The Smoked Pepper: Bringing Authentic Mexican Dishes to Plattsburgh
Looking to add some zest to your evening dinner run? The Smoked Pepper won’t disappoint
Story and photos by Elaina Robinson
Colorful piñatas hang from the center of a small, yet vibrant room. The atmosphere is lively, and the music in the background sends a party-like vibe. Paintings, pottery, and other artwork add splashes of interest among the wooden walls, tables, and chairs. A large crowd is gathered around the bar in front where most can be seen drinking Corona beer or sipping the restaurant’s famous margaritas.
I’m at the Smoked Pepper, a small Mexican restaurant in downtown Plattsburgh, N.Y. that offers authentic Mexican dishes. I definitely have time to take in my surroundings because the place is packed and the wait is long. Two long benches are filled with hungry bellies anticipating the flavorful meals to come. The waitresses are hard to make out as they blend in with the crowd with their casual attire.
I notice everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Maybe because it’s Friday and the stresses of work have left everyone’s minds, at least for the weekend, or perhaps it’s the colorful margaritas that sit on 50 percent of the tables. And yet, it could just be the inviting dishes being consumed all around. Not wanting to automatically choose the latter, I grab a menu to examine my options.
The menu is small, mixing both Spanish and English vocabulary. House-made sangria, a wine punch typical of Spain, Mexican soda, and Mexican hot chocolate are among the unique drink options. Among the appetizers, nachos grande and calamari chipotle stand out, and the soup selection is enticing . The caramelized sherry onion soup has me curious, but the tortilla soup’s description of seasoned chicken, fried tortilla chips, and three cheeses is more my style. My stomach grumbles in agreement.
I continue on to the salads, which include a traditional taco salad, feisty fajita salad, and Smoked Pepper caesar salad, consisting of a house-made caesar dressing. Quesadillas, burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and carnitas, a Mexican pork dish, make up most of the main courses. Other options include steak and chicken dishes such as the red chile barbecue sirloin and the roasted red pepper chicken. The dinner plates are served with rice and beans; however, the menu offers smaller plates without the rice and beans for half the price.
After 30 minutes of waiting, my friends and I are led to our seats at a small corner table with matching wooden chairs. Seconds after placing our drink orders, we are brought a large bowl of tortilla chips and fresh salsa. With chunky tomatoes and fresh basil blended together, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the salsa was not spicy at all. After devouring the chips and salsa, our meals arrived surprising quickly for both me and my friends. We assumed that because of the packed house we would have to wait a while for our meals.
In front of me sits two large carnitas, which consist of tender pork, vegetable esabeche, manchego cheese, and crema, which is authentic Mexican sour cream—all wrapped in a flour tortilla. My dish was delicious. The carnitas had a lot of flavor and the rice and beans were a perfect match to complement.
One of my friends ordered the chicken and asparagus enchilada, which looked mouth-watering. She also devoured her plate, along with my other friend who ordered the garlic shrimp and chorizo quesadilla. This quesadilla combines garlic-marinated shrimp with chorizo sausage, cheeses, onions, and peppers. Feeling no rush at all, I sat contently with a satisfied belly and mingled with my friends. We declined dessert options—anyone still hungry enough for dessert deserves an award.
Overall, the Smoked Pepper is a great place to go for flavorful and authentic Mexican food. It's little pricey, but definitely worth it for the quality of food you get. The one drawback is the small size of the building and lack of seating, which contributes to a lengthier than average wait, so when in a rush I suggest arriving by 5 p.m. or earlier. As for me, I’m already looking forward to my next visit to The Smoked Pepper. The only question remains is, will it be the portobello and spinach enchilada or the orange-marinated chicken fajitas?
APN gives The Smoked Pepper 4 out of 5 stars
•Nachos are rarely eaten in Mexico, but are very popular in the United States.
•In Mexico, chile-based sauces and mole are used instead of the American-style nacho cheese. Mole is the generic name for a number of sauces used in Mexican cuisine, as well as for dishes based on these sauces. The sauce is created by grinding dried chiles, nuts, and spices, which are then mixed with Mexican chocolate.
•Honey is an important ingredient in many authentic Mexican dishes, but is rarely seen when preparing Mexican dishes in the United States.
•In most regions of Mexico, it is very unusual to put cheese in tacos.
•True Mexican dishes are not cooked to be burning hot.
•Guacamole is not smooth in Mexico—it is prepared by slicing the avocados, not mashing them.
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