Cheap Eats - Amphibian ambition

F.R.O.G.S. cantina makes bold leaps

Restaurants come and go, and as much as we may miss our favorite eatery or our neighborhood nook, sometimes the move makes room for something even better.

That seems to be the case for F.R.O.G.S. Cantina in the Midtown Promenade enclave. Housed in the former location of Great Western Burrito (now found on Howell Mill Road), the restaurant offers up much more than the prior resident did in atmosphere as well as substantive dishes.

The space seems roomier, even though it's still a hole-in-the-wall. The kitchen has been opened up and where a wall once stood, a row of stools lines a bar with beers on tap as well as liquor and frozen margaritas. Lively orange paint brightens up the rest of the interior which is decorated with kitschy Hispanic paraphernalia. A Tex-Mex equivalent of a T.G.I. Friday's, the restaurant blares loud music and offers simple fare.

A restaurant doesn't seem to be a restaurant in Atlanta without outdoor seating. A quaint little patio with a tiered deck and a large tree that provides much-needed shade beckons diners. Despite the heat, the deck was too appealing to pass up for an afternoon lunch.

The burritos from the former owners are still being offered with a choice of flour, spinach or tomato-basil tortillas. The basic goes for $4.25 and includes rice, beans (black, pinto or refried), cheese and salsa fresca. If you want to add meat to the bunch, you get a varied selection of steak, pork, sausage or shrimp. They also offer tofu at $7.25, the same as a shrimp selection — looks like fake meat is real expensive these days. The veggie burrito ($6.75) includes an assortment of sautéed portabello mushrooms, roasted red and green peppers and wilted spinach.

Quesadillas receive similar treatment with varied choices in toppings, but with a few more added into the bunch. The basic starts out at $3.95, a 12-inch flour tortilla filled with Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, sauteed onions and salsa fresca. But with fillings like jerk chicken, barbecue pork or crab, it's difficult to stick to the low road. The chicken quesadilla was ordered by my lunch partner to great success. The tortilla was filled to capacity with grilled white meat; fresh salsa made of red onions, diced tomatoes, garlic and cilantro; green peppers; and melted cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses. He asked for refried beans to be slathered inside, and although he was charged for the extra, it didn't present itself. Still, the quesadilla was juicy and full of flavor.

The tortilla was folded and cut into four sections with an additional salsa topping, and it was definitely a knife-and-fork affair with the slightly greasy ingredients oozing out of the sides and onto the plate.

The F.R.O.G.S. pizza ($4.95) was an appealing crispy tortilla topped with refried beans, cheeses, salsa, guac and sour cream with additional toppings like feta, roasted red peppers, barbecue chicken or portabello mushrooms. But I opted for another specialty: the Baja fish tacos ($7.25).

Three flour tortillas were topped with a grilled white fish, wilted spinach, tomatoes, red onions, pineapple and mango salsa. The fish had been covered with mild spices that, combined with the onions and garlic in the salsa, gave it a kick. The pineapple and mangos were diced into large pieces and were not lost in the concoction. The combination of bitter, wilted spinach and sweet fruit worked well with the spices in the dish. The tortillas were a bit difficult to handle, having to be folded and stuffed in the mouth before the contents slipped away, but the three tacos proved plenty.

At lunch, orders are placed at the counter and then delivered to the table. At dinner, table service is offered. Our items arrived sporadically, and I've heard of sketchy service from others who say it is lacking during both lunch and dinner. Perhaps the help is overwhelmed by sometimes having to man the counter and deliver items, but the long gaps for delivery of menu items for individual diners in a group aren't acceptable. Luckily, such problems are easily solved.

So, I know what you're wondering. What does F.R.O.G.S. have to do with any of it? Could it be "fresh regional organic guava shrimp," or "frontier rioters out gaining sustenance" ? Manager Angelo Laios admits it has no meaning. Yet. Soon Laios plans to sponsor a contest for people to come up with the best use of the acronym. To me, it stands for fresh, Southwestern cuisine for not a whole lot of moolah.??