So last Tuesday (yes – el Cinco De Mayo), a friend whose culinary prowess dwarfs my own, decided to join me for lunch. She was in the mood for some margaritas; and, Verde Taqueria, the newly opened Brookhaven taqueria, got the call.
While the delay in getting this up could be attributed to a busy week, that’s not really the case. From what I have been told, this is the first foray into the restaurant biz for the owners. Given the fact that these guys are getting their feet wet in every respect, I wanted to make sure I put things in the appropriate perspective.
While all new restaurants deserve some leeway, one such as this (rookie owners, low price point, casual atmosphere) gets a bit more of a pass. Meanwhile, franchises, chef driven restaurants, and pocket pinching establishments(think BLT Steak or Dogwood) need to be relatively well run right off the bat.
Though I fear this may sound particularly harsh, the meal was pretty unimpressive and left me apprehensive.
Nestled in the relatively new development over on Dresden, the inside seems like a mishmash of decorative styles. It neither offended me nor awed me. I’m glad they didn’t go for some "imitation” cantina vibe. Instead, they elected a more spacious, modern feel. It’s not that I favor one type of decor over another; however, I can’t stand it when a bunch of gringos try and pass themselves off as something they aren’t: an authentic taqueria.
Though Verde’s branded colors are blue and green, nothing was overused. That’s a big plus. I was half expecting the place to be awash in verde.
Verde had a nice crowd on our visit. A handful of tables and bar stools were filled inside while a number of tables on the patio were occupado. Considering this was CDM, I was expecting a larger crowd. A handful of servers bustled about somewhat haphazardly. Most of them dawned cowboy hats. While I appreciate the attempt to "do something different,” our poor server was clearly embarrassed by having to wear the cap. For a place that seemed to do away with every other opportunity to be cheesy, the hats were queso al máximo (cheesy to the max).
Service was pretty spotty … things came out at odd times, items asked for were never delivered, and the servers seemed to have a hard time adopting their responsibilities. In watching them throughout my meal and listening to nearby patrons, my guess is that the staff here is a little wet behind the ears. When combined with nascent owners, it’s clear they need some time to work out the kinks. Everyone had a smile on their face, and at times, that as important as anything else.
The service issues were quasi moderate. Perhaps if I had been in a hurry or if I were in bad company, it would have bothered me more. LDT and I became engrossed in a whirlwind of topics, we suddenly had an epiphany of sorts. When at restaurant … order food. To buy some time, we started with an order of the guacamole.
Described as house made guacamole, it showed up in a deep blue bowl. Visually striking, I jumped in. Uhhhh … hmmmmm … ahhhh … rhhhhhh. One word describes the guac better than anything else: bland. The dip lacked any discernable trace of the ingredients one comes to expect from guacamole, especially given that it is house made. No lemon juice, little cilantro, and not much of anything else. To boot, it was clear Verde used some avocados that were not ripe. The straw that broke the camels back was the price tag. At $6.25, this stuff cost more than a margarita ($5.50). Drop the price, fix the mixture, get better avocados. Problem solved.
Eventually, we pulled together and threw out an order. As we ordered a half dozen tacos, I think I will simply provide a line itemized review. In no particular order, service up:
Topped with sliced celery and served with a side of blue cheese, this had everything it needed to be a successful Tex-Mex taco. It was fairly non-descript. The sauce had a slight kick to it, though I might not be the best judge. If something isn’t flaming hot, my tongue won’t even flinch.
The chicken was a bit dry and the batter was fairly unimpressive. The celery did provide a nice crunch.
The pork itself was pretty sloppy. Like the chicken before it, it drifted towards the dry side of things. As the mush hit my tongue, it reminded me more of a Sloppy Joe than a pulled pork taco. If not for the tortilla, which wasn’t particularly impressive, I wouldn’t have known the difference. Seeing as Sloppy Joe’s are made from beef, that should tell you something.
Grilled Vegetable Taco:
Easily the worst taco of the night. This thing was sloppy, poorly prepared, and just didn’t work. As LDT said: “How hard is it to grill vegetables?” The squirt bottle job with the cilantro sour cream really didn’t help the appeal. The beans were mushy and tasted like they had been sitting in the heating vat for too long. They had become overcooked.
Short Rib Taco:
This one had eerie similarities to the pulled pork taco. First, the portion control was way out of whack. The Pico de Gallo absolutely blanketed the meet. I spooned a heap of it off and tasted it individually. Like the guacamole, it just didn’t have any of the flavors one is used to.
Moving forward with a bite, I was again taken back. I found this taco to be the most comforting of the several I tasted; yet, it was strongly reminiscent of my childhood. It made me think of one of those lunch lady Joe’s I had while I attended middle school. Seeing as this was beef and not pork, I wasn’t as bothered in this case. So while the flashback was somewhat pleasant, it ultimately did little to mask the mediocrity of the meat.
Fried Calamari Taco:
Maybe subconsciously I wanted to save the best for last. This was easily our collective winner from the taco tasting. Unlike every other taco we tasted, the portion control was on full display. The calamari was joined by fried jalapeños and coleslaw. The cornmeal batter worked well with the jalapeño ranch.
Still, this dish was not without its shortcomings. The batter itself didn’t really “do it” for either LDT or myself. While that’s not much of a “foodie” worthy term, it is what it is. It lacked the punch of a thick batter (one most familiar to those in the south who dine on fried chicken) or the lightness of a tempura (think Houston’s chicken fingers).
It’s pretty obvious that the calamari was brought in frozen, half defrosted, and then tossed into the fryer for the finishing touches. It just didn’t hit a home run. Still, worth ordering again.
To go along our tacos, we each ordered a standard margarita. Surprisingly, these were made fresh. Both were fairly strong and certainly worth the $5.50 price tag. The sour and the tequila really packed a nice punch. As an aside, when we got our check … one was listed as $5 and the other as $6. Our server explained he didn’t know what was up with that … but that he would be happy to fix it. As that still totaled $11.00, we gave him a pass.
So the food was pretty much a disappointment, but the drink was good. While no taqueria is really “expensive,” I think they need to drop their prices by about $.50 to $1.00 given the quality of the product. That’s a pretty big chunk when you consider that most of the tacos hover around $3.25 and $3.50.
One meal inside of two weeks isn’t enough to throw down any gauntlet of truth. The meal was a flop in most every aspect; but, it wasn’t “bad” (for bad … see The Shed). Instead, it just was “not good.” However, I do remember one of us tossing out the phrase “better than cafeteria food” during the meal. That can’t be a good sign. With a little bit of work, I can see this place falling in with The Original El Taco. I feel that they are going after Taqueria Del Sol, and while TDS isn’t the culinary bastion for me that it is for others, I think Verde needs to walk before they run. As it goes, it won’t be worth a drive … but they do have a chance to make this a solid spot for nearby residents.