New Mexican eatery in converted factory serves up quality food at reasonable prices
Thursday, August 22, 2013 12:00 PM
In 2000, when Adelo Ramirez opened Tortilleria los Gemelos at 167 Westchester Ave., he said there were only three Mexican restaurants in Port Chester. Now 12 eateries are listed under the "Mexican" heading in this "Dining Out" section, only one of which is situated in Rye Brook, the rest in Port Chester. The newest, Pollos al Carbon los Gemelos at 6 North Pearl St., is Ramirez's latest creation.
The dining room at Pollos al Carbon los Gomolos, Port Chester's newest Mexican restaurant, includes seating at booths as well as at colorful wooden tables and chairs imported from Mexico
Located on the ground floor of the attractive red brick Simons building, an old factory that has been cut up into spaces for artist studios, a promotional clothing designer, a barber shop and various other uses, Pollos al Carbon, as its name implies, focuses on grilled chicken. Its small menu does contain several other meat and seafood dishes, however, as well as a few appetizers and some sides.
"Our menu is healthy," said the personable Ramirez. "Everything is grilled." So far "what's really selling is the grilled chicken." No surprise there.
As he did with his tortilleria, Ramirez started out offering only a few items-just four varieties of tacos-and branched out from there, adding what his customers requested. This time he has created a set menu and doesn't plan to expand it greatly over time.
"I want to keep it simple," he said. However, he has been introducing the items on the menu over time as he sees the demand.
For example, when I visited with my husband and daughter and then again with my husband last week, they only had three meat entrées and one fish dish. Since then they have added ¼ chicken in a red hot sauce ("it's like stew," said Ramirez), another fish, whole grilled lobster and 12 little neck clams in green sauce.
The only entrées left to fulfill the menu are the grilled octopus ($10) and 12 mussels in a spicy green tomatillo sauce ($10) which are expected to be added in a few weeks.
And while no desserts were offered last week, now you can get fried plantains with condensed milk as well as coffee which can be flavored with piquete, a coffee-flavored tequila, for an extra zing.
The concept for this second restaurant within a block of the other one was a different menu including chicken, pork ribs and beef, grilled porgy, codfish or catfish and lobster, calamari, clams, octopus and mussels.
"Since our menu is totally different, we're not competing against each other," said Ramirez, adding that "the Mexican cuisine is so huge that one restaurant doesn't do everything. I could probably open another restaurant and make it totally different from either of these restaurants."
Pollos al Carbon was a long time in coming. The festive sign for the restaurant has appeared on the Pearl Street side of the Simons building, halfway between Westchester and Irving avenues, for more than a year, leading passersby to wonder when or if something was ever going to open there. So June 22, 2013-the day it opened for business-is a date Ramirez will never forget.
At 36, Ramirez epitomizes the definition of an entrepreneur. He began selling $1 tacos at Tortilleria los Gemelos and with his new restaurant has continued the philosophy of offering value to his customers. The chicken, pork ribs and beef chuck (bistek asado) entrées cost only $5 and come with sides of yellow or white rice, beans, roasted potatoes or salad. Fish, mussels, octopus and clams go for a reasonable $10. Only the 1-to 1¼-pound lobster is somewhat pricey at $35.
Ramirez was very defensive about the price of the homemade sangria ($9 a glass). It's excellent, by the way, with great flavor and lots of fruit.
"The sangria is expensive because we don't water it down," he said. Nor is it served with ice. "We use the right wine with the right liquor. We give you quality. I want everyone to go to Los Gemelos for quality, not for quantity."
So be sure to have the sangria and, if you're a little adventurous, you should have a fun, interesting experience at Pollos al Carbon. You'll definitely get your money's worth.
If you don't speak Spanish, you may have some difficulty communicating with the waitress (she does speak some English), but it's worth the experience anyway. You may not get exactly what you want, but whatever you get will be good and it won't cost you an arm and a leg. If Ramirez is on location, he speaks fluent English as well as Spanish. Having immigrated to Port Chester when he was five and not having been back to his native Mexico in 22 years, he said his Spanish probably isn't so great.
On one occasion three in our party each enjoyed a glass of sangria ($27), we each devoured delicious chicken soup served in metal bowls with handles and were charged $8 for all of them, my daughter ordered half a grilled chicken ($5), my husband had grilled porgy ($10) (which he thought was catfish because that's what it says on the menu) and I had grilled pork ribs ($5). All came with yellow rice and a nice salad of greens, tomatoes and sliced avocado. The tasty chicken had crispy skin, the porgy was small and a little fishy, but my husband enjoyed it, and the ribs were great-tasting and tender as could be.
Dishes are nicely presented on metal plates with miniature Mexican flags sticking out of the potatoes or rice on each. Warm tortillas placed in a container on the table allow you to wrap your meat or fish up in them and add the medium-spicy homemade tomato and jalapeno salsa served to each table in a small metal pitcher along with a dish of spicier red onion and jalapeno ceviche. The latter is listed on the menu as a side for $3.50 but is for now complimentary. These can be used to enliven the flavor of any dish.
Our entire meal for three came to $59.06 without tip.
On another visit my husband and I split a bottle of their Mexican cabernet sauvignon, a bargain at $10. There's only one type of wine on the menu, and this is it. "I'm trying to encourage people to try the wine," said Ramirez. "Mexico is not a place for wine, but more a place for tequila."
There are also Mexican beers ($5), margaritas and pina coladas. The drinks are served on the rocks for now, but eventually a frozen option will also be available. These come in strawberry, lime or pina colada flavors, virgin ($3.50) or with Tequila Azul ($7.50).
Besides the wine, we had Papas a la diabla ($5), roasted potatoes in a spicy brown sauce ($5), an appetizer, which were fine but turned out to be unnecessary because I also got potatoes with my meal. I had the chicken, ribs and bistek combination which came with rice and roasted potatoes ($10). This allowed me to try a little bit of everything. My husband had the bistek asado ($5) which came with yellow rice and beans (frijoles), the latter served in a hard tortilla shell. Bistek, translated as beef chuck, is actually thinly sliced beef on a thinly sliced bone. It was charbroiled and salty. I know Mexican natives love it, but this entrée isn't meaty enough for me. We also got salad on a separate plate.
This meal for two totaled $32.21.
On my two dinner outings to Pollos al Carbon, I immediately noticed the appealing open kitchen, and when I later met with Ramirez, he also remarked on it. He said it showed customers they're getting what they pay for and it also "keeps us on top of cleanness. There is no way we can have our kitchen or walls dirty when people are seeing it."
Besides individual meals, chicken, ribs and beef chuck can also be ordered family style ($10 for a whole chicken, $12 for a pound of spare ribs or a pound of beef chuck plus $2 per person for sides).
Restaurant was created from scratch
This restaurant was created from scratch in a space that had been Vellone Promotions. Vellone makes T-shirts and other apparel with the name of a company, school, team or organization on them. It has since moved upstairs in the building.
Ramirez said the experience of doing everything from scratch, including installing a new sewer line, was priceless, "but I don't think I'll ever do it again." He started in 2010, and there was some back and forth. First of all, the sewer line was too small for a restaurant and had to be replaced. That took a year for the landlord to accomplish.
Adelo's brother, Carmelo, who is in construction, created the restaurant from a shell. Carmelo is not his twin but looks a lot like him and thus the name Los Gemelos (the twins) emerged for his first restaurant which has been carried over to this one.
Because of the open kitchen and tall ceilings, there's an open feel to this whole space and it incorporates many of the original materials-including the 100-year-old wood floor which has been buffed till it's shiny and beautiful and the original wood ceiling to which fans have been added. Some of the walls are the original brick which has been painted white, portions are painted yellow and portions are covered with a stone facing for an eclectic look.
Seven newly constructed pale wood booths are hard on the fanny and make you sit up straight. Because they are more comfortable, I recommend the three colorful wooden tables with matching chairs-bright red and yellow decorated with Mexican scenes. Lastly, to complete the seating for 34, a long silvery metal counter with matching stools allows you to peer into the kitchen at close range.
Lighting is provided by stark white bulbs with stars above them hanging over the counter and red 3-dimensional star-shaped fixtures in other locations.
Ethnic music plays from a juke box at various noise levels depending on when you happen to go and three TVs situated around the room are visible from all angles.
For now at least, Pollos al Carbon is open from 10 a. m.-10 p. m. seven days a week.
Parking's a big issue
Parking is on the street, not in the lot on Pearl Street dedicated to the Simons building which is reserved for other tenants.
"Right now street parking is our big issue," said Ramirez, speaking about both his restaurants. When there are concerts at the nearby Capitol Theatre, "my regulars are not coming in, but we're making up for it from the Capitol." Here he referred to Tortilleria los Gemelos.
A parking structure is proposed to be built on the current Rye Town parking lot which is being purchased along with the Rye Town office building across the street at 10 South Pearl St. by a triumvirate of Peter Shapiro, owner of the Capitol, Dom Neri, president of Neri's Bakery Products, and White Plains attorney Anthony Tirone.
"With a big parking structure, that will solve our problem," said Ramirez. "We'll be able to have both The Capitol people and our regulars. Once the parking structure opens up for business, the streets will open up."
Competition's 'a good thing'
With 125 restaurants in Port Chester and Rye Brook and triple the number of Mexican restaurants from when Ramirez started his business in 2000, competition is keen. "It's up to you to continue providing the service, the quality of food and to innovate," he said. "Competition keeps you in shape. You pay attention to what you're doing and then let the customers decide where they are going to go."
Ramirez also in the tortilla business
Besides his two restaurants, Ramirez is also in the tortilla business. He used to manufacture them in his restaurant at 167 Westchester but outgrew that space and moved the operation to New Rochelle. He still makes tostadas in Port Chester. In New Rochelle he decided to open a chicken takeout place as part of his operation which gave him the idea for Pollos al Carbon in Port Chester. The Los Gemelos tortillas and tostadas can be found throughout Port Chester in most of the Hispanic stores, he said, and at the new Met Foods market on the corner of Irving Avenue and North Pearl Street.
Before this entrepreneur went out on his own, he learned the ins and outs of the restaurant business starting at a young age. Over the years he worked as a bus boy, runner, salad guy and sauté guy, mostly at Italian restaurants. Among his employers was the former Tony May's Hostaria in Port Chester, now Arrosto.
"When I grew up, there was no such thing as a Hispanic waiter," said Ramirez. Today most waiters in this area are Hispanic, even in the finest restaurants.