Thursday, September 11, 2014

El Gallo Grande, St. Petersburg, FL

Let's just cut to the chase.  The tastiest Mexican food I've ever eaten in Tampa Bay was had last weekend at El Gallo Grande.  To add to their endearment factor, the ambiance is decidedly mod-Mex with a sleek bar area, brightly colored tables and chairs, contemporary south-of-the-border style murals and, best of red and green motif, no sombreros, no piped-in Mariachi music (not that it doesn't have its place) and no serapes tacked to the walls.  The vibe is upscale without being pretentious and prices are reasonable for the quality imparted.   It reminds me a lot of Stephen Starr's Philadelphia restaurant, El Vez. Hard to believe the old-school Italian vibe of the resto's former inhabitant, Basta's, has been so completely obliterated and beautifully reinvented (not that I didn't once love Basta's, because it was a favorite of mine back in the '90s).  Kudos to the designer for the resulting eye candy.

I initially thought $11.50 seemed high for a margarita, even one of the"top shelf" variety.  Howevah, my Blood Orange Margarita (sorry, I can't relay its official moniker because EGG's menu is not yet posted online and I drank two...which rendered me unable to feel my face afterwards, much less take notes) was the best I've ever guzzled sipped.  I adored the larger chunks of salt around the rim, the high alcohol content (I know...I'm as surprised as you are) and the way the blood orange juice so beautifully tempered the lime without making the resulting cocktail too sweet.  Behold my new addiction...the color of the sun as it sinks into the Gulf. Sigh.

Before we move forward, I should add the caveat that there are house margaritas available for half the price.

Complimentary tortilla chips and a salsa-like concoction were dispensed while we looked over the menu.  We requested additional apps of house-made guacamole and Queso Fundido.  Both exceeded expectations.  I wasn't expecting the guac to be quite as tomato-laden as it was, figuring it would be easy to eat around my nemesis fruit. It wasn't, but I crushed so hard on its fresh, creamy-meets-chunky texture and the bright flavors imparted by liberal use of ripe avocado, lime and cilantro that I stoically forged on.  Only an isolated, rosy mound of the remnants of my gelatinous food foe remained after I snarfed all of the delectable, green goodness surrounding them.

Queso Fundido was sexily hot, gooey and stringy.  We added a zippy, crumbled chorizo topper which was well worth the small upcharge.

Lunch entrees are served a la carte, so I ordered a small Mexican Caesar Salad on the side (which, as it turned out, was a little more on the large side).  Crisp and delicious, it was adorned with corn and mellow Oaxaco cheese crumbles.  Dressing was not a classic variation, but brought more of a garlicky vinaigrette to mind.  I liked the lightness and crunch of it all.  Perfect for a summer day in Florida.

UD's Tacos al Pastore (marinated pork tacos) disappointed him a tad because he lived in Mexico City for a while and got a little spoiled.  He felt they were somewhat less than traditional, but they looked and tasted all right to this Gringa.

The ubiquitous gummy rice and gloppy refried beans we often receive as sides in Mexican restos are not automatically ladled onto your plate at El Gallo Grande. They're a menu add-on here.  And they probably should be due to the fact that both are well above average and portions are generous enough to share with the table. Refried beans look like refried beans (kind of like a pet "accident") so I won't post a pic even though they were quite good and ratcheted it up nicely with spicy heat.  The rice, however, was gorgeous...the little maize-hued kernels were fluffed heavenward and studded with peas and carrots.  An al dente delight!

My arepas stuffed with tender, zesty chicken (which actually brought a pleasing bead of of moisture to my upper lip), nestled in a crunchy corn shell with fresh lettuce and a crema drizzle were nothing short of amazing. I loved this twist on the standard corn cake application often presented at food trucks around town.

While service was a tad tentative (albeit caring) this was one fine lunch experience overall.  Although I don't get around El Gallo Grande's parts that often, I'll be baaack...if only for another satisfying slurp of Blood Orange Margarita.

El Gallo Grande on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so happy you tried El Gallo Grande. I love the place. If you are in the mind, let's try the pink grapefruit margarita! La Paloma was worth the price. We had our guac with very little tomato, so I question the consistency of this prep. The fundido is definitely a sexy warmy cheesy wonder. I'm of the spicier the better, rellenos category. Hubby is the less spicy, adventuresome, give me steak variety. We have never had bad food. Service could use a swift kick in the keester some times, but all in all, it is a Notyourmomma approved supper. Glad you gave us a try.

    I saw that 'Fetishes' was under construction and there seemed to be a name change. Sniffle. I'm not a happy camper. Sent an email to website to confirm either demise or resurrection of Phoenix. Bruce Kaplan is the consummate host.

    Sweet Polly, once again, another great review.