New Openings: El Jefe
One of Mississauga's most highly anticipated restaurants has its soft opening today! It's one of only three full-service Mexican restaurants in Mississauga and it's called El Jefe, which translates to "the boss" or "the chief" in Spanish.
Proprietor's Jonathan Harvey, John Martino and James Tsougios hired a trio of Canada-based, international visual artists -- including Bruno Smoky, Shalak Attack and Fiya Bruxa -- to liven up the long alley with vivid Mexican-inspired graffiti.
The street art at El Jefe is like no other in Mississauga. It has completely transformed the resto's notoriously drab laneway into a vibrant conversation piece that instantly captured the attention of international graffiti fans and locals.
The interior is equally colourful and filled with refurbished barn board and authentic Mexican decor, such as an impressive display of 40 sombreros on the wall (40!). Calaveras (decorative skulls used in a celebration called the Day of the Dead) are scattered throughout the bar area. What's just as impressive is how they sourced and imported that many pieces from Mexico in one trip - good times, I'd imagine!
It's no surprise that El Jefe is a highly anticipated hotspot, since Tsougios is the visionary behind another inventive speakeasy style bar/restaurant called Door FiftyFive, located just 28 metres across from El Jefe.
Tsougios collaborated with Harvey (he was part of the original Door FiftyFive team) and Martino and consulted Door FiftyFive's chef Tiago Pablo during the restaurant's culinary concept phase to create another ground-breaking spot in Mississauga.
Pablo's from-scratch menu features Mexican cuisine that reflects his experience and culinary influences. These include the African and Portuguese cuisines of his childhood, sampled during summers spent in Spain and Portugal and years working at an independent Tex-Mex restaurant. The menu is fresh and as colourful as the graffiti on the wall.
"People are hungry for something like this in Mississauga and are tired of cookie cutter [corporate] restaurants,” says Pablo.
“It's what made Door FiftyFive successful and what will make El Jefe successful too…you can’t fake freshness or quality food and we're helping to change the food culture in Mississauga.”
El Jefe, like a number of other indie restaurants opening up in Mississauga, helps keep people in the city and beckons outsiders to come visit. Often (mistakenly) thought of as a bedroom community comprised of nothing but chain restos, more people are realizing that Sauga's food scene is second to none and offers a great alternative (or even compliment) to TO's restos. Now, people can skip the drive downtown and save a ton on parking when they're looking for a resto with personality and flavor. Port Credit makes it easy to support local, reasonably priced, independent businesses with back-to back eateries, bars and shops all within a few blocks. It's an area that continues to expand and one that has transformed from a small strip of pubs to a recognized go-to spot in the city.
We're seeing a shift in Mississauga to from-scratch dishes and house-made accompaniments that creates a unique identity for a restaurant and our city. This is something worth bragging about and a damn good reason to support our "local food movement," as Pablo describes what he sees happening in Mississauga.
"El Jefe gives people something very reflective of the Toronto downtown take on Mexican food and bringing that to Mississauga is exciting," says Harvey.
Harvey has worked in the food service industry for most of his life, toiling in corporate chains, mom and pop shops and eventually owning his own restaurant. He also worked abroad in the Caymen Islands, where he met El Jefe's mixologist and bar manager Adam Slobodian -- a man who brings years of industry experience to the table. He designed the bar that not only looks good, but is efficient. Most notably, Slobodian designed El Jefe's lengthy list of one-of-a-kind tequila based cocktails.
Unique For: "Our tagline is 'Mexican cuisine by three non-Mexicans'," says Harvey. The easy-going menu and dining experience is one where, "you can down a sangria or margarita, enjoy the patio and people watch in Port Credit."
The long heated and covered patio is located in the front of the restaurant in the graffiti-rich alleyway.
Food Menu: The menu as described by Pablo as having many layers to it. For example the chicken chimichanga is "sweet, spicy and crunchy. It has a three-pepper roasted tomatillo (Mexican green tomato) that is seared off with olive oil and spices mixed with roasted garlic, roasted poblano and chipotle peppers that are pureed down to serve as the base of the dish. It is stuffed with seared chicken breast, spinach, roasted corn and cheese, deep fried and covered in a mango Pico de Gallo," says Pablo.
The menu also features table-side made guacamole and house-made flour tortillas, sauces and salsas. Pablo has incorporated three main cheeses throughout the menu, including Mexican queso fresco, Spanish manchego and American Monterey jack cheeses.
The diverse, mouth-watering menu includes dishes such as ceviche, Corona-battered blooming onions, taquitos, baked empanadas, seven different tacos (chicken, fish, steak, calamari and more), burritos, carnitas, a signature beavertail taco and a classic Mexican sweet favourite - churros.
Signature Dishes: The chicken chimichanga (described above), con-queso street corn (El Jefe's spin on this Mexican classic includes fire roasted corn and red pepper, baked with queso fresco and manchego cheese, blended with house-made Pico de Gallo and infused with oven-roasted garlic and served with seasoned nacho chips and spicy fried plantains) and Mexican Roulette (lightly dusted avocado-stuffed roasted sweet peppers - one of them stuffed with a mouthful of El Jefe death sauce). The death sauce Mexican Roulette is a hot surprise waiting for you! It's also topped with queso fresco and sour cream. Lastly, El Jefe's 5 lb burrito, which is stuffed with beef,chicken, pork, vegetables and cheese and served with a side of guacamole, salsa, sour cream and house-made avocado and jalapeno aioli.
I tried two of the signature dishes: the chicken chimichanga and the con-queso street corn. The chimichanga is huge! It's a meal and then some! It's hard not to finish the dish with the variety of textures and flavours that tease your palate for more. The con-queso street corn is made into a delicious gooey melted cheese dip with crunchy bits of roasted corn and paired with tajine spiced crispy tortilla and plantains. The tanginess of the tajine spice and cheese dip pair well together and it's easy to see how these will be flying out of the kitchen.
Cocktail Menu: Mixologist Slobodian has prepared an extraordinary menu that incorporates A LOT of tequila, seasonal flavours and fresh ingredients. Slobodian has travelled the globe from Australia to Mexico working in a white-glove service establishment, toiling as a breakfast cook and hotel bartender.
"Tequila is more than just shooters and frozen margaritas. All of our house cocktails are tequila based with various flavours. We want to educate people on a great spirit mixed with fresh ingredients such as herbs, berries, and citrus," says Slobodian.
The drink menu includes a wide range of tequila brands from $4 to $130 an ounce and also boasts Mezcal, sangria, margaritas, beer (draught, bottles and cans), wine, prosecco and champagne.
Signature Cocktails: El Jefe's signature drinks include red and white sangria and miracle marg and chi-chi Rodriguez. The Grenada sangria (red) is made with cabernet merlot, house-made pomegranate sangria mix and topped with a splash of soda water. The sangria blanco is a sauvignon blanc based sangria mixed with a house-made fresh fruit citrus mix and topped with soda water. The chi-chi Rodriguez is a play on all-time favourite Arnold Palmer (a refreshing lemonade and iced tea based cocktail). El Jefe's version includes 1800 Reposado tequila, earl grey tea, honey syrup and fresh lime juice. Lastly, the miracle marg (watermelon margarita) has house-brined watermelon, Milagro Reposado tequila, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, agave syrup and is garnished with fresh mint.
Slobodian's cocktails will erase any horrific memories you have of your college days of cheap tequila shooters and the hangover that followed. Like any superb cocktail, the flavours must be balanced and if you didn't appreciate tequila before - you will now.
I tried the El Valente(The Brave One) and it has a slight bite from the house-made mango habanero puree balanced with the sweetness from the fresh, ripe mangoes. It is a Patron blanco tequila based drink with Cointreau and fresh lime juice. It's the perfect summer drink!
The red and white sangria are also ideal on a warm summer night on their patio. The house-made fruit based mixes make these bevys unique, not too sweet and refreshing. I foresee a lot of sangria nights this summer!
The bloody Mariais El Jefe's version of a bloody Caesar, which includes in-house spicy Caesar mix, Reposado tequila and is garnished with fresh jalapeno, chorizo and lime. This cocktail is super savory with just enough spice and easily trumps any Canadian Caesar I've tried.
Paloma is a simple, refreshing, pretty in pink cocktail that includes 1800 Blanco tequila, Aperol, pink grapefruit juice, simple syrup and topped with a splash of soda and mint.
Finally, I tried the Anejo Old Fashioned, which is Slobodian's version of a classic old fashioned and includes Casamigos Anejo, spicy chai syrup, a dash of bitters and a fresh orange rind. It's smooth with a hint of spice and if you love a good old fashioned cocktail, you will definitely appreciate El Jefe's version of it.
Opening date: April 20, 2016
What’s Up and Coming? Grand opening event on May 5 on Cinco de Mayo, seasonal menu changes, weekly features for both drinks and food, monthly full moon parties, DJ nights and possibly open mic nights.
Restaurant Seats: 120
Patio: Yes and it's heated with a canopy (seats 76).
Licensed: Of course!
Granada Sangria (Red) Santa Carolina cabernet merlot, house-made pomegranate sangria mix, topped with a splash of soda. Sangria Blanco Santa Carolina sauvignon blanc mixed with our fresh fruit citrus recipe, topped with soda water.
Paloma - 1800 Blanco Tequila, Aperol, pink grapefruit juice & simple syrup, topped with a splash of soda.
Chicken Chimichanga - This deep fried version of a burrito is stuffed with pan-seared chicken breast, spinach, roasted corn and monterey jack cheese then covered in a house-made mango pico salsa and three pepper tomatillo sauce and topped with sour cream.
Con-Queso Street Corn - Spin on a Mexican favourite - Fire roasted corn and red pepper, baked with queso fresco and manchego cheese, blended with house-made casa pico de gallo and infused with oven-roasted garlic. Served with seasoned nacho chips and spicy fried plantains.
Milagro Pescata a Milagro margarita marinated white fish, fresh sliced avocado, queso fresco and our mango pico salsa.
The Matadero grilled Corona marinated steak, enoki mushroom slaw, casa pico de gallo and smoked Canadian cheddar.