Dec 24, 2016

Margaritas and mole at Rosepepper Cantina and Mexican Grill, Nashville, Tenn.

What a difference a year makes.  Although my job requires extensive travel, this commoner is fortunate to be spending the entire month of December at home … still working, but at least I have a lengthy respite from the road for the holidays.  Last year, however, I found myself working in Nashville for most of the month and exploring the city’s increasingly trendy and hipster-heavy East Nashville neighborhood.  And Rosepepper Cantina and Mexican Grill was one of my first discoveries. 

To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t take much to interest me in Mexican food, but a little research into Nashville’s dining scene put Rosepepper near the top of my to-do list.  As it turns out, the menu is full of surprises – not your typical Americanized restaurant fare – and being recognized as the city’s best Mexican restaurant and best margarita for 11 years in a row give Rosepepper more than a little street cred. 

So, I ventured out one rainy Thursday night last year into the heart of East Nashville to see if Rosepepper was as popular and as good as advertised. 

Sure enough, the place was packed, especially the bar area which was overflowing with the happy hour crowd.  Nonetheless, I waited out a high-top table appropriate for a party of one and nestled right in.

While I perused the menu for a mole dish, my waitress delivered the customary complimentary chips and salsa.  To my surprise (and a pleasant one at that), I received a trio of salsas to sample.  Of those, the verde was abundantly garlicky and probably my favorite.   

One of the things that initially drew me to Rosepepper was its tequila bar’s reputation, and with 80 varieties of tequila on the drink menu, if you can’t find a drink to your liking, it’s probably your own fault.  I asked my waitress for some help making a decision, and she agreed that I couldn’t go wrong using their “house” Casa Margarita as a starting point.  With 100% agave tequila and hand-made with fresh ingredients (no mixes or slushie machines allowed_, it proved to be an excellent choice for whetting the appetite. 

Being a lover of mescal, I later settled on a “three star” Sombra Mezcal for the main ingredient in my dinner margarita.  It had a nice, smooth smokiness you’d expect with mescal and turned out to be an exceptional dinner drink, even if it did smell vaguely similar to Malort.    

Speaking of dinner, I went with the Platos Carnitos, specifically because of the as-advertised mole sauce which used pecans as one if its ingredients.  I appreciated how they served the mole on the side instead of over the pork, which allowed me to add as much or as little as I wanted to each bite.  The pork itself was slow-roasted to perfection, and the mole accentuated it well, although the mole seemed a little lighter and thinner in consistency than I am accustomed to. 

The sides included with this dish may have been as good if not better than the pork.  Both the black beans and the rice were obviously made fresh and extremely flavorful.  It’s always a plus when you realize you’re going to truly enjoy every bite of a meal.

After dinner, I spent some time exploring the place while I finished my mezcal margarita.  The place really was quite expansive and decked out for the holidays, from the quieter dining areas … 

... to the outdoor patio, covered to protect the clientele from what Nashville considers winter conditions.

As I left, I finally noticed the marquee sign on the outside which is reportedly always good for a chuckle.  I thought how appropriate for a place that has achieved legendary status for its tequila drinks.  One thing that seems easy to explain, though, is how easy it is to have a good time, and good food and drink, and the Rosepepper Cantina and Mexican Grill.

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