"What is a blue agave?" my step-dad asked. The young woman behind Blue Agave's cash register motioned in Vanna White fashion toward the plants in small pots on the wall behind her. "Agave is what you make tequila out of," she said. "Blue agave makes the best."
Of course, she was right — blue agave, the base ingredient of tequila, is from the Agave tequilana species and is an important economic product of Jalisco, Mexico. Blue Agave proudly offers many of these products. Along with Texas Margaritas (made with Grand Marnier and Cuervo Gold), the restaurant offers an impressive tequila shot lineup: Patron, Cazadores, Corazon, Herradura, Hornitos, Tres Generaciones, Jimador, Cabo Wabo, Cuervo Traditional and Corralejo.
You might worry that with such an emphasis on this dangerous liquor (I don't know anyone who doesn't have a bad tequila drinking story) the place would be, well, less than savory. Au contraire my friend; I was pleased to find a sparkling clean, light space awash in aqua blue, yellow with painted green agave pictorials that reminded me of under-sea creatures. The tables and booths were filled with couples and families, all stopping to watch Big Brown's anti-climactic finish in the Belmont Stakes before continuing with quiet conversations.
Blue Agave stops the relationship with Jalisco after the beverage department. The food is more typically what you find in an American Mexican restaurant, featuring combo dinners with enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas and tamales rather than traditional dishes like manchamanteles (a chicken and fruit mole sauce dish that means "tablecloth stainers") or beef tongue in pipian, or pumpkin, sauce.
They do have some interesting dishes you might not find on most other Mexican-American menus, such as Chile Colorado with steak, onions and potatoes in a Ranchero sauce ($9.99); Grilled Tilapia with rice, guacamole salad and tarter sauce ($9.99); and the Caramones a la Diabla ($10.99) — shrimp in a red hot sauce with rice, lettuce and sliced avocados.
For our dinners, which started with some very garlicky salsa and chips, we ordered a side of Chiles Poblano ($2.75 for one), the Chile Verde ($9.99) with pork and green salsa and the Fiesta Fajitas ($13.50) with chorizo, beef, chicken, shrimp, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes.
It was good that we had filled up on chips because there was some confusion with our order. After my food and the sides for my step-dad's dinner were delivered, we had to wait several minutes for his actual fajitas. We flagged down one of the many servers that kept swooping in on tables throughout the night to check on service and needs. When he finally delivered the fajitas, still sizzling, he explained that they had been delivered to the wrong table.
Once my step-dad dug into them, he didn't truly find them worth the wait. It took him awhile to place the flavor he found odd in a fajita, but finally decided it was allspice. Like most people, I thought allspice, also known as Jamaica pepper, was a mixture of spices that is usually used in baking, but it turns out that it is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. In either case, it didn't marry the flavors of meat and vegetables on this particular plate.
I had better luck with my chili. Served beside the traditional Spanish rice and refried beans, which I always treat as a parsley garnish and ignore, the pork was covered in an attractive tomatillo sauce and had a bright acidic flavor. The meat itself was a bit too fatty, but the flavor was good.
Our Chili Poblano side was a bit of a mystery to me. I assumed that they meant chili relleno, a poblano pepper roasted, stuffed with cheese and fried. But we were served a roasted pepper stuffed with cheese and potatoes in a pool of a cheesy sauce. I liked the addition of the potatoes, but it wasn't an attractive presentation, nor was it completely warm when delivered.
There are lots of little family-owned Mexican joints in town. Some are more traditional; others are more for us gringos, who seem to need everything covered in cheese. Blue Agave falls somewhat closer to the gringo side, but if you're in the neighborhood on a Saturday night, duck in for a margarita or Mexican beer and one of the combo meals.
Go: 11711 Princeton Pike, Springdale
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Many
Accessibility: Fully accessible