Agave Tex-Mex: Good, Bad and Ugly
There will be good Tex-Mex and rumors of good Tex-Mex. Mostly rumors, though—at least in the Dallas area.
It's a sad fact: apart from some fabled taquerias and a few notable exceptions, Tex-Mex restaurants in this part of the world survive on mediocre cooking and the forbearance of diners. They don't need to try harder because tacos and such are considered comfort food, and people avert their thoughts from puddles of orange grease, pasty yellow cheese and commercial seasoning.
Opening a Tex-Mex joint in Dallas, in other words, is like getting accepted into Arizona State. You don't need to put in much effort, but congratulations and a degree wait at the end.
So Agave Tex-Mex in Flower Mound fits right into our comfort zone. I've heard positive comments from those who live in, or for some reason venture into, the vast grid of Mapsco pale orange. But the restaurant's fish tostadas are singularly disturbing—like a Texan adaptation of seafood salad sandwiches, if served by a school cafeteria. Chunks of "fish" (can't tell which kind, although the meat tends to be a grungy white) in a pool of mayo dotted by some other stuff sit on crunchy, dry tortilla rounds. Salt struggles against nondescript flavors and a fatty texture for the right to define the entire experience. The results of this fight can be nauseating.
As I mentioned, people say the place is pretty good. Yet under the "Enchiladas" banner, their menu lists tamales, as well as something called the "old-fashioned," which they liken to tacos. How a kitchen treats masa and its meat or cheese filling says a lot, so on one visit I opt for the tamales.
"Oh, we're out of tamales today," the waiter informs me.
Really? No tamales on a Saturday, traditionally one of the busiest days of the restaurant week? Maybe you ordered enchiladas from the purveyor by mistake.
The old fashioned consists of tortillas filled with under-seasoned ground beef—you can also choose beef strips—formed into taco-shaped pockets and deep fried. The effect is quite heavy, aided along by bulk products like rice and refried beans. Because they clamp the shell shut, additions like lettuce and tomato end up in a side salad pile, without dressing. In fact, they don't (or didn't on this occasion) even deliver a sauce to break up the fatty monotony.
For a restaurant banking on the name of owner Lisa Galvan—formerly behind Luna de Noche—and star power financing from Tony Casillas of Dallas Cowboys fame, you might expect more—if you are still caught in the local Tex-Mex spell, that is. Occasionally the kitchen delivers flashes of talent to justify statements from ownership about their Tex-Mex place serving the "best Mexican food in the metroplex." Their chimichanga, for instance, looks quite nice dressed in a burnt orange paste and drizzle of white. The crust is layered like phyllo and almost as delicate. Reasonably tender fajita-cut beef fills the inside, so the combination should be impressive. But a dull funk oozes from the meat, and the sauce is far too timid to bring color to the dish.
Of course, the chimichanga originated in Arizona, not Mexico—it can hardly count against the "best Mexican" claim. Their version of xochitl, on the other hand, appears to justify such confidence, striking consistently wonderful notes: seasoning held neatly in check behind the warm and hearty chicken stock, onions adding a sharp kick, avocado smoothing things out—it's a starter worthy of some contemplation.
If only they'd give you the time.
Judging by the restaurant, things shut down in Flower Mound shortly after sunset on school/work nights. Agave Tex-Mex locks up at 9 p.m. By 8:30 on my first visit, all unoccupied chairs were propped on tables, a staff member hustled to sweep the floors and we had been prodded three times by waiters employing the "there's no rush" tactic.
Hmm...if there's no rush, why slap the check on our table? In fact, why bring out entrees long before we finished off the appetizers? I get the feeling Flower Mound runs a strict curfew. If you're caught in public after 9:30 p.m. or somewhere thereabouts, you end up writing Johnny Cash songs in the city jail.
It's not like the space is very welcoming to begin with. The dining area resembles a cafeteria at one of those white-collar prisons: glossed floor of dark concrete, tablecloths of the same color, a darker ceiling, booths brightened by a few shades. And just getting to the suburban oasis can be an annoying gauntlet of backed-up traffic, stoplights and construction zones. On a Saturday afternoon, I had to root around—Mapsco-less—for side streets leading toward the restaurant or face a 1 mph creep to the intersection. A woman at the next table had a shorter trek but the same level of frustration.
"I hit every red light on 407," she tells her friend. "Ran one of them; I figured the worst they could do is give me a ticket."
Yeah, or you could die in a crumpled Kia—which doesn't sound so bad after 30 minutes sitting on Justin Road waiting for the radiator fan to kick in before your coolant boils over, listening to Jack FM play the same crap, wondering why this spot of prairie-turned-shopping center/subdivision/shopping center/subdivision exists. The night servers edged us out early; I had to listen as clean-cut young couples at the next table debated which Bible lessons to ready for their kids. The ride out and the watered-down margaritas made me so desperate for entertainment, I almost launched into a lecture on the virtues of socialism, just to drive the good folks away. Instead, we settled into more family-friendly topics, in order to blend in.
You know, why topless models are right to stand up against gay marriage, how fat former drug addicts could save the Republican Party, that sort of thing.
So, in essence, you get cued to leave by 8:30 on weeknights, and traffic on weekends will make you contemplate a game of chicken with soccer moms. If you manage to live, the reward may be "J.C.'s shrimp," a plate of large butterflied shellfish, heavily steamed and soaked in rust-flavored sauce until the meat almost dissolves into seafood porridge. On the other hand, you may end up with a delicate appetizer of jalapeño rellenos. Mild green—chiles rolled lightly in dough, halved and pan-fried, so a crisp veneer of crust dances across the skin. On top, crumbled bacon brings a nice, smoky point to sharp cheese. It's tempura, Texas-style.
Once in a while, the place surprises you. For the most part, well, let's just say it fits in with the rest of this area's Tex-Mex scene.
Agave Tex-Mex Grill 5801 Long Prairie Road, Flower Mound, 972-355-0044. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$
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