The Mexican food is creative and flavorful and El El Frijoles is also a whole lot of fun!
With a weekend planned in Deer Isle, we were searching for a Friday night dinner in that area when I discovered El El Frijoles in Jillian and Malcolm Bedell’s book, “Eating in Maine.” The Bedell’s were effusive in their praise. Jillian reported, “The crab quesadilla, a menu item I would not ordinarily think to order, was incredible, and it got better with every bite.” Yup. I wanted to eat there!
And boy, was that a good choice. In an old barn, Michele Levesque and Michael Rossney have created a popular and fun place to eat their impressive array of Mexican cuisine. Their story is a good one, too. Michael’s family has had a house in the area since 1905 and he spent summers here.
They were living in California — Michael was a professional photographer and Michele was an art teacher — when they up and sold everything they had and moved here to live the good Maine life 8 years ago. At a local market, they started serving burritos, cooked at their home and put together at the kitchen table. Then they turned a small barn behind their home into El El Frijoles.
There are 12 seats inside and a larger seating area in a screened-in building, plus picnic tables scattered around outside. It’s a very homey place — well, partly because their home is right there, with a playground for kids, but also because they are just so darned friendly. Michele and Michael now have a 5-year old child — and jobs that keep them busy for 70 to 80 hours per week. But, amazingly, they are always smiling. Perhaps that’s what Maine does for you.
We were there with our longtime friends, Rusty and Sue Atwood, who have been visiting the Pilgrim’s Inn in Deer Isle for several years and who convinced us to join them there this year and write about it. It turned out to be a spectacular weekend and El El Frijoles got us off to a great start.
OK, OK . . . I know you are anxious to hear about the food. I’ve been saving the best for last, I guess. Linda and I love Mexican food, particularly when it is done with creative flare. And I can tell you that this is not a typical tacos kind of place. For one thing, they emphasize healthy and nutritious food — but please be aware this does not mean boring or lacking in taste. Just the opposite, actually.
When I asked Michael for help in selecting my food, he first mentioned the day’s special, a Crabmeat Quesadilla with melted cheese (a combination of Wisconsin cheddar and cream cheese), lettuce, cooked slow for crispiness and served with guacamole. I felt like it was my lucky day! This is just the thing that Jillian Bedell wrote about. And it was a great choice — delicious and gooey (a three-napkin meal!) and lots of fun to eat. I settled on the middle-range spicy salsa, put some of the crunchy slaw on top with a dip of guacamole and holy mole!
They were very busy the entire time we were there, long before tourist season. Clearly, the local folks savor this extraordinary place. And now we will too!
Who would have ever thought one could find authentic Mexican food in Sargentville, Maine? We relied on our trusty Delorme map to find El El Frijoles. (Frijoles means beans in Spanish, so there is a bit of wit behind the name.) State Route 175 south of Bucksport twisted and turned through beautiful scenery. At one point, as we wove our way toward Sargentville, we thought we were lost, and George actually stopped at a house to ask for directions. (Real men apparently can learn to ask for directions!) In any case, I am very glad we found this little gem of a restaurant.
The first thing you notice when you enter will probably be the delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen that is behind the counter in front of you. El El Frijoles has specials posted above the ordering counter, but do pick up one of the laminated menus to peruse their regular offerings.
The specialness of this place can’t be emphasized enough. They make almost everything from scratch and strive to use local organic ingredients. Some ingredients they grow themselves. The raised beds outside were already planted with a variety of vegetables and herbs and they also have a small greenhouse.
The menu concentrates on quesadillas, tacos and burritos but do not be fooled into thinking this is boring fare! Michelle has a creative flare and the food here is truly authentic Mexican. There are seven fillings offered for the tacos and burritos — three vegetarian choices and four meat versions.
I was equally tempted by all the choices, but went with Michele’s suggestion of the Pork Carnitas version of tacos ($9.95). What a basket of food! Three handmade soft corn tortillas came topped with that incredible meat filling along with a cabbage slaw, crema and some of the best guacamole you will ever have. This is not a crunchy taco topped with cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. This taco was a full meal.
The shredded pork filling was juicy, a little spicy and as the menu promised “way tasty.” But the thing that makes these tacos outstanding is the Ensalada de la Paz — lime-marinated sliced cabbage, tossed with tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, chilies and spices. It is crisp, tangy and a great companion to the taco fillings. This is an elegant version of a taco, and one that our friend Sue said reminded her of tacos she’d eaten in Tucson, Ariz.
The taco plate is rounded out with organic black beans and Mexican rice. Both were expertly seasoned and made great sides. Or you can choose the burrito ($6.95-$8.95 if you exclude the lobster version), which is a flour tortilla grilled with cheese, topped with rice and beans and a choice of fillings.
Besides the Carnitas, they offer Pollo Cocido — chicken braised in lime; Carne Asada — char-grilled steak marinated in lime; and Spicy Lobster. They also offer a vegetarian option of Rajas y Papas — potatoes and cheeses baked with poblano chillies and cream, or whatever the fresh grilled veggies happen to be that day.
They make their own fresh salsa daily and it comes in mild, medium and hot. We gravitated toward the mild (pleasant and fresh) and the medium (spicier but not too hot). They sell these by the pint or half-pint for take away.
The drinks here are freshly made as well. We tried the Horchata, a traditional Mexican beverage made with almond flour and rice, flavored with vanilla, sugar and a hint of cinnamon. There were several more intriguing ones including the Mojito Madness and the Agua Fresca which Rusty and Sue loved.
If you are anywhere near Deer Isle this summer, get off U.S. Route 1 and take the short drive to El El Frijoles!
Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.