flavor of authentic tamales served in corn husks.
For entrees, I had my heart set on chicken fajitas ($10.99), while my companion ordered large with the Plato Gordo. Food is delivered on handy trays with the center platter holding the hot plate and the two side dishes holding the rice and beans and the condiments (pico de gallo, sour cream, lettuce and tomato). The fresh tortillas are served in small paper bags, and were as promised: fresh and warm (three per serving). The fajitas, half a pound of pre-cooked meat, were more than enough to satisfy my hungry appetite. The Plato Gordo, flavorful and grand, is a great way to please the fickle palate.
Dessert was unnecessary, but we did linger over a final margarita while observing the continued madness. We finished our meal and were on our way after 40 minutes.
You have to figure that efficiency is key when dealing with the volume of people and orders, and for the most part timing was swift. But Ill have to admit that our waitress disappeared several times to reappear in sombrero for one of many birthday singing salutes: at least a half dozen during our meal alone.
2340 Solomons Island Road Parole 410/573-4939
Proprietor: Tom OLeary
Reason to go: Youre bound to run into someone you know or make a new friend while waiting.
Something to think about: Rumor has it that OLeary plans to add five or six more Chevys to our general area in the next few years, so the crowds should dissipate in time.
New Bay Times Weekly