Worth the Journey: Mako’s on the Creek Brings Fine-Food Approach to Cibolo, Even If It Can’t Quite Deliver a Creek

click to enlarge Worth the Journey: Mako’s on the Creek Brings Fine-Food Approach to Cibolo, Even If It Can’t Quite Deliver a Creek
Ron Bechtol
It was quite a trek through uncharted territory to visit Mako’s on the Creek in Cibolo, but I undertook it expecting a pair of rich rewards. The first of those was catching up with chef Halston Connella, recently at Francis Bogside, and the second was dining beside the creek promised in the restaurant’s name.
Strikeout on both counts.

Imagine my disappointment to learn that Mako’s may be nominally on Cibolo Creek, but you can’t see it from there — even if you exit out the building’s back and make your way to the steep bank that leads down to the shadowy waterway. The restaurant’s interior, open and airy and dominated by shades of grey, certainly doesn’t quite evoke rippling waters on its own.

My second disappointment came at the end of the meal when I learned that Connella had been recently 86ed from the kitchen. Newly installed in his place was chef Matt Cruzan, a man with impressive credentials including Dough, Restaurant Gwendolyn and Battalion. Cruzan implied that he was busily at work making a menu of his own. No more of Connella’s Thai-fried chicken, for example.

This is not the first time such chef shuffles have happened midstream. I’d prefer to evaluate a chef’s own creations, but on the other hand, a professional kitchen has to turn out a respectable meal from its existing menu, not the one it wishes it had. Besides, I was already into it for a goodly sum. The only solution was to plunge ahead and come back later.

Fries are fries are fries, right? On the first visit, they were flat-cut and well-served by the array of dips — sriracha aioli, lemon saffron aioli and curry catchup. The second time around, the shape was more conventional, with a crisp coating, perhaps a dusting in corn starch before frying. Both were good, but signs of a subtle shift? A fried Brussels sprouts appetizer brought along robust flavors. The creamy ricotta and chopped hazelnuts were a harmonious choice. But the sprouts themselves were seriously fork-resistant — an issue easy to rectify with a little pre-cooking before frying.

Moving on, the octopus — often a challenging creature to deal with — was an exceptionally tender appetizer, presented with rounds of Spanish chorizo, a puree of cannellini beans and dots and dabs of lemon sauce and chimichurri. We added saffron aioli left over from fries to punch things up a bit and were immensely happy with the result. Octopus remains on the new menu with totally different plate mates, saffron aioli among them.

Overall, the kitchen seems most at home with seafood. A whole-fried branzino, since removed from the menu, played crisp skin against an impeccably flaky interior. The dish just needed a flavor punch, and it didn’t get that from the wan fennel salad. We can likely expect the same expertise from the available pan-seared halibut, but let’s hope the charred tomato broth with basil oil gives the plate, featuring a fish with a delicate demeanor, the confidence it needs.

Thunderheart bison short rib is also a menu survivor, though the price has gone from $25 to $29. This was a perfectly pleasant bowl with a rainbow’s worth of carrots, appealing layered potato cakes and a decent, beefy (“bisony” doesn’t sound quite right) flavor. However, it was neither excitingly new nor comfortingly classic, offering nothing much more than stew with bigger price tag.

Mako’s lunch menu may lack the inspiration of its dinner, but there are some plates worth the investigation. The guilty-pleasure Flamin’ Hot Mac — a perfectly respectably cheddar mac topped with San Antonio’s favorite junk food — delivered a cheesy crunch worth the indulgence. Pair it with a thin but zesty, day-drinking Mitch-Elada.

Regular readers may recall my rants against the overuse of pork belly on local menus. Maybe because Mako’s belly is more bacony than most, I’m here to offer an exception. Mako’s smoked pork belly sliders with a sweet soy glaze and jalapeño-spiked slaw are an experience worth repeating.

Mako’s name comes from ex-Air-Force serviceman David “Mako” Peterson, and the cuisine is meant to reflect the Petersons’ global travels over the course of 30 years — although seasoned by “that Texas touch.” On the dessert menu, bourbon pecan pie all but shouts that it hails from the Lone Star State. I’m not sure what the blueberry fritters represent, but no matter, have at them. The crunchy-yet-tender pockets of fruit may not quite make up for the restaurant’s lack of a creek, but they will send you into the Texas night touched with a smile.

Mako’s on the Creek
169 Buffalo Place, Cibolo 78108, (830) 730-5947, makostx.com.
Price: $13-$29
Best Bets: Fries with sauces, octopus, Flamin’ Hot Mac, seafood dishes in general, blueberry fritters.
The Skinny: Mako’s is taking a fine-food approach in what’s a mostly fast and fast-casual context in Cibolo—and for that they deserve a look. Exceptional appetizers include tender octopus and well-made fries with a variety of sauces. Flamin’ Hot Mac, topped with scary but guiltily good Cheetos, proves a surprisingly effective dish. A trio of soy-glazed smoked pork belly sliders makes a satisfying lunch. The kitchen excels with seafood, though it needs to step up flavors. Try the blueberry fritters for dessert.

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