Questioning all the Doc’s Cantina hating

Jul 6, 2016 at 11:07 am
Questioning all the Doc’s Cantina hating

I can’t remember when a restaurant opened in Louisville to such vitriol, but for the first few weeks of its existence, I heard almost nothing but bad things about Doc’s Cantina.

Even LEO’s own Robin Garr submitted a scathing review of the place, a review that clearly was inspired by the classic New York Times takedown of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar. Early online reviews tended to be just as negative. I aggressively ignore Yelp! (and generally put very little stock into any online review), but here is some of the stuff people were saying:

“Bland and uninspired.”

“We had a completely miserable experience.”

“Don’t waste your time.”

Yes, there were a few positive reviews as well, but dozens of people had experiences at Doc’s bad enough that they were inspired to write detailed rants. Meanwhile, with just one exception, everyone I spoke with who dined at Doc’s Cantina also told me not to waste my time. Why? Slow service. Bland, or downright bad food. Difficulty getting drink refills. Overpriced.

That one person I spoke with who actually sort of liked Doc’s is my friend Greg. So, when he invited me to go to Waterfront Wednesday, and start off the evening with a visit to Doc’s for a margarita and munchies, I saw my opportunity to decide for myself.

Here’s what I’ll say: I’m not quite sure what all the negativity is about. Yes, we sat at the bar, which sidesteps any problem with floor waitstaff. But I didn’t find the food so terrible. Our bar service was pretty good, and all the employees we interacted with were very friendly.

We found a pair of seats — it was only moderately busy — and the bartender quickly brought us menus and took our drink orders. So far, so good. When she returned with our drinks, I asked for a sample of the house habanero hot sauce. “Sure,” she said, immediately filling up a small container with the stuff. It was just a first impression, but it is delicious sauce. It’s extremely hot, but it booms with fresh habanero flavor. Score.

Now, the complimentary chips aren’t anything to get excited about, but they’re not bad. The house salsa is fairly bland, but it proved a nice fallback when the habanero overtook my taste buds.

Greg and I decided to split a taco platter — I was disappointed to learn you can’t order food a la carte at Doc’s — which consisted of three tacos, rice and beans for $12. That’s not cheap, but it’s also not outrageous, although many dinners on the menu are in the $15-to-$20 range, with the paella checking in at $23. Still, the $4 happy-hour margaritas were quite tasty and helped balance out the value.

We ordered our platter with two carnitas tacos and one chicken tinga taco, and actually received two chicken and one carnitas — annoying, but not worth sending it back. The presentation was quite interesting, with the tacos served in a tortilla warmer, complete with the lid on top.

I ate a chicken tinga taco, which oddly was topped with fried jalapeño slices (which really didn’t have a ton of flavor), but to be quite honest, it was a pretty good taco. I tried a bite of the carnitas taco as well, and it also was good — not life-changing or anything, but good. The tacos were stuffed full of well-prepared, flavorful meat and other fresh ingredients, so the value was certainly there for the price. If I had a complaint, it’s that Doc’s doesn’t double-shell their tacos — ours fell apart three bites in, leaving us to scoop up the remains with forks.

The refried beans were way too salty and had an odd flavor, but Greg had the idea to mix in some of the habanero sauce, and use the blend as a dip for our chips. This concoction was quite good, too — the habanero flavor helped mitigate the saltiness of the beans, and the beans helped ease the heat of the sauce. If I go back, I’m going to conduct that experiment again. It helped bring our rather-enjoyable meal full circle.

All of this is to say that I don’t really know where all the hate came from. Maybe I just got lucky. Or maybe it was a case of social media piling on, creating an environment wherein people simply didn’t believe they were allowed to like the place, lest they face backlash from their peers. Or maybe, just maybe, the management over at Doc’s Cantina took all the criticism to heart and used it as a guide for making the restaurant better. Sometimes it takes a restaurant a few weeks or even months to find its footing. I’d like to believe Doc’s is on the right path.