Mole can be the most intoxicatingly rich and complex sauce of all the sauces in existence. It is utterly addictive, with a mind-bending array of flavors that reveal themselves as it moves along the tongue, leaving eaters on a sensory high that can last for hours.
Haven’t found one of those in Knoxville, yet. But I keep looking. Mole really is a culinary wonder when done well—and I don’t care what it’s sitting on top of (enchiladas or chicken, mostly), which serves as simply a mole delivery system, as far as I’m concerned. I just want that sauce. There may be different types of mole in Mexican cuisine, but what I’m after is the thick, dark red stuff that’s been cooking for a day or so.
Unfortunately, the main obstacle to finding great mole sauce is the simple fact that great mole sauce can be difficult and time-consuming to cook. Therefore, most restaurants don’t bother—not when there’s bottled mole to make things quick and easy. Here’s a list of just some of the potential ingredients that can be blended together for mole: guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, chipotle chiles, pasilla chiles, chopped peanuts, raisins, dark chocolate, sugar, tomatoes, onions, garlic, tortillas, chicken broth. And then there are the spices, like cumin, thyme, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, for starters. There are probably a few dozen other ingredients I haven’t even heard of but are present in different styles of mole.
Really, your best option for great mole is to cook it at home. But I still keep hoping to locate an expert chef to do it right (and make it easier for me to consume).
And that brings us to O! Chulo’s Grill and Bar, an unpretentious Mexican restaurant in the same plaza as Anaba Japanese Cuisine off Northshore Drive near the Pellissippi Parkway. (With Northshore Brasserie and Farmacy across the street a ways, this has become a pocket dining destination.) Chulo’s (which is Mexican slang for “cute,” usually) claims “The Real Mexican Taste” as its slogan, and I won’t dispute it, as I’m not much of an authority on Mexican cuisine. I will say that I think Chulo’s is a cut above most of the standard-issue Mexican restaurants in town, which typically serve the same Tex-Mex dishes with the same lack of flair. On a previous visit, I ordered Chulo’s molcajete in a stone bowl and really enjoyed it—it’s sort of an all-in-one dish with chicken, steak, shrimp, pork and chorizo, with onions, cheese, and a plank of cactus on top. (Enough protein for two, really.) I also give the chilaquiles de pollo (eggs, chicken, and tortillas in a red sauce) a solid thumbs up.
Furthermore, the place is friendly and comfortable. I wouldn’t mind hanging out there at all, and I’m not one who usually likes to hang out.
That said, the enchiladas poblanas with mole did not strike me as especially different from other chicken enchiladas with mole sauce I’ve had around town. It’s certainly tasty, and hits the obvious notes, but it’s not very complex—I wasn’t getting waves of different flavors so much as the one-two of chiles and chocolate. Did it come from a bottle? I don’t know—but as mentioned, it does taste pretty similar to the moles offered by other restaurants in town. I’m afraid my quest must continue.
Worth a return visit?
Maybe not for the mole, but if you’re out west and want pretty good Mexican fare in a low-key atmosphere, sure.