Flavor // Deep in the heart of Uptown

Note to suburbanites: If you can’t stand the heat — well, there goes your kitchen. A few months ago, Tejas, that ever-lovin’ Southwestern café that put chilies even in the chocolate cake, went out of business in Edina. But the hi-ho-silver lining is, its hot chef, Drew Wilson, now parks his chuck wagon at Bar Abilene. Brought a few trusted recipes with him, too, and already is busy creating some brand-new signature items.

Meaning, it’s safe to come back to Bar Ab. In fact, it should be a residence requirement, now that Drew has stemmed the slump and brightened the quality once more. He hails from Louisville, where they know a thing or two about cooking, and honed his skills riding the range at New York’s esteemed Union Square Café.  

Bar Abilene’s original culinary icon, the guac prepared tableside, remains, thank our lucky Lone Stars. But now there’s also a new app not to miss: the chipotle barbecue shrimp. Half a dozen plump and sassy crustaceans swan around in an ultra-creamy, slightly sweet and more than slightly lively, chipotle-fueled gravy, delivered with a spoon. (And if it weren’t, I’d be kicked out of the restaurant for licking my plate, it’s that good.) Hint: It’s not sized for sharing, unless you’re Mother Teresa or a masochist.

The new calamari salad does come super-sized, however. It’s built upon snippets of arugula, sequins of tomato, itsy-bitsy, crunchy croutons and golden shavings of aged goat cheese, all dressed in olive oil infused with a smoky hint of chipotle. The calamari themselves are pan-seared rather than deep-fried, rendering them far healthier but taste-free. It’s either a modest palate-cleanser or pretty boring, depending on if your glass is half-empty or full.

Next, add a pair of tacos, which Chef Drew has brightened with fresh garnishes. The pork number showcases lusty, Texas-size slabs of juicy meat layered with a perky apple-jicama slaw, creamy dabs of queso fresco and cilantro’s cleansing breath. The chicken taco blankets tender white meat dressed with crisp, translucent discs of radish and cucumber and a wake-up touch of chimichurri, balanced by a suave and creamy peanut sauce, almost Thai in its addictive comfort.

Alas, the chocolate cake’s chilies got lost in transit, so this version is simply yet-another molten chocolate number, dressed in (naughty, naughty!) aerosoled whipped cream, but also a satiny crème anglaise and paintings of espresso syrup to make amends.

Watch for coming attractions from Drew’s stove, including chorizo mac and cheese and a chicken-waffle combo. (You thought ham, and eggs were perfect partners? Just wait!)

What to drink? Well, quit sniggering. Of course I know that Bar Ab invented Margaritas. But maybe it’s time to graduate to a flight of tequilas (three hearty pours —good/better/best — each with its own fruit-and-salt/spice garnish, for a mere $15) — a great way to test the waters or loosen you up for the free salsa lessons on Thursdays.

Bar Abilene
1300 Lagoon Ave.