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The Patron  |  Mechanicsville, VA

The Patron | Mechanicsville, VA

The Mechanics(ville) of Mexican Food

Arturo Murillo isn't a chef, but that doesn't keep him from tinkering around in the kitchen. The co-owner of The Patron in Mechanicsville, Va., outside of Richmond, runs the front of house operations, but has created some of the Mexican restaurant's best dishes.

"I love cooking and coming up with new dishes," Murillo said. "I try to come up with something new every week. If I could, I'd go back to school and do culinary arts."

While he isn't enrolling anytime soon, he does get to expand his culinary creativity by concocting recipes that get posted to the restaurant's specials board and if they're a hit, they'll likely get added to the menu. He recently came up with Enchiladas Tio Tufo, which are filled with crab meat, topped with four grilled shrimp and the restaurant's secret queso sauce, and served with poblano rice and sour cream.

The Patron, which is also owned by Eduardo Macias, does have items you'll find in other Mexican restaurants — burritos, tacos, fajitas — but the pair takes things to the next level with interesting preparations and numerous options in each category to stay a step ahead of other, more traditional Mexican spots nearby. There's truly something for everyone whether you want Quesadillas Monterey with cheese, steak, guacamole and their homemade picante sauce; Pollo Tamarindo, chicken marinated in tamarind sauce served with Spanish rice; carne asada tacos with cilantro, onion and tomatillo sauce served with three soft flour tortillas; or the Tierra y Mar, grilled shrimp, scallops, chicken, green peppers, grilled onion, tomatoes, squash, zucchini and mushroom over a bed of rice. That last dish is one of Murillo's favorites and as he says, "You feel like you're in Cancún!"

Vacation aside, dining at the homey-feeling, 280-seat restaurant decorated with wagon wheels, cowboy décor and a new bar underlit with lights that change color to create a sense of fiesta, does offer an authentic taste of Mexico. Their food represents many regions throughout the country, but mostly Guadalajara and Cancún. You'll find a lot of dried guajillo chile and also seafood like the spicy Camarones a la Diabla (grilled shrimp and onion in a hot red sauce) and Pescado Bofo (grilled tilapia filet and scallops with cheese and Vallarta sauce).

But their specialties? Fajitas. The Patron has seven varieties, including the popular Fajitas Titanic, a seafood platter with scallops, shrimp and tilapia. And their Burrito Fajita, essentially beef or chicken fajitas rolled up into a burrito with onions, peppers and tomatoes topped with melted cheese, is a big seller. They also do tableside guacamole, where one of their staff rolls a cart up to your table and does scratch-made guacamole to diners' specifications. It's a little more expensive, but it's a nice touch being able to basically make your own guacamole.

The Patron is known for its homemade white and red sangria that comprises fresh oranges, limes, lemons, cherries and blueberries. "I make that one and I make sure it tastes right," Murillo said. The bar also churns out 20 different kinds of margaritas, often using higher-quality tequila like Patron Silver or Tres Agaves. And to cater to health-conscious drinkers, they offer an all-natural skinny margarita made with fresh-squeezed orange and lime juice and agave nectar.

Murillo and Macias know they may not get everything right and pay attention to customer comments on social media platforms to fix any issues that might arise. They quickly respond to comments and work to ensure people's satisfaction.

"It's important to let people know their feedback is being heard and we're seeing their experience," Murillo said. "It shows we care about what they think."

In general, The Patron works to ensure people have a good experience and keep coming back.

"I've been in this business a long time and customers like being treated like family," Murillo said. "You greet them when they come in. You create a relationship. I hear from people they love coming in and that as soon as they walk in the door they feel wanted."

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