Renowned chef and TV personality Robert Irvine and his crew recently traveled to South Padre Island to film an episode of the very popular series, ‘Restaurant: Impossible.’
Padre Rita Grill, owned by Michael and Kathy Laferty, was the lucky recipient of Irvine’s expertise, receiving a $10,000 makeover and a new menu courtesy of the show. The renovation took place over a two-day period, with scores of local volunteers pitching in to help with the remodel. Last Thursday evening, those with coveted dinner reservations for the grand re-opening waited in line for more than an hour past the scheduled time, and were instructed not to cheer or take pictures when Irvine appeared. Among those in attendance were South Padre Island Mayor Bob Pinkerton, Port Isabel Mayor Joe E. Vega, local chefs, restaurateurs, and City Council members.
With film crews recording, the Lafertys finally opened the doors, beckoning in the excited guests. Diners were anxious to see the new décor and they were not disappointed. Gone were the giant tiki faces, Christmas lights, and palapa tables: in their place were cherry turquoise walls, beachy palm tree and seagull motifs, complemented by contrasting navy and turquoise-striped walls in the rear of the restaurant. The much-improved look is lighter and more contemporary, with bright contrasting colors and modern accents.
Regarding the food and new menu, here are some comments shared about the previous food quality while the crowd waited to be admitted: “Came here once and never came back. They’d been open for several years, it was awful! How do you screw up a chef salad?” and “My husband’s enchiladas were swimming in water!”
Those disappointed diners were rewarded with a stripped down one-page menu, simple and elegant, with fresh ingredients and beautiful presentation highlighted with every dish. Irvine recommended the kitchen do away with the salad bar and buffet: his suggestions included replacing those features with delicious items like shrimp ceviche made with melon, cilantro and jalapenos, sweet corn and chorizo quesadillas, and smoked pork sopes with a peach and black bean salsa.
However, on July 29, the following message was posted on Padre Rita Grill’s Facebook page that announced the buffet will still be offered: “New menu, new décor, old favorites, prime rib-paella-seafood buffet, Friday and Saturday.”
Entrees for the special guests include mole’ glazed chicken with sofrito rice and cilantro lime black beans: grilled skirt steak with smoked tomatillo rice, watercress and grilled tomato salad: barbecued salmon: and a fajita-style burger with fried jalapenos on a brioche bun. The overall response was extremely positive.
Irvine, hair a bit more grey but looking incredibly buff, enjoyed a Corona with lime while diners sampled the new menu. He then got the crowd’s attention by bellowing: “Everybody quiet!” and “quiet the kitchen!” before addressing the diners. He called up active duty members in attendance first, acknowledging them and their service. “We spend about 150 days a year taking care of our military. They’ve given the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country, give them a big hand!” He then gave a shout-out to his crew, offering a champagne toast and marital advice to members of his staff who were marrying in two weeks. He finished by saying, “It took 36 hours to transform something cluttered and messy into something amazing. Thanks for coming, enjoy your evening!”
After a bit more filming the show was a wrap, with Irvine graciously posing for selfies and chatting with guests.
Long-time employee Ivy Easterly, interviewed outside the restaurant prior to the grand opening, was visibly excited about the restaurant’s new beginning. “I’ve never seen Michael so motivated – I knew it was there, but now having listened to him talk from the bottom of his heart, I know we can do it and make it work.”
In an interview filmed during the dinner service, Michael gushed “I’m totally thrilled and in love with it – it’s a new beginning and I can’t wait to tell everybody all about it. Everybody’s at their station and the ship is running smoothly the way it should be.”
Regarding his wife Kathy’s response to the changes, he said “I’ve never seen her this happy, she’s bubbly and having a good time.”
Be sure to stop in and see the new improved Padre Rita Grill and sample Chef Irvine’s menu. They’re located at 4001 Padre Blvd in South Padre Island. The episode is airing in October, so mark your calendars to check out the show in the fall. The restaurant is also planning a special screening and dinner on the night of the show.