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The Margarita Pour Off Hits the Big 3-0


Thousands fill Sunken Gardens for the KISS Margarita Pour Off.

Making the star of the show: a margarita on the rocks.

The Margarita Pour Off hosted by 99.5 KISS hit its 30th birthday Saturday, a sure testimony to San Antonio’s love of this classic cocktail.

The occasion drew thousands of margarita lovers who wanted to enjoy a series of variations of the drink in the sun-filled Sunken Gardens. They also snacked on smoked turkey legs, chicken on a stick topped with a pickled jalapeño, corn dogs, fajitas and roasted corn on the cob while listening to the bands.

Chicken on a stick: Just say yes.

When the final drop of tequila had been consumed, the winners of the pour off were announced:

  • Best margarita: Some Beach, 2831 N.W. Loop 410. The gentlemen’s club had a cucumber-jalapeño margarita.
  • First runner-up: Two Step Restaurant and Cantina, 9840 N. Loop 1604 W. The restaurant offered a traditional margarita.
  • People’s choice: Pericos, various locations
  • Best-decorated booth: Matamoros, 12844 I-10 W.

The hard job of judging margaritas.

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Griffin to Go: San Antonio Is the Real Margaritaville


Make your margarita the way you like.

If San Antonio had an official cocktail, the margarita would be it, no contest. It flows as freely as iced tea. Just stroll along the River Walk, and you’ll see various shapes of glasses rimmed with salt and filled with lime-, magenta- and mango-colored potions as potent as you want.

The drink’s history is as hazy as the morning after a margarita binge. Some prefer to believe the story that a bartender in Ensenada, Mexico, named it after the first customer who drank it, Margarita Henkel. Others like the story that it was created by Dallas socialite Margarita Sames, who spent her last years in San Antonio. Still more discount both. Yet all raise their glass to the creation, if the creator remains a mystery.

Over the years, the original recipe has evolved. Most cocktail books and even a few cookbooks then and now list only three ingredients in the drink: tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice. The proportions, however, vary from mixer to mixer. For one recipe in “The El Paso Chile Margarita Cookbook,” author W.P. Kerr offers an easy formula to remember: Use a 1:1:1 ratio of tequila to orange liqueur to lime juice. If you can’t remember that, you probably shouldn’t be drinking, he wisely adds.

Use watermelon, prickly pear, even jalapeño to make your margarita.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the cantina. The introduction of the frozen margarita made a sweetener of some sort an essential part of the drink (frozen treats need sugar to help with the concentrated flavors; think of the role sweeteners play in ice cream). And after the rise in popularity of sweet cocktails, such as cosmopolitans and apple-tinis, the margarita became loaded with the likes of Rose’s Lime Juice, simple syrup, sweet-and-sour mix or agave nectar. The refreshing acidity of lime juice, the sweetness of Cointreau or Grand Marnier, and the tang of tequila got candy-coated. And not too many seem to mind.

You can still find a few pristine versions of the margarita out there. Or you may be able to strong-arm a bartender into making the drink the way you want. A couple of examples include Steve’s Margarita, a lime-laden libation at La Fonda on Main, and La Bonita, which is available at both locations of Aldaco’s, where it is billed as being “for aficionados only.” It’s made simply with freshly squeezed lime juice, Don Julio Blanco and Cointreau – and beautiful it is, too.

Aldaco’s also features the avocado margarita, which is part of an age-old practice of incorporating fruits beyond lime and perhaps a kiss of orange into the drink. Versions made with mangoes, watermelon, strawberries, olives and even jalapeños are certainly popular, but perhaps the most exotic, especially for tourists, is the bright magenta of the prickly pear margarita, an excellent example of which can be sipped at Boudro’s on the River Walk.

Upscale margaritas using premium tequilas fill out many a drink menu. At Rosario’s, you’ll find more than three dozen tequilas, which are used to make such concoctions as the Mexican Handshake, a lively balance of sweet to tart, but with an emphasis on freshness. Two Step Restaurant and Cantina is another pleasant stop where you can sip your way through a varied margarita menu.

A more recent trend is the skinny rita, which uses agave nectar, instead of sugar. That means it has fewer calories but is also much sweeter. So, it has become the adult version of Diet Coke for many, especially women. Meanwhile, the Quarry Hofbräu has helped usher in a whole new craze that has caught on like wildfire. The Dos-a-Rita features a schooner of frozen margarita with a bottle of Dos Equis upended in the bowl-shaped glass. The two slowly merge as you drink more and more. .

We keep reinventing the margarita to suit the times, and the drink doesn’t seem to mind it one bit.

Alamo City Classic Margarita

Two Step offers a variety of margaritas.

I’m not a big fan of sweet margaritas, though I have enjoyed more than a few south of the border that were sweetened by Sprite. The following recipe from takes margarita tradition and sweetens it slightly, but keeps the drink solidly on the refreshing side.

You can use your own orange liqueur, but, as I learned from a true San Antonio native, my friend Gail Harwood, the preferred version is Mexican Controy, which you can only get in Mexico and bring back through Customs one green bottle at a time. Controy tastes like fresh oranges, whereas Cointreau and Grand Marnier taste more like marmalade or burnt orange peel. Triple sec is more about the alcohol than the orange flavor, and it can make as fine a margarita as the rest, if used properly.

Another variation would be to include blood oranges, when they are in season, instead of tangelo juice. The color is dramatic, and the juice adds a flavor different from the sweet tangelo.

Just before you are ready to pour your margarita, run a lime wedge around the edge and dip it in what you like. Tradition dictates salt, but you could use sugar, if you like it sweet. Or you could mix either with Lucas powder, a mouth-puckering Mexican treat with lime and chile in it.

The secret is to make it taste however you want it to taste.

2 parts silver or blanco tequila
1 part orange liqueur
1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tangelo cut into wedges, with a wedge per cocktail, plus slices slices for garnish
Lime slices for garnish

In an ice-filled shaker, add tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice and juice of 1 wedge of tangelo per serving. Shake until icy cold. Pour into a chilled margarita glass or martini glass that has been rimmed with lime and salt. Garnish with a slice of tangelo and a slice of lime.

From John Griffin

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Chefs’ Corner: A Pair of Margaritas from Two Step


Two Step Restaurant has a whole menu of margaritas.

At Two Step Restaurant and Cantina, 9840 W. Loop 1604 N., chef Steve Warner offers up some hearty Texas fare, including fork-tender chicken-fried steak, as it’s called on the menu, fried catfish, bacon-wrapped pork loin and barbecue, all in a building that was fashioned around two 19th century landmarks.

To wash down that food, he has a full menu of margaritas to suit every taste. And he has shared a couple of recipes.

“The key to all our margaritas is the fresh squeezed juice,” says Adrienne Muñoz, who is Warner’s wife and manager of the restaurant. “We tried several options of store bought, non-pastuerized juice and the flavor just isn’t the same.”

If the limes are too bitter for you, add a touch of agave nectar to provide balance, she says.

For more information on Two Step Restaurant, click here.

El Jefe

This is the cantina’s best-selling margarita, Muñoz says.

1 1/4 ounces Gran Centenario Reposado Tequila
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
1 1/4 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice

Add tequila, Cointrea, Grand Marnier and lime juice to an ice-filled shaker. Shake until cold. Pour into a chilled margarita glass rimmed with lime and salt. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Steve Warner/Two Step Restaurant and Cantina

Two Step Restaurant is on West Loop 1604 North.

The Silver Spur

This is the staff favorite.

1 1/4 ounces Espolon Silver Tequila
1 1/4 ounces Cointreau
1 1/4 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice

Add tequila, Cointrea and lime juice to an ice-filled shaker. Shake until cold. Pour into a chilled margarita glass rimmed with lime and salt. Garnish with a slice of lime.

“The key to all our margaritas is the fresh squeezed juice. We tried several options of store bought, non-pastuerized juice and the flavor just isn’t the same.”

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Steve Warner/Two Step Restaurant and Cantina

 

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Ajuúa a Fun Place to Kick Back and Relax


Ajuua's Tortilla Soup

When Ajuúa Mexican Restaurant opened on Huebner Road several years back, the restaurant made a name for itself because of its colorful interior and relaxed atmosphere. It  was a great place to lounge on the patio over a margarita and enjoy life. It didn’t hurt that the food was good, too.

I hadn’t been back since the opening, so I thought I’d drop in for a quick dinner.  Sure enough, the setting was still bold and beautiful, though I don’t remember a TV set or two in the dining room, which I find a distraction and others find a necessity.

Another distraction was the margarita, which was so sweet that I could hardly drink it — even with an extra three or four slices of lime squeezed into it. I can image the majority of the San Antonio, sweet tea-drinking population loving this, but it’s not the traditional blend of tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice that made this cocktail famous. (There was no sweet-and-sour in the original versions, no agave nectar, no Sprite. And I long for the day when I can get a margarita  with only those three ingredients in it.)

Fajitas a la Rajas

The food made up for the unpleasant cocktail. Before my appetizer arrived, I indulged in a good helping of house-made chips with a salsa that had a lively kick to it. That’s always a great way to begin, and it’s even better when the salsa can be used later in the meal, which I did.

I started off with a good cup of tortilla soup filled with plenty of fresh avocado and Mexican cheese under the crisp tortilla strips and a hearty chicken stock.

For the main course, I couldn’t resist the call of beef and chicken fajitas topped with a creamy poblano sauce with a little tang of white wine in it. The flavorful sauce held up better than I would have thought on a sizzling cast iron skillet by not separating and by properly coating the meat. The Fajitas a la Rajas also had poblano strips, mushrooms and onions mixed in with the meat for added flavor. Everything  worked hard to cover up a rather perfunctory, dull chicken breast. (I know, “dull” and “chicken breast” are redundant in most restaurants nowadays. It’s one reason I generally avoid it or order it only when it comes with beef or some other meat.)

Freshly made guacamole, plenty of pico de gallo, handmade corn tortillas, decent borrachos and a fairly good rice helped make some tasty tacos and a most enjoyable meal.

Ajuúa Mexican Restaurant
11703 Huebner Road
(210) 877-0600
www.ajuua.net
Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday

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Tacos and Burgers in the Alamo City. Any Questions?


Barriba Cantina opens Monday at 111 W. Crockett St.

In the kitchen at Barriba Cantina.

Saturday was a night for celebrating the new at two restaurants in San Antonio.

Barriba Cantina on the River Walk at 111. W. Crockett St. is a haven of “tacos, tequila y mas,” as the restaurant bills itself. Though it doesn’t open until Monday, the restaurant hosted a pair of preview parties on Friday and Saturday to help inaugurate the space, which is located on the two stories above its sister restaurant, the County Line.

The sign on Crockett Street.

Tacos filled with chicken tinga topped with caramelized onions, corn pico de gallo and ancho cream sauce or tilapia with jalapeño ranch and avocado tomatillo salsa were dished up.

When the restaurant opens, the tacos will be offered in plates of three with rice and beans, so you can expect heaping potions of the mango pork carnitas with mango and avocado tomatilla salsas, pickled onions, cotija cheese and more. Or the Del Rey, which was created in memory of Randy Goss, the Rib King of San Antonio who had been a part of the County Line’s success for years; this taco featured beef marinated with chipotle chiles and came topped with chipotle slaw, caramelized onions, salsa and cotija.

Purple Reign

A special emphasis is made on using lean meats, whether it’s the pork or the chorizo that was used in the Queso Deluxe, a treat that also featured guacamole and corn pico de gallo on top of the cheesy dip.

Mango Pork Carnitas Tacos at Barriba Cantina.

The bar is a big part of Barriba Cantina’s fun, and house specialties include the Purple Reign made with Ciroc Vodka, limoncello, violet liquor, Dulce Vida Organic Agave Nectar with blueberries as well as the Olé, a potent blend of Cinco Vodka, blackberries, raspberries, lime juice and soda.

Every bar in San Antonio has to have at least one margarita, and Barriba’s lineup includes the Skinny Dulce Vida Rita, a blend of Dulce Vida Silver, a splash of orange juice, agave nectar and lime juice.

Barriba Cantina will be open daily 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Click here for the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Clellan and Matt perform a sound check on the new patio at Big Bob's.

Big Bob’s Burgers, 447 Hildebrand Ave., was also celebrating the opening of its new patio and stage out back.

The new restaurant, housed in what used to be Cookie’s near the San Pedro Avenue intersection, featured Clellan and Matt as the inaugural act performing in the space, which is decorated with picnic tables and a few nice plants. It looks far better than a dilapidated back alley it appeared when owner Bob Riddle first stated work on the space.

Big Bob's Cheeseburger

The visit was also a chance to check out Big Bob’s cheeseburger and a few of his crispy onion rings.

Click here for more on Big Bob’s Burgers.

 

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A Trio of Spiced Nuts Brightens Any Fiesta


A trio of spiced nuts.

During Fiesta or any party time of the year, it helps to have a few recipes you can make ahead and be able to serve whenever guests drop by.

And what goes better with margaritas than something with a little bite?

I recently tried three spiced nut recipes from celebrity chef Rick Bayless, which he has included in his new cookbook, “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Son, $35). Each one can be made in advance and stored in an air-tight jar until needed.

A few words to the wise when it comes to making any candied or spiced nut. Don’t let your attention stray, or you could end up with a burnt tray of nuts. If you don’t know if the nuts are ready yet, err on the side of caution and removed them sooner than later. The heat of the cookie sheet will continue to cook the nuts even after it has left the oven.

Chilied peanuts with toasted pine nuts

When I made Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts, I left them on the tray for a second or two too long, and the color darkened. They weren’t burnt, but they weren’t as pretty as they could have been.

My test of the Chipotle-Roasted Almonds also had a little too much sauce on them, which make the nuts sticky in the humidity. The flavor was great, but make sure your almonds are sparingly coated. If they feel too gooey going into the oven, then you may want to add a few more almonds into the mix. (You might also want to blanch the almonds first, a step I forgot somewhere along the way.)

Most importantly, get creative. Recipes are guides, not blueprints. For the Chilied Peanuts and Pumpkin Seeds, I didn’t have pumpkin seeds to go with the spiced peanuts, but I did have pine nuts. I toasted the same amount and tossed them into the mix. You could use anything from buttery Chex Mix to tiny pretzels to fried peas, and get good results.

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