If you’ve watched the Food Network, you get the impression that a chef’s personality is reflected in their food. Granted, you usually see celebrity chefs making the meals that made them famous. Heck, they’re on the Food Network. If they weren’t emboldened by their success before being televised, they are certainly now ready to allow their identity to shine through in what they prepare. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to try out these dishes. Some of us are hampered by not living near their restaurants. Sometimes, the chefs have achieved such a level of fame that they’ve created mini-chains from which their personality has been diluted for the sake of easy preparation and mass consumption. Other times, their restaurants are just too damn expensive.
On my first visit to Pepe’s Place, I met Pepe himself. He is very warm and welcoming. As he would tell me on a later visit, “I like to think of my customers as clients.” Not a bad philosophy.
A side note: I never tip my hand that I’m writing a review. If I’m dining in, a camera does not get pulled out until my food arrives. If I am having take away, I wait until I get home to take any photos.
Pepe said, “I haven’t seen you here before.” He then brought out a little sampler platter. Right away, that spoke volumes. Here is a chef that is so proud of his food that he wants you to try out multiple dishes right away. Second, this is a business owner that is going out of the way to ensure that you see the diversity that his menu has to offer. All I could think to myself is, “Wow. I really hope this is good.” There’s nothing worse that liking the chef, but hating the meal.
Pepe’s sampler was very generous. It was three of his sides: Aged Reserve Cheddar Mac & Cheese ($4.00), Northern Soul Mustard Greens ($4.00), and Tahitian Vanilla Bean Yams ($4.00).
Here’s some pics of the full sides (Greens and Yams) from a later visit.
The Mustard Greens are magical. They have a tartness that many associate with mustard greens, but there is also a sweet quality. While there is a little tang, it doesn’t quite taste like the usual vinegar tang that many associate with cooked southern greens. Though there is a tinge of bitterness, the tart and the sweet balance it out very nicely. Unlike the bitterness of Broccoli Rabe, which usually needs another dish to curb its edge, these greens only had a slight bitter flavor to contrast a sweetness. It’s a complex and meaty dish that is well worth ordering.
The yams are magical. Unlike candied yams, the sweetness of this dish is not cloying. I imagine that it is the vanilla that keeps the dish from turning into a desert-like side. The yams are cooked perfectly. This is a must order. The gluten intolerant have no reason to complain. Those watching carbs, “Suck it up.” These are delicious. Run in place while you eat them.
The mac & cheese is very good. If you like a standard mac & cheese, it would be a very nice dish. The cheese is sharp, but not overly so. If it sounds like I’m hedging, it is because I make plenty of mac & cheese at home. I usually use a blend of cheeses. Admittedly, that is not for everyone, but I am a big fan. If you like a standard mac & cheese, Pepe’s is a good option.
If you order two or three sides on their own, you will have a wonderful filling meal. Pepe certainly does not skimp. Even my sampler platter was filling me up.
I went with the Moroccan Grilled Lamb Platter ($8.00). It is Pepe’s take on the Halal cart staple.
There is plenty of flavor in Pepe’s version. Comparing it to a standard Halal cart version is kind of like comparing a really good fast-food burger to a stakehouse burger. There is a richness and complexity of flavor to Pepe’s version. His rice is also quite good. The lamb is well cooked and the portion is generous. The white sauce is also good. It was a really good dinner version of the meal. It did not have the fast-food, greasy, salty flavor of a Halal cart version. Though it sounds like a diss on the Halal Cart version, I don’t mean it as one. If I’m drunk at 3am on a weekend, the Halal Cart version is perfect for cutting through all the booze in my stomach. Pepe’s is far more complex and refined. The only thing missing from Pepe’s version was hot sauce. Granted, I didn’t notice that until I was done, so it wasn’t really a glaring omission.
On my first visit, I also got to try out something else. Someone had phoned in an order of NY Buffalo Jumbo Shrimp ($15.00), but they had not come to pick it up. Pepe let me try. OMG!!! Wow! The shrimp is meaty and plump. The buffalo sauce is spicy and tangy, but not so hot as to overwhelm the seafood. It is a very popular dish on the menu and after one taste, there is no question as to why.
On my next visit, I got the Moroccan Grilled Lamb Gyro ($6.00).
It’s nicely done, but there is nothing so bold as to make it a must order over the other dishes I’ve mentioned.
Pepe’s is a small place, mostly take away, but there is some seating available. As Pepe himself told me, the menu isn’t huge, but everything on it is a dish he makes with pride. There is nothing on the menu for the sake of having it on the menu. Pepe’s Place may not look like a destination restaurant, but it absolutely worth the trip.
560 North Avenue
New Rochelle, NY 10801