Sunday, February 24, 2013
5122 Nolensville Road
1/14: A reader reports this restaurant has closed.
Mexican restaurants dot the Nashville street scene like flowers in a meadow. You’ll find one in just about every neighborhood. But as we all know, there can be a big disparity in quality. We’ll add El Cabrito on Nolensville Road to our list of favorite Mexican joints.
The first thing you’ll notice about El Cabrito is the goat prominently displayed in their logo and the term Birrieria. Birria is a Mexican goat stew and it’s, needless to say, the house specialty at El Cabrito. If you’re not a fan of goat, don’t let the name dissuade you from making a visit. There are plenty of other reasons to visit.
But let’s start with that chivo…or goat. The steaming stew comes served in a large bowl. It’s the perfect winter dish with an earthy, rich brown broth graced with plenty of seasoning. Goat is an acquired taste and it does stand out from the animal crowd with that earthy flavor. In this stew it works great. Big chunks of stewed goat meat are accompanied by bones for flavor and also garbanzo beans and carrots. The beef version is also quite popular with customers. Birria joints are pretty common in Los Angeles and across the Southwest. In some neighborhoods they’re as ubiquitous as burger stands. Stew is an interesting choice for a warm weather culture…but menudo, seafood soups and stews are mainstays of authentic Mexican restaurant menus, especially on weekends.
Use one of the house made tortillas to scoop up that goat meat. The tortillas are warm, fresh and tasty. The first visit brought what appeared to be a flour version to the table, somewhat of a surprise. The second visit seemed to be a corn-flour combo tortilla. They also fry their own chips and serve a zippy green salsa.
I always make a point to check out the dishes people have on their tables on my way into a restaurant. If I spot something interesting I’ll simply ask the waitress what that person is eating. Even with a language barrier, which you may run into at El Cabrito depending on the day, you can point out food and get a response. I already knew what I was seeing: a green mole. I ordered and found it to be thick, spicy mole over boiled chicken. It was excellent. Even the rice and beans on the side are of above average quality and the guacamole was quite an unusual treat, as the Veggie Eater can explain.
Veggie Eater: If nothing else, come for the guacamole and fresh chips. The guac is ultra chunky, studded with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. There’s no question here that the guac is freshly prepared and ingredients allowed to maintain their original identities (it’s almost salad-like in consistency…truly one of the more unusual and tasty versions in town- M.E.) A Mexican food menu can be a bit of a dicey proposition for a veggie eater if there is a language barrier. Once again, let me proffer my standard disclaimer-we attempt to communicate at the outset that I eat no meat and negotiate an appropriate item from the menu. When my order arrives, Meat Eater takes one for the team to assess if there is an obvious meat breach. However, with other things, such as refried beans, I adopt a don’t ask don't tell policy. Stealth items, such as lard, may be lurking in the beans (they usually are), as is well the case with other familiar items in other cuisines, such as biscuits and pies. (We understand that the Veggie Eater visiting Mexican joints is controversial with vegetarians, but when it comes to food you get to pick your choices and it’s why we don’t refer to things as vegetarian, unless they truly are -M.E.) If you want a guarantee of meat free eating in an ethnic joint, then we would suggest being fluent in the language at hand (and still not a guarantee given what has been brought to me in standard American fare restaurants). In any case, I ordered the enchiladas verdes, sin carne. This was apparently not sufficient as mine came with pollo. Meat Eater’s reconnaissance confirmed this immediately and in short order the queso version arrived. The enchiladas are lovely given the homemade tortillas, which are really more like fluffy crepes. The verde sauce was tangy, perhaps from tomatillos, and accented the queso fresco stuffed inside nicely. This was elevated by the large brown bottle of Corona Familiar beer (normally not a fan of the Extra version, but the Familiar version had a decidedly fuller flavor) and the odd lone mariachi dude serenading the five tables for no apparent reason.
Meat Eater: You’ll need to order water if you don’t drink sugar soft drinks…no diet here. Oh, and El Cabrito means kid in Spanish…as in a young goat. The Veggie Eater is a good woman for accompanying me to such a place. I think the homey atmosphere and good sides won her over.
We paid $37 with tax and tip for a huge lunch and I paid $13 on my solo visit.