Elevated Tex Mex: Sophomore Spanish Club
by Susan Marquez
“It’s Tex-Mex, but with a Mississippi flair.”
That’s how Michael McNeil describes Sophomore Spanish Club, located in The District at Eastover in Jackson.
McNeil is a manager of the restaurant which opened in August 2019. “(It) was well-received right off the bat,” he said. “People have really enjoyed it.”
McNeil said the restaurant is raising the bar on classic Tex-Mex fare, and specific recipes, such as the fried chicken tacos.
“We also do our take on traditional Mexican recipes. One example of that is the Tres Colores, or three colors,” said McNeil. “It’s a whole fish, butterflied and served with the head and tail on, then topped with three sauces in the colors of the Mexican flag.
Chef Jesse Houston’s menu is fun and innovative. On the appetizer, or “snax” menu, one of the popular offerings is “Dumped at the Cancun Airport Nachos,” which includes, among its ingredients, various quesos, chili con carne, borracho beans and heartache (and heartburn).
Seafood offerings include grilled oysters and a variety of ceviches. Salads are available for those who wish for lighter fare – a “Coool Ranch Taco Salad” (with three “o’s” because it’s that cool) and a jicama salad with romaine and iceberg lettuce, ruby red grapefruit, cucumbers, jalapenos, pepitas and mint with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette.
“Specialties of the Casa” include Miss-Mex Tamales, Redfish Banana (wrapped in a banana leaf with steamed Delta Blues rice and pineapple-mezcal butter, pickled raisins and onions, sesame seeds, cilantro and tostones) and the Taqueria Burger made with ground fajita steak.
When entering Sophomore Spanish Club, guests know they’re not in their mother’s Mexican restaurant. “It’s got a fun vibe,” said McNeil. “The décor is a sort of homage to the 90s that the Saved by the Bell crowd will understand and appreciate.”
Sophomore Spanish Club is also popular for its fun bar program. “Our cocktails are really great,” said McNeil. “We make our own prickly pear syrup in house and we make our own Ranch Water, which in Texas is Topo Chico mineral water and tequila, but here we use locally-distilled Cathead honey vodka. We try to do local whenever we can.”
No Tex-Mex restaurant is complete without margaritas, and Sophomore Spanish Club delivers. House margaritas are made with tequila, lime, agave and a squeeze of fresh orange juice with salt, sugar or tajin rim. Add-ons are available for on-the-rocks margaritas, including mescal mix, mango, spicy, prickly pear and hibiscus ginger. Specialty margaritas include “My French Teacher’s Favorite,” which is made with Herradura Reposado, Grand Marnier, orange, lime and agave with a sugar rim.
The restaurant had only been open a few months when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and to stay afloat, they had to make some creative decisions. “We turned our restaurant into a grocery store because groceries were sometimes hard to find at first,” explains McNeil. “It was also a way to keep our employees working and getting paid, not to mention helping our vendors. It worked out great for everyone.”
Sophomore Spanish Club provided curbside service from the regular menu, as well as offering family packs. “We also did a couple of pop-ups,” said McNeil. One of the most popular was ramen, which was both unexpected and appreciated. “People loved it!”
Update: Sophomore Spanish Club closed in early 2021.