Jennifer Spangler, a member of The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes, ordered this dish of chilaquiles verdes during a recent breakfast outing at El Jardin Mexican Restaurant in Janesville.

Jennifer Spangler photo


El Jardin for breakfast? Well, yeah.

Growing up in the Midwest, I had no idea there were so many fantastic breakfast options. Anyone who has traveled to Mexico will recognize the traditional choices listed on the main menu under “desayunos.”

Mexican restaurants are full of bright, stimulating colors, and El Jardin is no exception.

Entering through the front door, we were instantly transported to what felt like a quaint Mexican village setting. There is an intimate bar and small seating area that opens to the enormous dining space. A creamy yellow interior features mural-filled walls that depict beautiful waterfalls, landscapes and the lovely fruits that are native to Mexico.

We arrived around 11 a.m., and the restaurant’s breakfast and lunch menus both were available. We decided to stick to breakfast.

As soon as we were seated, our waiter brought a complimentary basket of homemade tortilla chips and two kinds of salsa—a pureed red sauce and a chunky, more interesting sauce with a touch of heat. They were divine, and we couldn’t stop eating them.

The restaurant’s wait staff is always obliging, so when we needed another round of our favorite salsa, it wasn’t long before it appeared. Responding to our interest, we were also served a hotter version of the salsa. All three of the servers we had were attentive with great senses of humor.

We started off with drinks. Nikki went with her favorite, a tall glass of agua fresca de horchata ($2.75). The rice drink is milky and refreshing, and it was a nice complement to the spicy chips and salsa.

I ordered a cup of Mexican coffee, and I asked for details on what makes it different from regular coffee. I was told the beans are simply ground and cinnamon is added, but it’s not the sugary cinnamon syrup you’d get at many other coffee shops. This was a fresh and fragrant treat.

El Jardin also offers fresh-squeezed orange juice and licuados (fruit shakes). Street vendors in Mexico were far ahead of the smoothie craze, and seasonal fresh fruit is blended into El Jardin’s licuados. During my next visit, I think I’ll order bananas and strawberries with my OJ.

Another treat on the restaurant’s bebidas (drinks) menu is hot chocolate ($4), which I ordered as an early dessert and sipped throughout the meal. El Jardin uses real Mexican chocolate and adds, surprise, cinnamon, and tops it all with whipped cream. The drink made for a rich addition to my meal.

For breakfast, I had my favorite: huevos a la mexicana ($7.25). Two eggs were scrambled with diced tomatoes, peppers and onions, and then scooped onto warm corn tortillas. They were delicioso! El Jardin serves its regular sides of rice and beans with this, making it a huge plate of food.

Nikki went with the huevos con chorizo ($8.50) and a side of guacamole ($1.25). The spicy ground chorizo was fried and then scrambled with the eggs. The meat gave the dish a crispy texture, and the flavor was wonderful. Like me, Nikki is partial to corn tortillas, and she used them to scoop up the warm eggs—sometimes adding salsa, guacamole and beans to mix things up a little.

Helene ordered the huevos rancheros ($7.25), which came with a thin red sauce, onions and mild jalapenos on two eggs. The sauce was light and, combined with the beans, rice and salad, it was a filling and satisfying meal.

Jennifer had never been to El Jardin for breakfast, so this was a new experience for her. Not overly hungry, she opted for the chilaquiles verdes ($7.75). The basis of her dish was quartered corn tortillas that were lightly fried. Green sauce was then poured over the tortillas, and they were simmered until soft. It was a dish that was not at all heavy on the heat, so Jennifer added a bit of salsa to kick it up a notch.

Although El Jardin was not crowded when we got there on a Tuesday morning, restaurant patrons began piling in for the lunch hour as we left. On our way out, Nikki was distracted by a Luis Miguel ballad playing over the sound system, so we lingered for a moment by the dessert cooler and decided to take a piece of the “amor imposible” ($4) to go.

Impossible love? We’re not sure what inspired the name, but the combination of cheesecake and flan certainly made for a tasty treat.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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