When she purchased The Roadhouse restaurant in 2001, Gretchen Boekeloo inherited a menu, a chef, and loyal patrons. Today, many recipes remain unchanged, Chef Miguel Roman still oversees the kitchen staff, and the clientele continues to grow.
“Every year we beat the record of the previous year,” said Boekeloo. Perched on top of Benzonia’s hill, The Roadhouse is all about serving up authentic Mexican favorites, playful and festive décor, and friendly staff that keeps ‘em coming back.
“It’s a well-oiled machine,” she said.
The Roadhouse’s narrow entrance is almost easy to miss – that is, unless there’s a line of people waiting to get in, snaking down the sidewalk.
Indoors, the restaurant opens on the right to a bar and on the left to a comfortable seating area. In back there are more tables.
The real revelation is outdoors. An extensive multi-level deck doubles the seating area, offering a secluded retreat, insulated from the sights and sounds of the nearby traffic on US-31.
“A lot of people have no idea it’s there,” says Boekeloo. “We’ve added on to the deck three times. It’s pretty magical at night. You can’t even hear the traffic.”
Start with an appetizer. There are the usual suspects like bean dip with cheese and chorizo, queso dip with cilantro, and guacamole. If you want something a little more unique, try Miguel’s Award-Winning Wings. Not sure what the award was, but with mango BBQ sauce or house red sauce complemented by blue cheese dressing, it doesn’t matter.
Entrées include chimichanga with chicken or pork, enchiladas, and fajitas with sizzling steak, chicken, vegetables or shrimp.
Then there’s the cabo salmon with mango salsa and grilled asparagus. If it’s enchiladas you’re hungry for, you have your choice of six different fillings: chicken, pork, beef, cheese, vegetables, or crab.
Don’t forget fish tacos, burritos and tamales; there’s also quesadillas with chorizo, shrimp, chicken, or veggies. Wraps include the California, Baja shrimp, or fajita, with jerk chicken or tequila-marinated steak.
Speaking of tequila, The Roadhouse offers choices there, too. There are four varieties each from Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo brand and Don Julio, with others such as Jose Cuervo, Corazon and Patron – 20 selections in all.
If you want to start with a top-notch starter, look no further than Barb’s Legendary Empanadas. These dainty Chilean pastries are filled with seasoned mashed potatoes, green peppers, onions, corn, Monterey Jack cheese and cream cheese. Each year before she heads to Texas for the winter, longtime employee Barb Sanchez makes about 5,000 of them to last until she returns. “We freeze them in big Rubbermaid containers,” says manager Michelle Stratton.
Fajitas are also a popular selection, according to Stratton. Best of the quesadillas are the vegetarian and the Tinga, with its spicy chicken sautéed with chipotle and onions, and fresh avocado.
Stratton also points to the vegetarian enchiladas as a top choice. Just spicy enough and filled with a variety of perfectly cooked veggies, the flavors meld delightfully.
Perhaps the best seller, according to Stratton, is the Roadhouse Skillet. Grilled peppers and onions are mixed with tequila marinated steak and jerk chicken and topped with Monterey Jack cheese. The dish is then baked and served in – what else – a skillet.
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Stratton gives credit for the restaurant’s continued uptick in business to the staff.
“Our staff has known each other for a very long time. It’s a close-knit community,” she said. That includes Boekeloo, a local resident who bought the establishment from original owner Jim Barnes. Previously she was assistant food and beverage director at Crystal Mountain.
“Customers come in and see the same people and develop relationships,” Stratton said.
In the summer, not only is the deck an enjoyable alternative to indoor seating, but also hosts live music Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6pm-9pm. In the winter, the music moves indoors to just one night a week.
Appetizers start at $4.95, salads at $9.49. Entrées start at $10.99, quesadillas at $10.49, wraps at $10.99, and burgers (yes, they have those too) at $7.99.
The Roadhouse is open for dinner daily from 4pm-10pm (4pm-9pm in the off-season; shoulder seasons until 10pm Fridays and Saturdays).
The Roadhouse is located at 1058 Benzie Hwy., or US-31, in Benzonia. Call (231) 882- 9631, visit roadhousesalsa.com or visit its Facebook page.