By Bernie Whitmore
Mezcal Tequila Cantina
166 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester
I thought my Spanish fluency had reached basic menu-Mexican, but there was something about Mezcal’s name that sent me to reference materials. That’s when I learned that mezcal is the rustic relative of tequila ~ a distillation of the agave plant. When I entered cantina into Google Translate it returned, “Cantina is a word used to indicate certain establishments. It has an etymology (that) derives from the Italian ‘wine cellar.’”And then it started to make sense… Mezcal lists a hundred different tequilas with descriptions borrowing from the vernacular of wine tasting. What originally struck me as a collection of flavors and objects became bound by a concept.
We sat down to experience Mezcal’s sidewalk dining just as the sun had pierced through what had been a dreary day. The energy on Shrewsbury Street was ramping up as Worcester headed into a summer weekend. Oblivious to tequila’s flavor nuances, my friend eagerly ordered a pitcher of frozen margarita “De La Casa.” Our waitress Patrice asked how we wanted our glasses rimmed ~ sugar or salt. Sugar? I don’t think so.
While browsing the menu for appetizer and entrée selections, we dipped into a bowl of their chunky-fresh tomato salsa with crisp corn chips. Appetizer categories include Guacamole, Ceviche and Bocatitos (the usual suspects on Mexican menus). Mezcal offers a guacamole flight ~ three samples that range from traditional to nutty-crunchy to tropical-sweet. I’ve tried them before, so today we browsed the “traditional” items like Lobster Empanadas.
Our choice, however, was the Shredded BBQ Duck Quesadilla. In traditional manner, a large thin tortilla was cooked on the griddle ‘til brown and crisp on the edges, then folded in half around thick chunks of duck meat, melted cheese, beans and fried onion. It was cut into wedges that were drizzled with mild cilantro cream and served with spicy coleslaw. Any apprehension that the duck flavor might be overwhelmed was ill-founded. The large cuts of lean dark meat were delicious and unfettered by cloying sauces. Two to four people could easily share this large portion.
The break between courses was an opportunity to refill our margarita glasses and converse with the women at the adjacent table. They also were considering the duck quesadilla but hesitated for fear that it would be lost in a sea of barbeque sauce. I confidently gave it thumbs up even though they threatened bodily harm if they disagreed.
Soon Patrice returned with our entrees. My friend’s Blue Corn Crusted Tilapia, a large filet of the mild white fish coated in (we suspect) fine-crushed blue corn chips was tender and moist. It was served over barbeque pinto beans with bits of bacon, wilted spinach and more of that spicy slaw. All of this was surrounded by a moat of creamed sweet corn cast neon-yellow by a healthy ration of turmeric. The diverse flavors, textures and colors of this dish played harmoniously.
If you’re not familiar with Chimichangas, picture a large burrito dunked in the deep fryer ‘til the tortilla wrapper is golden and crisp. Mezcal filled mine with thin strips of steak, slices of mushroom and jalapeño peppers, sautéed onions and melted jack cheese. It dominated the dish and was served with Mexican rice and a colorful crunchy salad. An old favorite, this kitchen dresses up their chimis with ribbons of chipotle aioli and salsa verde. It’s a dish for hearty appetites.
Dessert was traditional Mexican street-fare Churros Y Chocolate. These strips of fried dough had crusty ridges for mopping up warm chocolate sauce. Don’t be afraid to lick your fingers!
Italian cuisine put Shrewsbury Street on the map. Mezcal Tequila Cantina enriches the breadth of its options and adds action to its street life. Plus they have some valuable lessons to offer in tequila-appreciation. Call it cultural exchange!