El Melvin Unveils Next-Level Menu

Good Bite

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY DEC 8, 2020

The restaurant industry is hard enough even for seasoned veterans. Between the thin profit margins and the ever-changing variables associated with trends in cuisine, demographic shifts and, I don’t know, raging pandemics, keeping seats filled can feel like an exercise in futility. Though no formula guarantees success, the restaurants that stick around all have at least two things in common: incredible food and owners/managers that shake hands, kiss babies and altogether demonstrate a hunger for customer satisfaction. It is to the latter attributes that Mitchell Good and Matthew Hess, proprietors of El Melvin, have leveled up.

Rather than sit idly by as COVID-19 decimated restaurant sales, the pair of upstart restaurateurs took the time to tinker. “We don’t just want to survive, we want to thrive,” says Hess, “and we’re always hungry to improve.” The two already demonstrated their customer service hustle by making sure one of them is always at the restaurant, but the bulk of their improvement comes from the revamped menu that features some completely new and some upcycled dishes. With their fresh assortment of flavorful Mexican-inspired cuisine, they hope to cement themselves as “the” place for food from South of the border rather than “a” place. 

An upcycled starter immediately signals the menu has achieved new heights. Mexican street corn riblets take the already-perfected flavor of roasted corn topped with chipotle mayo, queso fresco and a dash of chili powder, but are shareable and less messy by coming in bite-sized pieces. That the pieces are also partially fried almost constitutes cheating, but they pack more punch than the original. The newly added duck taquitos (flautas) feature duck confit seasoned and lightly fried, then topped with queso and crema. Served atop Bibb lettuce cups with lime wedges on the side, the flautas check all the boxes for both refined and rookie palettes. And the lime should definitely be used.

Standout entrees include cochinita pibil and the puffy tacos. Though the cochinita is not wrapped in banana leaves and buried underground with hot coals to cook overnight, El Melvin’s version still impresses with its size and flavor. Marinated in citrus and achiote paste, the bone-in chop gets a nice char in the pan before finishing in the oven and comes with jalapeno grits, blistered tomatoes, pickled onions and queso. The enormous puffy tacos (3), featuring a blue corn tortilla that is both crispy and soft, comes bursting at the seams with lamb picadillo, avocado, lettuce, radish, crema and queso. Both options come in large serving sizes, though they pop with so much flavor they are worth feeling uncomfortably full over.

Notable drinks include the avocado margarita and the “mezcal made me do it.” The margarita takes Milagro silver tequila and cuts it with avocado puree and agave nectar for a rich cocktail that assuages the guilt (maybe) of one-too-many with its potassium, fiber and protein. Casamigos mezcal, lime and pineapple come in a coupe cocktail glass rimmed with chili salt, making the “mezcal made me do it” a smoky, slightly spicy but delightfully complex option for the adventurous drinker.

El Melvin celebrates its 1-year anniversary with the return of an annual holiday block party on Saturday, December 12th from 5 pm to midnight. Featuring music, drink specials and $2 tacos, guests will also have an opportunity to sit down and try the new menu offerings. Social distancing, masks and regular hand washing are strongly encouraged to make this a safe outdoor event.

El Melvin, 1355 Main Street, Sarasota, 941-366-1618.

Click here for more information.

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