When we’re in New Jersey, we mostly eat at home. But the other day, we decided to go out to lunch. M suggested El Meson, in Downtown Freehold.
In recent years, Downtown Freehold’s restaurant “scene” has grown considerably. For example, on just one block of Main St., east of South St., there is a string of different types of eating establishments – Freehold’s own “Restaurant Row” – including dining facilities in the historic American Hotel, which was sold a few years ago and completely refurbished.
El Meson is located one block west of South St., on the corner of Main and Throckmorton. I’m not sure exactly how long it’s been open. Maybe 15 years ago? It’s owned and run by Mexicans and while over the years, the Mexican population in the area has grown to a very sizable number, back then, the owners were “pioneers,” so to speak. There were no Mexican restaurants in the immediate vicinity. A welcome change from the glut of mediocre Italian red sauce spots that dotted the culinary landscape (and, unfortunately, still do), it became an immediate success.
Although the interior space is nice, we have rarely dined at El Meson during the months when one must eat indoors. Instead, we have always preferred to go there when the weather is sunny and warm because we enjoy sitting outside on the very pleasant, capacious patio.
As usual, immediately after we were seated, a basket of warm, addictive taco chips and a little bowl of salsa were brought to the table. The salsa’s spiciness is of Goldilocks quality: not too faint, not too strong, but just right. By the time our food arrived, both the basket and the bowl were empty.
The menu has been the same since the beginning. They stay open throughout the day, and while the lunch and dinner menus are alike, lunch portions are somewhat smaller, and prices are cheaper. At dinner, they sometimes have specials.
Other than when we’ve occasionally shared the fajitas, I always order either the Chile Relleno or the Camarones al Mojo de Ajo. This time, I opted for the latter: Jumbo Shrimp Sautéed with Garlic, Lemon, Pico de Gallo, Butter and Cilantro Sauce. The plate was filled out with rice, refried beans, a little salad of chopped lettuce and tomatoes, and a slew of fresh vegetables: carrots, zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower. Five shrimp, though not exactly jumbo, were pretty plump and properly prepared. All the sides were well-prepared as well and very tasty. I thought the sauce had previously had a bigger kick of garlic (we hadn’t been there for quite a while), but otherwise, it was flavorful.
M’s favorite is No. 3 on the Combination Plates list: Burrito and Taco. The flour tortilla burrito comes stuffed with a choice of grilled chicken, steak, lamb, pork or veal, and finished with melted Monterey Jack cheese. The taco, a soft corn tortilla, is normally stuffed with steak. Both are topped with a choice of sauce – mild, medium or hot — and served with rice, refried beans, and sour cream. M chose steak for the burrito and asked for chicken instead of steak for the taco. As for the sauce option, no surprise there: Hot! I didn’t taste the burrito or the taco, but M had no complaints. The burrito was massive, so exercising a bit of portion control, he ate only half and took the other half home.
For dessert, we headed over to Café 360, which has a wide selection of excellent homemade gelato. Dulce de Leche for me; Hazelnut for M. Yum!
Strolling from El Meson to Café 360, we passed the library at 28 ½ East Main Street. In the countless times I’d walked by it, I’d never noticed the words engraved near the top of the building: Carnegie Library. Thus, I’d had no idea that it’s one of the many public libraries built throughout the US during the late 19th and early 20th centuries with a grant from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. According to the library’s website, it was built in 1903. Quite an elegant little building, I think, and nice to cap off lunch by learning something new.
To see all the El Meson photos, click here.