Agave Grill News & Reviews

Agave Sets Itself Apart by Offering Modern Mexican Cuisine
By Keith Griffin
Southington Life – March, 2007

Photo by Lisa Brisson / Southington Life

Seven might be the lucky number for the Hartford Restaurant Group. Its Agave restaurant opened recently on Queen Street, joining four Wood-n-Tap restaurants (including one across the street), another Agave in downtown Hartford and Vaughan’s Public House, also downtown.

The partners in the group, when asked why Agave opened at the site of the former Gold Roc Diner answered, “why not?”

Bernie Gorski, who is the head chef, said “businesses are growing out here. Southington seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.”

Mr. Gorski said this town was the next logical step for the restaurant group.

Mike Hamlin, another of the partners, lives in Southington. A former restaurant manager, he’s more involved in the behind-the-scenes operations.

He said the former Gold Roc diner was targeted for purchase by the 99 Restaurant chain. He and his partners thought it would be in their best interests to purchase the site first because their Wood-n-Tap restaurant is located diagonally across Route 10. The national chain would have been in direct competition.

“There are a lot of national chains that want to be here,” said Mr. Hamlin, explaining that the popular Texas Road House chain wanted to locate where the Wood-n-Tap is now.

“It made good sense to buy it. It’s good real estate,” added Mr. Hamlin, who has a background in real estate investing.

This town is an attractive community in which to place a restaurant, he explained, because of its mixture of professionals, blue-collar workers and families. Sophisticated market research wasn’t required to determine this was a prime location.

“Count the cars that go by,” he said. “That’s all the market research you need to do.”

Al Ferranti, another of the partners behind the restaurant partnership, said the proximity to I-84 also encouraged them. It also helped that there are no other restaurants selling similar Mexican fare.

While praising the other Mexican restaurants in town, Mr. Ferranti said that Agave serves a different niche.

“It’s not your typical Southwestern fare. It’s a little more upscale and nicer.”

“We’re a little different,” Mr. Gorski said. “We’re a modern Mexican restaurant. We’re not just tacos and burritos.”

He is passionate about the food being served at the restaurant that opened February 12 after a series of soft openings, including a fund-raising event for the Southington Science & Mathematics Initiative that raised more than $6,500.

He waxes eloquently about the vibrancy, flavor and color of the food, adding that it’s “not just all brown.” He did research in Guadalajara and the town of Tequila before the first Agave restaurant was opened in Downtown Hartford near the Hartford Civic Center.

Mr. Gorski has worked as a chef for 25 years at restaurants around the world, including San Francisco, New York City, London, Paris and Brazil. He is a graduate of the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.

He was the opening chef for Pastis, the Red Plate and Black-Eyed Sally’s, all in Downtown Hartford. He was also the head chef for Mac on Main before it moved to Asylum Street.

One of the more popular items on the menu is bound to be the $8.95 guacamole dip prepared fresh by servers from avocados placed on the table.

Other appetizers include tamales de puerco; lobster; black bean and corn sopes; and queso fundido, a fondue of Mexican cheeses. Featured entrees include steak arrechera, a garlic and chile rubbed steak; tilapia en tortilla and pasilla rubbed tuna, an ahi tuna rubbed with a pasilla crust.

Agave also sells wraps and burgers that come with a unique treat – yucca fries and toasted cumin ketchup.

Parents will appreciate Agave’s extensive “Amigo’s Menu” designed for children 12 and younger. Items include tacos, taquitos, grilled chicken skewers, nachos, child-size quesadillas, chicken wings, chicken tenders and burgers.

All are $5.95 and come with a drink (and Wikki Stix to keep the children entertained.)

The dining room seats 165. The bar seats another 25-30 people. The patio, which will open in warmer weather, will seat about 85 outside.

It will be decorated with seasonal plants and iron furniture. The interior is decorated in tumeric and adobe colors to achieve a warm, comfortable Mexican style. The local Agave is three times the size of its Hartford counterpart. It employs 50 people.

One thing that will set Agave apart, and not just from Mexican competitors, is its extensive selection of tequila. Mr. Ferranti said that the restaurant will serve 65 different tequilas.

“It will be a constantly growing list,” he added, before delving into an eloquent explanation of the different grades of tequila: blancos, resposados, anejos and supremas.

Tequilas are classifies according to their distilling and aging processes.

Blancos typically aren’t aged at all. A reposado is aged from two months to one year. An anejo can be aged up to 10 years. The latter are usually the most expensive. Supremas are typically a more refined version of anejos.

Just like a wine list, there is a wide disparity in the price and quality. A house shot of tequila starts at $4, while the most expensive shot on the tequila menu is $45.

Even with an emphasis on tequila, children are welcome. A special children’s menu has been created.

“We’re more kid friendly out here,” Mr. Ferranti said, “than you’ll find in downtown Hartford.”

That location is extremely popular with downtown workers for lunch (30-minute waits are common for those arriving after 12) and for happy hour.

Music will be an element of Agave. At the beginning, a mariachi band will perform on Monday nights in the lounge area. The schedule could expand if demand grows.

Agave is located at 461 Queen Street. The kitchen is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Fridays and Saturdays it stays open until midnight. On Sundays that kitchen is open from 4 to 10 p.m.

The bar is open until 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. It closes at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.


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