Yesterday I got my 'Free Lunch' courtesy of the folks at Mad Mex in Willow Grove. If you read my previous post, you know that Mad Mex is a Cal-Mex casual restaurant with locations in Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia, State College and now Willow Grove PA.
On arriving it was obvious that the construction wasn't quite finished but this didn't stop the hoards of diners who wanted their 'free lunch.' Particularly pleasant was the open sided bar and dining areas. The walls are 3/4 windows that open up so it looks like you're outdoors. This makes the restaurant look more spacious and less crowded that if the walls were closed in. The graphics and art around the restaurant are unique to say the least...fine as long as you're sober, but I sure wouldn't want to look at the back wall of the bar if I'd had one too many Big Azz Margaritas! The sleek green cactus that is on the Mad Mex signage as well as on their glassware is appealing to the eye. The one trick with all the metal artwork around this restaurant is going to be keeping all the cutouts in it dust free! We were seated in a corner and the artwork there was already dusty.
Food & Drinks--after all, this is why you really come to a restaurant right? First of all, drinks. The Dos Equis was served with a slice of lime that had been pre-squeezed into my husband's beer. Also the beer didn't have a head. I was the designated driver and was hoping to have a virgin Margarita--no such thing--so if you don't want alcohol to drink you have to rely on soda or iced tea. I chose a simple iced tea--may I suggest you choose soda or plain water? The tea was served hot with four melting ice cubes. Even an additional glass full of ice didn't cool it down sufficiently and the flavor was disappointing. Refills were slow or non-existent.
Food-Our appetizer was nachos, they were well executed but if you're counting calories...choose a salad instead! Nachos had plenty of cheese, lots of meat and the serving was plenty for three or four. The nachos arrived hot and ready to eat--lot of jalapenos, so if you're not a pepper fan ask for them on the side. But what are nachos without peppers?
Our main course was shrimp fajitas. Plenty of onion and peppers under the skewers of a dozen jumbo shrimp. The shrimp were flavorful, well seasoned but a little tough. Maybe a little less grill time? Plenty of lettuce, tomato, cheese, guacamole and sour cream served on the side and four soft tortillas to wrap it all up. Messy to eat...but they gave us plenty of extra napkins. So a little less grill time on the shrimp and I'd order it again.
Desserts: Skip desserts at Mad Mex. Our waiter forgot to tell us that desserts were sized for two--so we were overwhelmed with the amount of dessert. I tried the brownie and ice cream--generic, an odd menu item for a Mexican restaurant. My husband tried the fried ice cream. I think they forgot to fry it. It was rock hard and doughy. If it's meant to be that way for sure avoid the desserts! By the time you get to dessert you will have fillled up on appetizers and your main course anyway.
Service: The hostess was pleasant and seated us promptly. She was polite and gave us information about Mad Mex when we said we hadn't been to one of their restaurants before. Our waiter was obviously new to waiting tables but working on it. To be fair, waiting tables when you first start takes nerves of steel! He's getting there. He was well versed on menu items and remembered to tell us about the specials and made suggestions. He brought food promptly but was slow or non-existent on drink delivery. He got confused and asked if we wanted dessert after our appetizer however he obviously meant well. He'll get there. The management stopped at our table to say hello and welcome us to the restaurant. I'm always happy to see management on the floor in a restaurant, it makes it look like they care!
Costs: OK, so today's lunch was free other than our 20% tip. But our check would have been around $60. Would I pay $60 for lunch or for the food I had? Nope. It was okay but not outstanding. But since it's preview days I'll give it a chance another time and hope for improvement. The food was plentiful but too much for lunch--we didn't eat dinner that night, we were still full. But the price point was high for lunch. If you're going for lunch my advice is to stick with lighter choices, skip appetizer and desserts or just have an appetizer to share for lunch.
Pluses: Decor was interesting, graphics on menus/glassware/signage attractive. Open air walls in the dining room and bar made the restaurant appear larger and since we had a 70 degree day outside, perfect for open air dining. Would head back just to enjoy the quasi-outdoor dining experience. The menu and the servers have potential, they need to grow into each other, but the potential is there. Management was actively involved and the hostess professional.
Recommendation: Mad Mex Willow Grove's preview day didn't show off the skills of their kitchen and waitstaff to the best advantage, but give them a month or two and I suspect the service will become seamless and the kitchen staff will have mastered every item on the menu. Meanwhile it's worth a visit to try out the Gobblerito--which the people at the table next to us were enthusiastically consuming.
**This writer was compensated by the restaurant by receiving a 'free lunch' and beverage in exchange for writing about the restaurant and promoting it via social media sites. The opinions are those of the author and not influenced by the restaurant or PR firm representing them.