Gordo’s Cantina quietly opened in Bushwick a month ago after leaving Long Island City last summer, and it’s been a good move for owner JR Savage. “I was just out walking Gordo before you got here,” said the resident of nearby Ridgewood, referring to his restaurant’s namesake French bulldog. “Living five blocks away has been perfect for getting this place together this year.” Savage’s pop-ups are still big business for him; last year his tacos was served at Celebrate Brooklyn’s concerts and Governor’s Ball, where we met him in the midst of the festival’s inclement weather.
Many of Savage’s staff and friends also live on the Bushwick/Ridgewood border and came by last month for the invite-only soft opening where a special menu was prepared by head chef Rayna Morales. Her meal included black tiger-shrimp cocktail paired with a tlayuda mixta along with their regular dishes like rajas quesadillas and the El Chapo, a bacon-wrapped hot dog with cream and pico de gallo.
Morales hails from central Mexico and tries to recreate the freshness of food she grew up with. “When you’re in Mexico City, the food they bring is always fresh,” Savage explained. “That is so important and I go around to I get what I need. You should see my guy in Corona [Queens] that I get the chorizo and octopus from, he always has the best stuff.”
During our return visit, our meal consisted of chorizo and steak tacos that Savage char-grilled. “That’s the way I make them at home, the charring opens up the flavor.” When we saw he also serves breakfast burritas, he obliged our request for one late in the day. “We open at 8am and sell a bunch of them with coffee to the staff at Wyckoff Hospital across the street,” he said. “And then they come back for lunch and they love the seafood. We just sent over a $25 plate of mariscos.”
Savage also wanted us to try his tamal de dia, a corn tamale wrapped in a banana leaf that’s served on a styled plate for $6. The decoration encourages you to savor it instead of eating in chomps like the street variety. When his wife Paulina walked in, Savage took a break and sat next to us to eat his very “boss” lunch of arrachera asada, a skirt-steak platter with roasted corn, cherry tomatoes, chiles and avocado.
Paulina has worked alongside her husband since he launched Gordo’s Cantina in 2014 and explained how they’ve been hanging on while they await approval of a full liquor license. “We still don’t have an exact date but it’s been packed here on Fridays and Saturdays so we know people know about us. It’s a lot on confidence in your food if you open in Bushwick without a liquor license.”