Tex Mex South
When I was a wee whippersnapper growing up here, eating out was a rare occasion reserved for special events or the very odd “treat yourself” Sunday lunch.
As in most households, Sunday afternoon menus would be the same five or six dishes on rotation. My mother could whip together a lasagne, imqarrun or ross il-forn blindfolded. Legs of lamb, whole chickens and cheap beef roasts were in abundance with all the basic fixings and if we were good and finished our peas, we’d be treated to some jelly or creme caramel flan (you all know the one I’m talking about).
We were quite lucky in that my father was insistent we ate out one Sunday afternoon a month. It broke the monotony, broadened our horizons and exposed us to a plethora of prandial possibilities. At least, in theory, that was the intention. You see, my father had a deep affection for one restaurant in particular that used to occupy the space Mamma Mia now operates in on the Ta’ Xbiex/Msida waterfront.
I don’t know if any you remember Manhattan (as it was then called) but I had spent so many Sunday afternoons there, I could probably rattle the menu off the top of my head. It was pretty much the only place my old man would insist on going to.
Ironically, much like our Lazy Susan of home-dining options, we almost always ordered the same things at Manhattan. My father would order the surf and turf without fail, although I would always nick the two king prawns that came with it, effectively rendering it just turf. Sure, we’d grab the rare pizza or pasta if the mood so took us but more often than not there were a few things I would turn to with keen regularity. Manhattan was where I discovered buffalo wings and racks of ribs; and I would take any opportunity I could to gorge on them.
Sadly Manhattan closed its doors a long time ago, but my love for sauce-slathered, on-the-bone, finger-licking meals has been a prominent feature throughout the rest of my life. So it was with this sense of nostalgia and a hankering for some Tex-Mex that I grabbed my family and headed to, you guessed it, Tex Mex South.
Stepping into the restaurant I was instantly amazed by the sheer size of the place. The kitchen is in plain view, a feature I personally love, with a formidable steak counter on display. The interior is decorated very impressively, with a large number of comfortable booths and a massive bull statue staring you right in the face. However, it was a beautifully sunny afternoon so we opted to have a seat on the veranda where we could soak in the charming sea views. It was oddly quiet in the restaurant for a weekend afternoon with very few other tables occupied but I had no time to ponder over the reasons why. My stomach was arumble and all I was thinking about was getting some grub in me.
No frills, no thrills, no bells and whistles, just good ol’ fashioned grub
We were told by the waiting staff in passing to just sit wherever we’d liked. We nabbed a table in the sunlight and our drinks orders were very quickly taken. They were brought back with what can only be described as a tome. The menus were massive and wielding one put me in mind of Rembrandt’s Moses and the Ten Commandments.
The menu covers classic Tex-Mex dishes and has a strong steak selection. But things don’t stop there. It also boasts an array of sushi, oysters, pasta and fish; even down to lobster. I was quite overwhelmed by the enormity of it, and massive menus that have little cohesion like this normally set me off. For a place named Tex-Mex, the menu speaks of a confused identity. Heck, I could go on a page-long rant about how irate the menu made me, but ultimately I knew what we were here for. We placed our order for a couple of sharing starters and mains to follow and leaned back biding our time.
The staff buzzed about busily, though there was little to do. We were told bread and butter would be delivered shortly but that failed to materialise at any point during the meal. Truth be told not much attention was paid to us as the afternoon progressed and I have to make special mention to one waiter in particular who raised my service score single-handedly with his jovial nature and knowledge of the product provided. Thank you Sasha, rarely do waiting staff get the credit they deserve and it would be very remiss of me if I didn’t make particular mention of you.
The starters turned up fairly quickly and I was pretty excited. Straight off the bat, presentation was lacking. But that is easily forgiven, because it is very hard to dress up a plate of buffalo wings or nachos. Of which we had both. The buffalo wings were great. Nice and meaty, they had a beautiful spicy acidity that I attribute to Frank’s hot sauce and let’s face it, it’s not buffalo sauce unless it’s Frank’s.
The nachos supreme were also very enjoyable. I appreciate the fact that they were layered well throughout and every chip had a decent amount of topping to it. Too many places heap stuff on top of nachos, creating one solid layer of cheesy mulch and leaving a bunch of sad, lonely chips in a broken pile beneath. The menu also had bone marrow available and I’m a sucker for fatty delicious anything.
Here, presentation was an actual let down. A giant wooden board was brought out displaying two chunks of bone, a couple of sad slices of poached pear and a bunch of baked grapes.
There was some flatbread, which I appreciated was freshly made, but it just didn’t come together on the plate at all visually. The jalapeno and fig jam lacked the spice I was hoping for, but had it been presented as just a fig jam, I would have been extremely content.
Mains were brought out in good time and, as I’m sure you guessed by now, I had me a full slab of the Kentucky whisky-glazed ribs. If you like fall-off-the-bone, buttery ribs, I highly recommend you try these. This is a growing trend these days with ribs and I get the appeal. I personally enjoy the primal ritual of eating with my hands, sinking my teeth into the meat hugging the bone and tearing the flesh off with a satisfying rip. But these days, alas, that is harder to find. Not to say they weren’t delicious, because if Tex Mex bottles that sauce, I’d be first in line.
I make a lot of enchiladas at home so we had to see how ours stacked up against Tex-Mex’s. Again, this restaurant is on top of its sauce game and the heap of cheese really countered and complimented the spice nicely. I found the tortillas and chicken to be a touch too dry and flaky, as well as the rice, but the mound of refried beans (with a whole pepper unceremoniously plonked in the centre like a rhino horn) added the creaminess that was lacking. Shout out to those refried beans, they were the hero of any dish they were on.
Sasha convinced us to try the desserts. We grabbed a banoffee and it was a very good slice of homemade cake but what impressed me the most was the Mexican vanilla ice-cream. You can tell a good homemade ice-cream and this was just that. It was bright yellow, almost custardy in flavour and texture. I like yolk-heavy ice creams so I savoured every bit of it. I admire a restaurant that serves its own in-house desserts and if you have a sweet tooth, this menu is worth a run through.
Overall the meal was pleasant. No frills, no thrills, no bells and whistles, just good ol’ fashioned grub. However, I did find the price tag to be a touch heavy when I considered meals I had had for the same amount paid elsewhere. Had Tex Mex South been around in the days of yore though, I don’t think we would have been able to afford to eat here regularly.
That being said, come summertime, I will grab my old man and we’ll head on down and book a seaside table where we will harp on about the good old days. And I know he would thoroughly enjoy it.
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