TASTE OF DALLAS The Frozen Margarita
First, says Mariano Martinez, they have to be rimmed with salt. That’s the way the inventor of the frozen margarita drinks his. Forget Yankee voices like The New York Times who maintain that fashionable folk drink theirs without.
And it must be that just-right shade of lime green. Sure, there are hipper versions of blue and purple. But the original-an honest homage to the tequila shot, lime and salt lick combo-remains our favorite.
Of course, part of the underlying attraction of the frozen margarita has always been the flavor. When the on-the-rocks version was introduced into the American mainstream in the ’50s or ’60s bar favorites were serious drinks like scotch and bourbon. But even then, Martinez says, he knew the lighter, sublime liquor combination in the margarita would be a big hit. Martinez had watched his father, Mariano "Papa" Martinez, serve his restaurant clientele the strange new drink.
"Back in the late ’50s, Dad had El Charro [restaurant] in Pleasant Grove, which was a dry county, " says Martinez, 47. "People would bring a bottle of tequila, and Papa would make margaritas for them. I knew there was something special, something magic about that drink. " When Martinez decided to try his own restaurant in Old Town Village in 1971, he talked Papa into revealing his recipe, and Mariano’s Restaurant and Cantina (now called Mariano’s Mexican Cuisine) opened to packed crowds.
On the second day, a fortunate problem arose. "A customer stopped me and told me the margaritas were terrible, " Martinez says. In a panic, Martinez realized that, because everyone was downing the drink quickly, the bartender couldn’t keep the ingredients measured precisely-plus they were getting warm en route from the blender. On his way into work on day three, a worried Martinez stopped at a 7-Eleven. "I saw some kids buying a Slurpee, and a light bulb went off in my head. I said, ’That’s the answer.’"
Martinez realized that by mixing and freezing large quantities of margaritas, he could keep up with demand and retain the drink’s consistency. But restaurant conventional wisdom said it shouldn’t be done-people liked the "romance" of a bartender mixing a drink-and couldn’t be done because alcohol doesn’t freeze. Martinez, however, ignored the naysayers and worked on a suitable margarita mix while his cohort Frank Adams souped up a soft ice-cream machine. A few months later they were able to freeze the mix into tiny crystals with liquid centers, and the frozen margarita was born.
But, it wasn’t always considered a menu staple. It was a novelty, and people from all corners and climes came to Marianos to taste it. Martinez says a customer’s request for a margarita in a wine glass began what is now considered the drink’s classic presentation, and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton and his teammates drank so many so fast that Martinez served them in a pitcher. Again, the light bulb, and again a tradition now part of our drinking culture, as well as Dallas’ heritage.