Sunday, June 10, 2012

A second shot at Gran Agave

Kids know everything, right?

At the end of the school year, in Year 1 of my project, my students had frequented Gran Agave, the closest Mexican restaurant to our school, not to mention the most easy-to-access.  I had kids write about it being the "best Mexican food they had ever eaten" and how they "love Mexican food now" because of their visits there.

Not that they went to other places, though.

The first time that I went to Gran Agave, I was not impressed.  Not in the least.  I had the Mole Poblano, and after having the Mole Poblano at Las Velas, there was no comparison.  The flavor just wasn't there at Gran Agave - it wasn't gross or inedible, but it was just not as good as the dish I had at Las Velas.

Everything's relative, right?

On the very last day of school for us teachers, several of my friends from the middle school asked me to go to lunch with them - and they were going to Gran Agave.  Despite my past experience, I figured it would be worth a second chance, as in any restaurant.  Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing last time.  Maybe they had changed things.  Maybe I was just so impressed with Las Velas that nothing could come close to their food.  

Gran Agave Menu Cover
 I arrived first and got a booth for the 6 of us in the back.  While I waited, I ordered what they called on the menu the "Orange" Jarritos, a popular brand of Mexican soda.  The flavor is actually "mandarin", but I understand that the common gringo knows "orange" more commonly than "mandarin".

At the same time, people will never learn anything knew unless what they already know is challenged. 
"Orange" (Mandarin) Jarritos
This is not "orange" like Sunkist Orange - the flavor is more subtle, and not as sweet.  It is more like orange-flavored soda water, so in my opinion, the flavor is more sophisticated than that of a kid's-marketed soda.

I even held off on eating any of the complimentary chips and salsa until everyone else arrived. Willpower is a tremendous thing, when it exists.  I do like the chips and salsa, even if the salsa is very runny - it has just enough spice to satisfy without being overpowering.  The chips are crispy with a good corn flavor.

While others decided upon quesadillas (some with just meat and cheese - really?), taco salads, and tacos, I decided upon an entree to try a few things on one plate.  The menu at Gran Agave is enormous, and it's too complicated - if you want people to have options, offer a mix-and-match menu, not a huge menu with about every food combination imaginable that makes it impossible to be decisive in a timely manner.  

I finally came to the conclusion that I wanted some basic Mexican foods, so I ordered "La Favorita": One special burrito, one tostaguac (basically a tortilla covered in guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and cheese), and one chicken enchilada.  

"La Favorita": Tostaguac, Special Burrito, Chicken Enchilada
 The best part of the meal was again catching up with my middle school friends.  Even though the middle school now sits on the same campus of the high school where I teach, I still rarely see them, as our school hours are not aligned. 

My opinion on the food at Gran Agave remains at "Meh".  It's not bad.  It's not great.  I cleaned my plate, but there is something about the flavor - basically, it lacks flavor.  On the menu, it reads, "Not all Mexican food is hot.  All our dishes are meticulously prepared with authentic yet mild flavor.  For those who like it hot, we put a dish of hot sauce on the table.  Let us introduce you to real Mexican food."

Um.  Yes, most people think that Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Moe's are examples of "real" Mexican food - but, I'm sorry, David Montanez's version of Mexican food at Las Velas remains to me a better example of "real" Mexican food.  

I trust him.  He's Mexican - for real.

So kids, I understand that Gran Agave is a CLOSE example of better Mexican food, but really, downtown Pittsburgh isn't that much farther - and a good meal is never not worth traveling for.  Popularity and proximity should not be determiners of what is "good".  

When something is truly "good", it's worth the extra effort.

Gran Agave
152 East Bridge St.
Homestead, PA 15120

Gran Agave on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. And I hold the reverse. I have lived in California, have countless Mexican friends, and find the food at Las Velas to be "meh" whereas the flavor and feel of Gran Agave is totally real. Just stay away from the combinations and go for the House Specialties. Vicente, the owner, has admitted to me that in order to be successful he has had to make "comida al estilo gringo para paladares gringos" With that you can pretty much summarize everything. To me, the mole at Gran Agave knows no equal outside of Old Town San Diego or homemade by a friend. Guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.