The Spanish expression ‘dos pajaros de un tiro’ translates literally into the English ‘two birds with one stone.’
Whatever the language used, the sentiment is aptly affixed to restauranteur Carl Georigi’s latest venture, the Mexican-themed El Camino in Talleyville.
That’s because the Platinum Dining Group owner has long been looking for the right opportunity to build on the success of Eclipse Bistro and Capers and Lemons and other local dining hits with both a North Wilmington location as well as his first Cali-Mex foray.
In El Camino, Georigi has both, and by the looks of the crowds queuing up for dinner on the restaurant’s second Friday night in business, the chilis rellenos-gulping, carne asada-munching Brandywine Hundred customer base is more than happy to oblige.
El Camino is part of a Platinum Dining tag-team effort that will include a new Taverna location (the original is on Main Street in Newark) in the Silverside Road complex being overhauled as a mixed-use development by The Buccini/Pollin Group. The two restaurants will be critical pillars in the new apartment-retail-office space and in a quick swoop transform the Silverside Road dining scene, as it were.
“We always wanted to open a Mexican concept,” Georigi told us. “We had developed the idea for El Camino many years ago. When this opportunity became available, we immediately signed on. We loved the idea of the project and what Buccini/Pollin was doing across the whole campus.”
Georigi said El Camino was inspired by a longtime love of Mexico, time spent in the country and significant experience with his team sampling the best of Mexican fare coming out of both Texas and California.
“[Wife] Lisa and I love Mexican cuisine, we love the culture … we have taken a lot of family vacations there,” he said. “It’s a fun environment. It creates a fun atmosphere, and it crosses all borders. In a nutshell, everyone loves Mexican, much like Italian.”
To break through a crowded Mexican restaurant market, restauranteurs Lisa and Carl Georigi said they did “extensive research” at Mexican concept restaurants in California, San Antonio, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Miami. El Camino Executive Chef JD Morton, who spent the last five years as the executive chef at Eclipse, said they aim to be both approachable but true to authentic Mexican roots.
“We did a lot of research, we traveled to a lot of restaurants, ate at a lot of taquerias. We wanted to create true, warm Mexican food. Mexican food isn’t overly spicy. It’s warm, got a homey feeling, something a Mexican grandmother would make. It’s kind of light, it’s fresh but it has that uniquely Mexican flavor intensity you are looking for,” said Chef Morton.
The product of this research includes Sea Bass Veracruz – slow cooked with tomatoes, olives and capers; Carne Asada – a choice skirt steak marinated overnight in high citrus, garlic, jalapenos and cilantro; and Chicken Poblano, with mole poblano, smashed sweet potato, peanuts, radish and cilantro; and, of course, a house salsa, made from roasted tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cilantro and lime juice.
The menu also includes creative takes on many other Mexican favorites like burritos, enchiladas, and tacos. Eight varieties of tacos run from carnitas and spiced shrimp to cheesesteak and fish, the latter of which comes with house-made cabbage slaw and chipotle mayo.
Appetizers include shrimp tamale, tuna ceviche, guacamole and street corn, which Morton says has been a runaway favorite among their first diners.
While the palate is definitely Mexican, Georigi said their goal was to create a space that had a Southern California vibe. Lisa Georigi took the lead in virtually all of the decisions about decor. “We want El Camino to be the complete opposite of what people typically expect when they walk into Mexican-inspired restaurants,” said Georigi.
The corner first-floor space is open and airy, with floor to ceiling windows on one side and multiple folding glass doors — a great summertime feature — on the other. Unlike more traditional Mexican restaurants, which lean toward darker woods and strong use of color, El Camino began with a neutral palate, using splashes of color on the backs of banquettes, with artwork portraits of Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali and painted baskets — from different regions around the world which the Georigis have collected over the years — affixed in groupings along a few of the walls.
Structural columns feature an attractive black and white Mexican tile pattern, and one accent wall made of wood planks was painted by hand (in a soft beige color) to look like Mexican tiles by local artist Bryan Cohen.
Low-level lighting varies throughout the restaurant. “Lighting is a huge piece of what we do. We think the restaurant looks as beautiful during the day as it does at night,” said Georigi.
The restaurant has table seating for 140 inside, 44 outside and 25 at the bar. Even with all that room, last Friday night customers were two deep at the bar, with guests eager to sample suggested tequila flights along with appetizers like the generous Nachos platter, Blistered Shishito Peppers, or Albondigas – chicken meatballs with salsa tinga, cotija, shaved onion and cilantro.
True to its roots, El Camino has a wide selection of Margaritas and tequila that brings the cocktail to life. There are actually 130 different Tequila, Anejo and Mezcal selections in the restaurant’s ‘Tower of Tequila’ that you can take flight on, if that kind of trip down the royal road is what you seek.
Even if you’re not hankering for dessert, make it a point to ask for the menu, each of which is affixed to a license plate from one of four southern states near the Mexican border.