By Dave Meyer, Head Journalist, ChesterCounty-Pa.com
If there is one time of year that Kelly and I can’t wait for, it’s spring. Not just because it is a precursor to summer and literally the light at the end of that long, grey, cloud-covered tunnel that most in southeastern PA refer to as winter; but because it brings back our annual favorites including baseball, beach time and outside seating at our favorite restaurants.
This spring, as Más Mexicali Cantina in West Chester opens its roof again to its loyal patrons, it will also be offering a little something more to freshen up the season – the new Más Mexicali Fresh™ menu, offering up the freshest ingredients as well as gluten-free and even some organic options.
For the second installment of ChesterCounty-PA.com’s Chester County Insider contest, Kelly and I had the delectable pleasure of joining our winners at Más, with owners Joanne and John Caulfield, as they took us on a journey through their latest additions to the menu. (Photo: (from left to right) Dave Meyer, Kelly Meyer, Nancy Shoudy, Peter Shoudy)
Whether you’re on the rooftop, nestled in a booth or perched at the bar, Más is a visual feast, with color and culture jumping right off the décor to feed your senses with immediate satisfaction. To begin the evening, we made our way to a comfy booth. The lively atmosphere set the pace for what was sure to be an excellent evening, with the guests talking excitedly about this and that, friends meeting for a drink or three after work, families gathered for a night out. This fiesta of sight and sound is exactly the vision that Joanne and John had for Más when they opened in 2010, and continue to this day.
Upon arriving at our table, we were happy to see that our Chester County Insider Winner, Nancy Shoudy, and her husband Peter were already enjoying one of Más’ famous margaritas. Joanne was already deep into a story, which as the night progressed, we were pleased to find out that Joanne has many fantastic tales to share, you need only ask. Obviously with Nancy and Peter ahead of the game, Kelly and I needed to play catch up. Our server jumped at the chance to make our VIP status felt, offering us a non-menu twist on their El Diablo margarita that substitutes Jose Cuervo Cinge for an even spicier kick. Kelly wanted to stay traditional, opting for the Signature margarita. With drinks all around, it was time to dive into some appetizers.
At the recommendation of Joanne, our server and our newly acquainted manager Matt, we ordered the Flaming Queso Fundito, upon which I was sold as soon as I heard “Crumbled Chorizo Sausage, Cheddar Jack and Queso Blanco,” let alone the mouthwatering ingredients, when it comes out, it is, of course, on fire. As to avoid a real Mexican street fight over the Fundito, we also ordered the Dynamite Sticks (think easy to handle flautas, with chili rubbed chicken, chorizo, fire roasted chilis and cheddar jack cheese with a chipotle cream sauce drizzled on top), and the Mini-Chimi (mini chimichangas with shredded chicken, chili braised onions, peppers and jack cheese; but these also come with a sweet and spicy sauce for dipping).
“Can I offer you another margarita?” I’m asked. Absolutely! However, this time I opt for the El Diablo as it’s presented on the menu. The muddled Serrano peppers really come through in this version. As we prepare to order dinner, Joanne indulges us with stories of her and John exploring southern California and Mexico, picking up ideas and recipes for what would eventually become Más. The atmosphere in particular is something Joanne wanted to emulate from other cantinas they had visited.
Recreating such a local, cultural and organic experience in a completely different environment is nearly impossible, yet Joanne seems to glide through the challenge with enthusiastic ease. She excuses herself for a brief moment to visit a few tables. During a visit to Más, it is not unusual for you to see Joanne milling about the dining room, sometimes even with one of their loyal guest’s child on her hip. This boisterous, everyone-is-family attitude is precisely what makes Joanne so successful in the front-of-house at Más. As dinner arrives, we see what makes John so successful in the back-of-house.
The entrees hit the table in celebratory fashion, and everyone was very excited to dig in. The ladies had decided on tacos. Traditional beef tacos are one of Kelly’s go-to at any Mexican restaurant. However, here she decided to mix it up a bit and indulge in the a la carte menu with three varieties; the grilled shrimp, shredded chicken and the Korean short rib.
Peter stunned the group by taking a walk on the wild side. He chose the Caballero; an organic beef burger, stuffed with avocado and goat cheese then wrapped in a puff pastry with chipotle. Nancy had trouble letting him enjoy it after he gave her a sample. For myself, I had again let Joanne guide me; after all she hadn’t let me down all night. When the Adobo-rubbed steak enchiladas were set down in front of me, with Más’ Mexicali Fresh™ salsa verde and chipotle cream drizzle on top, I knew that once again I had entrusted the decision to the right compañera.
While we are applauding the feast that was now in front of us, and trying to remain somewhat civilized while we stuffed our faces with these delicacies, John was finally able to sneak out from the kitchen for a bit to meet our Chester County Insiders and talk about Más’ new menu for 2014.
Más wants to take the idea of the fresh Mexicali cantina one step further. Going beyond the introduction of some of the now (at least at our table) famous menu items, Joanne and John plan to open the Más Mexicali Marketplace where customers can take those fresh, delicious sauces, salsas and dressings home with them to enjoy. In addition, Joanne and John are staying true to the restaurant’s name, meaning more, and looking to considering more locations around the area and possibly expand into the fast-casual market, as well as getting involved in craft beer by teaming up with a local brewer for a specialty Más beer to be sold at their locations.
As the night began to wrap up, and by that I mean we sat around telling stories and talking for another hour and a half, I took the time to reflect on the vision that Joanne and John Caulfield (pictured left) have for Más Mexicali Cantina. Our world sometimes moves by so quickly, we leave, we come back, often we forget what it’s like to take advantage of an evening where we know we can just relax and not have to be anywhere other than right here. It’s nice to see an opportunity to meet new people, share their stories and laugh a bit. For Kelly and I, meeting Nancy and Peter Shoudy was a wonderful treat, and spending a little time again with a couple of culinary visionaries, having our world slow down and become that much more enjoyable for an evening brings that vision of Más to life. We will definitely be coming back for Más.
Más Mexicali Cantina is located at 102 East Market Street, West Chester, PA 19382.
To make a reservation, call 610.918.6280 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday – Sunday: 11:30 – 2:00am.