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Gurpreet Padda & Ami Grimes Transform Midtown Iggy’s Into Diablitos Cantina (those little devils)


By George Mahe

September 5, 2011

7:50 AM

Last time we checked in with Dr. Gurpreet Padda and Ami Grimes, owners and developers of Cafe Ventana,Sanctuaria, and Chuy Arzola’s, they were moving the latter from 3701 Lindell (at The Coronado) to the former Iggy’s location at 3761 Laclede in Midtown.

We should check in more often…

Chuy’s was scheduled to close last week–it’s still open–and the new “Chuy’s” is not Chuy’s at all. Quietly and–until the tarps were lifted to reveal the building facade–clandestinely, they have been putting the final touches on Diablito’s Cantina. Surprise, surprise.

The change of name makes perfect sense, though, as the Arzola family has not been associated with Chuy’s for some time. So when the decision was made to move the business, the name could stay behind.

Those who know Padda and Grimes know they put an insane amount of research and resources into their projects, and Diablitos is no exception. How do you get your building noticed if it’s sited well off the street? Take a gander at the two dinosaurs drinking tequila on the roof….Bob Cassilly couldn’t have done it better. And that logo of a “sugar skull” (right), the now famous symbol of Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebrations? It could wake up the dead. Under that blue tarp? One of two wood smokers, each capable of roasting a whole hog.

Padda and Grimes’ intention was to create, as Padda said, “the most authenti-looking Mexican cantina you have ever seen.” Right. Relish has heard that one before, too.

And then we took the tour…

A large patio (below left), inexplicably not used by Iggy’s, has been covered, supported with old barn timbers, and outfitted with fans, heaters, and–when the time comes–drop-down walls. Inside, there are hanging tin lights (see top image) –hundreds of them. In one room, large, custom-made tin pendants hang throughout; in another, Mexican star lights, the spiky ones (and scores of them), their light diffused through hundreds of tiny blue glass lenses. It’s a waving sea of pointy lights that throws off not much light at all. In Mexico, they call that “ambiente;” we call it something close.

Padda and Grimes decided to strip the existing interior drywall “because the rooms were too narrow and because I just like to do that sort of thing.” That’s how you uncover treasure, as he did here. “It ended up being a brick building within a brick building,” Padda said. “We uncovered 150 year old round support timbers and several windows with bars (below left), so we began asking questions and found out it we were looking at an old post office.”

The thematic logo (above right) of “Spirits & Sustenance” (see the circles of agave and peppers?) is carried out graphically throughout the building’s interior and exterior. An adjunct to this–communal dining–will spring to life at a recycled wooden table that seats 30, with chairs fitted with brown cowhide on their interior aspects.

In the bar, antique wooden sconces shelve bottles of tequila, over a hundred varieties. More impressive is that several of them may bear a “Diablitos” label. Padda and Grimes are in the process of developing several proprietary tequila blends, some straight, some infused. The intention is to offer 14 or so unique Diablitos tequilas–from the basic Silver to infusions like Sugar-Almond, Cinnamon, and Tamarindo.

That black concrete bar top? It’s made from recycled material: Padda and Grimes’ crew pulverizes old concrete, dyes it, and repours it into slabs that get repurposed as bar and counter tops. Those high-top bar stools? Custom made to spec from machete-cut Mexican hardwood, then hand-painted.

The back patio transports you from the socially acceptable to what you’d see in the barrio. Look up and behind you…a graffiti artist has been at work on the side of the building. (Nice work, too.) Straight ahead, a recycled, wood-plank fence, in mid-graffiti.

To the right, a tool shed is being converted into a chicken house, and games of “chicken drop” (a variant of bingo common in Belize) are planned for Friday night. Not familiar with the game? Allow us… A large, wooden board usually containing 100 numbers is placed on the ground and the numbers are sold for a buck apiece. A live chicken is then released onto the enclosed board and whatever number the chicken “identifies” is the winner. The prize is the $100 pot.

Have a seat an an outside table. Even your tequila-infused brain will notice that the tabletops are made from Mexican road signs. (Relish instinctively stopped at the ALTO table.) Notice that a wide stairway leads to a large firepit — they both were constructed from the building’s salvaged rock and concrete, so when Padda claims that “Ami and I recycle as much as we possibly can,” it’s gospel.

The fare? Mexican street food, of course, spearheaded by Exec Chef Christopher Lee and chef Wil Pelly, with Pelly assuming the everyday duties. An endless array of odd-ball tacos, tamales, tostadas, and tortas is expected. Relish hopes to also see huaraches, caldos, and jugos…and maybe even some churros and Mexican hot chocolate for out by that firepit.

Although not discussed, we’d susprct the usual Mexican beer suspects to appear, as well as offerings from Cathedral Square, the brewery Padda and Grimes own. Could there be a Diablitos Delirium in the works?

Impressive? Obviously, as are all Padda and Grimes’ restaurant projects. Diablitos Cantina is slated to open in mid-September. See you at the chicken drop…

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