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Post from jack | around
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After stopping by Anvil on Tuesday, I headed over to the edge of the Heights, where El Gran Malo has been garnering buzz with their infused tequilas. EGM took over the space formerly occupied by the quiet, short-lived French restaurant, Heights West, sitting directly across the street from a neighborhood institution, Tony’s Mexican Restaurant. Since EGM was also going to be Mexican, and with the owners’ Dirt bar pedigree, I thought El Gran Malo was poised to become the big bad wolf to Tony’s lamb of God, known for its signage featuring Bible quotes. But after being smitten at the soft opening by a jalapeño-infused tequila and grapefruit margarita – almost a hybrid of Beaver’s “Forecast” and a Greyhound – I knew that EGM was operating in another stratosphere entirely in the Heights/Lazybrook/Oak Forest neighborhood trifecta.

El Gran MaloFor Houston Beer Week, El Gran Malo hosted a special Saint Arnold evening, tapping a cask of DR11, and featuring an array of brewery-provided hop-infused tequilas. Each tequila was paired with a Saint Arnold brew featuring the particular hop varietal used: Hersbrucker with Santo, Cascade with Elissa, and Simcoe with DR11. My palate had to recover a bit after the powerful but amazing beef jerky available at the bar – which they’ve actually used in a tequila infusion – but I started at the Santo end in order to build towards the Double IPA hop-crescendo. The hops brought some characteristic fruit and floral notes, along with some bitterness that might not have been as successful were it not paired with its corresponding beer. The Santo and the Elissa are both single-hopped beers, so they made excellent chasers for the tequila, especially the Elissa IPA with the Cascade tequila, which was my favorite of the flight. DR11 uses three hop varietals, Columbus and Centennial along with the Simcoe infused in the tequila, so the connection between the two was a little subtler, but still appreciable, and the cask-conditioned Divine Reserve was a fantastic note on which to finish. Other infusions like mango or jalapeño might sound more appealing to tequila aficionados, but I honestly would return for one of these hop-infused creations, particularly in the bar’s offering of what is essentially an IPA cocktail.

tacos

When the imposing flight was set before me I had flashbacks of dorm room power hours, and after a couple of beers previously at Anvil, I knew some dinner was in order. Conveniently, EGM ain’t a one trick pony, as the kitchen is putting out some excellent fare, including tacos elevated to such great heights I can’t speak highly enough of them. I ordered three, one each of chicken tinga, camarones, and carnitas. The kitchen ran out of carnitas, so I substituted the pork belly which, really, is like the school cafeteria running out of Twinkies and you having to make do with Tres Leches. The rich, fatty Mexican cola-braised pork belly with pickled red onions and crushed peanuts, the chipotle-spiced chicken tinga with pepitas and cilantro, and the spectacular herb-marinated shrimp with pickled carrot and jicama all were served on griddle-kissed corn tortillas, and could honestly steal some deserving spotlight from the tequilas.

Partner Lea McKinney confessed that the camarones were actually her favorite, and we got to talking about some of the bar’s other infusions. I had recently proposed a sort of “Mole-rita” using cocoa nib infused tequila, and while I’m not sure the flavors of that traditional Mexican sauce would work in drink form – though if anyone can do it, El Gran Malo can – they’ve got the tequila on hand, and are using it in a cocoa nib and peanut butter flip. I was given a sample of the straight tequila, and the smokiness of the roasted nibs along with the slightly bittersweet chocolate notes really work, even on its own. Tequila is daunting to some, but El Gran Malo really has a handle on bringing inviting flavors to the spirit without masking its characteristics. Creative concoctions, an excellent craft beer selection, and delectable tacos all in a bold, Día de los Muertos and Luchador infused space will keep the Little Heights Neighbor-Hood coming back to grandma’s house time and time again.


Post from jack | around
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