Opening Soon: The El Cantina on White Oak
The newest project from Pink's Pizza owner Ken Bridge is a Tex-Mex venture at White Oak and Studewood.
You may not know Ken Bridge, but you know his restaurants. The low-profile restaurateur, who rarely courts publicity, is responsible for some very high-profile places: Pink's Pizza, Lola, Shepherd Park Draught House, Witchcraft Tavern & Provision Co. Though each restaurant is distinct from one another—pizza place versus diner, burgers and beer versus sandwiches and salads with an Asian flair—each also carries a Bridge signature, typically featuring local artists' work and/or a sample of Bridge's vast music memorabilia collection.
The El Cantina Superior
So it is with his newest concept, The El Cantina Superior, so named for the glossy black El Camino that rests at a tilt on the roof of what was once a Conoco station at the corner of White Oak and Studewood. Inside the ample restaurant—which seats 230 inside and another 100 on the patio—you'll find a portion of Bridge's music collection that pairs perfectly with Tex-Mex cuisine: ZZ Top memorabilia coats three walls near the large, central bar.
"That wall isn't finished," Bridge said last night at a friends and family soft opening. "There's more in the back." He walked through the kitchen and into a space which will soon house a walk-in cooler (the second in the big, bustling kitchen), but which currently contains even more ZZ Top posters, albums, and other merchandise—all framed, and all waiting to be hung.
Bridge has only a few more days to hang his ZZ Top posters, as The El is scheduled to open on Tuesday, June 10. He'll also need to bolt down the custom low-rider bicycles near the entrance, finish putting together the patio, and make sure his servers know the menu—which mostly features Tex-Mex classics like fajitas, enchiladas, queso, and combo platters—backwards and forwards. Along with chef David Coffman, who's helping Bridge open The El and update his other concepts, he also needs to perfect their tortilla recipe. Both men are intent on using lard, which features prominently in the refried beans as well.
"I had to make a last-minute run to El Tiempo for tortillas," Bridge confessed with a laugh. "They just weren't working." The stand-in tortillas served their function well with a plate of chicken and beef fajitas, which were nicely marinated and served on a pile of well-sauteed onions—and only onions.
"I don't like peppers," Coffman explained. "I only want to serve those sweet, caramelized onions." Who says fajitas have to come with bell peppers anyway? The most important part is that The El serves fajitas in the first place—along with plenty of queso, enchiladas, and margaritas: the most crucial components of any good Tex-Mex joint.
This is the first time Bridge has added a Tex-Mex place to his portfolio, and the first time Coffman has cooked Tex-Mex since he was a young line cook, but they've done their research. "I've eaten so much Tex-Mex the last few months," laughed Coffman, who started working with Bridge four months ago. There's no question that Bridge knows how to run a successful restaurant, however, and The El's prime real estate on the busiest corner of the White Oak corridor—just across from Fitzgerald's—virtually ensures the place will be busy once it opens next week, bell peppers or no.