Thursday, June 17, 2010

First Bite: Sopapilla's

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 10:33 AM

When you tell someone you've found a New Mexican restaurant, it's understandable why they don't hear the capital "N" in New. But we've got a new New Mexican restaurant, Sopapilla's, located in the precious little new shopping center at the corner of Moores Lane and Franklin Road.

The owners, Steve and Sharon Dale, are transplanted Southwesterners from New Mexico and Arizona. Their longing for their regional food led to the kernel of an idea to enter the restaurant business. As the bass player for Little Big Town, Steve earned acclaim for his post-concert meals that he prepared for the band using nothing but the kitchenette in the tour bus or in an interstate motel room. With his bandmates' encouragement, Steve decided to take a sabbatical from the road to start up Sopapilla's.

The first step was to secure authentic ingredients to establish the basic flavor profiles of their intended menu. Not an easy task. The Dales contracted with a New Mexican supplier to provide them with 1,300 pounds of the famous Hatch green chili. This piquant pepper forms the base of almost every dish on the menu. Spicier than an ancho, but not as biting as a jalapeno, the Hatch adds just the right flavor. If it turns out to be too spicy for you, they ingeniously suggest cutting it with a drizzle of local Franklin honey.

I especially appreciated how the server suggested I try the salsa before I ordered. "If you can handle that, you'll be fine with the rest of the menu," he assured me. Oh, I did more than just handle it. The guacamole is chunky and spicy, served with the delightfully surprising addition of strips of jicama along with the expected tortilla chips.

An eye toward healthier fare is evident in most of the menu. I must admit I missed the lard in the refried beans, but I can understand why folks might want a little less lard in their lives. Many menu options are also available vegetarian or gluten-free on request.

The menu was still in development when I visited, but highlights included the green corn tamale and chipotle shrimp taco and the stuffed sopapilla. The latter is filled with slow-roasted pulled chicken, onion lettuce, tomato, cilantro and sour cream, topped with a delicious green chili sauce. The masa in the tamales was also notable, reminding me of the best spicy corn pudding I never imagined. I'm a fool for corn pudding. Every meal is served with complimentary airy sopapillas ready to be dressed with local honey, so save room for dessert.

There is no bar, but if you ask nicely your server will prepare you their top-shelf margarita made with pure agave nectar and Cazedores Resposado tequila.

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