PULASKI — In the heart of Pulaski, there's a restaurant called Margaritas that takes up three downtown storefronts. It opened in June after nearly a year of complete renovation inside and out.
As you enter, there's an extensive bar area straight ahead and two dining rooms to either side of the bar. The dining room to the left is reserved for private parties or overflow on a busy night.
The general dining room is to the right, with unmistakable Mexican décor, right down to custom-made wooden booths decorated with hand-painted tiles from Mexico. Perfect lighting sets a comfortable mood. Walls separate both dining rooms from the bar area.
As you'd expect from the name, Margaritas serves Mexican food. But it also serves Italian food. And not just a few things from each category — there are easily over 100 items on the menu.
If you're looking for classic Mexican food, they've got it, from beef, chicken or seafood quesadillas and fajitas to tacos and nachos, along with a long list of Southwestern specialties. And if you're hungry enough, there's the 24-inch loaded burrito they call the "monster-ito."
For Italian, there's lasagna, manicotti, ravioli, chicken parmesan, eggplant parmesan, seafood Alfredo, shrimp scampi and lots more.
Plus appetizers, salads, flatbread pizzas, flame-broiled burgers, vegetarian dishes and desserts. And 14 "hand-crafted" flavored margaritas, including the 60-ounce "monster-ita."
We munched on complimentary tortilla chips and salsa as we waded through the variety of offerings on the menu. Many of the appetizers carry the Mexican theme, like fried desert onion strings and gringo shrimp cocktail.
We opted to try the Mexican flautas ($4.99) and the clams casino ($8.99).
The flautas were bean- and cheese-filled flour tortillas that were rolled and lightly fried. A sweet habanera sauce was served on the side, adding some mild zing to four otherwise flat flautas.
The restaurant prides itself on making everything from scratch. But the clams were nearly identical to Matlaw's clams casino that you can buy in the frozen food section of most any supermarket, mostly a ground-up greasy bacon-y paste smothering a clam on the half shell. A side of melted butter didn't exactly enhance the already fatty clams.
For entrées, we went with two Mexican dishes and two Italian.
You can add a salad to any entrée for $2.
A generous portion of carne asada ($11.99) appeared good upon delivery — sautéed steak rolled in a flour tortilla in a little pool of enchilada sauce. It's not traditional carne asada — more like a carne asada burrito. But after cutting into it, we found the thick-cut meat very well done and chewy and not very flavorful.
Commercial quacamole that we ordered as an add-on was a nice product, smooth and tasty. However the "Mexican rice medley" didn't exactly shout "olé," resembling Uncle Ben's long grain and wild rice. More like "oy vey." Same with the refried beans — we could have sworn they were Grandma Brown's baked beans with some cheese melted on top.
We tried one of the Southwestern specialties, mango and pineapple sweet habanera salsa grilled chicken ($13.99). Two baked chicken breasts were topped with the same sweet, gelatinous sauce as the flautas with some canned mango, mandarin oranges and pineapple. We couldn't understand why "grilled" was in the title if they intended to bake the chicken anyway.
A signature dish of any Italian menu is their lasagna, so we decided to try Lauri's famous homemade three-pound lasagna ($11.99). You read that right— three pounds. And it was more than a conversation piece — it was actually good.
A large plate was overflowing with this huge mountain of noodles, meat, cheese and a noticeably sweet red sauce. It was tasty and filling, and enough to feed a family of four. The majority of it went home with us for lunches the next three days.
Seafood pesto scampi ($16.99) was described in the menu as having shrimp, scallops and crabmeat sautéed in pesto, garlic butter and white wine, served over angel hair pasta. There was a generous portion of pasta and a fair amount of seafood, but we were hard pressed to taste the pesto or garlic, leaving the dish tasting rather bland. And I'm not a fan of imitation crabmeat at all.
Margaritas does offer dessert, including key lime pie, brownie a la mode, wild berry flan, tiramisu and French silk pie. Seems like the same choices are showing up everywhere. We decided to skip dessert due to the large entrée portions and the honesty of our server telling us that the desserts were not homemade.
Dinner for four came to $80. Service was knowledgeable and pleasant. Mexican music played quietly in the background. The owners have done a really nice job with the look of the place, inside and out. As far as the food goes, perhaps they should focus a little more on quality rather than quantity.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
4961 Jefferson St.
Mexican, Italian and American cuisine in the heart of downtown Pulaski.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Try their three-pound lasagna, big enough to feed a family of four.
RATING: 2 1/2 FORKS