What is Date Night Dining?
In a nutshell, this column is all about food in Chattanooga. I will take people out for dinner and lunch dates at various restaurants in the Chattanooga region. It is not meant to be a review per se, but an account of a one-time experience at a restaurant.
For this week’s column, I met with my old friend Whit Gardner for an early-week fiesta at Poblanos Mexican Cuisine.
I’ve been hesitant to dine at Poblanos because the building holds so many tear-inducing nostalgic memories for me from its days as Pisa Pizza. It makes my heart flutter to remember what was the best pizza place in town. The fact that any restaurant—especially a Mexican place—could even begin to replace my beloved Pisa Pizza is laughable. OK. I just needed to say that. With a completely open mind, I met Whit on a Monday night at about 6 p.m. He was already a Tecate into the evening, and I joined him on the porch. The folks have expanded the porch since the Pisa Pizza days to include several tables with umbrellas. Whit commented that the interior and exterior were a "little more upscale than a traditional Mexican restaurant," which he also thought was represented in the presentation of the food. Lounging was encouraged, and that’s what we did. I also ordered a Tecate because I don’t like making decisions for myself. Plus, red is one of my favorite colors, and like the raccoons in "Where the Red Ferns Grow," I like clutching shiny objects.
The decision to sit on a sunny porch at a busy restaurant is often a trade for less attention from the serving staff. Not the case at Poblanos. Our server was on top of things all night. We were always filled with chips and offered much-needed water top-offs. It should be noted that the restaurant was very busy and the service was excellent despite this fact. The menu suggests a bit of an elevation in quality from most Mexican restaurants around town. The photos are enticing, and the menu items are few enough to not overwhelm. Good job, dudes.
I’ve already mentioned Tecate, which is a beer that should only (and rarely, even) be consumed while eating at a Mexican restaurant. Like Corona, there’s something about the light, mild flavor that goes well with the flavors of Mexican cuisine. I explained to Whit my theory that a Mexican restaurant can be judged—regardless of anything else—on the quality and flavor of the queso dip. Poblanos’ version is fairly standard. In retrospect, I wish we’d gone with the additional choriso, which would’ve slayed my queso dragon. We also ordered a bowl of ceviche (shrimp, tomato, cucumber, cilantro and avocado served raw in lime juice). This is, as Whit called it, "beginner ceviche," and I tend to agree with him. There are better ceviches to be had, but I enjoyed the fresh combination of flavors on this warm evening. Can you scoop up ceviche with tortilla chips? Is that allowed? That’s what we did, and we enjoyed it.
When I suggested Poblanos as a date option, Whit explained to me that he never gets anything but the loaded nachos at Mexican restaurants. Fair enough. I decided the best M.O. was to get something featuring a poblano pepper, a mild green chili pepper used in several dishes that is the hallmark ingredient in several dishes offered at the restaurant. Whit ordered the "gran nachos poblano" with pulled beef. See the picture for the enormity of the dish. Those were some classy nachos, and Whit said they were some of the freshest in the city. Ultimately shareable, the nachos would make the perfect appetizer for a small group of friends. I let our server suggest to me something containing poblano peppers, and he pointed me toward the "burrito poblano" with grilled poblano chili strips, onions marinated in lemon juice, and queso, covered in a "special cream sauce." I chose pork (carnitas) as my meat and was served one of the best burritos I’ve eaten in Chattanooga. My two favorite burrito joints in town are Mojo Burrito and Don Juan’s in East Ridge. The burrito poblano at Poblanos falls directly behind those two in the list. I had no idea how much I would enjoy the flavor of poblano peppers. They added a smoky sweetness to the burrito that I am craving again as I write these words. Desserts are offered, but we weren’t able to imagine stomaching another bite.
Would I (we) go back?
It’s completely unfair to compare Poblanos to Pisa Pizza, but damn, I miss those pies. Letting go of the past is something I’m working on in therapy, and this dining adventure was the perfect example of why I need help. I like Poblanos. The food is excellent, and the prices are reasonable. For a town that is now overwhelmed with Mexican restaurants, Poblanos provides a more upscale option away from the clutter of downtown. Shed one more tear for Pisa Pizza, and accept the reality of 2014. I’m excited to try the fresh guacamole, mahi and tamales. We’ll be back.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.