As the last of our checks are paid, I look across the table at the droopy eyes staring back at me from behind stacks of styrofoam boxes and see only defeat. We made a valiant stand, but in the end, we stumble home with our heads hung low and 5 pounds of leftovers between us.
The source of our humiliation is Decatur’s Big Tex Cantina. The latest venture from Jonathan and Justin Fox — more widely known for their other restaurant, Fox Brother’s BBQ — serves up hearty Tex-Mex cuisine that can put even the most ravenous of appetites into a food coma.
Adorned with countless sets of longhorns, lone stars and all kitschy things Texas, the feel is unmistakably “roadhouse,” only brighter. The neighborhood seems to have already caught on, as the large wooden bar is regularly packed, overflowing into the nearly hidden game room tucked away in the back, complete with a pool table and skee-ball.
The menu of self-proclaimed “Texas-style comfort food” can make you feel full just reading it. Suffer no delusions — a full three-course meal here will have you wishing someone would come and wheel you out to your car. Nearly everything is fried, refried, topped with cheese or gravy, or all of the above. Gut-bombs away!
Oddly enough, the burgers are the signature dish here, even earning center stage on their website. This struck me as strange, considering the Tex-Mex theme. Either the Brothers Fox are looking to cash in on a “craze,” or there must be something special happening between those buns. The reality lies somewhere in the middle.
The foundation is certainly there: Each patty is a blend of in-house ground brisket and chuck, cooked between medium-rare and medium. My first taste of this is the Terlingua cheeseburger ($10.95), a half-pound patty topped with brisket chili, mustard, American cheese, diced onion and pickle. Certainly not lacking in juice, this sloppy mess of a burger certainly satisfies, but the flavor of the patty can’t combat the chili, which is nearly all that I taste. My next go-round, I opt for the simpler classic cheeseburger ($9.95). Without the dense chili burying the patty, the flavor of the moist ground beef shines through, and the heat of the griddled jalapeños compliments without overpowering.
I perk up when I notice the Big Tex BLT ($10.95). That price tag may seem high for what is usually a light sandwich, but not here. What arrives is a pair of ¾-inch thick slabs of house-smoked bacon, with tomato, lettuce, and chipotle mayo on Texas toast. The salty, smoky pork is rich, but I can’t help but be distracted by the pastelike chipotle mayo.
Beyond the usual Tex-Mex appetizer selections such as the pico de gallo ($3.95) and Texas queso ($5.95) — each perfectly fine, though not terribly remarkable — Big Tex has a few choices that shouldn’t be missed. Be prepared to split an order of the nacho sliders ($6.95), four slider buns spilling over with house-ground beef, queso and pico de gallo. Part sloppy Joe, part nachos, these are surprisingly good.
Nor should you overlook the Texas poutine ($4.95/half, $7.95/whole), a Lone Star twist on the Canadian staple with red chili gravy, cheese and cheese curds piled high atop a basket of French fries. You’ll do well to remember to save room for your entree, as these will fill most bellies quickly.
Perhaps the biggest pitfall here is as much a product of the genre as the menu. As a meal at Big Tex Cantina moves along, with nearly every dish covered in the same queso, pico de gallo, or gravy, each bite blends in with the last. By the time I dig into the Big Tex chicken chimichanga ($13.95), a deep-fried tortilla stuffed with chicken, pinto beans, pico de gallo and cheese, and topped with queso and more pico de gallo, I’ve grown weary. A man can taste the same flavors only so many times before it all becomes one big Texican blur.
There is some respite to the onslaught of uniform Tex-Mex flavor with the side of roasted cream corn included with my meal. With charred kernels of corn stewed in a creamy broth and topped with cheese, I find myself staring at the bottom of the bowl, despite my fear that my stomach may rupture at any moment.
Sometimes, you have an itch that can only be scratched by Tex-Mex and a margarita, and Big Tex Cantina surly fits that bill. But my advice? Come hungry.BIG TEX CANTINA 308 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 404-377-3939 Food: Tex-Mex, burgers and salads Service: Sufficient Best dishes: The classic cheeseburgers and nacho sliders Vegetarian selections: A few salads, fried avocado taco and multiple sides Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays. Bar open late. Children: Fine Parking: Street parking is scarce, but a public lot nearby opens in the evening Reservations: no Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: no Noise level: moderate to loud Patio: yes Takeout: yes