Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill: Decadent, delicious and different

Blue Agave Tequila Bar & Grill opened in December 2010 on U.S. 41 East in Naples Towne Centre.

Photo by TIM ATEN // Buy this photo

Blue Agave Tequila Bar & Grill opened in December 2010 on U.S. 41 East in Naples Towne Centre.

Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill's show-stopping signature dish is Molcajete Azteca, a bubbling and boiling entree of steak, chicken, chorizo, grilled onions and cactus in a green tomatillo sauce and Oaxaca cheese.

ELIZABETH KELLAR

Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill's show-stopping signature dish is Molcajete Azteca, a bubbling and boiling entree of steak, chicken, chorizo, grilled onions and cactus in a green tomatillo sauce and Oaxaca cheese.

Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill serves its signature tequila cocktails in a grande martini glass. The Judy Blue is  a blend of Milagro Silver Tequila, Blue Curacao, Agavero Orange Liqueur and fresh lime juice.

ELIZABETH KELLAR

Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill serves its signature tequila cocktails in a grande martini glass. The Judy Blue is a blend of Milagro Silver Tequila, Blue Curacao, Agavero Orange Liqueur and fresh lime juice.

Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill is an East Naples eatery that's casual, cozy and surprisingly sophisticated. Glazed Mexican pottery adorns the walls and shelves, while embellished tiles and polished wood give the restaurant a warm, inviting feel.

ELIZABETH KELLAR

Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill is an East Naples eatery that's casual, cozy and surprisingly sophisticated. Glazed Mexican pottery adorns the walls and shelves, while embellished tiles and polished wood give the restaurant a warm, inviting feel.

Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill

Address: 3785 U.S. 41 E., in the Naples Towne Centre

Phone: 262-2582. Reservations not taken; OK to call ahead for large parties

Prices: Appetizers from $5.25 to $8.95. Entrees from $11.25 to $21.95. Children’s menu available.

— Call it a culinary confession, even if I suppose it’s not especially scandalous: Before my recent dining excursion to Blue Agave Tequila Bar and Grill, I really don’t recall the last meal I ate out of a steaming stone cauldron.

True, a molcajete is not actually a cauldron; it’s the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle, rendered in volcanic rock. It’s also what the executive chef of Blue Agave, Arturo Perez Jr., uses to serve the East Naples restaurant’s show-stopping signature dish, the Molcajete Azteca.

An entree of steak, chicken, chorizo, grilled onions and cactus, the Molcajete Azteca arrived bubbling and boiling in a green tomatillo sauce and Oaxaca cheese, a side of warm tortillas waiting at the ready.

My dining companion and I were duly impressed — and, admittedly, a little intimidated, too. Where to begin? After all, it’s not every day you’re presented with a deliciously fragrant, piping-hot meat medley. Not in Naples, anyway.

This, though, only speaks to Blue Agave’s charms. Co-owner and manager Judy Barney says she’s currently playing around with taglines and slogans for the restaurant; she keeps returning to “decadent, delicious and a little different.”

I’m inclined to agree. Certainly, the Molcajete Azteca proved to be all those things. The meat was perfectly seasoned, while the tomatillo sauce was lightly sweet and tangy, with just a bit of burn. Then there was the unforgettable presentation.

My dinner companion pronounced the Molcajete Azteca amazing — and then summarily stuffed himself.

The restaurant, too, is not what you might anticipate as you drive by. Located in what used to be a Ponderosa Steakhouse, then a kosher deli, followed by an Italian bistro and finally a nightclub, Blue Agave’s exterior and interior have been given a much-needed overhaul.

The result is an eatery that’s casual, cozy and surprisingly sophisticated. Glazed Mexican pottery adorns the walls and shelves, while embellished tiles and polished wood give the restaurant a warm, inviting feel. Many of the traditional trappings of an American Mexican restaurant are absent; in short, there’s nary a sombrero or serape in sight.

Not everything at Blue Agave is a departure from the expected.

In addition to the Molcajete Azteca, we also tried the Carne Asada and Tex-Mex Enchiladas; both were flavorful and attractively plated. To start, we ordered guacamole, queso fundido and Mexican shrimp cocktail. The melted cheese of the queso fundido was creamy and rich without being greasy, and the guacamole, while simple, was fresh and tasty. It was also a perfect complement to the crisp citrus and jalapeno peppers of the shrimp cocktail.

And speaking of cocktails: Blue Agave, as the name suggests, is a tequila bar. About 50 tequilas are offered, ranging in price by shot from $8 to $35. There are big, familiar names on the list — Cuervo and Patron, to mention two — but also some makers that are harder to find, such as Maesto Dobel Diamond.

The restaurant serves its three signature tequila cocktails in what is called a “grande martini glass.” This is because, as Barney quips, “Why take the local, when you can take the express? I don’t believe in drinking 12 margaritas.”

We sampled the lot, including the margarita that bears Barney’s own name, the Judy Blue.

Barney says she doesn’t like a margarita with too much sourness, and with the Judy Blue — or as I began to call it, the Judge Judy, since I felt sure that by ordering more than one, I would feel judged — the bartender has created a concoction that met Barney’s standards. The cocktail is pleasantly tart and not at all sour, a blend of Milagro Silver Tequila, Blue Curacao, Agavero Orange Liqueur and fresh lime juice that, at $15.50, is dangerously drinkable.

The drink menu also offers “Arturo’s cocktails,” a nod to Blue Agave’s well-known big sister restaurant, Arturo’s Italian Restaurant on Marco Island. There, the Arturo in the kitchen is the father, not the son, although both hail from Mexico.

Blue Agave is a new venture and a bit scary for the veteran restaurateurs, Barney admits. But it was also time to take the plunge: Arturo Jr. is “young blood, and he’s excited,” she says.

Blue Agave will remain a restaurant first, and committed to the formula that has also made Arturo’s a success: “Give quality and quantity in a beautiful atmosphere with reasonable prices,” Barney says.

And, definitely a little different. In the best possible way.

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