Jill and I have driven by The Grasshopper on South Tamiami Trail waaaay more than a dozen times, and every single time Jill made mention that the Mexican cantina seemed to always be busy, but usually headed somewhere else, we kept driving by.
It wasn’t until last week that our curiosity, and a serious urge for a south-of-the-border food fix, brought us to The Grasshopper. With its fresh, new façade, this 4-year-old operation (at least locally, that is,) opens to bright, a color-filled dining room that seems to promise we’re in for a fiestive meal.
Since we’d arrived on the early side of The Grasshopper’s daily 4-7 pm happy hour, we chose a booth in the lounge. However, within a very few moments, even the dining room was full! Guess The Grasshopper is every bit as popular as we’d thought!
Within moments, Tasha, our smiling server came to the table with fresh corn chips, and squeeze bottles of fresh salsa. Smart move when serving a self-confessed salsa hound like me. Those small soufflé cups that are the norm at other restaurants would never work when the salsa is this good. You know I’d be looking for more than one refill!
With our menus in hand, we ordered a couple of easy drinking classic margaritas. Crisp and not too sweet, these were a refreshing choice while I proceeded to change my mind at least a half dozen times as I tried to narrow down my order.
Before I got my thoughts together, it was Jill & Mart “1”, Chips “0.” And immediately . . . without having to raise a finger . . . Tasha was back at our table with a fresh basket of chips! Yeah! Moments after diving into the new basket of chips Jill pushed them to my side of the table, declaring that she didn’t want to make a meal of chips and salso when the menu offered so many other tantalizing choices! (Spoiler Alert . . . She still helped me finish that second basket of chips!)
With plenty of time-tested favorites on the menu, Jill focused on several classic Tex/Mex offerings, while I was drawn to a few dishes I hadn’t tried before. Fortunately for us, and every other guest, The Grasshopper’s menu items are served at such affordable prices that guests can’t help but explore. Love that!
Jill decided to build her own combination plate, sans rice and beans, starting with a Shrimp Taco. You can order either a corn or a flour tortilla, with the Shrimp Taco hosting three large, juicy shrimp topped with crispy fresh lettuce and a zippy Pico de Gallo.
Along with her taco, Jill ordered a standard Burrito, choosing puerco guisada; bite sized chunks of cubed pork bathed in a savory gravy. Topping off her burrito, Jill chose The Grasshopper’s popular yellow queso sauce, made with yellow cheese, jalapenos, red and green peppers. Yum!
Finishing up her trio was a classic Beef Enchilada flavored with cheese and onions then slathered with a creamy red enchilada sauce and topped with more melted cheese. Jill gave each dish her “I once lived in San Antonio Seal of Approval,” very pleased with the portion sizes as well. “I loved being able to order all three dishes without feeling stuffed,” she explained. “I loved not having to choose one dish over the others!”
Feeling a bit adventurous, I was all-in for a cup of Menudo soup, made with ever-so-tender beef tripe and hominy in a beautifully seasoned golden broth. Delivered with a side dishes of diced onion, lemon, oregano, and a fresh, warm flour tortilla, I really enjoyed this soup, while I confess skipping the tortilla. There was no way I was going to alter the flavors in that bowl by dipping it with a tortilla or anything else you could offer me. Truly a unique and tasty soup.
Served together on a single plate were my two other choices, a Pork Chalupa, and the sensational Barbacoa Taco. This over the top delicious taco comprised of seasoned beef cheeks that are slow roasted for a full 9 hours and served in a warm flour tortilla with fresh cilantro and onions. A simple squeeze of fresh lime was all I needed to make this taco one I’d gladly order again. The Chalupa was something I’d had before, sort of a “Mexican Open Face sandwich” that starts with a corn tortilla covered with refried beans and your choice of meat, then smothered in hot, gooey melted cheese. Those veggies on the top; lettuce and tomato, helped sop up all that cheesy goodness. I’m a big fan of both dishes.
Suffice it to say, the service was fast and friendly, the food enticingly aromatic and tasting even better! You’ll find there is more than meets the eye, and the palate, at The Grasshopper . . . Case in point – the guacamole. Jill ordered a side of guacamole with her dinner, and kindly invited me “to try it.” So “try it,” I did, and I’m still apologizing for returning an empty ramekin to her. (Sorry, not sorry!)
Totally satiated at this point, I offered to make it up to Jill by splitting an order of Fried Ice Cream, because, well . . . Fried Ice Cream! We had a choice of sauces, going with a warm caramel drizzled over this classic Mexican dessert. The Grasshopper takes a ball of vanilla ice cream, rolls it in graham cracker crumbs, then flash-fries it to a warm, golden brown and dusts it with cinnamon. With spoons in hand, we cut into the warm cookie crust, hearing a slight crunch as it collapses into the creamy vanilla ice cream. What a treat, made all the better with the aforementioned caramel.
During dinner, I noticed a fellow moving about the restaurant, sometimes with a broom and dustpan, sometimes tweaking switches behind the bar, and constantly monitoring the pulse of the place. After our meals, I wanted a close up of the Juke Box(!) in the lounge, and struck up a conversation with him.
Dino, as it turns out, is a third generation restauranteur and owner of The Grasshopper, which originates from Adrian, Michigan, some 46 years ago! Soft spoken and friendly, he explained how all of the recipes at The Grasshopper, both here and at the original restaurant in Michigan, came from his grandmother. So that’s why every dish tastes so authentic and . . . what’s the word I’m looking for . . . sincere! Dino also explained how every dish, every sauce and every topping is made from scratch in small batches, several times a day as needed, and there are no “extended shelf life” preservatives used at The Grasshopper. Abuela would be so proud!
Upon hearing that Jill had chosen to skip the rice and beans, Dino insisted we sample their re-fried beans, a menu item he’s quite proud of. Bringing out a tasting portion of easily the creamiest re-fried beans I can remember, he explained how they cook their red beans over a period of 6 hours in two stages . . . over two days. “We initially cook the beans until they turn a light pink and are ready to pop,” Dino started to share. And then . . . well the rest of the recipe is for him to share, easily an example of Tex/Mex cuisine done right. (Maybe this ramekin made up for the one of guacamole!)
While this gem of a restaurant has never shouted “look at me,” once you find it, you can’t help but appreciate The Grasshopper. It will forever be top-of-mind for us next time the Tex-Mex urge strikes again, and certainly a place we’ll have a hard time driving by without stopping in!
For a list of their daily specials, both entrees and cocktails, visit their website at http://thegrasshoppertexmex.com/