Queso Critique – Polvos

It seems like the last few posts I’ve written have included an announcement of some sort – new jobs, big moves, confessions of murderous rage, etc. Well, hold onto your hats because another one’s coming:

My queso quest is coming to an end. Sort of.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to cry. I’ll pause for a second so you can grab some tissues.

In a couple of months, my same-named cheese-friend/co-cheese-judge/co-cheese-conspirator Amanda is moving  quite far from this area – to a place in Texas where wildflowers are scarce, but love of queso is still plentiful. To a place so far away, that if I were to take a horse-drawn carriage to visit her, it’d take me at least a fortnight to get there.

Sadly, the distance will make it too difficult for us to keep reviewing on a regular basis, so we’ve decided to press the “pause” button on the project for now. It’s not a full stop, because there may still be occasional reviews when one of us visits the other.

Before you get concerned about me experiencing dangerous cheese withdrawals, I assure you that I’ll continue eating fermented dairy at a frequency that the medical community would find concerning.

With all the sad stuff said, Amanda and I decided that one more queso review was necessary before she moves. She and her kids visited me for a weekend of adventures, and in between touring beloved Austin sites, we squeezed in a visit to Polvos. Before leaving my apartment for the day, her kids performed an impromptu (and rather unprofessional) video interview of the queso judges.

At the restaurant, we quickly ordered the Choriqueso, and then cheerfully sang along with the music, which unexpectedly featured a lot of Beatles songs for a Tex-Mex place. I hear that Ringo was a big fan of enchiladas and carne guisada, so this makes perfect sense.

Here’s a beauty portrait of the queso when it arrived. Swoon.

polvos

As we munched, Amanda and I began reminiscing on our cheese journey and all the quesos we’ve been experienced thus far. We decided that despite the variation in scoring, these dishes all fall into one of three categories:

  • So disappointing that I want to cry into the bowl, which isn’t a terrible idea, as the salt from my tears might make it taste better
  • Enjoyable, and would order again, but is not all that memorable
  • So delectable that I want to eat whatever this cheese touches, including the napkin and my own face

I’ll cut to the chase: the queso at Polvos falls in that middle category with a score of 3.8. It was of the baked flameado style, which is dear to our hearts. This variety  is meant to be lovingly scooped and coaxed into tortillas, and the consistency of this dish was perfect for that task. There was also no shortage on meat and poblano peppers, which provided lots of flavor.

However, the cheese in this dish was quite mild and didn’t provide much flavor of its own, which kept it from reaching that elusive 4-point rating. It doesn’t stand out like the ones above it do.

Still, not a bad queso to pause our journey on!

To read up on our specific judging criteria, OR to see a ranked list of all the quesos we tried, visit Queso Scoring.

 

Queso Critique – Iron Cactus

Iron Cactus – Bee Cave, Texas

As a super famous queso critic and blogger, I’ve learned that it’s important to take detailed notes while testing a new dish, so that I can refer to them later on when I’m writing the review. Unfortunately, I recently made the fatal, unforgivable mistake of accidentally deleting my notes before I’d gotten around to writing.

I didn’t realize it until days later, and by then, I’d forgotten a lot of the cheesy details. (Cheesetails?) This is one of those times when I’d like to have a talk with my brain about the way it organizes itself. I can recite a poem for you that I memorized in 4th grade, but I can’t tell you what I thought about a dish that I ate a couple of weeks ago.

Since I can’t do anything about my poorly organized brain at this time, today’s critique will be reduced to the main highlights!

  • Restaurant: Iron Cactus in Bee Cave, Texas. (To my knowledge, there’s no actual cave of bees in this town. I’m disappointed, too.)
  • Dish: Queso Compuesto. White cheese with guacamole, pico de gallo, and grilled chicken
    ironcactus
  • Flavor: Cheese was yummy, and had good spice. Chicken was inferior to El Arroyo’s.
  • Consistency: Too liquidy. Many sad.
  • Final score: 3.1. This queso was par with so many ones that we’ve had before – good, but not great.

I know, I know, this post was somewhat “meh,” but then again, so was the queso! In fact, I purposely made this critique boring, so you’d truly understand how forgettable the dish was, and NOT because I accidentally deleted the notes like a flippin cheese-rookie.

Although I’ve only had this blog since October, my cheese wife (it’s a thing) and I have been testing quesos for an entire year now. It’s our quesoversary! In order to spice up our cheese marriage, we will be trying a few different activities this summer. Here are some posts you can expect to see over the next couple of months:

  • A Just in Queso original recipe for…queso. Obviously. Why would we give you a recipe for salad? Go make your own lettuce.
  • Details of us forcing unsuspecting people to bring us cheese offerings.
  • Notes from our attendance at a queso-cooking contest in Austin. They haven’t asked us to be judges yet, but I’m sure the invite will come ANY day now.

The reason for the cheesin’

Iron Cactus website

 

 

 

Queso Critique – El Arroyo

El Arroyo – Austin, TX

Last Friday, Amanda and I attended a training on adolescents, trauma, and substance abuse. Don’t lie, I know you’re jealous. The best part of the training was when a person in the audience started talking about Twitter, and the speaker responded with a confused, “I don’t have Tweet.”

(By the way, my blog totally does have “Tweet” now. If you’d like to read about more of my cheese-related shenanigans, follow me @JustInQueso88)

Anyway, after sitting and listening to speakers for a few hours, my friend and I were feeling somewhat droopy, and we needed a pick-me-up. A cheese-me-up, if you will.

We followed a winding, scenic road through a fancy-shmancy area of Austin and landed at a not-so-fancy-shmancy restaurant called El Arroyo. I could tell you about the big, spacious patio, the tasty margaritas, and the ambiance-ruining grackles, but let’s get down to business! We have dairy products to discuss.

Amanda and I were pleased to discover that the restaurant offers an option to “build your own queso” by choosing from a list of ingredients. That’s right – DESIGNER queso. Queso couture. This is truly brilliant on El Arroyo’s part, as you can constantly change up your cheese accompaniments, and therefore, never get bored.

After some raucous and intense arguing, we selected a queso with fajita chicken, serrano peppers, and pico de gallo. It’s important to note that, to date, not a single other queso that we’ve reviewed has contained chicken. There have been various forms of pig, and a little bit of cow, but none of our feathery friends. It was time to give the humble chicken a chance to shine.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate this bad boy:

arroyo1

Before our first bites, we noticed that the chicken and vegetables had been finely chopped, which earned an approving head nod from both of us. It’s difficult to scoop up large chunks of meat, no matter how sturdy the chip. The smaller ingredients really do make for an easier eating experience.

The fajita chicken turned out to be a very wise choice, as it was delicious. Easily the highlight of the dish. I wanted to order an entire bowl of those tiny spicy chicken pieces and eat it like a soup.

That’s not weird. Just go with it.

The serrano peppers were much spicier than we expected – probably because we confused them with their milder pepper cousin, the poblano. Nevertheless, it’s not El Arroyo’s fault that we’re pepper-challenged, so we’re not in any way holding this one against them. Plus, the peppers added lots of flavor to the dish – we just had to consume it in small amounts 🙂

arroyo2

Now for the not-so-good aspects of this meal. The consistency of the queso was quite a bit runnier than desired – liquidy, as opposed to creamy. Even more dreadfully, it hardened as time went by.

Also, the flavor of the cheese itself was completely unimpressive. With the other ingredients added in, it made for an enjoyable all-around dish, but on its own, it was bland and mournfully reminiscent of Velveeta. Use of the artificial cheese-like product is probably also why the queso hardened as it cooled.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Amanda and I like Velveeta. If we’re at home and want nachos, we won’t think twice about throwing some salsa or Rotel on a few spongey cubes of Velveeta, and then zapping it all in the microwave. We’re GOURMET, mothercheesers!

But if we’re at a restaurant and paying decent cheese fees, we do expect something a bit more complicated.

To put it another way, when we eat queso, we want to feel like we’re being run over by a giant, eighteen-wheeler-sized hunk of dairy. Then, just as we’re starting to peel ourselves off of the road, the cheese-mobile goes in reverse and slams us again.

To compare, El Arroyo’s queso only gave us an awkward pat on the shoulder.

When it comes to scoring, El Arroyo totally gets an honorable mention for allowing us to design our own queso. Really. That made us super happy. But as for the queso itself, we gave the restaurant a relatively average score of 3.2.

On a side note, I don’t normally comment on a restaurant’s service, because I write reviews of queso, not of general restaurant experiences. But it seems important to note that the service at El Arroyo was not good. Our server was friendly, and our orders were accurate, but the sheer amount of time spent waiting (and waiting and waiting) for things was pretty bad.

Side note #2, this was officially Just In Queso’s NINETEENTH review. That’s a lot of cheese! To celebrate the big 2-0, we’ll be doing something a bit different, but I’ll keep that a surprise for now 😉

If you’re new to my blog, click here to learn the reason for the cheesin’!

 

 

Queso Critique – Chili’s part 2: The Sequel

For anyone who may not know, my same-named cheese friend Amanda and I taste-test chips and queso at different restaurants in the Austin, Texas, area. We judge the melty cheese on its consistency and flavor, and give it a score between 0 and 5.

In my previous review, I seethed about the disappointing injustice that was Chili’s Skillet Queso. Oops, sorry – meant to call it Skillet Meat Stuff, because it did not appear to contain any actual dairy products.

After eating that dish, my partner and I were feeling pretty confused and upset, so we decided to order Chili’s White Spinach Queso, hoping that it would soothe our raw nerves. And also wash out the taste of the previous attempt.

I admit I was a teensy bit nervous about this order, because: 1. I don’t really care much for cooked spinach, and 2. I had already been gravely disappointed by the Skillet Queso Meat Stuff. I just wasn’t sure my heart could take any more pain.

We needed to brie careful.

The waiter brought out our second vessel of goodness, awkwardly informing us that he’d “just set it next to the other queso.” We breathed sighs of relief that this one already looked much more attractive than its predecessor had. It was made from Monterey Jack cheese, with a dollop of guacamole and a smattering of pico de gallo on top.

This one bared no resemblance to a dirty diaper – neither in color nor texture.

chilis4

With shaky courage, we plunged our chips into the new queso and shoved them into our mouths before we could change our minds.

My first thought was: Mucchhhhhhhh better.

This one actually tasted like cheese, which I used to think was an obvious GIVEN in a dish called “queso,” but have since learned not to take for granted. The texture also had a gooey thickness to it, which we highly appreciated. I’m a big fan of Chili’s thin tortilla chips, but something a bit more durable is definitely needed for this type of queso.

Although we were initially delighted about the add-ons of guacamole and pico, we did notice that these items were less than fresh, and were not terribly flavorful. Taste-wise, they really didn’t add anything extra to the dish. I also realized that I could barely taste the spinach, which for me, was a great thing – but I’m not sure that’s what Chili’s is aiming for.

After a minute or two of deliberation, we gave the White Spinach Queso a score of 3 – solidly good, even excelled in the level of cheesiness, but the lack of spice or other flavors were a bit of a letdown.

All in all, this queso was clearly the superior bowl of cheese at Chili’s… which, unfortunately, isn’t saying much.

The reason for the cheesin’

Queso Critique: Jack Allen’s Kitchen

Jack Allen’s Kitchen (Austin)

Sometimes, it’s nice to take an entire week off of work and go to the beach. But when that’s not possible, it’s still pretty good to take half a day off and try a new queso.

For this occasion, it was Amanda’s restaurant of choice, and she selected Jack Allen’s Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant in southwest Austin. We elected to sit on the patio, which was enclosed and heated to protect us from the harsh, harsh winters of central Texas. It was all toasty and cozy out there, like being back in the womb.

Or something less creepy.

As a side note, we decided that our waitress, with her curly red hair and light eyes, looked like a real-life version of Merida from Brave. She should definitely put aside whatever respectable career/vocational goals she has and just be a Disney princess. Livin’ the dream.

Anyway, after taking our drink order, “Merida” (because we can’t remember her real name) brought us a complimentary sample of the house-made pimiento cheese with crackers. I wish I could say we were given free food because we’re world-famous queso critics, but that’d be a lie: they give samples to all restaurant peasants… er, patrons.

Regardless, it was BONUS CHEESE. And was very good.

I was strangely surprised that the menu only offers one type of queso – we’ve definitely been spoiled by so many restaurants offering multiple variants of the spicey cheese. Nevertheless, the Carl Miller’s Layered Chunky Queso came with guacamole and green chile pork, which made us happy ladies.

You might say that meat-filled quesos have become quite imporktant to us. Sorry I’m not sorry.

Similar to the Smoked Pork Queso at the River City Grille, this queso had a thinner-than-usual consistency, most likely from the meat juices, but was fortunately not dripping-down-your-chin liquidy. There wasn’t a lot of spice, but enough was there to give it a nice flavor.

The crème de la crème of this dish was easily the pork. Much of it was so finely shredded and cooked down that you couldn’t really taste it separately from the cheese – BUT the bigger pieces, the “chunky” aspect of the dish’s name, were wonderfully tender and flavorful. Admittedly, it was a little challenging to scoop the pieces up with the chips, but sometimes, you just have to be willing to put in some work. We gave the Layered Chunky Queso an honorable 8.5 out of 10! (Revised score: 3.5).

jakqueso
Carl Miller’s Layered Chunky Queso from Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Austin

Queso Criteria

website for Jack Allen’s Kitchen