Opening in the location of an erstwhile Midtown haunt has its blessings and its curses. Frida's, the new hacienda-style Mexican restaurant on Madison near Evergreen, will attract both curious foodies and reluctant Zinnie's East loyalists.
Diners will find Frida's at the very least worthy of a gander when it opens next week. The painstakingly decorated space — covered from floor to ceiling with tiles, light fixtures, chairs, and tables all imported from Mexico — is nothing like its former incarnation. The ambience is perhaps a bit more upscale than owner Larry Gonzalez's other restaurants in the Happy Mexican chain, but Gonzalez isn't eager to compare the two.
"This is a completely different business," he says. "My sons will be in charge. The way we eat in our house is the way we will serve people here."
Gonzalez's sons Erik and Jesse have put a lot of work into this space, gutting the entire bar, removing all traces of Zinnie's East, and transforming every inch into a rustic Mexican ranch house. The large outdoor patio, next to a trickling water feature, will fit 15 or 16 tables, while the interior has dining rooms on both floors, with one bar downstairs, one upstairs, and an intimate second-floor patio overlooking Madison Avenue.
Many dishes will be familiar Mexican fare, but the Gonzalez family will introduce 12 or so items not available in their other restaurants. The Tamales Vera Cruz, for instance, comes wrapped in a plantain leaf (which gives the masa a slightly sweeter taste and softer texture) and is served with a house hot sauce, black beans, lettuce, and tomato. Another house specialty borrows from the seafood-based cuisine of Gonzalez's hometown on the Gulf Coast: bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with Oaxaca cheese and served with sliced jalapeños.
The two full bars will feature Dos Equis and Pacifico on tap, as well as some domestic beers. Erik says the bartenders will serve whiskey and vodka if requested, but the focus is on Mexican tequilas: "As many as we can get our hands on," Larry says.
As for the restaurant's name, Larry says he loves Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and he wanted to pay tribute to Mexico's vibrant arts.
"I want people to know Mexicans aren't just laborers," he says, looking over this labor of love he and his family have been working on for about a year. "We have so much more in our culture."
Frida's, 1718 Madison (244-6196)
Only about a mile away from Frida's, another shuttered restaurant space has been revived. In the heart of a residential neighborhood in the Evergreen Historic District, Evergreen Grill has taken over the former home of Overton Park Pizze Stone (now Skunx Chef's Pub in Cooper-Young).
Owner Bruno Russell, who ran Bruno's Italian Restaurant on Madison until 2009, opened this small lunch and dinner spot in mid-July. He describes the menu as "Italian-leaning" but stops short of claiming it as an Italian restaurant. Russell says he likes having the freedom to move outside of traditional Italian food with items like fish tacos and a blackened catfish sandwich.
Still, if you were a loyal Bruno's customer and you're holding out for some of his Italian specialties, you won't be disappointed. Classics like chicken Parmesan, hearty meat lasagna, bruschetta, and an array of pasta dishes comprise a large portion of the menu. The Evergreen Chicken, a house specialty, comes grilled and covered in garlic cream sauce, artichokes, spinach, mushrooms, and feta cheese. For dessert, Russell makes his own tiramisu, while a loyal fan of Bruno's Italian Restaurant brings in homemade cheesecake.
Russell is still working on procuring his beer and wine license, but patrons are encouraged to bring their own bottles of wine, for a $2 stem fee. Lunch at Evergreen Grill will ring in around $8 or $9 and dinner around $12 to $14. They will be open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Evergreen Grill, 1545 Overton Park