I’d never been to Venus.
Not the planet — Venus, Texas.
The tiny dot that constitutes this town (it’s roughly 2.973 square miles), about halfway between Alvarado and Midlothian on U.S. 67, has your requisite Sonic, and manufacturing warehouses and industrial concerns line the road like they’re going out of style.
There’s even a taco restaurant on the corner of Venus’ nearly vacant town square, which seemed even more desolate at dusk on a recent evening.
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It’s a good thing that Casa Jacaranda is there to light up — and spice up — the proceedings.
The year-old restaurant, from Monterrey, Mexico, native Monica Martinez and business partner Nely Cruz (a Toluca, Mexico, native), is a veritable beacon of fresh Mexican street fare, shining a light on the cuisine in an attractive dining room, bedecked with colorful papel picado (paper cut-out flags), plastic-covered flower-printed seats and rehabbed red-brick walls.
After a successful stint teaching cooking in Sweden a few years ago, the duo ended up in North Texas (Cruz in Fort Worth, Martinez in nearby Keene, where she had family) and recognized the need for authentic Mexican food in Venus. It was their mutual love of interior design, architecture and food that forged Casa Jacaranda’s beginnings.
And with customers coming from as far away as Frisco and Denton, it looks like it will be around for quite a while.
The menu spans breakfast (all day!) to dinner, with fresh juices, espresso and Mexican baked delicacies available to satisfy any between-meal deficits.
The chile relleno ($9.50-$12.99) can be ordered with a beef, cheese, shrimp or tamale filling, and the latter was intriguing in a turducken kind of way. How could a tamale fit inside a poblano, and more importantly, would it taste good?
The answers: easily, when the chile is super-sized, and yes.
The pork tamale, with its sweet-tinged masa shell, virtually obliterated the notion of a cheesy chile relleno, but that was OK. This was a nuanced, assured take, and the above-board refried beans, textural miracles, and Mexican rice were surely invented to pair with the concoction.
Another unusual yet incredibly tasty entree was el huarache ($8.99), a thick corn tortilla piled high with beans, rice, fajita beef, crema and cotija cheese. Like a nacho, but minus the crispiness, it was fork-and-knife territory, and our cutlery got a workout.
Other items were also impressive, like the simple CJ’s Nachos ($8.50-$9.99), a giant platter of chips doused in queso, crema and beans, and the fajita quesadillas ($8.99), which elevated the mundane “Mexican sandwich” to new heights thanks to the homemade flour tortillas, crispy in areas and light-as-air in others.
Speaking of, Casa Jacaranda’s pastry counter at the back beckoned after dinner, and the empanada de manzana ($2.25), with its pillowy dough, was exceptional. Filled with sauteéd apple slices, it achieved the trick of dessert perfection — complementing our meal, not making us wish we hadn’t ordered it. Same with the cream-cheese-filled churro ($1.50), with its dense cinnamon-sugar topping and lemony filling.
By the time we left the restaurant, it was dark. For some reason, I looked to the sky and saw a bright star — or was it a planet?
After a short consult with Siri, I discovered it was Venus, which is apparently quite visible in the western sky after sunset in December. It was a fitting end to the experience — to see Venus in Venus, and to know, for the record, that I was definitely in Texas.