North shore’s Crazy Taco reinvents the elm park inn’s former space, and adds some badly-needed spice to island fare

by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Amessé Photography

At Portobello Café in Great Kills, Chef Adam Lener has built a solid reputation for transforming traditional Italian dishes into something exceptionally eclectic—he makes his meatballs with Kobe beef, dredges his chicken in Captain Crunch cereal, and serves his gnocchi in a walnut pesto cream sauce. Now, he’s accomplishing the same goal across town with Tex-Mex cuisine, by crafting a unique Mexican menu at The Crazy Taco in Elm Park.

“This is a modern, eclectic version of Southwest food,” Lener said of his newest restaurant, which opened March 19 in the former North Shore home of The Elm Park Inn. “To open another Italian restaurant on Staten Island would have been redundant. Here, we wanted to do something different that will draw the attention of a range of customers.”

And different is exactly what Lener has accomplished. Using fresh fish, pulled chicken, and flank steak, he has crafted several winning dishes. The tequila bar is stocked with 150 different tequilas and mezcals, the menu is filled with a variety of soft tacos, fajitas, and table-side guacamole, and the flan, churros, and other desserts are all made on the premises.

“Our most popular dish is probably the empanada,” Lener said. “But we’ve also seen a big demand for our soft tacos, tamales, and fajitas. There’s also honey garlic- lime-infused wings, seasonal ceviche, jalapeno rellenos with a cilantro ranch dipping sauce, and a range of other exceptional dishes.”

The décor features a modern industrial theme: there’s a mix of reclaimed woods, exposed Edison bulb fixtures, and plenty of corrugated steel. Sugar skull masks, Guadalajara bubble glass, and copper ribbon tile are repeated throughout the dining space.

“Every detail has some sort of rhyme or reason, and that’s apparent from the moment you pull up,” Lener said. “Our entryway features a solid mahogany door from a 100-year-old barn in Kentucky, our bar foot rail and banisters are made from an old black gas pipe, and our door handles were designed by a guy in West Virginia to match the whole reclaimed theme. A lot of thought went into every detail of this restaurant.”

Cellini Spread

The chef ’s signature dish is The Crazy Taco, filled with battered and fried mahi mahi and topped with avocado and a pineapple jalapeno slaw. But other offbeat options, like Mofungo stuffed with shrimp (garlic herb-infused mashed plantains stuffed with garlic shrimp and finished with a light tomato cilantro reduction) and a Grilled Blackened Ahi Tuna Steak (served over pineappleinfused rice pilaf and a fresh seasoned vegetable melody) also have customers talking.

“We have a critique system set in place in which clients fill out reviews table-side so we can gauge experiences prior to them even leaving the door,” Lener said. “We also have a digital menu for our guests in which a photo of every item is featured—from cocktails to desserts. When you click on one, it gives all of the details, and the way you see an item on the menu is exactly the way it’s presented at the table.”

Weekly specials abound: Taco Tuesday features unlimited tacos for $20, plus unlimited frozen margaritas or tap beer for $16; Wacky Wednesday is all about half-priced appetizers all day, plus a 33-ounce margarita for $13.95 or unlimited mojitos for $16; Thirsty Thursday offers a variety of drink pitchers at discounted prices.

“All of our margaritas are made from fresh fruit purees,” Lener said. “So our watermelon, cucumber, and mango margaritas are all made from fresh produce. Plus every drink has two ounces of Avion Silver tequila floated on top. It’s a small and terrific batch company owned by Absolut—and our house brand.”

The tequilas and mezcal library ranges from basic Jose Cuervo to a rare, limited-edition Patron. In addition to the churros, flan, and fried ice cream (served in a cinnamon sugar flour tortilla bowl), Lener also crafted two signature desserts.

“Heaven and Hell is our gluten-free chocolate cake that is basically a ganache that has been infused with chipotle chilis,” Lener said. “The heaven is the decadence of the dark chocolate, and the hell is the smoky flavor of the chilis that pops in the back of your mouth.”

There’s also a margarita cheesecake—a fusion of traditional New York cheesecake and Key Lime pie, topped with Patron whipped cream.

“The objective here was to reinvent a location that has been a restaurant since 1920,” Lener concluded. “In the past few months, we’ve brought jobs and good food to the neighborhood. My goal is to continue that growth.”

The Crazy Taco and Tequila Bar
238 Morningstar Road
718.720.8226 / crazytacosi.com