“Dean’s has the best burgers,” my new coworker Lindsey told me when the subject of food came up, “even though it’s a Tex-Mex place.”
Dean’s South of the Border in Punta Gorda was one of the first restaurants I tasted after moving to Charlotte County in 2008. Although Lindsey raved about the burgers, after taking a look at the menu, I knew I had to give some of the Tex-Mex entrees a taste. I mean, I’m a sucker for tacos and after my first bite, I was hooked.
If you have dined or sipped an adult beverage or two at Dean’s South of the Border, then you know it is a Punta Gorda institution. And hard to believe, the eatery is celebrating its 25th anniversary November 6, 2017, with six days of throwback fun.
Behind every great man there’s a great woman. In the case of Dean’s, the restaurant’s namesake Dean, he has a team of great, strong women behind him. Oh, and if you doubt whether there really is a Dean, there is. He is more of a behind the scenes type of guy but, he’s frequently there and I’m guessing you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of him during the 25th anniversary celebration.
Dean’s South of the Border is a Punta Gorda Institution
Recently, I sat down with five of these women who Dean’s managers, Rachel Bosworth, Carrie Dillow, Linda Harrison, Sue Polimeni and Brenda Ryan and combined, they have worked 71 years at Dean’s. Sue has been there the longest, since the Tex-Mex cantina opened 25 years ago and Carrie is “the baby,” having been there only five years. On any given day, you will most likely meet one of these fabulous ladies.
“The owners are absolutely fantastic. Dean and Sandy are like family… They’re just super-nice people,” Sue said when I asked why have they stayed there that long, considering staff seems to turn over quickly in restaurants, “And then, it’s the people you work with. Linda and I are like sisters. We care about each other and about what happens. We all take care of each other. That’s why I stay. We’re a family.”
Considering Dean’s is open about 20 hours a day, when asked if there is anything interesting that has happened, nothing significant stood out. I was told, there’s always something interesting happening, especially on a Saturday night, and the team chalks it up to, “welcome to Dean’s,” meaning, they’ve seen it all.
But, there is one “mane” incident that stands out.
“I was tending bar, I heard something that I think is a horse. And I look up and Lavern Outlaw was sitting on a horse,” Sue said, recounting the time a horse came into the restaurant when it was in a smaller building, “I told him, ‘get that $#@# horse out of here.'”
Dean’s South of the Border Treats Diners Like Family
Without a doubt, there is a sense of family with the restaurant’s staff, which diners can easily pick up. They estimate about 80 percent of their guests are regulars, both locals and seasonal residents, and they appreciate welcoming and serving those regulars.
“It’s always good seeing a familiar face,” is something Linda hears frequently from Punta Gorda’s seasonal visitors when they return to Dean’s.
“We just got into town, haven’t gotten to our house yet and went straight to Dean’s,” Rachel said of a couple who recently returned to town for the season.
When it comes to beverages and food, of course the cantina is known for its margaritas especially since they have a $4.50 one. And if you’re wondering, on the rocks with salt is the most requested.
As for eats, I have never had a bad meal whether it was breakfast, lunch, dinner or late-night bite. What impresses me is the bang for the buck. Portions are hearty and I cannot how someone could leave hungry. I spoke with Dean and he told me the restaurant is moving toward making more and more of their own entrees including sauces and he assured me their Southwestern eggrolls will remain on the menu and made in house.
All are in agreement fajitas are the most popular and as Sue explained, they’re the “most habit forming,” because after one person orders one and the other diners hear the sizzle and smell the grilled meat, it causes a chain reaction in fajita orders. Other delicious options are the prime rib, burgers (made with angus beef), anything with bacon (it’s Boar’s Head bacon) and mojo pork.
Although Dean’s serves more than Tex-Mex cuisine, they excel at it. Brenda shared a recent experience about a Texas couple who proclaimed to be Tex-Mex connoisseurs and recently moved to the area.
“Honey, it is not good unless it makes you sweat,” he told Brenda and then proceeded to taste the diablo sauce that accompanied his wife’s fish tacos.
The verdict? “Very good,” he told her and added, “This is our new spot.”
Ready to celebrate Dean’s 25th anniversary? Between Nov. 6 – 11, enjoy menu rollbacks and specials on specific days such as $2.50 margaritas on Nov. 6, free chips and salsa with beverage purchase on Nov. 8 and .25 cent wings (limit a dozen) on Nov. 9. Prizes will be awarded during specific times of the day and as usual, enjoy live music. Visit Dean’s website or find them on Facebook.com/DeansTexMex for the schedule of events.
Dean’s South of the Border is Punta Gorda’s Cheers. As all the women I met with agreed, people “come in as strangers and leave as family.”
Dean’s South of the Border
130 Tamiami Trl.
Punta Gorda, Fla. 33950
Tel: (941) 575-6100
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-bites and beverages.