First Look: Mavericks, Johns Creek

Poised as a franchise in the making, the Hohman and St. Clair family owners of Mavericks in Johns Creek call it a “So-Cal Mexican cantina.” The atmosphere is bright and beachy, transported to a suburban strip center. The opening menu is a mix of starters, tacos, enchiladas and tortas, with many ingredients cooked-to-order over a wood-fired grill.

The look: Located in the Johns Creek Walk mixed-use development on Medlock Bridge Road, the brick storefront is fronted by a small patio. Inside, the re-purposed wood plank walls are decorated with surf boards and the Mavericks logo in big block letters. A curving corrugated metal bar with metal stools looks in on the open kitchen.

The scene: On a recent Friday afternoon, the pleasant aroma of wood smoke filled the air, and executive chef Nicholas St. Clair could be seen tending the grill. The late lunch assembly was made up of chatty office refugees, along with a scattering of retirement age couples and families with small children.

The food: The menu from St. Clair, a California Culinary Institute grad and the chef/owner of Antebellum restaurant in Flowery Branch, is elemental in approach. But a few dishes feature Southern touches. Spicy fried chicken tacos ($12), served with poblano rice and black beans, are topped with Alabama-style white barbecue sauce and chow-chow. Wood-grilled grouper tacos ($13) are finished with lime-marinated pineapple, buttermilk dressing, radishes and cilantro. A hefty pork belly torta ($14) gets a slather of chipotle mayo, a fried egg and pickled red onions, with a pile of sweet potato wedges on the side.

The drinks: The concise cocktail menu ranges from a simple house ($6) or pomegranate margarita ($7), to the Mexican Mule ($11) with reposado tequila and ginger beer, and the Hot & Skinny ($11) with jalapeno tequila, agave and lime. Currently, there’s a small selection of beer by pint, pitcher or bottle ($3.50-$12), and five wines by the glass ($7-$9).

The extras: On the dessert menu ($6), homemade tres leches cake with sweetened coconut and strawberries, and churros with Mexican chocolate. The lunch special ($7.50-$9) offers two tacos with rice and beans.

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