Agave Southwestern Grill's ignites guacamole, service and tequila

Agave Bar & Grill

North Naples - Naples

American, Other, Seafood

2380 Vanderbilt Beach Road

239-598-3473

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— House-made tortillas, check. Amazing guacamole, check. Plethora of tequila, check. Friendly, funny wait staff, check. Management that cares about your experience, check. Cuisine that has me turning cartwheels? In dining at Agave twice plus two to-go orders, I'm somewhere in the middle.

I would go back to Agave Southwestern Grill in five seconds — any day of the week — any time, with anyone, if only for the guacamole, cocktails, fresh tortillas and service. Agave's guacamole cart is a luxury for those of us who love that delicious, gooey green stuff, served tableside on these little carts which quickly became so popular, management added more. I hate the taste of cumin in my guac but I love lots of lime and extra salt — it was nice to be able to ask for that recipe specifically.

The cocktails at Agave are also plentiful. The bar is a fun, comfortable place to gather. The fresco dining area and valet parking are already popular with Neapolitan males of all ages who relish Rascal Flatts' wardrobe (read: jeans with the appliqué on the back pockets and requisite button down Ed Hardy shirt, untucked, of course). And the Agave Passport for keeping track of the more than 200 tequilas you can taste is great for impressing your date. Agave is a little late for dinner in that tequila tastings became all the rage years ago, but are still fun. Agave also offers its own signature draft beer.

Guacamole and cocktails aside, I'm sure Agave will continue to have a thriving following because, as one reviewer wrote, it is unique in Naples. But as someone who has traveled extensively throughout the Southwest, I found most of the food akin to a chain apropos to the 300 seats, three-private dining rooms plus two-outdoor seating areas required to feed the masses.

One of the drawbacks of having such a large place is also one of the perks, depending on who you ask. Agave serves up a lot of shtick — the tableside guac being a worthwhile gimmick because it's really good. And the bistek para dos entrée, also served tableside, is flamed with tequila. The Sterling Silver N.Y. strip was delicious, but the fries, tomatillo-avocado salsa, Agave's horseradish steak sauce and braised onions and mushrooms were fine but unremarkable. The fresh tortillas were amazing. Although the steak arrived in three segments: one overcooked, one very rare and only one was cooked to perfection, the quality of the meat was wonderful and it was flavored well. With such a production, the accoutrements could benefit from a bit more seasoning.

We also tried both the meat and cheese versions of the chili rellenos, quesadilla de camarones (shrimp quesadilla), two salads and burgers. The quesadilla was good while the chili rellenos were less remarkable. And on the chipotle smoked brisket sandwich, in the overwhelming presence of a bit too much tomato paste, the coffee in the coffee-infused barbecue sauce gets a little lost in translation.

A little disappointing of the Agave sauces for me was the salsa. Whether the ingredients are smoked and then blended, or smoke flavor is added, compared to the hundreds of other salsas I've enjoyed in a dozen years writing about food, it was somewhat bland and we tasted what seemed like an aftertaste of artificial smoke.

The base dishes — beef, chicken, etc., and grilled items — were very good, especially Agave's burgers if you like Southwestern flavors with your burger, which I do. The tricolor cauliflower side dish is a nice change from beans, although you can get rice and beans with some entrees. My dining partners liked the pork tamales.

The service we received was top notch, despite a couple of mishaps. Major props go to manager Jacqueline Fishburn. Upon hearing about the mistakes made on our to-go orders, our undercooked and then overcooked beef, she whipped out her business card and an Agave gift card to replace the steak entrée for a future visit.

The verdict for me and Agave is I'd go back again for the lush guacamole, house-made tortillas, cocktails and the service Fishburn and her very kind staff provided. Agave has enough worthwhile items to make for a great drinks and apps evening, and would certainly be a fun night out.

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