Snacks N'At: Patron Mexican Grill, East Liberty
Often, if not usually, life is only approximately what we intended.
When Martin Bolanos was growing up in Michoacan, Mexico, he thought he would like working in the food industry. He enjoyed studying food in a laboratory context but wasn't thinking of restaurant work.
But now, he has four successful locations for his Patron Mexican Grill, which he founded in 2007 in Wexford. The newest opened in April in East Liberty at South Highland and Centre avenues, a hub of appealing dining options.
Bolanos, 50, moved to the United States 24 years ago. He worked his way up at a restaurant in Chattanooga, Tenn., from busboy and food runner to cook. When he became the manager, he started thinking about opening his own business.
“Then I went back to Mexico and my mother, and began studying her recipes,” he says. “We, in Mexico, eat a lot of chili, a lot of hot food. I asked her, how do you do a quesadilla or fajita? How do you cook the chicken? I took her recipes and then just do them in a restaurant.”
Bolanos opened his first restaurant in Chattanooga, then another. But he felt there were too many Mexican restaurants in a small city and started searching across the country for a better city for his business.
“When I started looking at Pittsburgh,” he says, “I saw only 19 Mexican restaurants in the whole area, and they were offering a different kind of food from what I served.
“When I came to Pittsburgh, I fell in love. In Wexford, we spent almost a year rebuilding a building that had been empty for 40 years. I saved a lot of money by doing a lot of the work myself.”
Jose Ramirez, who manages the East Liberty restaurant, emphasizes that in-house food preparation includes making their own tortillas, soups from scratch, special meat marinades and freshly ground guacamole.
The East Liberty Patron can seat more than 250 people, and with various combinations of ingredients, offers 180 dishes from which to choose.
The 16 appetizers include a sampler plate with two small chicken or beef chimichangas, one cheese chimichanga, four chicken wings, two beef or chicken taquitas mexicanos and a bowl of Fiesta Dip, which is a mixture of refried beans, ground beef and pico de gallo, all topped with cheese, $16. The soups are $5, and include chicken, chicken and shrimp, and the soup of the day.
The lunch menu is designed for quick service and includes a brunch item — Huevos con Chorizo, which is scrambled eggs with Mexican sausage, rice and beans, and two flour tortillas, $9.
Chimichanga plates, either beef or chicken, are topped with a cheese sauce and served with lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, rice and beans, $14.
While the menu is strong on meat and fish dishes, it also includes nine vegetarian dishes. The chimichanga veggie is filled with zucchini squash, broccoli and cauliflower, $12.
The Mexican desserts include sopapilla, a deep-fried tortilla drizzled with honey, butter and cinnamon, and topped with ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry, $6.
Margaritas are a specialty of the bar, which offers 20 varieties, $7 to $15. A 60-ounce pitcher of the house margarita is $25. Beers are domestic and imported, including eight from Mexico. Among the wines is Sangria made in-house, $9 a glass, $20 for a pitcher.
Patron Mexican Grill, 135 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty, is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-441-2111 or patronmexicangrills.com.
Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.