Tapas, Tequila and Tres Leches.
Here’s an insider peek at Spartanburg’s newest restaurant, Mezcal Taberna Mexicana.
I recently took a day trip to Spartanburg, South Carolina with a mission to learn more about their downtown culinary scene. This particular part of the city has old-world charm mixed with modern amenities, allowing visitors to stroll down cobblestone walkways while shopping at locally owned businesses and specialty shops. There’s a whiff of small town charm lingering in the air, where owners of these establishments greet patrons with a smile and ask how their day is going (is this something out of a movie or what?).
As we walked through the village, we stumbled upon Morgan Square in Spartanburg’s Historic District. Dating back to 1787, this thriving cultural hub boasts a variety of vintage monuments. There’s the town’s original clock tower, the Daniel Morgan monument that was built in 1881, and various forms of public art on display for viewers to admire (these light bulbs were pretty awesome).
Located directly across from Morgan Square is Mezcal Taverna Mexicana, an authentic small plate eatery that specializes in undeniably delicious Mexican fare that’s sharable. Guests can taste their dedication to quality ingredients from their freshly smashed, cilantro spiked guacamole to handmade corn masa dough.
“In our culture, we believe that the best conversations happen when you’re sitting with your family and friends around a kitchen table. The reason behind tapas was to be able to share small plates with the people that you care about”, explained by Joe Pantoja, Mezcal’s General Manager.
I dined at Mezcal because I was attending a photoshoot there with my team. This in no way inspired my review here, as I was so impressed by the food that I just had to write about it. As always, all opinions are mine alone and I will never promote a restaurant I don’t enjoy myself.
Empanaditas drizzled with Mango-Habanero Glaze
Dishes span the distance between regions, embracing a menu that is structured around famed tapas from different districts in Mexico. The space is bright and inviting, with vivid blue table settings and glassware to match. There’s a large bar on the right side of the restaurant with dozens of tequilas, specialty mezcals and a reliable blend of regional and local cervezas.
We ordered a variety of drinks to enhance our dining experience (yes, we ordered drinks at lunch). There’s a good selection of tequila-focused blends that we opted for. My particular favorite was their signature Mezcal cocktail, a colorful option with Del Maguey Montelobos Mezcal, organic agave, orange, lime and Flor de sal rim.
From left to right: Sol De Mexico, Paloma (brown mug), Mezcal, Margarita
To begin our feast we ordered their Elote, Patatas Bravas and Empanaditas. Each dish was extremely flavorful and festive.
Elote: This dish in itself was worth the two-hour trek to Spartanburg from Charlotte. Grilled corn on the cob that’s slathered with butter, sea salt and chipotle mayo. It’s finished with a sprinkle of smoked paprika and fresh cilantro.
Patatas Bravas: This dish was a bit spicy, but not overpowering to the point where sensitive tastebuds would go into shock. The potato wedges were cooked perfectly with crisp edges and a melt-in-your-mouth center flesh. It’s roasted in the oven and drizzled with a spicy tomato sauce.
Empanaditas: This tasty trio showcases Mexico’s favorite flavors all on one plate. Each pocket is filled with a different specialty meat and drizzled with mango-habanero glaze. The three varieties include tinga de pollo, braised beef short rib and pork belly.
Elote Grilled Corn
For our entrees, we went all out and ordered a smorgasbord of plates to share. This allowed us to try a little bit of this, a little bit of that and get an overall grasp of how the dishes vary in presentation and flavor.
Braised Pork Tenderloin: To be completely honest here, I’ve never had the pleasure of eating cactus before. However, after trying it I’m officially addicted. The flavor combination on this plate is outstanding, mixing savory with sweet and subtle heat with bright acidity. Slow cooked pork tenderloin is served on a bed of grilled pineapples, slow roasted tomatoes and grilled nopales (cactus).
Sope De Chorizo: I’m a huge fan of chorizo, so when I see it on a menu it’s a surefire guarantee that I’m going to order it. Mezcal’s signature spicy chorizo is prepared exactly the way it’s suppose to be, offering a crumbly texture that compliments the generous sope and luscious runny yolk from the fried egg that this dish is topped with. Big fan of this small plate right here.
Smoked Brisket Taco: I normally stick to BBQ joints for my smoked brisket fix, but the description on the menu here spiked my interest. How can one not order a dish composed of hickory-smoked beer beef brisket in adobo with cilantro and pickled shallots? It was super flavorful and I would recommend it to any taco enthusiast out there.
Polenta y Camarones: Two words here, THE SAUCE. Several grilled jumbo shrimps are piled on top of a polenta cake with serrano peppers, queso fresco and saffron. It’s then surrounded by a velvet-smooth pool of creamy chipotle sauce… ‘nough said.
Braised Pork Tenderloin
We tried our best to save room for dessert. Full disclosure, I didn’t think we would be able to finish it all. I’m not a big dessert person, but a few guests in my party have a sweet tooth so it was a given that we needed to test the dessert selection.
Pastel De Tres Leches: This traditional Mexican dessert is one of my favorite indulgences (when I’m in the mood for something sweet). They stayed true to authenticity here, offering a vanilla sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk. This makes it sweet and moist… and sinfully delicious. I may or may not have licked the plate when we were finished.
Fruta Picante: This was a nice option for lighter dessert or palate cleanser. The dish is composed of diced mango, cantaloupe, pineapple, jicama and cucumber that have been marinated in a chili-lime dressing. This fruit mix is then served with strawberry balsamic swirl ice cream. Mind blown. Order it, I know you’ll love it.
Pastel De Tres Leches
Overall, Mezcal Taberna Mexicana completely won me over with their familiar and new approaches to authentic latin cuisine. They have large, sharable portions at a fair price with a friendly staff that is knowledgeable and accommodating. It’s discovering places like Mezcal that make me proud to travel to unfamiliar cities and support their locally-run restaurants. I look forward to visiting them again and exploring more of their menu in the near future.
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CHEERS, FRIENDS! ?