By Sol Vanzi
The young crowd waiting for rides home has been a daily sight at dawn in front of the Cowboy Grill in Ermita for decades. Musicians and their girlfriends/wives negotiate with taxi drivers, hoping their musical instruments and sound systems would all fit in the cab. They are often joined on the sidewalk by the stragglers—local and foreign customers, some still holding unfinished beer bottles.
Over the years, as the musicians got older, the customers did, too. Now parents and professionals, these bar-hoppers’ taste in music mellowed and their evening excursions became family bonding meals instead of drinking sessions with buddies. They have remained loyal to their favorite watering holes, which they continue to patronize not just for great music but for good food as well. Unfortunately, many music bars failed to keep up with the times and were forced to drop out of the highly competitive business.
An exception that is always in tune with developments is Cowboy Grill, which through the past 24 years has embraced the challenge by instituting changes aimed at its loyal patrons and winning over a growing market of family diners. As it marks 24 years of great music and remarkable food, the Cowboy Grill is undergoing it biggest makeover yet—shifting from a music bar to a family-oriented eatery and catering service.
Best Sisig in Town
Our group ordered sisig and was served the best version I have ever tasted outside Pampanga. The pork was all roughly sliced and chopped, with varied textures from ears, snout, cheeks, and skin.
Cowboy Grill’s chief of catering division Chi de Jesus revealed that sisig is their biggest seller both for dine-in and take-out orders. The biggest star in Philippine culinary history seems simple to make, although all cooks have their own very strict rules. Even cooks of eateries along the railroad tracks in Angeles City, birthplace of the dish, have their own versions—some with mayonnaise, a few with canned liver spread, beer, lemon-flavored softdrinks. Cowboy Grill’s secret? Butter and manual chopping.
“Our kitchen staff is mainly from Pampanga. Two cooks are in charge of manually chopping the pork heads that have been tenderized and broiled. For each order, the chopped pork is sizzled in butter on a cast iron hotplate, with onions and seasonings. We use only organic native vinegar,” de Jesus explains.
Although imported frozen pork heads (mascara) is cheaper, Cowbow Grill uses fresh chilled local pork, which are more uniform in quality and age, therefore tenderize at the same rate, preventing the occurrence of yucky, mushy sisig.
The sizzling bulalo was tender and moist. I found their pizza very good and fresh, using two kinds of crust. One popular version even featured adobong pusit toppings!
We saw a lot of night owls going home with bags of takeout food for their families. The most popular are Filipino classics: caldereta, kare-kare, adobo, pancit canton, as well as inihaw na pusit, calamares, and pork BBQ.
Responding to public demand, Cowboy Grill’s Remedios branch has added a takeout window that’s open from morning to evening. Their catering services have also become popular for birthday celebrations, office parties, conventions, and reunions.
Soon, their hours of operation will also adjust slowly as the Cowboy Grill metamorphosis continues.
Cowboy Grill Ermita (there are other branches) is located at 11910 Mabini cor Arquiza St., Emita, Manila.
For reservations and inquiries, call Chi de Jesus, (02) 2182005 or visit www.cowboygrill.ph
This article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.