[Sidebar] November 25 - December 2, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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Chevys Fresh Mex

Surprisingly good chain fare

by Dawn Keable

1376 Bald Hill Road, Warwick, 823-4700
Open daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and until 11 p.m. Fri-Sat.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

It's something that many Rhode Islanders begin grappling with every year around Thanksgiving. Sooner or later, if you have any hopes of finishing your holiday shopping, you'll have to venture to the state's strip mall mecca, Route 2 in Warwick. But this year, Chevys Fresh Mex offers a good choice for rejuvenation after endless traffic jams and fights for parking spots.

Set in the Bald Hill Road location that used to house an East Side Mario's, this bright new dining spot is the first Chevys in the Northeast for its San Francisco-based operators. My husband, Andre, and I recently stopped in for dinner after a frazzled Saturday spent shopping, of course, to test their pledge of a can-free kitchen, where everything is made from scratch.

With high ceilings and overhead fans, the restaurant's interior has the same airy warehouse feel of its predecessor. But with different brightly colored cloths on each table, Spanish names identifying the bar, bathrooms and kitchen, and Latin jazz playing on the sound system, there was no mistaking what type of cuisine would be served in this festive atmosphere. Granted, the ambience might have felt a little contrived with prominently displayed maracas, sombreros and Mexican blankets, but we would soon discover that the food was far from typical chain fare.

Once seated, we were approached by three different servers. As we waited for them to pinpoint whose jurisdiction we were in, we munched on a complimentary basket of tortilla chips and a delicious homemade salsa flavored with cilantro and onions. To wash the chips down, Andre sampled a fresh fruit margarita ($4.50). The featured fruit of the season, cranberry, was mixed with whipped cream and served with a wedge of lime, for a drink that was very tart, smooth and loaded with fruit pulp.

Our Mexican feast officially began with a tasty order of chicken taquitos ($5.99). The appetizer featured six wraps of mildly spicy chopped chicken rolled in crisp red corn tortillas. Artfully arranged with corn husks in a circular pattern around mixed greens and a side of sweet jalapeno jelly, the starter was as pleasing to our eyes as it was to our appetites.

Chevys offers an extensive selection of fajitas for main courses. Andre selected Plato Gordo ($13.99). The giant sizzling platter was heaped with jumbo shrimp, baby back ribs, mesquite grilled chicken breast and strips of skirt steak. As a self-proclaimed rib expert, my spouse's only complaint was the lack of meat on the ribs. But he had plenty of vegetables, including red peppers, onions, summer squash, zucchini, scallions and carrots, to help make up for it.

I went with the tropical chicken ($10.99). The tender mesquite grilled chicken breast, marinated in pineapple juices for a burst of fruity flavor, was complemented by pineapple tidbits, along with slices of green peppers and onions. My plate included a guacamole-filled tortilla cup and a serving, just small enough to make me for more, of sweet corn tomalito, a kernel-laden concoction that tasted like corn muffin batter.

Our entrees were served with sides of Mexican rice and a choice of black or refried beans. (In the only mistake of the night, our bean orders were mixed up. But it wasn't a big problem -- we didn't even notice until halfway through the meal that we weren't eating exactly what we had ordered. And by then, we didn't want to switch.) If that wasn't enough, our meals included sides of guacamole, sour cream, garden greens, pico de gallo and wonderfully soft tortillas for custom wraps. We easily had more than enough left over for another meal.

And if dinner was good, dessert was off the chart. Coconut cajeta ($4.50) featured four scoops of rich vanilla ice cream, rolled in toasted coconut, and topped with a homemade caramel sauce spiked with cinnamon, whipped cream and cactus-shaped tortillas. The double chocolate sopapillas ($3.99) were flaky fried chocolate tortilla pillows, topped with Mexican chocolate and powdered sugar. My dessert was so massive that I could have shared it with the next table -- had I been able to stop eating it.

Not only is Chevys a great stop to refuel, it also could help with some of your shopping. With the purchase of a gift certificate, customers receive a pinata. Now won't that liven up your holiday celebration?

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