Monday, August 25, 2014

Qdoba Mexican Grill

180 Gravois Bluffs Cir
Fenton, Mo.

'Qdoba' is Spanish for . . . Well, actually it's not Spanish, Mexican, Aztec, Latin, or Dutch for anything. It's one of those made up words that sounds like it means something but is actually the result of a 'branding' exercise to come up with a name that has no meaning in any language. That's just in case a company eventually goes global and finds out that their carefully and reasonably crafted English name translates in Malaysia or Portugal to something like 'puny man parts'.
Qdoba is wholly owned by another food franchise heavy hitter, Jack in the Box.
The food is classified as 'Fresh Mex' to differentiate itself from Taco Bell where all the ingredients are made of decades old space age polymers and squeezed from a tube.
The Place:
This was my choice, for all the wrong reasons.
I needed some new spiral notebooks, of a specific size and thickness. None of the places I usually go to shop at, by that I mean Walmart, carried them. I was going to need an office supply store. I recalled that Gravois Bluffs, the enormous and not too distant shopping center in Fenton had one. The Bluffs also hosts a dozen or more eateries from Subway to Olive Garden, so I told the family they needed to pick one of those for our weekend excursion. Once again, they wouldn't decide, so I looked up the roster and chose the only one we'd never been to. Qdoba.
We were not craving Mexican, in fact we'd had Mexican, real Mexican, the week before.
I had the family scan the online menu ahead of time so they would not embarrass me when we got there. I knew that the Q was counter-order, like a fast food chain, with many, many options, like at subway.
This sort of thing is a lot of pressure for a family of indecisive introverts. I suggested we try to order different things and share the variety.
The place was bigger than it looked, a high open ceiling, plenty of open floor space.
The counter was way in the back.
The Food:
We lined up, fortunately there were some people in front of us. We each tried to decipher the options. Finally Angel stepped up and ordered nachos. We noted that the place worked like Subway. Choices, choices, choices. The man serving our account seemed to have a mastery of the task. He knew all the options and delivered them as multiple choice, one at a time. Angel asked for the grilled chicken with guacamole and sour cream. Adam stepped up and settled for a burrito with chicken and pinto beans. I panicked and asked for two tacos and a bowl of their signature gumbo. One soft taco, one crispy, chicken on one, steak on the other, cheese and sour cream all around. The gumbo is made from 'taco soup' and can
be topped just like the other items. I added brown beans and steak, sour cream and corn. The server deftly processed the three diverse orders simultaneously without a mistake. The food came together quickly, Angel settled up and took possession of the three cups. She passed them out and pointed to the drink dispenser. Adam groaned, it was a one spigot electronic device, he hates those. Too many choices, too many buttons, one person at a time. He got his soda, Angel tasted the tea and made a sour face. "Bitter." she said, I think referring to the tea. I decided to have something else rather than write up yet another fast food chain for their lousy tea. So I braved the machine and took on some ginger ale. I don't drink soda pop very often, but when I do it's usually the tart, sweet, ale of the ginger.
We found a table, there were plenty available. The decor was stainless steel tables and nice wooden chairs.
Of course the table kind of made it seem like we were eating off of medical equipment. They clean up easily though, I imagine.
I'd grabbed a knife, fork and spoon, a straw and some napkins. Angel and Adam forgot napkins so I shared. I'm big hearted like that.
Gumbo + 2 tacos
I tasted some fallen meat fragments from  my basket. The steak and chicken were both fantastic! Grilled slowly, still moist and tender. The tortillas were great as well, fresh, thin, quite unlike the recycled phone books you get at Taco Bell. The taco ingredients were sizable chunks and fell freely since the Q doesn't use 'food as paste' like that other, horrible place. The tastes were all bright and indeed fresh. Angel and I decided that this must be Cali-Mex, since it seemed like the sort of thing a Californian would serve up (Qdoba is actually from Colorado, which is pretty much like California but with snow and thin, instead of chunky, sepia toned air.)
My gumbo was kind of disappointing. After a few bites, the earthy spices in the soup base drowned out the tastes of the individual ingredients. A stew/gumbo base should have flavor, but not too strong. Like this it was simply overpowering the freshness of the other stuff. There was also the temperature problem. I had noticed the finely shredded cheese topping was not melting. The gumbo was, at best, tepid, like it had been setting on the table for twenty minutes. I don't like 'cold' soups and stews. I only managed a few bites.
Angel liked just about everything about her nachos. The fresh, crispy, salty chips, even the guacamole. I don't get guac. For as green as it is it seems to me that it should have a distinct, if not strong taste. I don't dislike the taste, but for me it doesn't bring much to the party. The poop-like texture doesn't help either.
Adam was okay with his burrito, though he said it was a single note meal and he'd probably order something else should he ever go back.
Overall we were quite pleased. We liked the idea, fresher, better quality 'fast' food at a reasonable price (under $30 for us). It's hardly an authentic Mexican restaurant like Coyol or Los Portales, it is definitely more like a Subway than an Applebees. Counter ordering, plastic forks, paper cups, self serve drinks. It is really nothing like Taco Bell since the Q uses actual, recognizable ingredients with actual nutritional value.
The gumbo was cold, that can be fixed. The soup base was not to my tastes, but the other items were. I loved the little tacos and now have a better idea of the kind(s) I would order next time. Yes, there will probably be a next time.
The place was clean, modern, spacious and busy. The crew worked efficiently and quickly.
I would advise new customers to plan ahead, there are many, many decisions to make for every offering. We did this and were able to immediately dismiss mangoes and black beans, things none of us care for. We'd also learned about the sweet corn salsa, which I highly recommend.
Qdoba is a refreshing alternative to that terrible, awful, disgusting Taco place, you know the one.

Qdoba Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

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