Overall impression: Rodeo calls itself a Southern restaurant and bar. Southern, in this case, is an incredibly wide net: Southwestern, Tex-Mex, barbecue, Cajun-Creole as well as the food traditionally associated with the South. No surprise, the results are mixed, but the servings are generous and the price is right.
Ambience: From the street or sidewalk, you'd hardly know how handsome Rodeo is inside. Stone walls, wooden furniture and a cozy bar give Rodeo a comfortable neighborhood feel.
Background: Beaumont, Texas-born owner Trent Baker is a former psychologist who fell in love with restaurants in graduate school when he worked as a food expediter at Houston's. "I researched a good six or seven years, looked around Wilton Drive and found the perfect spot." Rodeo opened two years ago.
Starters: Much of the food at Rodeo has a semi-home-made quality, as though it relies on a lot of prepared ingredients. At times, there's just too much going for anyone's good. Barbecue nachos ($8.95), for example, are a good idea, but the shredded brisket overwhelmed the dish. Fried green tomatoes ($10.75) were greasy and salty. Other appetizers include chile con queso ($7.75), coconut shrimp ($9.95) and New Orleans quesadilla ($9.95) with blackened shrimp, andouille sausage, Creole sauce and smoked gouda. Chopped barbecue salad ($13.55) combines slow smoked barbecue pulled pork, tomatoes, cucumber, Monterey jack, croutons and mixed greens with cilantro-lime vinaigrette. The balance of flavors was off with the salty pork taking over the entire dish.
Entree excellence: I like Rodeo's jambalaya pasta ($14.75) — penne tossed with Cajun chicken, blackened shrimp, andouille sausage and Creole tomato sauce. It was nicely seasoned without being taken over by one ingredient, as was the case with Smokey meatloaf ($14.55). About all you can taste in the meatloaf is smoky barbecue sauce and smoky bacon. The lightly blackened shrimp in Shrimp & grits ($14.55) overshadows the bacon and cheddar grits with Cajun mushroom sauce. Dos sopes ($14.55) starts with two corn cakes stuffed with mozzarella and served on top of roasted red pepper sauce. One cake is topped with lime chicken, lettuce, tomato and cilantro while the other is topped with chorizo, black beans, guacamole and cheese. The dish has a let's-throw-everything-in quality. Carnitas ($15.25) ought to be called Make-your-own-burritos. A ramekin of roasted pork is served with chipotle lime slaw, cumin scented black beans and pico de gallo, which you place into corn tortillas. Burger preparations include Cajun ($10.95), Southwestern ($10.75), Tex-Mex ($11.95) and Southern ($11.25) with fried green tomatoes and pimento and cheese. They're served with seasoned curly fries or sweet potato tots and "contain a small amount of pork," according to the menu.
Sweet!: Just one dessert was offered on one visit. And for good reason. Pineapple upside down cake with a molasses drizzle ($5.75) has none of the qualities I associate with this classic. No caramelized edges. No bright yellow cake. Instead, we were served something that tasted as though it was pulled from the dark reaches of the refrigerator.
Service: Uneven. We had a real pro on our first visit and a novice on our second. We preferred the pro.
Dining deal: Two-for-one dinners 4 p.m.-close on Sundays. Half price martinis 5:30 p.m. to close on Wednesdays.
2033 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors
Cuisine: Southern, Southwestern, Tex-Mex, Creole, Cajun, barbecue
Hours: Dinner Wednesday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday
Reservations: Only for parties of eight or more
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: No
For kids: High chairs, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Meters and city lots