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Cebolla’s Mexican Grill
***
Out of a possible five
$

Breakfast bar’s not up to par

There is no questioning the popularity of Mexican restaurants in Fort Wayne – or in the United States, for that matter.

They are as plentiful and popular as pizza and burgers, it seems, but there is one much-overlooked aspect – breakfast. Perhaps it is the spiciness of the food or just the fact that people have trouble considering tortillas and salsa instead of biscuits and gravy.

I love eating Mexican food for breakfast. Some spicy red sauce on huevos rancheros is a great day-starter and an even better hangover helper. So when I went to Cebolla’s Mexican Grill on Dupont Road to try the Sunday brunch buffet, you can imagine how disappointed I was to find it missing from the massive spread of interesting and tasty breakfast offerings.

There were two kinds of eggs – both scrambled with sausage or ham mixed in – and they were as OK as scrambled eggs in a buffet warmer could be. And there were tortillas, but there was no red sauce to be found. When I spotted the omelet station, I was sure I could get my huevos there, but no. There were plenty of ingredients for a fresh-made omelet – grilled fajita meats, a chunky pepper mix and salad fixings with all of the necessary vegetables – but the guy working the station just shook his head when I asked for huevos rancheros.

Turns out, I could get the most popular Mexican breakfast dish if I ditched the buffet and ordered it off the lunch menu, but I would have to pay extra since the lunch menu is not offered on the weekend. It was a sacrifice I was not willing to make, and really didn’t need to as there was plenty of other stuff to try.

Some of the brunch highlights:

• The egg, cheese and sausage-filled chimichangas were excellent. They were plenty crisp and had a nice amount of melted cheddar.

•The tamales were moist and filled with a good amount of meat, but they, too, could have used some red sauce because salsa just wasn’t enough.

•A strawberry mixed fruit salad and an additional area with fresh pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon made it easy to make a healthy dessert plate, and the complimentary pineapple water was ice cold and refreshing.

Some of the lowlights:

•Nothing was labeled. There were burritos and enchiladas, but there was no way of knowing what was in them or what the mysterious brownish salsa-looking mix near the salad bar was.

•The barbecued ribs were slathered with pasty, sticky sauce, and they were terribly dry. The grilled pork chops were just as dry and had a strong tinny aftertaste.

•With people helping themselves to the buffet, service was lacking. I had to ask two servers for spicy salsa, and not one question I had about the unlabeled dishes could be properly answered.

What was good was really good for breakfast, but the spread needs a little tweaking before I would guarantee a return; that or maybe adding huevos rancheros. Dinner has always been a safe bet at Cebolla’s, however, and this time was no different for the most part.

The sopa Mexicana and bean dip were both great appetizers. The dip container was nearly half-filled with creamy white cheese, which covered the smooth, hearty beans. Mixing it together and adding a little spicy salsa, which was not hard to get this time, was superb. The soup had two large rice meatballs in a mild red broth with corn, celery, tomato chunks and carrots, but it was the garnishes that made it great. Chopped onions and cilantro could be added to my liking, and a few warm tortillas were there for dipping or whatever else I wished.

The chimichanga sabrosa was a dish I would definitely try again. This big crispy fried tortilla was packed with moist, tender, shredded beef stewed in a spicy red sauce with tomatoes and green peppers, and refried beans and cheese. The exterior of this plump chimi was crisp and not at all greasy, and the fillings worked great together. Soupy, robust, red charro beans came on the side, and they were the perfect match. I mixed them together with Cebolla’s rice, which was great, to form my own red beans and rice.

I feared the enchiladas de jaiba was going to end my dinner luck at first. The three crabmeat enchiladas had an average amount of imitation crab, along with celery and green onion, and were topped with cheese sauce and “special tomatillo sauce.” The bitterness of my first few bites made me almost turn it away, but mixing a little sour cream seemed to temper what I thought was a bad tomatillo sauce. Then I tasted a piece of celery on its own and realized one of my enchiladas simply had bad celery.

The other two were fine and I had no further trouble. I did, however, keep adding sour cream because I liked the way it worked with the sweet imitation crab and tangy tomatillo sauce.

Restaurant: Cebolla’s Mexican Grill

Address: 602 E. Dupont Road

Phone: 497-8762

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday (buffet brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Cuisine: Mexican

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol served: Full bar

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Breakfast brunch ($9.99; $5.99 kids), sopa Mexicana ($3.70), bean dip ($4.99), chimichanga sabrosa ($8.85), enchiladas de jaiba ($10.09)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the Web site, and you can hear Ryan from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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