In this undated photo, restauranteur David Richard (left) enjoys a break with chef Daniel Cecelic, who helped him develop the unique flavor of Mexican and Cajun dishes featured at The Blue Cactus Cantina in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo submitted)
At first glance, The Blue Cactus Cantina on Old Fort Parkway may seem like "just another Mexican restaurant.”
Not only does its Southwest-meets-Cajun menu go far beyond that, its story is much deeper, as well.
It all started in 1990 when Daniel Cecelic was adopted from South Korea. Having been born with several fingers and toes missing, he was different from most kids in the country. A couple stationed in South Korea at the time, decided Cecelic was perfect, and they brought him back to Nashville.
As luck would have it, he grew up near Brick Café in Franklin, the first of several restaurants of the same name started by David Richard.
At 15, Cecelic approached Richard about working in the neighborhood favorite. There, he started as a busboy but quickly showed interest in becoming a chef.
“You don’t know what you’re going to do in life at 15, but he took to cooking and eventually showed interest in cooking school,” Richard said. “I helped write a letter, and he got into Sullivan University (in Louisville, Ky.).”
While studying at the No. 3 cooking school in the country, Cecelic maintained contact with Richard. The two tossed around ideas for a new restaurant. By this time, Richard had already opened up Brick Café’s second and third locations.
“I saw this location on Craigslist … and the phone rang. It was Daniel. He said he was graduating and moving to Murfreesboro. I said, ‘Wow, that’s just too coincidental,’” he continued.
And so, they sat down to discuss menu ideas.
“David is Cajun, and I like the Southwestern style,” Cecelic explained. “He designed the restaurant, and then I took his ideas and ran with them in the kitchen. I worked the menu around it.”
Rather than start with a slew of options (at one point, Brick Café featured some 98 menu items), Richard thought it best to kick off with a few, solid dishes that are a little different from the norm.
“It definitely has a Cajun flair,” he said. “We didn’t want to be the typical ‘Speedy Gonzales with rice and beans.’ We wanted to be able to stand out from that. And a lot of people, at first, think that’s what we are. We have to break that idea that we’re a Mexican restaurant.”
That said, he boasts delicious fish tacos, which are a staple of Mexican cuisine. But the menu also offers smoked pork chops, rattlesnake pasta and Naan pesto chicken.
Appetizers include special concoctions like Cajun fondue – a spicy, tomato cream-based fondue with crawfish, Portabellini, shrimp and spinach served with toasted Focaccia – blue crab cakes, fried green tomatoes and Cajun crawfish bites.
Opt for one of Blue Cantina’s salads for a special treat: Bloody Mary steak salad serves up spring mix, smoked blue cheese, roasted poblano, pico de gallo and Vidalia onion dressing; Adobo BBQ chicken salad features a spinach chimichanga, spring mix, jalapeno corn, tortilla strips, chipotle balsamic, cilantro and ranch dressing.
Entrees range from 12 spice chipotle Mac ‘n’ Cheese to hickory smoked ribs to boudin stuffed chicken with stone-ground, creamy grits and a jalapeno bacon cream sauce.
Yummy-sounding burgers are listed alongside sandwiches featuring a unique blend of herbs and toppings.
Best of all, everything is fresh – and that’s just what Richard wants everyone to notice.
“It’s a little different because it’s a twist on Mexican food, and it’s a twist on Cajun food,” he says. “We want this to be the place where you bring your family, and you bring your out-of-town guests, and where you bring your date.”
Diners worried about spice can request a milder version of the menu items.
“Add a little spice and flavor to your life by trying our tasty cuisine,” Richard said. “Get ready to say, ‘Whoooeeeey! That’s good.'”