Desperately seeking a good tortilla

In a perfect world, Williamstown might be blessed with a Mexican restaurant that offers up a variety of interesting dishes in a tasteful environment. Unfortunately, we must do with forty shades below perfection and it greets us with a less than memorable name: Desperado’s.

Before I illuminate exactly why I think you should stay away from this place, let me point out some redeeming factors. The food was hot, the service efficient and the bar stocked well enough to help ward off the rather disappointing food.

That said, let me drop my two cents on Mexican food and what that particular cuisine entails. Because the majority of Mexico’s population lives not only in poverty, but many times in geographic areas at an agricultural disadvantage, the food is basic. Scarcity of ingredients leads to creative recipes, and if a chef is only working with eight or ten different components, then each one better be pretty respectable. I’m talking about light, fresh, melt-in-your-mouth tortillas and bright fresh vegetables. I’m talking about appropriate spicing, not to cover up the taste of the food, but to highlight and accentuate it. And the beans and rice had better be damn good.

Desperado’s, tucked between Wild Oats Market and Colonial Pizza over in Colonial Shopping Plaza on Rt. 2, spells out “corny” with every aspect of its decor. Porcelain sombreros drape the walls, accompanied by a full set of musical instruments and a desert mural. And look how cute the salt and pepper shakers are! They’re shaped like little Corona bottles! I appreciate a restaurant that tries to transport me to another place, but not another planet, and certainly not one that makes me feel ill enough to vomit up my chimichanga.

If you are able to ignore the tacky surroundings, you will discover a fairly extensive menu. Of course, everything I’ve eaten there tastes the same, but at least you can choose something with a cool name. On my most recent visit I ordered the chicken taquetas, which are small corn tortillas that are rolled, stuffed and served with salsa and sour cream. This particular item intrigued me because I distinctly remember eating them as an after-school snack in the fifth grade. The only difference was that my mother bought them frozen in bulk and they were called “taquitos.” I’ll wager to say I enjoyed my mom’s frozen “-itos” better than Desperado’s “-etas.”

Aside from the traditional Tex-Mex appetizers like chips and salsa and nachos, Desperado’s also offers potato skins and Buffalo wings. Aside from catering to the picky eater, I can’t figure out why they would include these on their menu, but the trend continues with a section of “Gringo Favorites.” Here a lucky diner can find cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches and French fries. Got me.

For my main course I chose the “Red Haired Mexican,” an entrée promising flour tortillas stuffed with spiced beef, chile and red chile sauce, and topped with melted cheese. Needless to say, the name of the dish was more stimulating than the food itself; it wasn’t bad by any means, but it certainly didn’t excite me. These entrees are filling, and since my order came with sides of rice and beans, I ended up not only rolling out of the restaurant, but rolling out with leftovers (given the right situation, my roommate will eat anything). If spicy isn’t your style, than you can order from ten other main dishes such as fajitas, enchiladas, burritos,or Mariscos Grande, an odd mix of local seafood over rice and a crisp flour tortilla.

For the vegetarians, or those inclined towards healthy food, there isn’t that much from which to choose. In fact, the only thing I found is something called “Broccoli Grande.” No, it’s not a very large piece of broccoli, as the name implies; instead it’s broccoli, mushrooms and cheese over rice and a flour tortilla. I think it important to note, however, that Desperado’s seems open to experimentation, and you could probably design your own dish if you smile big enough.

If you still aren’t full, you can pick though a number of dessert options, ranging from fried bananas to strawberry shortcake to French silk pie. I chose flan, a custard dish, and for $2.50 it wasn’t bad, but the caramel sauce it swam in tasted loose and diluted.

Beer drinkers should be happy with their choice of a dozen bottled beers and Dos Equis and Coors Light on tap, but I would recommend trying one of their Margaritas.

When it comes down to the grit, this place isn’t worth your dollar, or $21, which is how much I spent for a full meal without booze. If you’re itching to eat some Tex-Mex, I’d suggest making the drive up to Rattlesnake Cafe in Bennington, or better yet, hold tight and wait for someone to bless Billsville with something better.

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