(CNS Foodie): If you haven’t checked out this long-standing bar/restaurant/lounge yet, no more XQses! This oldie but goodie happy hour spot has a lot to offer, not the least of which is a great bar, casual atmosphere and some pretty awesome pizza.
Located above Big Daddy’s and next to the transitioning new Margaritaville Resort (formerly Treasure Island), this unassuming eatery hosts an early happy hour where pizzas are 50% off from 3-5pm and all drinks are 50% off from 5-7pm.
We arrived just in time to order some drinks before the end of happy hour and were pleasantly surprised how our server rushed to make sure our drink orders got in on time. There aren’t many places you can get a $3 beer and $4 glass of wine these days, happy hour or not. As we sipped our drinks and looked over the menu, we decided to try the tuna poke appetizer, a traditional Hawaiian dish of chopped raw fish in a ginger, soy, sesame marinade.
But we were really there for the pizza. With an authentic wood-burning, brick pizza oven greeting you at the top of the entry staircase, you can’t help but be attracted to the rustic simplicity of a freshly stone-baked pizza. The pizza menu is comprehensive without being overwhelming, and ranges in price from around $12 to $20.
There are about a dozen recipe options on the menu but you can make changes as you wish or, of course, just build your own. While we contemplated ingredients, our poke arrived, glistening with sesame glaze and served with large, crispy, wonton chips. I found it a little heavy on the sesame oil and too light on the ginger but my companion, who spent a number of years in Hawaii, thought it was a pretty darn good rendition of the real thing. Poke in Cayman. Who knew?
We ordered two pizzas and relaxed in the comfortable booth, sipping our happy hour drinks. The dining room was pretty empty, being mid-week, but the large wrap bar did have a few regulars parked up at it, chatting and laughing. Next to the bar is a piano that provides live entertainment on Thursdays with local musician Jeff Japal (in high season). The adjacent lounge area has some large comfortable couches and chairs, perfect for relaxing with food and friends. There is even a separate tapas menu for small bites.
Our pizzas arrived 15 mins later, hot and fresh – “a funghi misti” with assorted mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula and a “quattro stagioni” with black olives, mushrooms, artichokes and ham. Both have a nice portion of mozzarella, but not too heavy, particularly considering the light crust.
The pizzas are all hand stretched, thin crust and made to order, with gluten-free options available (which I’ve heard are quite good. I meant to try one for you but completely, forgot). You can even watch your pizza being made by the chef at the stone oven right in the dining room if you want.
If you like mushrooms as much as we do, the funghi misti is a must have. It’s probably one of my all-time favourites, with heaps of earthy mushrooms, tangy, salty, sun-dried tomatoes and the freshness of nutty arugula on top.
The quattro stagioni on the other hand, wasn’t quite as tasty for me because I was expecting prosciutto and got something closer to a deli ham. Still, it reminded me of what I might get in Europe, which is a nice part of an authentic take on pizza.
On another visit we tried the “tuscana” with pesto grilled chicken, sun-dried tomato and fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the Caribbean with chicken, bbq sauce, pineapple, bacon and green pepper. Both were built with careful consideration, not just to the combination of ingredients but also to the quantity. With thin-crust pizza, less is definitely more and XQ’s has done a really nice job of creating a dynamic pizza menu that lets each ingredient have a space on your taste buds.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the rest of the menu, which includes a few salads, a few sandwiches, pasta and some entrées. Again, not too much, but just enough for everyone in your party to see something they’ll like.
Interestingly, they offer the same menu for both lunch and dinner, so we went for lunch one day and tried the gnocchi and the crispy snapper. The gnocchi was pan seared in butter with spinach, mushrooms, almonds and shaved parmesan. The pasta was a little dense but still soft and smooth the way you’d expect, and while the preparation was tasty, it was quite rich with the butter and cheese.
The snapper was a complete disappointment. Just because the dish is called “crispy skin” doesn’t mean you don’t need to serve some actual fish with it. I was shocked to see there was only a half-inch or so thickness of filet served with side vegetables and some rice in this $25 plate. For that priced I’d expect a much larger, juicy, fresh piece of fish. It’s quite possible the fish was local but it did not taste fresh.
We were quite impressed with the service at XQ’s. Everyone was very friendly, and overall the food – especially the pizza – was good. Though it was quiet when we were there, I imagine this is a nice spot when it’s lively, say for Friday happy hour, and I think live music would make the experience even better.
Happy hour or not, if you like pizza like I do, XQ’s is worth checking out. With simple but flavourful ingredient combinations, a light, crispy crust and a real wood fire, brick oven on site, there’s no excuse.
Readers’ ratings for XQ’s:
Category: Golden Spoons Review