Here in Southwest Florida, the heart of flip-flop country, the margarita has become the cocktail of choice. Whether it involves enjoying one dockside or along the sandy shores at sunset, everyone has a margarita/tequila story, and everyone has an opinion on how to do them right.
Like most cocktail tales of origin, the margarita is steeped in folklore of varying and diverging paths, but all have a common denominator, the ingredients: Tequila, an orange liqueur, and lemon or lime juice. Since its foggy founding in the 1940s, the margarita has become one of the most popular cocktails in the United States, taking on a life of its own. The drinks come in various shapes, sizes and flavors, and are a standard of Cinco de Mayo celebrations. In fact, in 2008 Cheers On-Premise Handbook claimed that the margarita was the most “popularly ordered drink…representing 18 percent of all mixed-drink sales in the U.S.,” equating to an average of 185,000 margaritas consumed per hour, 60 percent of which are sold in the Southern states—that’s a lot. For suntropical South Florida, few drinks go hand in hand as well as a freshly prepared margarita.
And although February 22 is the official National Margarita Day—probably something to do with boosting sales in those frigid Northern states—anyone who wears open-toed shoes for 360 out of 365 days a year (we figure there are about five truly chilly days down in these parts) knows that Cinco de Mayo is the real margarita day. So to get our readers amped, we have compiled a short list of our favorite margarita watering holes on the Paradise Coast.
If you read Naples Illustrated, its no secret that we have a serious foodie crush on MASA. The newly opened restaurant in Mercato specializes in contemporary Mexican cuisine, meaning the tequila menu is long—like 100 selections—and the margaritas are inventive, authentic and delicious. The Masa Margarita, served with 1800 Reposado Tequila, is as authentic as it gets, while the Margarita de Diabolita brings some sweet heat to the party with habanero-infused Sauza Silver Tequila, fresh ginger and topped with blood orange and pomegranate juice. And though the menu is varied and inclusive, the mixologists behind the bar are always concocting specials, so becoming a regular is highly recommended.
As any self-respecting Mexican restaurant would, MASA is throwing quite the bash come Cinco de Mayo, complete with $4 margaritas, live music, beer specials, $5 Corralejo Tequila shots and Mexican street food. The fiesta runs from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and there is no cover.
Agave Southwestern Grill
As the name suggests, Agave Southwestern Grill and Tequila Bar (emphasis ours) specializes in Southwestern cuisine. Not quite Mexican, not quite American South, the goods coming from this Vanderbilt Beach Road restaurant form a cultural mosaic of flavors: a little Spanish influence here, some Latin there, some Native American tastes throughout, all peppered with some cowboy flare. This makes for some truly inventive dishes coming from the exhibition style, fire-fueled kitchen. And though the meals (including extensive gluten-free and low-calorie options on the menu) are worth a visit, the tequila bar has become a major attraction.
Equipped with more than 200 selections of tequila, the largest tequila menu in the area, a 15-foot tequila tower is quite the sight—they take top shelf seriously here, as bartenders need a ladder to retrieve the bottles, while the margaritas are top-notch. I recommend trying a flight of margaritas, a unique offering, with each sample varying based on tequila, juices and specialty ingredients. Also available are tequila flights, which start with the basic blanco and move on in complexity up to extra añejo, a great way for the newbie to get a handle on the differences in the Mexican spirit.
As for the Cino de Mayo festivities, Agave is getting a jump-start, bringing the party outside under a tent on May 3 and 4 for what is quite possibly Southwest Florida’s biggest Cinco fiesta. On both Friday and Saturday, from 5-10 p.m., Agave will be throwing it down with live bands (David James on May 3; The Hype on May 4), tequila tastings and more. Admission is free.
The backbone of every great margarita is an even better tequila. But this South of the Border spirit has developed quite the reputation and is steeped in misconception. To shine some light on the mystery, we offer a crash course in tequila, to help leave you a more informed drinker who just might be able to impress that know-it-all bar buddy.
Planning your own Cinco de Mayo party? Shake it up with a Florida twist with these recipes from our favorite Sunshine State chef, Justin Timineri.