Ask any chef and they’ll tell you their go-to order when they’re judging the quality of a restaurant. For some it could be the often-temperamental chocolate soufflé. Others may look for a textbook French omelet. Personally, I’ll order the guacamole, which seems simple but requires a real finesse if done right.
So guac was naturally how I gauged Gringo, one of St. Louis’ trendiest spots for Mexican.
Anchored at one of my favorite corners in the Central West End (Euclid and McPherson), Gringo has a lot going for it just based on street value alone. Walking along on the busy sidewalk means passing by the outdoor patio where you catch wafts of guajillo chili peppers, fresh tortillas and herbaceous cilantro. Now that you’re merely toddling by, you’ll have a chance to peer inside the floor to ceiling windows where diners are happily huddled around the “L” shaped bar and neatly tucked into tables.
Walking in, your eyes bounce to bright splashes of turquoise and pops of orange giving Gringo a youthful vibe right off the bat. Looking at the menu, I of course knew that guacamole would be ordered, but tasty sounding tacos, zesty starters and exotic drinks also caught my attention. So we figured sipping on one of Gringo’s house margaritas, (I had the Tamarindo made with exótico blanco tequilia, a splash of triple sec and tamarind puree all shaken and served in a chile-salt rimmed glass) while we waited was a good way to pass the time.
Little did we know that our refreshing south-of-the-border cocktails came with a show. A minute after dropping off the drinks a cheerful waitress circled back to the table with a guacamole cart. While chatting she began making angular slits into avocados, leaving behind an uneven tic-tac-toe board in each half. She then spooned the crosshatched cubes from their skins, which landed with a hallow thump into a large wooden bowl. Quickly halting the otherwise inevitable oxidation, she poured freshly squeezed lime juice atop the avocado, followed by finely chopped garlic, onion, jalapeño, roasted pablanos and cilantro. Next she used two squared off wooden spoons to work the bowl’s contents into the right guac consistency – just smooth enough to not have any chip-crushing chunks, and yet, still rustic enough to keep the integrity of each ingredient.
A final flourish of queso Cotija and sliced radish sealed the deal and I was quickly digging my first chile-dusted tortilla chip into the bowl. Creamy avocado cut by a little zip of acid from the jalapeño and lime was balanced by the smokiness of the pablano. It was everything I love about the iconic Mexican dish. Dare I say, it was almost as good as my own – but perhaps I’m partial?
Munching away at the guacamole, we were perfectly content watching the parade of St. Louisan yuppies go up and down Euclid. Soon after my last slurp of margarita our waitress brought the entrees and our table was covered with tacos, a few side dishes and another round of margaritas. And since we were there on Gringo’s media night, we were treated to a few sneak peaks of dishes soon to be incorporated onto the main menu.
Looking at the spread before us, my eye was caught by little tacos presented in sleek metal cradles. I plucked one from it’s parchment, noticing how the house- made flour tortilla was a perfect vehicle for the tender strips of barbacoa, which were topped with pickled onion and a dollop of crema. The taco was quite tasty, but my one critique was that the onion ended up being a bit muted. I believe the pickling should have provided a greater punch of acid, which was much needed to cut the fattiness of the barbacoa.
One thing that I could have eaten endlessly at Gringo was a simple tropical salad. It consisted only of thick matchstick cuts of mango, jicama and pineapple dressed with a lime juice vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped cilantro and chili powder. To be honest, I would have been very happy with a meal consisting solely of that salad, guacamole and my margarita.
Overall, everything we had the chance to taste was quite good. The ingredients seemed fresh, properly prepared and placed into each dish with a specific purpose. Plus, the atmosphere inside Gringo made it a very pleasant place to enjoy a meal. I know they have had a few bumps along the road since their April opening, but I think the folks at Euclid Hospitality Group (the same team of restaurateurs behind Pi) have found their stride with a new executive chef and revamped menu.
Once the new additions are incorporated into the lunch and dinner menu, Gringo hopes to get a brunch service up and running. We had a bit of a sneak peak of their potential offerings, which included silver dollar pancakes drizzled with guava syrup and samples of a sunny-side-up croissant sandwich that were both delicious. Based on what we tried, I have no doubt spending a Sunday morning on Gringo’s patio would make me a happy camper, but until then I’m willing to go back any day of the week for their guac!