Tex-Mex gets a healthful twist

April 07, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Cactus Rose Grill

Where: Eden and Fleet streets

Hours: Open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-midnight Fridays, 3 p.m.-midnight Saturdays, 3 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Sundays

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards

Features: Southwestern fare

Call: (410) 563-7220

Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$7.95; entrees, $5.95-$14.95

** 1/2 You have to admit that the Cactus Rose Grill is an improvement over the old Bohager's, if only because the new dining area adds warmth and life to what was once a wastepaper management firm.

Now you get the best of both worlds: the industrial look of the original bar and grill on the lower level and the new Southwestern restaurant fitted snugly inside on the level above. And if it isn't a hit, hey, Bohager's can take down the large papier-mache sombrero and, voila!, it's an American bar and grill again.

The Cactus Rose is decorated cheerfully with that sombrero, a fine neon chili pepper, colorful miniature Christmas lights strung along the balcony and various other south-of-the-border knickknacks. Just sitting there you start to crave a margarita and some chips and salsa.

But this isn't your ordinary Tex-Mex. The Cactus Rose has what may seem at first to be an oxymoron: Heart-healthy Tex-Mex. Just look for the little H on the menu. There's also a little V for vegetarian, and -- here we're on more familiar ground -- an asterisk for spicy.

What exactly is heart-healthy Tex-Mex? How about an orange-honey chicken fajita. OK, I prefer the old-fashioned kind with beef and onions (which the Cactus Rose also has), but my guest loved the nouvelle variation.

A Gringo Bob steak sandwich was great, with excellent, tender beef and lots of gooey cheese, mushrooms and onions -- all on a warm, soft, crisp-crusted roll. The fat ranch fries were excellent, too.

Quesadillas? Super. Buffalo wings? A bit sweet, and they messed with a classic by substituting ranch dressing and cucumbers for blue cheese and celery, but not bad.

A Texas two-tone soup was half black bean and half creamy corn chowder with a swirl of fiery cream at the center. It tasted as good as it looked.

But then there was the Southwest skewer, with shrimp, scallops, chicken, peppers and onions, marinated for so long in tequila and lime they all tasted the same -- like tequila and lime. It was inedible, and I don't use the word lightly.

Spoonbread might as well have been cold, heavy, damp corn bread. Chicken enchiladas were made with what tasted like chicken a la king.

But just when I think of recommending that you stick to the basic Tex-Mex and bar food, the waitress serves up a beautiful house salad, with fresh romaine lettuce decorated with a ring of cucumber and tomato slices, with fresh orange and almonds and a creamy honey-cumin-lime dressing that couldn't have been better. Go figure.

As for dessert, skip the Oreo cheesecake, which you can get anywhere, and try the apple empanadas -- hot, cinnamony turnovers with a tender pastry and good vanilla ice cream on the side.

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