GULFPORT — To say the new Peg's Cantina in Gulfport is an independent restaurant is an understatement. Sure, Peg Wesselink and husband Tony Dodson's bungalow eatery is not part of a chain. But its independence runs deeper than that. They're doing things their own way, and I've got a crush, big time. First, there's the no credit card or debit card policy. It's because they don't like the idea of customers overspending heedlessly (or the restaurant paying those "usurious" user fees). Cash transactions breed thoughtfulness, and they want us to mean it.
Maybe this concern on our behalf is because of the crazy-fabulous beer list. They're afraid we'll lose our heads, easy to do with such an array of Belgian ales and lambics, as well as all those American microbrews with the adolescent names (Butthead bock, anyone?). It's all the best offerings from big names like Rogue, Bison and Boulder, with a special affection for unfiltered wheats.
And that's the perfect quaff on a buggy Gulfport summer evening (bug spray and extra fans compliments of the house). During the week, the menu is healthy, homey Mexican; on the weekend, son Doug cranks up the pizza oven and turns out unfussy, saucy, thin-crust pies. (During the week he's studying to be a brewmaster, natch.)
Inside the lovingly renovated bungalow, just a few tables and a simple bar accommodate diners; the bulk of the seating is outdoors in the landscaped yard. This means the next-door neighbor might be mowing his lawn or chucking a ball for his dog, part of the entertainment as you waggle tortilla chips into smolderingly creamy chipotle dip or guacamole ($6) while you wait for a shrimp burrito ($13) or duo of soft pork tacos ($12).
The Mexican aesthetic in the kitchen — that's Tony — is wholesome and simple, verging on Moosewood-hippy. A cup of black bean salad ($3, also comes as an accompaniment for some dishes) is flavored dominantly with lime, scallion and red bell pepper — down to earth, but maybe a little cumin or jalapeno could rock it harder. A portobello mushroom quesadilla ($9) is a vegetarian's dream, a whole meal of earthy 'shrooms, spinach, onion and gooey white cheese between two crisp-around-the-edges flour tortillas.
End things sweetly with a regular flan ($5) or a mad-scientist invention of chocolate cake sandwiched with flan ($6). Or, dab on a bit more bug spray and linger a while over a pint of coriander-heady White Rascal ($4). As with all things at Peg's, servers march to the beat of their own drum — and sometimes that beat is slow. Still, it's an easy place to be patient.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.