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At Mesquite, It's Not Your Ordinary Taco

After owning Salsa Salsa and Blond, restauranteur picks up local following with Tex-Mex grill.

When Craig Scali thinks about made-to-order Tex-Mex food, he's thinking well beyond refried beans and pickled jalapeno.

The owner has created one of the most creative Tex Mex eateries around with his in Sound Beach, offering dishes such as goat cheese and skirt steak tacos as well as a duck tacos with baby arugula and candied walnuts.

“It’s important [to be creative] because it shows your passion for what you do,” Scali said. “You can probably go to 10 different Mexican places and they pretty much have an identical menu. We like to have a little bit of innovation with the food. I think that displays some of your passion.”

Scali also thinks his adventures with the menu connect with customers. “I like to believe that we have a large majority of our customer base that does appreciate it, and you see their face all the time. So I think it reflects well. You do get a large majority of people who want the basics, which is fine, we have them as well.”

Mesquite operates out of a small space on Echo Avenue in the heart of Sound Beach. It's open for lunch, dinner and take-out. It only takes cash.

Scali got his feet wet in the business working at Port Jefferson’s Pasta Pasta in 1991. Only two years later a business partner came to him with an opportunity to become a part owner of Salsa Salsa, also in Port Jefferson.

Scali then sold Salsa Salsa after six years, a decision he regrets. “I don’t know, I think I was young at the time, looking to do different things," he said.

Fine dining was his next target, opening Miller Place’s in 2000. For that experience he took influences from LaPlage in Wading River and other restaurants that his co-owners operated, but then he sold Blond in 2006.

Although the restaurant was financially successful, Scali said he was disappointed in his experience in the fine dining sector. “I would never open another fine dining restaurant, at least in the Miller Place area. Never again. You just don’t have the call for it here, you don’t have the draw. From my experience, the majority of the people are drawn to Applebees and Ruby Tuesday’s, unfortunately.”

However, the area has continued to support restaurants like Blond and La Plage for years. Most recently, the owner of top ranked St. James eatery Kitchen A Bistro , in the former Brian Scott's restaurant.

For Scali, cheap eats are where his heart lies.

“My ambition to open up a place like this was more of the price point,” Scali said. “Going back on the experience I had with Salsa Salsa, it’s a lot more appealing.”

John A. Proios January 12, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Miller Place needs more fine dining eateries. Scali is wrong. I eat out about 5-7 times per week. I frequent places that have good service and great food like Pentimento's in Stony Brook. I love Toasts and Paces in Port Jefferson. I eat at Salsa Salsa too. Also 5 Seasons and Ruvo's in Port Jefferson. And Amicis in Mt. Sinai. And Carnival in Port Jefferson Station. And many more. Only went to Blond's once. Only restaurant I walked out on. Waited at entrance then in lounge for 20 minutes. Many employees were inside. Could not get anyone's attention. Perhaps Scali needs to understand the personality of fine diners. We want great food and great service. Eating out is a mini vacation for me. I enjoy being personally greeted by name at dozens of eateries. Being totally ignored is a very unpleasant experience.
3vgirl December 18, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Totally wrong, there is plenty of call for fine dining in the area. He just wasn't good at it. Blond sucked. There are lots of awesome fine dining places in the area; La Plage, Mirabelle. Bliss, Kitchen a Bistro just to name a few. Sour grapes for him, I guess. Interesting that he only takes cash. wants to hide his $ from Uncle sam. Typical fast food restaurant owner.

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