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Return Visit to Joe T. Garcia’s Falls Just Short of My Rather Lofty Expectations

3 May

I briefly lived in the historic cowtown of Fort Worth, Texas back in the 1990’s and Joe T. Garcia’s (founded in 1935) was our “go-to” place for Tex-Mex cuisine. I’m sure there were (and still are) other places that are more “authentico.” But Joe T’s was always clean, safe, fun, brimming with South of the Border atmosphere, and consistently tasty! 

This statue is part of the Old Mexico atmosphere I was referring to.

Joe T’s is beginning to show its age a little bit. But it remains a lovely spot to dine with family and friends. The food is good (if not great), their staff (primarily Hispanic) is ever-smiling, and the outdoor landscaping is well-conceived and pleasing to the eye. Fort Worth is pretty much a concrete jungle, so Joe T’s lush courtyard is something of an oasis in a world of asphalt and smog.

All meals start with a basket of tortilla chips and Joe T’s freshly made salsa. The salsa rojo delivers some heat, but it is certainly not “knock your socks off” hot. The trick here is to not fill up before your meal arrives. Mr. Garcia’s entrees are quite generous, so you’ll want to save room.

The red salsa at Joe T. Garcia’s is fairly light and not too chunky. I consider myself a bit of a salsa snob and this version passed my strict test. It served double duty as I also splashed some on my rice, refried beans (I believe lard is used in the preparation), and inside my rolled up fajitas.

The steak and chicken combo fajita lunch platter (above) at Joe T’s runs about $12. Take a look at the upper left hand corner of the photo. You can see the steam rising from the sizzling cast iron plate. It not only looks great, it SOUNDS great! I must confess my slices of steak and chunks of chicken were slightly overcooked. That resulted in more toughness than usual. And meat that is less moist tends to be less flavorful. That was the case here. The dish’s smokiness actually overpowered the meat’s natural flavor. Not exactly what I was hoping for. Don’t get me wrong. I was not unhappy, but it could have been better. Ain’t I a picky so and so???

Chunky guacamole is part of the show at Joe T’s — as is a delicious Pico de Gallo. The guac was OK, the pico better. I think the guacamole needed a pinch of salt and maybe another splash or two of lime juice and hot sauce. But that didn’t stop me from polishing off my portion. I was dining along, so I double dipped my chips to my corazon’s content.

The still-warm housemade flour tortilla’s (above) are wrapped in swaddling clothes at Joe T’s. I’m actually more of a corn tortilla guy, but these babies were very good. Flour tortillas tend to be a little more sturdy than the corn variety. That is one reason why they often appear whenever fajitas are served.  

I have such fond memories of Joe T. Garcia’s. It would have been very difficult for them to live up to the glowing image that was seared into my mind like a brand on a Stockyard steer’s hind quarters. Yet it was really fun to return to our old munching grounds. My meal was just fine, the service was exceptionally brisk, and I easily made it back to my downtown hotel for the start of the conference. Mission accomplished. Gracias, Senor Joe!

Joe T. Garcia’s – Ft. Worth, TX; 2201 North Commerce St.

(817) 626-4356; www.joets.com

Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery Heats Things Up Along Old Shell Road

19 Mar

Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery has obviously found a casa on Old Shell Road in Mobile. The place has been open for over a year now, yet I am just getting around to checking them out. And now that I have, I’m kicking myself for not getting here sooner. It’s not very close to my West Mobile office and it’s not anywhere near my home on Mobile Bay’s Eastern Shore. But that is no excuse. No, sir. I’m in the car quite a bit and I buzz by Fuego at least a couple times a week. Maybe I was a tad irritated that they never responded to my phone calls and emails. But all that mess is forgiven after today.

The lunch specials at Fuego offer real value — quite comparable to a sub and a drink at Subway. $7.49 for lunch is a pretty good deal these days … especially when you consider the generous portions and food quality I enjoyed at Fuego today.

The homemade fire-roasted salsa (pictured above) is served up before each meal — tart, refreshing and not lip-scorching hot. To be honest, I was expecting a mega-spicy brew (they are named FUEGO!). But it really wasn’t hot at all and that was perfectly OK with me. The salsa was nicely crafted, so my expectation level for my pending lunch entree quickly shot up several degrees.

A heaping basket of Fuego’s crunchy house tortilla chips was served up alongside my 2 favorite Mexican hot sauces. I was careful to not eat too many chips, yet I couldn’t resist polishing off about half the basket by myself. My server was quite efficient and helpful (I can ask a lot of questions). I ruled over a corner high-table in Fuego’s bar area, offering yours truly an ideal vantage point to watch the outside world go by on this glorious sunny March day.

The sunsplashed dining room at Fuego (the pic viewed above was snapped from my table) — a bright, comfortable place to chill and munch. Cheerful colors and tasteful Mexican-inspired decor abound. I was dining early (it was about 11:30 am), so the lunch rush didn’t hit until I was finishing up my meal. Please don’t let the picture fool you. This is a very popular destination for local residents and Midtown business professionals. It is almost always jumping at lunch, while post-work happy hours are never boring. All told, it appears to be a pretty happening place.   

Reclaimed wood (above) adorns the rustic ceiling at Fuego. I really love that look. We had a hardwood ceiling in the house I grew up in and that was considered pretty radical back in the day. Ceiling fans keep the air circulating — that certainly comes in handy during Mobile’s steamy summer “dog days.” I’m guessing one of Fuego’s signature margaritas or margatinis would help cool the brow as well.

The menu at Fuego is extremely impressive. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say it is one of the best conceived, most appealing menues I have encountered in my two years in the Mobile area. My “choose two” combo lunch platter of a pork tamale (topped with verde sauce) and a chicken enchilada (red sauce) turned out to be an excellent choice indeed. The tamale was the perfect ratio of seasoned pig and masa.

The enchilada’s secret weapon was the dark, mysterious sauce that blanketed it. I was pretty sure it was some variation of a rich mole. My waitress informed me otherwise. Three different pepper varieties are incorporated in the red sauce at Fuego. The final result is stellar and highly recommended. Other loving touches were noticed at each turn of the fork. These touches ranged from the crumbled queso fresco (mui authentico!) to the side of pinto beans jazzed up with red onion, fresh tomato and nuggets of smoked pork. The sweet and soft corn cake (laced with bright yellow corn kernals and apparently dished out with an ice cream scoop) was a delicate addition to my lunchtime fiesta, while the chile verde sauce proved to be a tangy triumph.

Even the Mexican rice was warm and cooked to just the texture I prefer. If these guys were trying to impress me, they were doing a mighty fine job. While devouring my final few bites, I again reached for the menu and plotted my return visit. With choices like those offered here, it could take me some time to eat my way along the coast of Mexico. Tacos Al Carbon, Baja Fish Tacos (fashioned here with Tilapia), a spicy grilled Chile Relleno. I even spied the Los Cabos seared Ahi Tuna and a Shrimp & Crab Ceviche. It all sounded amazing and, perhaps better yet, extremely healthy.

So why not escape your all-too-predictable lunch routine with a mid-day getaway to Fuego Coastal Mexican Eatery? It’s far cheaper than a Gulf cruise and you won’t have to worry the least bit about all those pesky drug lords and their blood thirsty minions. Fuego is pretty doggone HOT, so float on by one day soon and bask in their sizzle. Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner!

www.fuegocoastalmex.com  

La Cocina Delivers Tasty Mexican Fare in West Mobile

28 Jan

La Cocina Mexican Restaurant is located just off busy Airport Boulevard in West Mobile. People who live in Mobile often talk about avoiding Airport Boulevard at all costs, but why do that if it means missing out on this terrific little gem? I first heard about La Cocina from a local food service professional. He also happened to be Mexican, so I felt like his advice was worth taking. I asked “Where can I find good Mexican food in Mobile?” He answered “La Cocina” without any hesitation.

With food this good, they can celebrate Christmas year-round if they so choose.

Some traditional Mexican art is etched into the wooden dining booths.

The chips are fat and crunchy and the salsa tastes fresh (and not too darn hot).

The Poblano Relleno platter (featuring sides of Mexican rice and refried beans) is a personal favorite at La Cocina. How do I love it? Let me count the ways. First, they begin with a fresh Poblano pepper. They are a dark, rich green in color and are mild with only a slight afterburn. The pepper is stuffed with marinated, grilled (almost smoky) chicken breast meat and queso fresco (a mellow Mexican-style white cheese). It is then dipped in a batter, deep fried to crispyness, and then doused in a tangy red sauce.  Sound good? You better believe it, amigo!

A closer look at the Poblano pepper stuffed full of chicken & queso fresco.

La Cocina is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week.

Arriba!!!

www.lacocinamobile.com

Former Mavericks’ Frontman Raul Malo releases “Sinners & Saints” Solo CD

17 Jul

From the plaintive opening wail of a mariachi’s horn, to the lonesome twang of the Duane Eddy-style guitar, to the bouncing echo of a vintage Tex-Mex organ, you know this is going to be a very interesting ride. The title track “Sinners & Saints” sets the tone for what proves to be a very ambitious solo effort from former Mavericks’ leader, Raul Malo. We all have long known that Malo can flat out sing. His voice conjures up a haunting “Roy Orbison heads South of the Border” sound. Raul has frequently been stylistically compared to the likes of Orbison, Marty Robbins and Chris Isaak. Yet he has often worked within the contraints of Nashville’s major record label system.

This new Concord release granted Raul the freedom to experiment with a variety of musical styles. His voice is still always at the forefront — a soaring, operatic instrument that has become a very potent and recognizable musical weapon. In this effort you will be treated to bluesy numbers, Tex-Mex rockers a la Doug Sahm, accordian driven party tracks, country weepers, and traditional Latin tunes inspired by Malo’s childhood in the Cuban neighborhoods of South Florida. The wah-wah laced “Staying Here,” one of my favorite cuts on the new record, sounds like a long-lost Jimmy Webb ballad that could have been penned for a fresh-scrubbed Glen Campbell in the mid-1960’s.  

This satisfying collection of recordings immediately grabs your attention like a fiery hot salsa rojo. And repeated listens will only deepen your appetite for Malo’s spicy musical tastes and the magnificent pipes with which the Saints have blessed him — and us.  

 RAUL MALO’S SINNERS & SAINTS ALBUM, DUE SEPTEMBER 28, IS BLESSED WITH TEX-MEX RHYTHMS AND LATIN SOUL

New album for Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group recorded in Nashville and Austin; guests include Augie Meyers, Shawn Sahm, Michael Guerra and The Trishas

AUSTIN, Texas — Self-produced in his home studio, Sinners & Saints is the most intimate, honest and complex album Raul Malo has made in an already distinguished career. One hears in it a lifetime’s journey, from the singer-songwriter’s youth in Cuban neighborhoods of Miami through his years as one of the most intriguing talents in the Americana scene. The album is set for September 28, 2010 release on Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group. Sinners & Saints follows 2009’s critically acclaimed album Lucky One, Malo’s Fantasy debut.

Rooted in Malo’s lifelong connection to Latin music but infused with his wide-ranging love of country, blues, jazz and vintage rock ’n’ roll, Sinners & Saints combines sonic ingenuity with emotional sincerity.

Entertainment Weekly stated, “Malo is one of those rare singers who transcend the mundane with the sheer operatic sweep of his marvelous instrument. He’s among the last of a breed: a country stylist with finesse and brawn in equal measure, turning his laments into bittersweet valentines.”

In a departure from his past albums, Malo took his tracks from his home studio in Nashville to Austin, where an incredible musical cross-pollination took place. Malo has spent much time playing in Texas with the Lone Star State’s wealth of legendary musicians. He entered longtime friend Ray Benson’s Bismeaux Studios and finished the album with the help of Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornado veteran Augie Meyers on the Vox Continental organ and, on the song “Superstar,” guitarist Shawn Sahm, Sir Douglas’ son. The Trishas (Savannah Welch, Kelley Mickwee, Liz Foster and Jamie Wilson) provided background vocals. And hotshot accordionist Michael Guerra, known for his work with the Tex-Mex Experience, lent further Tejas authenticity to the sound.

The title track opens the record, setting the album’s tone thematically and musically. From his boyhood and through his years of coming of age in Miami, Malo spent many nights in neighborhood music rooms listening to local artists perform their Flamenco zarzuelas. Malo wrote “Sinners & Saints” by conjuring up those nights in his head, and playing his electric guitar with a cross between Flamenco melodicism and retro surf-twang. “It has no chorus, no repeatable line,” he says, “And it’s long. Purposefully long.”

The second track, “Living for Today,” ventures into socio-political territory against an upbeat sound that includes chiming guitars, Meyers’ Vox organ and the Trishas’ backing vocals. In a musical space that includes the biting observations of Rodney Crowell, James McMurtry or Todd Snider, this song is a welcome addition. Speaking of Crowell, Malo provides a heart-felt reading of his modern-day standard “Til I Gain Control Again.”

The disc’s other songs are also full of special moments. In Austin Malo recorded an original song called “Superstar” with several pals from the Texas Tornados. That and several other tracks feature Guerra’s blazing Tex-Mex accordion, as in “San Antonio Baby.” In a more serious vein, Malo delivers the classic Spanish song “Sombras” in the stunning tenor voice that made him famous. He also offers an innovative cover of Los Lobos’ “Saint Behind the Glass,” whose rich mix of percussion, guitars and Mexican instruments will leave audiophiles deeply absorbed. The cryptic lyrics offer an unexpected finale to the album.

Malo & The Mavericks perform one of their Country hits

Raul Malo has seen and done a great deal in his career but Sinners & Saints demonstrates there is much more inside him. “This is the hardest I’ve ever worked on an album,” he says with a mixture of relief and pride. That includes the physical labor of confronting the studio alone day after day as well as the emotional courage to challenge his listeners and speak his mind. “This really is about me and my point of view. I realized that after I’d done it. It reflects really how I feel about a lot of things. That’s why this is as much of me as I’ve ever put on a record.”

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