CABO'S ROCKS THE BLOCK WITH LAID-BACK ISLAND FLAVOR
By Ashby Stiff
Our story of Mike Ferrara and Cabo's Island Grill and Bar goes a long way back. About 25 years back, to the days when we lived near his neighborhood nerve center, unofficially known as the "Midtown Bohemian Laundromat."
Proprietor Mike, a one-time surfer and flower child, and a guy with a thousand close friends, was perpetual motion itself. When he wasn't rapping with a bud out front, or banging on a leaking roof or washing machine, he was off on a catamaran in the Caribbean, or watching waves from a hammock in Baja California. Meanwhile a designated driver loyally tended the wash at home.
We've watched Mike's casual entrepreneurial approach - the kind that would give a professor of business nervous eczema - progress from that little laundry business, to a sideline hole-in-the-wall taco shop, to a larger Mexican eatery, to the present day Cabo's Island Grill, a full city block of newly decorated lounge, bars and dining rooms at the Parkway Center.
Along the way, Mike prudently gained a 50-50 partner in Chef Bobby Staerker. With Bobby came an expanded, eclectic menu that island-hops from the Gulf of California to the Caribbean Sea. Together, the pair have built an often SRO lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch business, one sustained as much by old, fast friendships as by the raft of daily specials and the usually good cooking.
The decor, new in May, reflects the talents of friends as well as memories of Mike's far-flung marine adventures. Against a nautical backdrop of aqua and foam and bright lime greens, and an overhead sky full of drifting clouds and gulls, artists Mary Adore Coloney, Cindy Rios and Steve Bergeson have painted palms and tropical plant life, beachscapes and birds and swimming creatures of the deep.
The sensation here is one of oceanside dining in Cabo San Lucas. And people-watching is primo. Among last Sunday's brunchtime sidewalk standees, a young man in baggy shorts, one ankle in hand, was pointing out the superior qualities of his new sandals to a cluster of intent onlookers.
Later, while sitting through the long wait for food from a crowd-stressed kitchen, we were highly entertained by our waitress's historic account of each of the tattoos on her various extremities.
Cabo's is a highly informal kind of place.
Besides Bloodies ($3.50) and Mimosas ($1.75), Sunday Brunch offers three-egg omelettes in several styles. And eggs and bacon or sausage with grits or homefries and toast. And Pancakes - plain, fresh fruit, choco-chip or walnut - in short or full stacks. Four or five bucks buys any.
Among specialties, our pet Mike's Costa Rican Breakfast brings Mexican Rice covered with black beans and onions, topped with two eggs, cheese and salsa. A vegetarian version substitutes tofu and sprouts for the eggs. Either version's $5.95.
Mike's own favorite brunchable, Eggs Atlantis ($6.50), seats poached eggs on buttered wheat toast, then blankets them with shrimp and broccoli in mushroom-sherry cream sauce.
Turning to lunch and dinner, starters and bar munchies boast crisply delish Santa Fe Shrimp Poppers and less exciting, but low-fat, "100%" Vegetarian Black Bean Soup. Lots of salads, too, and a burger collection topped by Cabo's Own Original Backyard Blue, an almost unmanageably large, outstandingly flavorsome business with its built-in bleu cheese and horseradish and its piled-on garnishes. Price, $6.99 with bottomless (nonalcoholic) beverage included.
Dinners? Where to begin? Last Friday's seven or eight specials suggested the likes of Fresh Grouper with Mango Salsa ($14.95), same priced Fresh Red Salmon with Rosemary Chambord Glaze, and our sampled 14-ounce Grilled Center-Cut Pork Chop with herb butter and red wine, tenderly tasty and substantially sided for $11.95.
Old-timers who remember Baltimore-born Chef Jimmy Doyle's terrific little Lillian Mozelle's restaurant in Crawfordville should know that market-priced Capt. Jim's Cabo Crab Cakes, the only truly Maryland-style crab cakes we've found in a region where deviled crab passes for such, are exactly replicated from the recipe Chef Doyle gave Chef Staerker. Strongly recommended.
On and on the choices go, through On Shore, Off Shore and after-five Dinner Specialties of the Island. Through Mexican tacos, burritos, enchiladas and inexpensive platters. And, for the kiddies, meals served with fries and soda for less than $3.
Heidi's, the dean of Tallahassee bakeries, does some wonderful things. But the key lime pie it does for Cabo's is not one of them. Why not go for a Drambuie or Grand Marnier, with after dinner coffee, instead?