Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

JJ's Grille brings a Med influence to fresh-Mex and a Mex influence to fresh-Med



JJ's Grille bills itself as serving Mexican-Mediterranean fusion, but before you go thinking falafel tacos and gyro enchiladas, allow me to elucidate.

The restaurant is in the same mold as Chipotle: that is, a fast-casual counter-service operation. Patrons select an edible vessel or shell, followed by a choice of meats, toppings, fillings and sauces. In JJ's case, the vessels/shells come in the form of tortillas, fresh greens or Mexican rice bowls, under the banner "Tastes of the Americas," or you can opt for "Flavors From the Mid-East" with pita bread, tabbouleh or Mediterranean rice bowls. Once your initial selection is made, you're free to mix and match at will to create your "fusion" meal.

I selected a whole wheat tortilla, then added lentils, chicken, Mexican rice, cheddar jack, grilled onions, peppers, guacamole and tabbouleh to create one mighty fine-tasting burrito ($6.70; $8.45 with guac). That tabbouleh, called "J-Bouli" here, is a tart yet enjoyable variant fashioned by Julio "JJ" Paredes' mother, Olivia. It's far more liquid than the typical Middle Eastern version, and employs plenty of lime juice (not lemon), less parsley and no mint.

Olivia, in fact, is responsible for the restaurant's Mediterranean connection – seems a longtime friend of hers is Lebanese and Olivia just grew to love the cuisine of her pal's native land. Adding to the mix is JJ's charming fiancée, Sandra, who just happens to be of Palestinian descent and helps work the counter. While there's plenty of Med cred here, they flex the Mex as well, evidenced by the filling and flavorsome burrito. Dips into the house-made habañero sauce and chimichurri lent added zing, not that any more was needed.

We loved that J-Bouli so much, we tried it in a bowl ($6.50) topped with sautéed eggplant, grilled onions and peppers, but the addition of feta cheese and tzatziki just gave it a sharp angle that we couldn't get enough of. Also good was a protein-filled lentil rice bowl ($7.40) with cuts of moist marinated Angus sirloin, lentils, onions, peppers, tzatziki and hummus. The hummus, its texture somewhere between chunky and smooth, was the lone disappointment. It just had an odd flavor.

We complemented our meal with baked tortilla chips ($1.25) along with an intriguing queso ($1.10) that incorporated chimichurri and cumin. Menu tweaks and additions are coming and desserts are being considered, apparently, but they're taking a wait-and-see approach before pulling the trigger. Sandra talked about adding more meats to the menu (shrimp, possibly lamb, to go along with the current roster of all-natural, hormone- and preservative-free steak, chicken and pulled pork), as well as offering a Mediterranean nacho dish with pita chips.

Petty critique: They might want to consider a design tweak as well. I wish they had extended the wood planking throughout the restaurant's walls and covered up that dreadful faux brick. But it's another area of improvement that they're being patient with, and patience, much like JJ's uncompromising take on food quality and taste, is a virtue.

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