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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012

Gut Reaction for Oct. 18, 2012

New Inlet eatery is en Fuego with Tex-Mex tastes

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Fuego Mexican Grill & Cantina is at 4871 U.S. 17 Business in Murrells Inlet, and the number is 651-1009.

Setting the Table

It took four months longer than he anticipated to get Fuego Mexican Grill & Cantina ready for diners, but owner Robert Kleszcz is now open for business with a brilliant décor and an evolving menu.

The restaurant was most recently Capt. Poo’s, and the waterfront Murrells Inlet building underwent a dramatic transformation over the summer. The layout of the main dining room has not changed – there are still tables and booths on two levels, a large bar to the left and a splendid view of the point at Garden City Beach – but the ambiance is completely different.

Handsome cream- and honey-colored tiles cover the floors; community tables are brushed steel; walls and the bar overhang are painted in orange, blue and yellow; napkins are red; the bar accent light is green; and Hispanic-inspired art in complementary primary colors are hung over each booth.

There is a newly expanded waterfront deck, and what used to be an open-air deck is now screened in. There’s also a new second open-air bar with vibrant and glamorous-yet-casual furnishings.

Executive Chef Darrin Hubbell, formerly of 19th Hole Grill & Sports Lounge, was hired shortly before Fuego opened. The chef says he has been busy developing and tweaking a Tex-Mex menu.

Down the Hatch

Chef Hubbell says he is going for an “old-style Mexican/Texas influence,” adding that he is smoking his own beef brisket, chicken and pork and incorporating grandmother’s recipes from a native Mexican kitchen staffer.

The complimentary Pico de Gallo and warm tortilla chips our server brought after taking our drink orders quickly filled our heads with an enticing cilantro aroma, and the fresh veggies were juicy and flavorful.

We opted for the appetizer sampler ($13) with Cheese Quesadilla, Mango Habanero Wings, Seafood Dip, Jalapeno Poppers and a Southwest Spring Roll containing chicken, black beans, cilantro, corn and tomatoes. Dipping sauces included salsa, house-made blue cheese, sour cream and Southwest Ranch dressing.

The poppers must have been great, because my son made them disappear before I finished my first taste of the creamy crab-tasting Seafood Dip. The wings were awesome with a pleasant spiciness level, and we liked the smoked chicken flavor inside the spring roll.

A few other appetizers ($2-$11) include Chipotle Barbecue Nachos, Guacamole, Ahi Tuna with blackberry wasabi and Shrimp Tostada Bites.

A handful of soups and salads are $6-$10. We tried a cup of Southwest Crab Corn Chowder and thoroughly enjoyed the luxurious flavors, but think $7 for the small portion is $2-$3 too much.

Four salads are $6-$10, and we tried the most expensive: Fajita Salad. It is tossed in Caesar dressing and has veggies, cheeses, tortilla strips and sour cream and can be topped with chicken, steak or shrimp, and it was delicious.

Fuego’s entrees include Fajitas ($12-$17), Quesadillas ($9-$10), Burritos ($9-$11), Tacos ($3-$4) and a few gringo dishes (burger, chicken fried steak).

We tried a vegetarian Tree Hugger Taco with spinach, onions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, cheese and Southwest Ranch dressing, and while it tasted fine it would be nice for the peppers to have a little more crunch. A couple other taco options are The Southerner with pulled pork and Mexican slaw and The Inlet with blackened tuna, cilantro, red cabbage, onions, peppers and spicy tartar sauce.

My favorite dish of the day was the Southwest Brisket Quesadilla with the chef’s delicious house-smoked brisket, red onions, blue cheese and chipotle barbecue sauce.

The restaurant’s signature dishes are $14-$26 with choices including Seafood Enchiladas, Southwest Tequila Pasta, Acapulco Carne Asada, Texas Prime Brisket Platter, Salmon Santa Cruz, Chimichanga and Mango Habanero Chicken. An unusual dish called Smoked Chicken & Apricot Relleno, where a poblano pepper is stuffed with vegetables, apricots, raisins, cheese, rice, toasted pecans and smoked chicken, and then drizzled with cheese sauce, intrigued us. The flavors worked well together, but we thought the portion size of one pepper and two side dishes was not enough to justify the $17 price.

Those side dishes are black or ranchero beans, Mexican slaw, Mexican rice, cilantro rice, Southwest roasted potatoes with onions and peppers, grilled corn, fire-roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes of the day.

Check, please

Desserts include Cobbler of the Day, Sopapillas, Cheesecake of the Day and Key Lime Pie, but we had to try the Chocolate Ancho Pie and were extremely happy with its flaky crust and sweet and spicy rich chocolate filling that’s studded with walnuts.

Fuego has 27 tequilas at the bar and one of them, along with Kahlua, was in our Mexican coffee ($6.50). It’s the first time a dessert coffee was too strong for me to finish.

Becky Billingsley serves up fresh news daily at
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