Cachonga’s (4255 Camp Bowie Blvd.) reopened a couple of weeks ago after a few dark days of internal strife, and Chow, Baby is mostly glad. The food is as skillfully prepared as ever, though Cachonga’s subhead, “Southwestern/Mexican Cuisine,” still seems to encompass whatever cool chef Keith Hicks wants it to: shrimp alfredo, filet Oscar, osso bucco … . No matter.
Since the reopening, Chow, Baby has quite enjoyed the range of cuisines: homestyle pot roast ($11.99 dinner), with all the appropriate vegetables slow-cooked in; rasta pasta ($12.99 dinner) tossed with not-too-spicy jerk-marinated chicken; properly chewy beef fajitas ($8.99 lunch) with all the sides, though sadly the guac was a little aged; and a seafood gumbo ($7.99 lunch) full of meaty crab claws, andouille bits, and other yummy stuff. Yeah, the food is fine.
But Cachonga’s suffers from sofabed syndrome. This is a term Chow, Baby made up (obviously) to describe something that attempts to fill two roles and does neither one well, like a writer trying to both be clever and make deadline. Cachonga’s full name ends with “& Cantina,” which is vacation-Mex for “and bar,” and therein lies the sofabed: The bar atmosphere intrudes into the restaurant, with a very high Screechy Suzie count during happy hours, servers who appear to have been hired for their looks rather than brains or experience (except for Art, who has it all), and hostesses who – what is Chow, Baby’s childhood trauma with chirrupy hostesses, anyway? Good lord, they grate.
Not that upper-crust silence is a dining must: Some of Chow, Baby’s favorite joints around town prove that “bar” and “restaurant” can happily coexist. Several even throw in “music venue” and do all three things right. Fred’s, natch. J. Gilligan’s (400 E. Abram St., Arlington) also comes to mind, with its pear cider on tap, live music on weekends, and better-than-sex Irish nachos ($5.69). And Bronco’s Sports Bar & Grill (900 Airport Fwy., Bedford) is clearly “bar” by Chow, Baby’s definition – pool tables, cute waitresses, Coors banners, music stage, patrons in scanty clothing – but it does a heck of a job at “grill,” too.
In between trips to keep Velvet Love Box supplied with onstage beer, a full-time job in itself, the lovely, skilled, and incredibly patient Kristin helped Chow, Baby decipher the sports-themed menu (food is served from 11 a.m. until people stop wanting to eat). Of course Chow, Baby began with that bar-food staple, fried mushrooms ($5.25), not the kind that are dumped frozen out of a Sysco food services bag and then nuked to perfection but the real hand-battered deal.
The same herbed-and-spiced batter was used for the shrimp po-boy ($6.95), a little odd for the shrimp being butterflied instead of whole, but tasty nonetheless. Though the beloved’s topping-substitution requests were intricate, the grilled chicken sandwich ($6.75) came out just right and with yummy-battered onion rings. Granted, Bronco’s won’t win any culinary awards, except possibly Chow, Baby’s own “best bar food,” but the music was great, the beer was cold, and the only screeching was in support of the band (and most of it came from Chow, Baby). All in all, a very pleasant bar/dining experience.
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