A Local Cantina
WORDS BY MEGAN GREENBERG • PHOTOS BY CHAD SPENCER
If tequila were a movie star it would surely be Ryan Gosling. Or, perhaps, if Ryan Gosling were a drink, he would be tequila, albeit with a little less Latin flair. Either way, both are effortlessly cool, with a mouthwatering mix of one part style and two parts smoothness.
Wait. What? Smoothness? No, no—isn’t tequila much more likely to be Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, given that tequila can be rough, gritty even, with the ability to make, or more likely unmake, your day? Or how about Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, or other train wrecks that have been known to wake up on a stranger’s bathroom floor, just like that time you did during your tequila-laden Senior Trip to Cancun?
Look, if you didn’t just vigorously nod your head in agreement to the Gosling analogy, well, chances are you’ve been doing it wrong— and we have 101 wonderful ways to remedy that: Tequila Cantina. Tequila Cantina opened in March 2012 as the brainchild of Milo Milkovich, a restaurant owner who has been in the biz for over 25 years. Milo, of Serbian descent and hailing from Ohio, may seem to have an odd pedigree for a tequila expert but this man knows his stuff. “I’ve owned and operated many restaurants, but I’ve wanted to do a tequila bar forever,” he says. “When this spot became available I knew it was perfect.”
What gave him that idea? The floor, of course. The original terrazzo floors became the foundation to what would soon become a veritable cantina, complete with a 56-foot-long bar, authentic cuisine, an openair feel, and over 100 different tequilas.
Although Tequila Cantina is a relatively small spot, its high ceilings and mirrored walls make it feel almost cavernous. As does that lengthy bar, with its facade covered in ornate golden plating, it graciously invites patrons to belly up. Behind the bar stands a gorgeously crafted mahogany back bar, which made its restaurant debut in Chicago in the ’40s. It houses 101 tequilas and counting, from well-knowns like Jose Cuervo Black Medallion to the gloriously smooth Republic Organic Reposado to some extremely rare labels like Casa Dragones and Don Julio 1942. Between the two bars sits a compact stage where acoustic musicians serenade the crowd on weekdays; on weekends, DJs put patrons into the party mood with songs often not heard in cantinas south of the border.
Tequila isn’t the only item on the menu. In fact, the menu is quite extensive, mixing the usual suspects—tacos, chili rellenos, and guacamole— with a few gastronomic surprises—duck, goat cheese, cactus cumin crema—a mix Milo refers to as “mod-Mex cuisine.”
“A cantina is a comfy, unpretentious gathering spot with great food,” says Milo. “Sarasota needed something more trendy, something modern, but I still wanted to keep true to the cantina concept.”
This mix of modern and authentic is what allows you to order Alas de Pollo (chicken wings tossed in Jamaican spices and honey-chipotle with aji amarillo aioli) and a glass of 60-year-old tequila as you sit staring at that mahogany back bar from the ’40s while a DJ plays your favorite ’80s songs and diners dance on the open patio, surrounded by exposed brick from the establishment’s original build-out, beneath a grouping of beautiful metal star lights imported directly from Mexico. Oh, and P.S.: All of this goes on until the restaurant’s closing time of 2 a.m. Now, if that’s not Gosling cool….
Thankfully, today’s tequila is also mod-Mex, mixing modern practices with thousand-year-old technique, turning tequila into more of a connoisseur item than a novelty. Those who once got college drunk on cheap tequilas have now grown up, and so has the tequila they drink. The days of downing sloppy shots of fire-breathing liquid are long gone, joyously replaced by a liquor well deserving of its long, rich history.
You don’t have to be a loyal tequila fan to come to come to Tequila Cantina, as it also offers a full bar, live music, outdoor seating, and fish sandwiches. However, dare you order the sophisticated Pink Taco Martini, made with ultra-smooth Republic Organic Anejo Tequila, fresh lemon squeeze, fresh carrot juice, turbinado syrup, and a sparkling wine floater, you will most likely find yourself among the scores of others that Tequila Cantina has turned into newly minted tequila converts.
Want to see what all the fuss is about? Come to Tequila Cantina on February 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. for Edible Sarasota’s “101 Bottles of Tequila on the Wall.” Tickets are $25 and are limited to 150 people. There will be a guacamole bar, big raffles, live entertainment, a special menu created just for this event, and loads of tequila tasting. But, seriously, who could turn down a guacamole bar? For more information on the event visit EdibleSarasota.com.
Tequila Cantina: 1454 Main St, Sarasota; 941-554-8586; facebook.com/pages/Tequila-CantinaRead More