Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Margaritas and murals at El Gallo Grande in St. Petersburg

If you spend any time in downtown St. Pete, you've no doubt noticed the rise of the building murals, culminating in last fall's SHINE Festival, which brought a dozen or so large-scale works to town. Murals quickly have become one of the town's visual highlights, adding a colorful, lively feel to the neighborhood, as well as some street cred for a city gaining national recognition for its arts scene.

A little farther south, buildings tend to fall back into the strictly utilitarian look that we've become accustomed to, which is why El Gallo Grande stands out so boldly — a flash of saturated, vivid colors against a plain, mostly residential backdrop.

Although El Gallo Grande — "the big rooster," if you're wondering — is a bar and restaurant, it's probably most well-known for its murals, courtesy of the Vitale Brothers: Johnny, Paul and cousin Bruce. The Vitales have beautified businesses across the bay area for the past couple of decades, and at El Gallo Grande, their work is as much a part of the business as is the food and drink.

The biggest and boldest works are on the exterior, from the giant tagline "That Mexican Place," to a striking portrait around back of legendary Mexican actress María Félix, adapted from a promotional poster for the 1950 film Doña Diabla. El Gallo Grande is painted onto rusted metal siding, hinting at the retro kitsch that you'll find inside the restaurant.

To me, a visually interesting interior plays a big role in how much I enjoy spending time in a place. You can have great food and drinks, but if they're served in a bland environment, there's not much reason for patrons to stick around once they're done eating. El Gallo Grande is very far removed from this description. I could spend all day there.

Simply put, it's colorful. Very, very colorful. From the mismatched, brightly painted furniture, to paintings of luchadores, dancers, roosters and skulls, El Gallo Grande gives you plenty to look at.

There's a reproduction of La Calavera Catrina, José Guadalupe Posada's iconic, early 20th century etching, as well as several depictions of painted sugar skulls, both immediately recognizable symbols of Mexico's Día de los Muertos holiday. Inverted lamp shades hang from the ceiling, directing colored lights down to the heavily lacquered tables, some of which are repurposed doors salvaged from the old Dalí Museum.

There's a good deal of authenticity to it all, to be sure, but it's also a distillation of Mexican pop culture, viewed from a domestic perspective. I've more than once seen the name of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez — director of From Dusk Till Dawn — mentioned in describing El Gallo Grande's look, and I only wish I were the first to make the observation. It's "Authexican," as the restaurant's website notes — a stylized, tongue-in-cheek approach to an authentic Mexican cantina.

The drink program has changed a bit in the time since El Gallo Grande's opening in 2014, but I think it's in a good spot now. There are six house cocktails, house-made sangria, six drafts (a mix of local and Mexican brews), a diverse wine list and a hefty selection of tequilas.

Speaking of interiors, how's this for bold: all of the six house cocktails are tequila-based. This absolutely cracks me up; I think it's fantastic. There's a house margarita, a Jarritos-based Paloma, the jalapeño-spiced Fuego y Hielo ("fire and ice"), a cucumber-cilantro cooler, and El Rey — a potent, premium margarita made with El Mayor Reposado and Florida Old Reserve orange liqueur. Strangely, El Gallo Grande's sangrita — usually a sweet-savory chaser to straight tequila shots — is actually a mix of frozen margarita and sangria. Hey, whatever works.

The drinks are generously strong and extremely tasty, which would be reason enough to pay a visit to El Gallo Grande. The colorful, funky design, however, elevates it to a must-visit.

You won't find these murals along Central, but El Gallo Grande makes venturing a few blocks down the road an entirely worthwhile proposition.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG.

 
Comments
Explore mayo's upscale friend: aioli

Explore mayo's upscale friend: aioli

Mayonnaise does not have to be pedestrian. Mayonnaise, like life, is what you make of it. The link below is devoted to America’s love-hate relationship with the white stuff in the jar. Yours truly provides a defense for using it as a cooking a...
Updated: 2 hours ago
In defense of mayonnaise

In defense of mayonnaise

It weighed heavy, spread across my soul like a creamy white burial shroud. I would never admit it, not in a million years.My husband wondered, what was on the chicken? He ate it willingly, then enthusiastically."I can never tell you."I sat quietly fo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Hide the cauliflower in this Mushroom and Cauliflower Frittata recipe

Hide the cauliflower in this Mushroom and Cauliflower Frittata recipe

Do I like cauliflower as much as the next guy? Well, no. It’s one of the cruciferous vegetables whose cooked aroma sends me running for the exit. But the oh-so-trendy riced variety, stirred into this frittata mix, works for me.Here’s why: Used raw, i...
Published: 02/20/18
Drink of the week: the Holy Snail Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Loire Valley

Drink of the week: the Holy Snail Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Loire Valley

With the weather turning toward spring, so do our appetites — from hearty comfort food to lighter, fresher flavors.That goes for wine as well, and one lively choice is the Holy Snail Sauvignon Blanc 2016 from the Joel Delaunay winery in the Loire Val...
Published: 02/20/18
Taste test: canned peeled tomatoes

Taste test: canned peeled tomatoes

On a recent cold night, my son asked for a bowl of tomato soup. I was preparing to run to the grocery store for a can or carton of soup to heat up when I realized I had 17 cans of whole tomatoes on the counter, ready for my tasting panel to sample. I...
Published: 02/20/18
Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

TAMPAIt wasn’t that long ago that Platt Street was a bit of a conundrum for restaurateurs: Not exactly downtown, without the dense auto traffic of Kennedy, and far enough off the South Howard main drag that it didn’t entirely qualify as part of SoHo....
Published: 02/19/18
The Reading Room’s Lauren Macellaro and Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

The Reading Room’s Lauren Macellaro and Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

It’s almost a sick joke. On the morning after Valentine’s Day, the second-busiest restaurant day of the year, chefs all over the country are hauling themselves out of bed early to find out: Did I make it onto this year’s James Beard Foundation list o...
Published: 02/15/18
Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Nothing says indulgence like noshing on some seriously giant Alaskan king crab legs. They’re not just tasty, they’re a low-fat source of protein: One leg has about 25 grams of protein and a host of vitamins and minerals (including sodium, incidentall...
Published: 02/15/18
Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

You’ve likely seen persimmon in the grocery store and then shied away from it, not quite sure what to do with it. The most common variety in the United States is the fuyu persimmon, also called Japanese persimmon, and it looks similar to a slightly f...
Published: 02/15/18
Bar review: Valenty’s Lounge, part of Pasadena Liquors in St. Pete — who knew?

Bar review: Valenty’s Lounge, part of Pasadena Liquors in St. Pete — who knew?

Once, if I’d received a recommendation to check out a lounge attached to a liquor store near the beach, I wouldn’t have been in much of a hurry to check it out. But I’ve learned that there’s frequently magic in these places. ...
Published: 02/15/18