Few things comfort me more than the blue corn cheese enchilada at Blue Mesa Southwestern Grill (612 Carroll St, 817-332-6372). The gooey queso fresco nestled in a cobalt-colored tortilla mellows out the piquant three-chile sauce the same way a whiskey shot takes the edge off the pain of owning a house with knickknacks and a toddler.
As of October, the Dallas-based mini-chain abandoned its longstanding space and set up shop in the still-developing end of the West 7th area near Montgomery Plaza. The interior of its swanky new environs is open and bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the dining room with natural light during the lunch hours. The walls are adorned with faux rustic-looking light fixtures and paintings of earthen jugs as though the brass ordered the “Mexican Village” package out of Pottery Barn’s restaurant décor catalog. But the effect is pleasing if generic.
For those of us who remember when the Mesa planted its flag in University Park Village some 20 years ago, its absence in that area will undoubtedly leave a void. After all, back then, the Fort’s culinary landscape was a barren wasteland of Brinker chains, fast food, barbecue joints, some good Mexican options, and a smattering of fine-dining joints. Blue Mesa was a godsend: an upscale but approachable menu of gussied-up Southwestern standards. The cuisine was familiar to fans of Tex-Mex, like seeing a cousin who looks like you but has a way better job and a cuter family.
I found it odd that Blue Mesa pulled its stakes right before its now-former neighborhood near I-30 and University Drive finally started to attract some good/great eateries (HG Sply, Pacific Table, East Hampton Sandwich Co., Woodshed Smokehouse). Last year, Chili’s Grill shuttered its location in that same shopping center, which makes me think the real estate is ascending into hoity heights. At least Blue Mesa didn’t close down.
The move hasn’t robbed the place of its mojo. On my recent visit, the “perfect” tortilla soup ($5 a cup) was teeming with cheese, crispy strips of kaleidoscopic tortillas, cilantro, and huge chunks of carrots, onions, tomatoes, and shredded chicken. The broth had a rich, fully developed flavor with a tinge of lime. I went straight for the enchiladas ($9.50), accompanied by fluffy ginger rice and intense, smoky black beans. My guest’s Mesa sampler ($11) – grilled vegetables with goat cheese, basil pesto, and black beans – was a lighter smorgasbord of Mesa favorites.
Of course, Blue Mesa is known more for its brunch buffet ($22) than lunch. At its old spot, there would be a line of brunch-hungry masses practically winding around TCU’s Ed Landreth Hall. When I dropped in to the West 7th location, the dining room was full but not quite as frenzied. The bill of fare is pretty much the same, with some seasonal additions. I gorged on sweet corn cakes and omelets, while numbing my will power with complimentary mimosas.
On both of my visits, the service was prompt and pleasant despite the place being busy. The tequila bar is still a happening spot, as power-lunchers and Westside ladies alike downed neon-colored alcoholic beverages with Don Draper-like aplomb.
The new digs are going to take an adjustment period –– like your parents moving out of the house you grew up in to a posh swingers’ condominium complex. But as long as the kitchen serves its signature enchiladas, it’ll still feel like home.