hen George Clooney was in town filming The Ides of March, there were loads of spectators trying to catch a glimpse of the action and the actors. At one point, I was crossing the street on my way to lunch and overheard a woman — clearly someone who hadn’t been downtown in a very long time — remark, “No wonder people don’t come down here. The Frisch’s and the Barleycorn’s are both closed!”
Yes, ma’am, and they have been for almost a decade. But you can come back now. We have El Coyote.
El Coyote, a landmark in Anderson, opened in the Cadillac Ranch location at Sixth and Walnut streets just a few weeks before Opening Day. The space hasn’t changed much, aside from the removal of the half-a-car from the roof and the retirement of the mechanical bull (although that may have boot-scooted out a while ago — I couldn’t swear to its recent whereabouts). Anyway, it’s still a very a-typical space for the city — much more mall than metro. There’s a large outdoor seating area heated by gas fireplaces with doors that open to the interior, where there are television screens everywhere, a large bar and plentiful seating.
It’s Barleycorn’s décor, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then you’ll feel very comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with the lure of the familiar, and if having El Coyote downtown brings visitors who will add dinner to their trip to the stadium, then that’s great.
We headed over to try El Coyote at lunch, although some of the items we ordered were from the dinner menu. Plenty of complimentary chips and salsa arrived promptly. The chips were warmed slightly to cover their restaurant-supply origins. My friend liked the salsa, comparing it favorably to Clifton’s Cactus Pear. I thought it was too overcrowded with flavors. It was definitely better than the guacamole ($7.99). Yikes! That was loaded with big chunks of harsh onion that were really off-putting and for some inexplicable reason had sliced black olives on top. The avocado was thoroughly overwhelmed.
Our server recommended the stuffed mushrooms ($8.99). They were from the dinner menu — appetizers aren’t on the menu for lunch. There were about nine good-sized ’shrooms, filled with mildly flavorful crabmeat, drowned in cream sauce and topped with thick, gooey cheese that was impossible to negotiate. White Velveeta has its fans, but I’m not one of them. It’s supposed to be “creamy,” but instead it’s a stringy mess.
My friend’s chicken fajita burrito ($9.99) disappeared so quickly that I didn’t get a bite. He was happy. I did get a bite of the rice that came with it, though, and I’d never tasted anything quite like it at any other Tex-Mex meal. It was dry and dusty-flavored. On follow-up, a manager told me it was made with chicken stock and cilantro, but I couldn’t taste either one.
On our server’s recommendation, I ordered the pork chop ($11.99). People, it’s not necessary to cook pork to death. According to the American Meat Science Association (I looked it up!) trichinosis fears are a thing of the past. You don’t have to punish pork. You can leave a little moisture in it — the taste is so much better if you do. I found solace in the tiny bit of fat next to the bone. I did like the homemade mashed potatoes that came with it, which have always been an El Coyote specialty. They were excellent and definitely made from scratch. The canned onion rings garnish didn’t do them justice.
El Coyote has several small desserts, which aren’t made in-house. My friend ordered the chocolate lava cake ($2.99), which was super-sugary sweet and topped with hot fudge that had been warmed gently from a can. Of the several pies that are made in-house, I chose the mud pie ($4.99), and it was delicious. The chocolate graham cracker crust was filled with coffee ice cream and topped with whipped cream — just right, except that the portion was grossly oversized. Both of us ate our fill and there was still a ton left over.
Don’t get me wrong — El Coyote isn’t a disaster. When you’re bringing the family or a group downtown to see the Reds or stalk George Clooney, there’s a need for a big, suburban-style restaurant in the city. Better this than a chain like Hard Rock. It’s familiar, not too pricey and very casual. People who want chef-quality fare have loads of good choices.
Go: 41 E. Sixth St., Downtown
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday