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Grim's Grub: Tanque Verde brings the South up North

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For years now I've tried to grow prickly pear cactuses in my house. At one point I gave away several in pots, and a friend of mine seemed to have a talent for making it flower and grow bigger. I don't think she ever saw it fruit, though that was ultimately my goal.

Who would have thought a local restaurant would employ this treat from down South in some of its drinks?

Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, has been in business for more than 100 years, much likes its sister resort, Grand View Lodge in Nisswa. It's only suitable that the Cote family, which owns both resorts, brings some of the delicious treats from the ranch down South to its resort up North, and that's just what they did when they opened Tanque Verde Cantina this summer at Grand View.

The cantina features lots of picnic-friendly foods, literally on the beach. You could hardly get more nature in a dining establishment. The cantina has retractable glass walls. When open, the breeze blows through with the smell of Gull Lake and the sounds of summer living. When the wind blows hard or the weather is less than prime, the doors can be closed. You still see the beach, but without blowing sand or a chilly breeze. There is even a fireplace.

I visited this new outdoor dining location and spoke to Frank Soukup, director of marketing for Cote Family Companies. He told me all about the ranch down South. Apparently during the right time of year, staff at the ranch gather prickly pears and process them into a tropical pink syrup on site. The fruit lives up to its name, however, and Soukup said the folks in charge down South aren't fond of handling the poky fruits.

The crazy part is that they don't just hoard the syrup down in Tucson, but they have begun sending that syrup to Grand View where it is a feature at the cantina. The main cactus attraction is the Prickly Pear Margarita. I haven't checked, but around here a prickly pear margarita is probably pretty rare. Add the fact that the syrup for the margarita is not just some canned or bottled sauce purchased from a company selling cocktail mixes and you have yourself something special.

I personally don't drink alcohol, but the cantina also offers a cactus beverage for its youngsters, simply called a Cactus Cooler. It's sort of an Arizonian Shirley Temple, sort of a Danielle Fishel (Topanga from "Boy Meets World" - she was born in Arizona, get it?). So they have kids or those who don't drink alcohol covered.

Of course, prickly pear syrup might be hard to find. Some have compared the prickly pear flavor to bubble gum and watermelon, so a watermelon margarita may be compatible with this recipe.

Included here are instructions for processing the prickly pears, which could be applied to other fruits as well. I, for one, plan to try my hand at cranberries.

Prickly Pear Margaritas

  • 1 1/2 ounces Patron tequila
  • 1 ounce triple sec
  • 1 ounce prickly pear syrup
  • 2 ounces lime sour
  • Ice
  • Lime slice
  • Lime juice
  • Salt

Put a thin layer of lime juice on a plate. Do the same with a thin layer of salt. Dip the lip of a margarita glass in the lime juice, followed by the salt. Fill the glass with ice.

Fill a shaker with ice. To the shaker of ice, add the Patron, triple sec, prickly pear syrup and lime sour. Cover the shaker and shake until the liquid is ice cold, then pour over the margarita glass of ice. Garnish with a lime slice.

The Cactus Cooler (Danielle Fishel)

  • ¼ ounce prickly pear syrup
  • 1 can lemon-lime soda of your choice
  • Ice

Though not done at Tanque Verde, you can make this drink extra special to the child drinking it by lining the rim of the glass with sugar the same way you would line it with salt for the margarita recipe.

Fill a glass with ice. Add the soda to the glass, followed by the syrup.

Simple Fruit Syrup

Courtesy of

  • 4 parts fruit
  • 2 parts sugar
  • 1 part water

Put all ingredients into a pot. Mix well and then simmer until the fruit is completely soft. Strain out all pulp and fruit bits. Store up to one week in a refrigerator.