Walking into Marfa on the LES the other night, I can't say that I knew for sure what I was getting into. There was a big steer head cow skull above the bar, paper bags used as candle holders (fire hazard?), and Marfa happens to be a city in West Texas. Ok, so maybe the signs aren't THAT subtle, and the only real flaw I felt was the lack of heat. It was VERY cold in this space – when I wasn't using my hands to shovel food into my mouth, I was sitting on them to keep them warm.
New chef Tony Cruz (formerly of Dos Caminos) has taken over at this West Texas BBQ spot, and when asked if I wanted to sample some of the menu items, I couldn't say no. That would be like an alcoholic turning down an open bar. The menu was pretty classic, expect for a few Mexican-inspired dishes like guacamole and fish tacos. Fish tacos? At a BBQ place? Not something you see every day, but West Texas is known for mixing in Mexican flavors, so I made it clear to our friendly waiter, JJ, that we would like to sample the Mexican-inspired food as well as the classics (ribs, mac and cheese, chicken fried steak, etc).
First dishes out: guacamole and chips, fish tacos and pulled pork bbq nachos. Sounds like a Mexican dining experience, no? Well, fortunately for Marfa, they could put two scoops of guac in an ice cream cone and I would eat it, so I had no real issue with this. The guacamole was good; I liked the consistency and the lemony flavor. It was a perfect bite every time with the fresh tomatoes on top. I hate when the avocados aren't ripe enough and they don't mash up well – you break your chip every time you dip. No bueno.
I have to pay special attention to the fish tacos because I thought they were excellent. The crispy tilapia was tender inside, with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cool sour cream and guacamole; and it came with a serrano pepper salsa on the side in case you want that extra bit of heat (like I did). My brother joined me for this meal, and he wasn't thrilled about getting fish tacos, but he had a total change of heart (and stomach) with the very first bite. If they sold these out of a truck in midtown somewhere they would probably make a killing (hint hint Marfa).
The pulled pork nachos were good, but I had one major problem with them: not enough pulled pork. Look, nachos in my opinion, are good with almost anything on them: traditional ground beef, pulled pork, chicken, bacon, whatever – the more meat the better (insert a "thats what she said" here). But you can't call something "Pulled Pork Nachos" and then skimp on the pulled pork. Me and my brother were literally digging through the mountains of chips for the pulled pork and would blurt out "found some!" and get all excited about unearthing a 2-inch sliver of pulled pork from the rubble of tortilla chips. Why no mas?! I was a bit disappointed by that. Especially considering the pulled pork itself tasted good. I would have enjoyed more..
At this point in the meal, we had left Mexico apparently and stepped into Mama's down home cookin' in Texas with some ribs, beans, chicken fried steak, mac and cheese, and jalapeno cornbread with chipotle honey butter. Drool. My favorites were the ribs and the mac and cheese. The ribs were sweet and saucy, and I was literally just picking the meat off the bone with my fingers – no need to even bite into it. They also make two homemade BBQ sauces: Mango BBQ and Serrano Pepper. The Mango BBQ is perfect for someone who likes sweetness with just a bit of heat (like my brother), and the Serrano Pepper has a slow heat that sneaks up on you, but it's still not overly spicy…it could be a touch hotter. Now the mac and cheese had the words "world famous" tacked onto it. Any food item that has the words "world famous" preceding it, is something that you should try, regardless of it being a false claim or not. Well, I don't know if this mac and cheese is really "world famous," but it could be. Elbow macaroni gets a cheesy bath and is left with a gooey, creamy texture with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs on top. What more could you ask for at a BBQ place?
I was underwhelmed by the chicken fried steak, but this is not a dish I usually get anywhere – it makes the steak tough I think. I like my steak seared on both sides and cooked medium to medium-rare, not pounded thin, battered and deep fried – leave that to the chickens. However, it was served on top of some buttery mashed potatoes that had a nice kick to them. Silver lining: everything here was seasoned well. The jalapeno cornbread had a good sweet and spicy flavor too, but it was a tad crumbly for my taste. Maybe some people like it that way, but I like cornbread a little more moist. Fortunately, the honey-chipotle butter made that possible for me. Dry bread? No biggie – just soak it in some butter.
After all that, we finally made it to dessert: chocolate souffle and cheesecake. This was an unfair fight for two reasons: 1 – I have never met a chocolate souffle I didn't like, and 2 – I have never met a cheesecake that beats my moms. Sorry Marfa (and everyone else who makes cheesecake). So in my opinion, the chocolate souffle
was the perfect ending to my Mexican/BBQ meal. If you dislike a moist chocolate cake with melted chocolate inside dipped in vanilla ice cream, then I don't want to know you.
My overall experience with Marfa was a good one. Chef Cruz really knows his Mexican food, and has proven his skills as a BBQ chef too, clearly. However, I felt like the meal was more of a transition from Mexican to BBQ, and considering his talent with Mexican food (hello fish tacos), I think a mild fusion would be even better. What's wrong with a little guacaroni and cheese?? Or at the very least have more Mexican items on the menu to even the score. It just doesn't seem fair. Still, I'd definitely come back to Marfa, my only request would be to turn up the heat a bit – both in the BBQ sauce and the dining area.
101 East 2nd St (near 1st ave)