I was born in Texas, and my sister still resides in Austin, so I know a thimbleful about the kind of food they’re shilling at Superica. So does Caroline Fontenot, our photographer for this story, who is a Houston native. Waltzing into a place that stakes a serious claim on the authenticity of “Mex-Tex,” as the restaurant is calling it, is a tall order — and an easy one for two gals who’ve spent their fair share of time in the Lone Star State to balk at. Good Tex-Mex in Atlanta? For real? We kind of creeped in sideways with one eyebrow raised.
The thing that happens to Tex-Mex when you take it out of, well, Tex, is that it starts getting overthought. It shifts into a concept instead of a native chilling in its natural habitat. Some chefs have made it hoity-toity, almost forced, and it loses that unfancy zing that makes eating it so fun in the first place. When I sit down at a place like this, something kicks in. Call it taste bud muscle memory, but when I crave tacos and an ice-cold Shiner Bock bottle, I don’t want any fussy nonsense to accompany it … I just want it to be done right. A fix can only be fixed by good fixins, know what I mean?
But we had nothing to worry about here, because Superica Executive Chef Kevin Maxey gets it, and so does James Beard-nominated restauranteur Ford Fry, a Texas native himself, who runs the whole outfit. “Kevin and I wanted to do food we like to eat,” says Fry. “It’s natural for a chef to want to be true to a certain culture, and likewise, we wanted to do authentic ‘Mex-Tex’ because it developed where we’re from.”
“There’s some kind of stress or anxiety taken away on this one,” Maxey adds. “Our biggest challenge is to not make food too ‘chef-y.’ The interpretation’s been done, and the reality is, Superica is much closer to a Tex-Mex dive that you’ll find in El Paso or in San Antonio.”
As we washed chips with avocado salsa verde down our gullets with margaritas, we both remembered why we love this food so much in the first place. When it’s done right, it feeds another spot that resides somewhere above your belly and below your heart: your soul. I know, a little schmaltzy, but isn’t soul the common denominator between all food with real sentimental value? Isn’t that why it’s so staunchly defended … why there is such outcry when it is so offensively messed around with?
Superica isn’t themed, it isn’t corny (well, not figuratively, there are corn chips) … it is just solid, authentic Tex-Mex fare that’s elevated, sure, but mostly un-fooled around with. Which is exactly how we like it.
Photos: Caroline Fontenot