Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Tasty Green Chile Cheeseburger At Pancho's

Ever since I saw the double whammy of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Bobby Flay's Throwndown on the Food Network featuring a New Mexican food favorite, the green chile cheeseburger, I have secretly been on a quest to find a local place here in northeast Ohio where I can sample this delicacy. Granted, I don't have the original from New Mexico to compare with a local version, but I know what tastes good to me, so I wasn't too worried.

One of the advantages of my day job is that every so often, I change locales. This means that during the day if I want to go out for lunch and grab a bite to eat, I have an often changing selection of restaurants from which to choose within a short driving distance. Seeing that my current client is near the Uniontown / Green area, I pulled up Yahoo! maps and put in my address and searched for "restaurants." What came up today was a list of places, some of which I had already visited, some of which I had no interest in visiting, and one which I had been meaning to get to since I started working in this location, Pancho's Southwestern Grille.

Located at 4335 Massillon Road, Green, Ohio 44232, they can be reached at 330-896-1991. Their website can be found here.

Pancho's has been around for a very long time and it has probably been at least fifteen years since I have eaten at this restaurant. In fact, I think the last time I ate here was with my grandfather. I'm not sure why we didn't return after that last time, but I figured that today would be as good as any for a return visit. As I normally do, I checked out their on-line menu before leaving for lunch. As it turns out, they offer an 8 ounce Angus burger for lunch and for only an extra $0.50, you can add chopped roasted green chiles. The notion suddenly hit me that I would finally be able to try out this somewhat strange combination that I had been pining after for such a long time.

I arrived around 12:30 PM on a Wednesday afternoon to find the parking lot perhaps one-third full. I know that when I've driven past this restaurant after I get off of work, it fills up incredibly quickly, so I was happy to find an off-peak time to go. It just so happens that the Angus burger is also available on their lunch menu (which is only served until 3 PM), so the burger itself and my choice of side were cheaper than they were on the dinner menu. Score!

Here were some photos of most of the menu (one of the pages came out too blurry to use):

After ordering, my server brought me chips and salsa:

I must be getting spoiled with chips and salsa because the first thing I noticed was that the chips were room temperature. So many Mexican restaurants serve chips that were freshly fried and hot that this seemed unusual to me. The chips had an interesting dusting of spices on them. From what I could tell, salt, pepper, chili powder and cayenne. The flavor was very complimentary and didn't overpower the chip. The salsa was also nice, especially for those who love raw garlic. The garlic flavor wasn't so much present when eating the salsa, but when you stopped for a minute, the garlic notes lingered on my palate.

Having never had an authentic green chile burger from New Mexico, I could only guess as to what toppings I wanted from reading about it on places like RoadFood. It seemed that besides the normal toppings of tomato, lettuce, and onion, the cheese should be American, the only condiment used should be mayonnaise, and of course, there should be lots of roasted and chopped green chiles. Figuring that the kitchen would overcook my burger, I ordered it medium. That usually gets me a medium-well burger that is still juicy.

For an additional minimal charge, I could get fresh-cut fries, home fries, or Pancho fries. Knowing that the fresh-cut fries were not an option for me, I asked my server what the difference between the two varieties of home fries were and he told me that the Pancho fries were the home fries with onions and peppers mixed in. Perfect!

After what must have only been about fifteen minutes or so (although my server seemed concerned that my food was taking too long and checked on it several times), this was what arrived at my table:

And a shot of just the burger:

I was a little surprised to see that the mayonnaise had come in a separate cup, but I just rolled with the punches and applied a liberal shmear onto the crown of the bun. As can be expected in the winter in Ohio, the tomato was sad and anemic looking (and more or less flavorless and mealy). I asked for a steak knife so that I could bisect this half-pounder. Here was a side shot of the burger:

As it turns out, although I had asked for my burger to be cooked medium, it ended up being a tad undercooked at medium-rare. Knowing that a trip back to the kitchen would probably end up adding another fifteen minutes to my lunch hour, I decided just to eat it the way it was. Besides, I would rather have it a little underdone than a little overdone.

I took my first bite, making sure that I got a sufficient amount of meat, cheese, green chili and mayonnaise. As I began to chew, the sublime combination of savory, creamy, and a very gentle spiciness began to fill my mouth. I don't know about the authentic burger out of New Mexico, but this was a darn good burger. Of course, with all burgers of height, this one almost immediately began falling apart and within seconds my fingers were stained with burger juice, melted cheese, and mayonnaise. I persevered and finished my first half greedily. What surprised me the most was how gentle the spiciness of the chile was. While I normally crave things a little spicier, this was the perfect amount of heat.

One cautionary note, since the chiles are obviously a natural product, bits of hard-to-chew fibers found their way into my burger:

I don't know that these would hurt you if you swallowed them, but I could see how this might be a choking hazard if someone were particularly susceptible. Just something to keep in mind.

As for the Pancho fries, it turns out that they are sliced potatoes that have been fried on the flattop, very similar to hash browns (I'm thinking diner style hash browns, not McDonald's). When my server said that the "Pancho" version had onions and peppers in them, I had assumed he meant cooked onions and peppers. Nope:

The Pancho fries are home fries with the addition of raw onions, green bell peppers, and tomatoes. There were really two problems with this side dish. First, because the vegetables were raw, there was no extra flavor from the flattop (like the color that the potatoes had on them from caramelization). Second, and more egregious, was that the Pancho fries had little, perhaps even no seasoning on them (I'm talking salt and pepper here), so they were extremely bland. While there was ketchup provided, even a liberal dosing didn't help to fix the problem.

Wanting to make sure that this wasn't how they were supposed to be, when my server stopped back in to check on me, I asked him if the Pancho fries were supposed to be served underseasoned. After explaining what "underseasoned" meant, he said that as far as he knew, that was how they were supposed to come out of the kitchen. And, in fact, he couldn't actually ever remember seeing any of the line cooks actually adding seasoning when preparing this side dish. I guess this surprised me because my burger had been properly seasoned.

The lunch version of my burger today was $6 and with cheese and green chiles, it came to $7. The Pancho fries were only $0.99 more. Considering that the Pancho fries are the home fries "dressed up," perhaps the better option here is to get the fresh-cut fries. The next time I return I will have to experiment.

While the Angus burger is but one item on Pancho's rather extensive menu, I can definitely see myself returning when that craving strikes me again. I doubt I'd ever get the home fries or Pancho fries again, unless they decide to start seasoning them properly. Bland potatoes, even if cooked well, just aren't very good. Pancho's Southwestern Grille may just be the first stop on my new quest to find the best green chile cheeseburger in Northeast Ohio. Gentle readers, if you have a suggestion, I am definitely all ears.

Pancho's Southwestern Grill on Urbanspoon


Mahala said...

I've always liked this place and wish it wasn't so off the beaten track. But that said, I drive to the Belden Village area to get the lunch buffet at Bombay Sitar. It's pretty great and the only one south of Cleveland that's worth its salt. I will have to get back to Pancho's. It's not strictly traditional Mexican food, but it's very tasty.

Tino said...

Bombay Sitar is the bomb, isn't it?

You're absolutely right about Pancho's. It's not Mexican, it's not Tex-Mex, it's not New Mexican. It's sort of an amalgamation of that entire portion of the map. Their website indicates French influences, too, but looking over the menu, I fail to see them.

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