The Tigers Bar and Grill
871 Hillcrest Road
Just in time for Mardi Gras, I was treated to a lunch meeting with my buddy Joe Cane. No relation to the one you’re thinking of, as evidenced by the spelling, but a Mardi Gras fanatic as well. Cane is already feeling seasonally jazzy as he scoots from store to store getting his ducks in a row for parade pre-parties, warm-up snacks, neighborhood events, afterparties and impending Carnival hangovers.
We do a lot of that sort of stuff together, but today we were searching for a new lunch. One box I’ve never checked is next to Venezuelan food. I’ve actually only had one Venezuelan friend in my whole life, and I’ve certainly not had the cuisine, so this seemed like an easy choice.
Cane and I shuffled through the parking lot of this Hillcrest location, a shopping center in which I used to moonlight in a music store at the southeast corner of Airport. This area is busier than it was back then, so maybe these guys picked the right spot. I’m almost certain this is the old Gambino Brothers’ building, but it’s been a while and they all look the same to me.
We were welcomed upon arrival by a friendly man who seated us, and I knew right after we asked a couple of questions there was going to be a slight language issue. No doubt that is a true sign that we had dropped anchor off the coast of Authenticland, so we were excited.
We began our journey south with the Bandeja Mixta ($9.89). This is the appetizer combo platter, in case you missed it. The first thing I grabbed was an arepita. This charming little guy is nothing more than a silver dollar-sized cornmeal pancake. We had four or five of them to share, and they were at their best dipped in the Venezuelan cream.
Fried yuca looked like fat French fries, similar to ones found at a drive-up, local burger joint. They come really plain and neutral and, of course, found their way to the sauces we were given. One was hotter than the other, but the milder had more flavor. With the consistency of mayonnaise, I was delighted to dip. My partner has a phobia of mayo, so he wasn’t as thrilled.
The plantain tostones were the flattened and fried plantains, a little green, a little bland, but certainly not sweet. These would be really good next to some savory dish with a little heat and some drippings. A sprinkle of the cotija cheese offered a bit of life, but we had a lot of food coming, so I took it easier than I’d wished.
I can’t recall where on the menu I found the Pastelitos Pizza ($2.99), but apparently, we ordered a pair. The one on the menu claims to be filled with either cheese, shredded chicken, mashed potato with cheese, or ground beef. The two we got were golden brown pastries, cute as can be, and tasted as if they were filled with pepperoni pizza. It’s kind of their version of an Italian hand pie, I guess. I would have liked it more had it not come to my table with a “cool red center.” I admit to enjoying my steak that way, but this would benefit from more heat.
We were trying to pull information from our server to decipher a recommendation, but we lost a little here and there. Though we were sharing everything family style, Cane’s side of the table ended up with a Pepito Lomito ($18.99). Essentially, this is a giant po’boy on really good, soft white bread. It’s pretty big, even by po’boy standards. Stuffed with pork tenderloin, a ton of mozzarella and a healthy dash of Parmesan cheese, I remember a sauce that really kept this sandwich moist. The pork was fantastically flavored, not like any I’m used to eating. The only weird thing about this monster sandwich is that it was garnished with corn. Yeah, corn on a sandwich. We had no idea what we’d actually ordered, so we just referred to this as “corn sandwich.” Thumbs up from me, but Cane was sauce sensitive.
They have a burger there, the namesake dish, the Tiger Burger. It’s ridiculous. It’s nine inches wide and weighs in at 7 pounds, coming to your table for a cool $50 bill. At 11 a.m., I’ll just have to shoot from the ladies’ tee. The Tigress ($16.99) was my financially sensible compromise, but still touched most of the eccentric bases of the big boy, just on a smaller scale.
It’s big. This is a large hamburger bun with a large patty, so yeah, it’s a hamburger, but there’s more. Atop the patty is a boneless chicken breast followed by a smoked pork chop, bacon and deli meat (sliced ham, I believe). Crunchy, chopped lettuce and cabbage were mixed in with a mayo-heavy sauce that cooled the three different cheeses. And it came with fries.
We couldn’t stop laughing about it. I loved the novelty of it all. I imagined if I were 10 years old and someone asked me to design a burger for a contest, it would be close to this. I ate a quarter of it there, and I’ll admit to liking the flavor combination. It was a lot to take in. At home, I dissected the leftovers and found each part excellent on its own.
Here’s what you need to know: Go and grab some arepas, maybe a couple of traditional dishes and explore this place a little more than we did. What Venezuelan food is, I am still not certain. I’m willing to try more of it. If you’re not a mayonnaise lover, order carefully, and the menu seems to be loaded with fried options. I’d like to see what’s past that.
I’m still giggling every time I think about that delicious corn sandwich.
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