June 2015

Holy Tequila! Redefining the Mexican cuisine and tequila experience


The new BBQ Chicken Taco with pimento cheese, fried pickled onions and Benton’s beans.

When you think of Mexican restaurants, things that come to mind might include tortilla chips, salsa, and margaritas. But take that thought to a higher plane and imagine gourmet tacos, fresh tortillas, homemade salsas and guacamole, creative specialty cocktails, over 40 kinds of premium tequila, all within an atmosphere that feels like a charming street scene in Mexico, and you have arrived at the promised land of Holy Tequila!

When speaking with Nick Bergelt, one of the owners, one immediately detects the passion that went into this higher-level creation and ongoing evolution, which is Holy Tequila! “A lot of effort went into making the complete experience, from the ambience, to the food, to the tequila—something that makes our guests feel as if they have been transported somewhere else,” Bergelt said.

And that “somewhere else” is Mexico. In fact, prior to opening the restaurant, Bergelt and a few other owners took a trip to southwestern Mexico (where you’ll find the city of Tequila on the map) to gather ideas for food, tequila and atmosphere. What they brought back to Hilton Head Island was a treasure trove of inspiration and ideas. “We learned the nuances and traditions of Mexican food and the atmosphere in which it is served,” Bergelt said.

To mimic the feel of some of the places in Mexico where they saw how families traditionally set up market places to sell their specialty dishes, the design of Holy Tequila! features an open-air atmosphere, including a large garage door, which opens to a garden. The menu ranges from traditional Mexico, to innovative creations, to infusions of local and regional ingredients. For appetizers, you’ll find the old favorites of nachos and chile con queso, alongside items you may not have tried before, such as a unique salsa sampler and their “Street Corn,” which is charred street corn, chile aioli, lime and cotija cheese.

The taco choices are so many and diverse, they could almost have their own menu. Here you’ll choose from tacos for $3.95 each, or you can get a sampler of three for $10.95. If you want more than tacos, there’s always the quesadillas, the unique Holy Tequila Burger, and tantalizing Mexican desserts, such as homemade churros, Mexican flan, or “tres leches,” which are three-milk and brandy-soaked cakes with whipped cream.

A fiesta of dishes and cocktails are being unveiled this month on the new summer menu. Pictured above is the Wood-fired Hanger Chimichurri.

And then there’s the namesake of the restaurant—tequila! For the non-connoisseur of tequila, there are brief descriptions next to each selection on the menu, plus a “Gringo Tequila Guide” that breaks down the basics of tequila distillation processes for which the categories are named. There’s Blanco, which is rested for no more than two months in oak and steel barrels; Reposado, which is rested for two months to two years in oak wood barrels; Añejo and Mezcal, both of which are aged for one to three years in small oak wood barrels; and then there’s ultra-premium, which is “the good stuff, ultra-smooth and ultra-refined.”

As with other spirits aged in casks, tequila takes on the flavors of the wood, while the harshness of the alcohol mellows. The major flavor distinction with 100 percent agave tequila is the base ingredient, which can be harsher but also more complex and enjoyable.

You may not have thought there was so much to know about tequila, which can add a kind of educational experience that might offer a “legitimate” reason to sample more than one (only with a designated driver on hand, of course, in the event you want to expand your education)! And, as you may have guessed, taking tequila shots, as is customary in America, is not the best way to enjoy the flavors, which require more of a sipping approach for the complete taste experience.

Holy Tequila! features an open-air atmosphere, including a large garage door, which opens to a garden. Queso Fundido and the Chorizo Torta with Summer Thyme Limonada.

But if you’re not a straight tequila drinker, there are plenty of margaritas and specialty cocktails to choose from at Holy Tequila. Also, just in time for the summer season, you’ll find new cocktail innovations to cool your body down and wake up your taste buds.

“Drinks with a combination of fresh fruit, carbonation, and usually some kind of tequila are popular during the hot season in Mexico,” Bergelt said. And now guests can do the same with infusions, such as the Summer Thyme Limonada.

As for the future, the traditions, innovation and creative flair look to continue at Holy Tequila! Fresh off a research trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Bergelt brought back more ideas that have spawned plans of building on the authentic while experimenting with new innovations like the high-end chefs of Cabo are trying now.

“We wanted to learn from the best of the best in Mexico, and the high-end chefs are in Cabo,” Bergelt said. “We are trying to elevate our craft in every way to distinguish ourselves from other restaurants and to give our guests a unique experience. We want the ambience and the food to absorb them.”

Anyone who likes Mexican food or any of the vast number of drinks that include tequila will find something to love about Holy Tequila! In fact, if you are not a big fan of the south-of-the-border cuisine or beverages, you may just become one upon your first Holy experience. 

Holy Tequila! is located at 33 Office Park Road, Hilton Head Island. Call them at (843) 681-8226 or see their menu at holytequila.com.

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