Maybe it's his perfect hair. Or maybe it's his crazy long arm span, or his magical ability to effortlessly balance heavy platters of hot, delicious food without dropping anything. We're not sure exactly what it is, but Joncarlo Palermo makes it all look easy.
Palermo works as a waiter at one of Charlotte's busiest new Uptown restaurants, Que Onda Tacos + Tequila. The former retail employee, auto parts manager, and now waitperson has finally found his sweet spot serving classic Mexican cuisine to Uptown foodies.
CL caught up with Palermo right before dinner rush for a quick convo over chips and queso. We wanted to know what it's really like serving folks in Uptown.
Creative Loafing: This place gets really busy but that doesn't stop your guests from demanding fast service. How do you handle the pressure?
Joncarlo Palermo: Every waiter knows this feeling. It's called being in the "weeds" and it's the worst place ever. It can be different for each person but the "weeds" boils down to feeling extremely overwhelmed. It's basically when too many things are happening at once and you're close to losing it. No one is exempt.
The process of taking multiple orders, making adjustments, seating multiple tables at the same time, all while your food needs to go out to another table can drive a waiter crazy. The best way to overcome it — or as we say, "staying out of the weeds" — is to be systematic and always communicate with your tables about the status of their meal.
The main thing is not stopping and letting the pressure take over. Just keep going, ask for help if you need it, and you'll get through it. But yeah, being in the weeds sucks big time.
I'm always amazed when I order Mexican and it comes back in like 2.5 seconds. How do the chefs prepare the food so quickly?
Well if you're ordering something simple like tacos or quesadillas, it's quick and easy because our chefs are constantly preparing the fresh proteins and vegetables throughout the day. Then it becomes simply a matter of plating.
If you're ordering a more complex dish like arroz con pollo then you can expect a little longer wait time but even then, a lot of emphasis is placed on serving guests quickly. We never want to keep a guest waiting for long. We want your palette bursting with flavors from your first bite of chips and salsa to your last sip of tequila.
It's all about enjoyment. Hospitality is a huge part of Hispanic culture, so when you come into our restaurants our goal is always to serve things hot and fast and treating you like family.
As a waiter you have the inside track on what the best menu items are. What are some amazing dishes the average Joe may not know to order? Or some no-no's that make for a bad dining experience?
Our most popular taco would be the Al Pastor, which is pork shoulder served on a corn tortilla and topped with our pineapple pico de gallo. The sweetness mixed with the salt of the pork really makes it a great combination and they're even better with our salsa verde on top.
My personal favorite menu items are our chicken enchiladas, which come with your choice of mole or suiza sauce. Both choices serve the enchiladas with shredded pulled chicken and melted cheese wrapped in a corn tortilla. The difficult part is choosing which sauce. Mole is a [chocolate-based] Mexican barbeque sauce, sweet from the chocolate and a bit of spice. The suiza is our green avocado-based sauce. It's earthy and spicy, served with melted cheese, lettuce and pico.
Guests should also try our horchata, which is considered an "agua fresca" [drinks blended with sugar and water and combine fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds] and is a very popular drink in Mexican culture. It's made with rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon, and remains true to it's name, which means a "refreshing water."
As for what not to do when dining in our restaurants, I'd just say don't be overly analytical and ruin your experience. You came out to eat and relax and enjoy yourself, so sit back, enjoy and let us take care of you.