Tuesday, April 10, 2012

El Mundo: A Mexican Original

In honor of the blog's year anniversary, Beth figured it may be nice to get back to our roots for a post, which is why I'm back for a guest blog, Michael, Beth's younger bro. Remember me?

When Beth posted about some of our favorite Mexican places -- a testament to just how much us Holladays love our Mexican; we could eat it for every platter! -- some born and bred Louisvillians may have noticed the big elephant in the blog: El Mundo! This one of a kind Frankfort restaurant offers Mexican fare like no other in town. You won't find your standard Vegetarian E with re-fried bean burritos on the menu. The recipes are based on authentic cuisine, but they put a spin on it by using fresh ingredients. No canned diced tomatoes here. For example, they will use black beans instead of mushy re-fried, red instead of white rice, and greens instead of iceberg lettuce. Or they will include ingredients not usually found in Mexican food. You may walk in and find the special incorporates a surprising ingredient. Portabella mushroom, goat cheese, or calamari, oh my!

The downstairs self serve section with the open kitchen
 While a bit small, the spot is sectioned off in three areas. The front downstairs is a self serve deal where customers can order from the cashier, choose a table for themselves, and pick up their food when ready from the kitchen's counter. Upstairs, you can see the hostess to get waited on by a server. Both have decorative lights splayed along the brightly painted walls. You can go for the casual atmosphere downstairs or spring for a bit fancier upstairs. I've eaten in both areas, and my choice has always depended on what seating is available. It fills up fast, especially anytime after 7 on a Friday or Saturday, so plan accordingly. I've known of people getting turned away because the place was too busy to take anyone else. Beth and I went on Saint Patrick's Day, and plenty tables were available. I've never had an issue when going between 5 or 7. The best was when my roommate and I went during the UofL/UK game, and it was so deserted we had our pick of practically anywhere in the restaurant. Available seating depends on time and also other potential events. And, extra spots are open in the Spring, Summer, and Fall when their patio in the back is an option for outdoor Margarita buzz enjoyment.

Speaking of booze, their margs are the best in town. They use blue agave tequila for a smooth taste. And, I can't speak with 100% accuracy to this, but it seems like their lime mix doesn't have any corn syrup, so the finish on them is purer. Of course, frozen or rocks. I always do rocks, because I believe the general rule that they tend to be stronger. Not that it matters at Mundo. These margs are strooong. Just two will getcha! depending on your tolerance. Their house marg does me just fine, but if you want an upgrade, they have a top shelf choice too. Or, go ahead and chuck the pretense of the lime mix and get a tequila flights to sample from the 40 types.

The Nacho Mountain of Yum
After a few marg sips -- or sucking down a full one within 5 minutes like us Holladays roll -- the food does not disappoint. They have a healthy offering of burritos, enchiladas, tacos, and more. The best part is that each item comes with your choice of filling to customize it to your liking. The options are shredded chicken, pulled pork, ground bison straight from the KY heartland, black beans, and sauteed vegetables. Most entrees are lathered with either their signature red or green chile sauce and served with salsa fresca. A good standby and favorite among many I know is the quesadilla. This large, round tortilla is pan fried to a mild crisp and delicately drizzled with sour cream, which melts on top and into your mouth. No grease. The last time I went I got the Chile Relleno, which is topped with the green chile sauce and stuffed with Jack cheese. It was baked perfectly -- not overly done to make it soggy, but just soft enough. I got it with the veggies, which are seasonal, a rotation they've implemented far longer than the Market and Germantown hipsters! Another favorite -- what Beth got when we went the last time -- is the Nachos. Simple, I know. But, these aren't the ones you made in 6th grade after school in the microwave with Velveeta and Santinas. It's a mountain of delectable ingredients -- black beans, Jack cheese, jalapenos, tomato, guacamole, salsa casa, and sour cream -- piled on crispy corn chips that never turn soggy. I think the key is that they bake them. The only criticism is the spice level. I am my sister's brother, and love the heat. Not many of the options are spicy, even the Chile Relleno. At times, maybe a little bland compared to the Mexican food I'm used to. My roommate and I have a plan to keep asking them if they can make our meals spicy, and maybe they'll take the hint. The only exception is when I had one gloriously spicy burrito there on a lovely patio visit last year. The Garden Burrito with fresh chopped jalapenos and a spicy salsa. But, this was a special. Their specials change frequently, so if you try a new item, be sure to savor it, because it may only be available for a week. I have eaten that burrito over and over in my head ever since, it was so good.

Some may criticize and say this isn't truly authentic, but come on. Really, what is these days? Then again, this is coming from a guy who eats a Qdoba burrito at least once a week, although I can promise El Mundo is much more true to a Mexican mother's recipe than a chicken queso burrito from the Q.

If you're tired of the same old El Nopal burrito or Los Aztecas quesadilla, keep El Mundo in mind for a unique take on "authentic". And for those in L-ville who love Mexican and have never been, you are crazy and need to go NOW. Until then, this is that other Holladay saying, live to eat!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Hot(-lanta) Platter

In my opinion, the only thing better than dining out at a hot new restaurant, is dining out at a hot new restaurant on a weekend getaway. And what better place to check out hot new eats than Hot-lanta?! A great friend of mine lives there and was kind enough to take a pal and I out for a few tasty eats and treats. Our Friday evening dinner at Antico Pizza definitely didn't let me down. J.V. talked it up big time. In fact, he referred to it as "The Best Pizza in the UNIVERSE!!!" I was curious to see if it would live up to the his hype. When it comes to pizza, I am no critic. I pretty much love it all, with the exception of Louisville's Mr Gatti's and Little Caesars (excuse me as I gag a little just thinking of them). These two are not even in the same galaxy as the authentically celestial pizza at Antico.

We all shared two large pizzas. The Diavola (photo below) - topped with supremely spicy Italian peppers, pepperoni, and mozzarella. I must confess that this one made me sweat, and I liked it (you know I like it hot).

The other pizza was a sauce-less one called the Pomporini (see photo below). It included cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic, and basil,. The tomatoes were gigantic and juicy, just the way God intended them to be. As I took a bite into one of these little darlings, it almost tasted like there was sauce on the pizza. The fresh and light taste of tomatos was a lovely compliment to the spiciness of the Diavolo.

FYI: Antico is BYOB. You can order your food at the counter upon entering and then find a spot to sit. There are two dining rooms with large wooden picnic style tables, so be prepared to possibly make a new friend or two as you dine among strangers. We found a spot at a table in the larger room which was next to the kitchen and we were able to watch the cooks hard at work, tossing the dough etc.

Overall this was a very cool choice for dining out with a few friends and it got me excited for my upcoming trip to Italia. That's right, the Holladay Platter will be heading across the Atlantic for a two week adventure this coming Fall!! Antico felt like a little preview of the pizza that I'm sure to taste in the Eternal City (please allow me to daydream for a moment...). Okay now back to Atlanta, not only was the pizza  Uh-Mah-Zing, it was ready in a flash. The next day we were delighted for leftovers (toaster oven style), along with a few other gluttonous meals.

When people ask me what inspires me to write this blog, I always answer by saying, "The Sun in my Belly". Just kidding, that's actually what Picasso said when asked what inspired him to paint. It's also the clever name of our Saturday brunch spot. This artsy neighborhood cafe has an edgy rustic atmosphere with a very casual and comfortable vibe. Unfortunately, the wait on our food order was quite long. Fortunately the wait staff and management were very apologetic. I went for "The Hangover" breakfast. Even though I didn't actually have a hangover, this platter was right up my alley. The cheesy potatoes were my favorite part. I also adored the Sriracha chili sauce and avocado topping on the fried egg. The sausage and biscuits were okay. I would've liked the biscuits with cheddar cheddar cheese, but they were a bit cold.
J.V. enjoyed his breakfast panini as he informed us that Atlanta is known for having the best Pimento Cheese. I've never been a big fan of pimento, but I got the chance to try the pimento on Kristen's breakfast sandwhich and I have to say that it was my favorite part of all three platters!! It was extremely creamy and tangy with just a bit of sweetness.

Overall we were happy with our brunch and left the table with bellies full of the sun!! Saturday evening entailed a full on food fest. With a list of "Tapas Tips" that we got from a friend, we headed to Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant.

It was a chilly and rainy night. Barcelona was offering covered outdoor seating on their front patio with no wait, so we went for it. This might not sound very appealing but it was actually a delightfully cozy and intimate atmosphere. The lighting was nice and soft. There were blankets available for use at each table and heat lamps around as well. It sounds like the perfect setting for a romantic dinner for two. Leave it to my crowd to shake things up. We started by ordering a pitcher of champagne sangria. Why not?

Next, we ordered about six different tapas. My favs were the crispy and creamy Empanadas, the savory and spicy Patatas Bravas, and the mouth-watering Hanger Steak, which included a truffle sauce I would gladly die for. As for our other selections, I had mixed feelings  I liked everything just fine, at first bite, but felt like the seasoning was a bit overdone on many of the tapas. For example, the mushrooms were cooked great and had a nice goat cheese topping, but someone must have stubbed there toe while adding the sage because it completely overpowered the other flavors. I noticed the same issue with our Chorizo with Figs plate. I really liked the chorizo but the balsamic and sherry glaze was waaay overdone.

One might think that we stopped there. No sir / mam. We continued our platter by adding on succulent garlic Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp), as well as a few forgettable tapas, and some pretty good cheeses (with bread of course). Overall, we enjoyed our experience here. I'm not raving about it, but I'd recommend trying it out if you're in the area. The service was good and the atmosphere was cool. Then again, take a pitcher of champagne sangrias and a few old friends with stories to share, and you'll have an amazing dinner anywhere you go. The rest of our night can be summed up with two words "Bourbon Slushi". That's all you need to know.

(Aww, my bourbon baby... I'm such a proud mother)

Before hitting the dusty trail, we saddled up and headed down the road to a charming little market and eatery called La Petit Marche, which means "The Little Market". They have a variety of breakfast and lunch options which you can order at the counter. I pondered over a breakfast sandwhich or pancakes that JV gushed about, but ended up with a Basil Chicken and Pesto Panini. It was perfectly crispy yet soft with just enough basil seasoning. The pesto was also right on the money, not overpowering the taste of the plentiful chicken. I tried a bite of Kristen's Veggie Panini that was filled with beautiful sun dried tomatoes, shrooms, tofu, and cheeses. The side of pasta salad was actually my favorite part. In fact, it might be the best I've ever had... the balsamic dressing included a sesame ginger zeal that perfectly complemented the fresh feta cheese, plump cranberries, and scallions that were mixed about. This gourmet deli boasts locally sourced ingredients with grocer gift items and cheeses lining the shelves. The atomsphere has a quaint country feel with a bit of an international vibe, evident in the menu as well. I would love to hit this spot again on my next trip down.

The next time you want to enjoy a hot new restaurant in a hot city, take my tips and head to Hot-lanta. Until next time, LIVE TO EAT!!

P.S. The Holladay Platter will be celebrating it's one year anniversary next week. Can you believe it's been a whole year?! Where does the crazy time go??? Anyway, watch out for a few special guest bloggers in the next few weeks and please, try to contain your excitement.