Noun 1. gastronome - a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment (especially good food and drink)bon vivant, epicure, epicurean, foodie, gourmetsensualist - a person who enjoys sensuality. Follow me on Twitter: @Aghastronome

Friday, December 16, 2011

Breaking My Fast: Bibas KitBar

So, I told you back in October about overhearing all about the new menu, from the new owner.  And, I told you it sounded de-luscious and country and I gotta go get me some of that.  Well, I did so, twice.  The old "Bibas" is now "Bibas KitBar" and I am not a fan of the new name.  Partially, on account of the failure to shed the "Bibas" part.  It seems less like a whole new venture and more like the old one is trying to reinvent itself but, is scared to cut the apron strings completely.  What the hell is a kitbar? From the Urban Dictionary:  A douchebag, a whore, also used when talking about backstabbing, nasty boyfriend stealing bitches.  Hey, it's the only definition or explanation of a kit bar I could locate.  Gastropub, I can reasonably infer what that is.  Kitbar, I cannot get past infant fox place to drink, and that makes zero sense.

 A group of us likes to drink across the street, we note the cars, or lack thereof.  We wonder why people, in large groups are leaving the hair salon, which has had the lights off for a couple hours.  These conversations occur because we're betting whether or not they are customers.  They mostly are not.  I have only had breakfast on both occasions, so I cannot speak to the rest of the menu.  Also, I'm not repeating hearsay, this ain't yelp, so who cares what my friends have to allow about their experiences.  I may, you don't.

Breakfast on the first trip:  I ordered the country benedict and my dining companion ordered an omelet with ham, onion, cheese, mushroom and tomato.  Choice of potatoes?  Crispy homestyle was chosen over the country potatoes.  A plate lands in front of me and it's amiss.  Then, I am told "oh, we forgot your crab"....for the country benedict?  It's supposed to be one biscuit, divided, each half topped with a pork chop, poached egg, country gravy and cheddar.  What I got was a new creation, entirely.  English muffin, pork chop, egg and etouffee, with a belated thing of crabmeat.  I did have a bite, as I was starving and they were remaking my order - it was weird.  The omelet my companion had was a fat stuffed cheesy thing, with country potatoes, which were not the ones ordered.  My order comes out correct, wrong potatoes.  Delicious potatoes, but, not what I ordered.  The country benedict, done right was pretty good, but the gravy was "off" it was lackluster and thin.

Breakfast on the second trip:  I ordered the omelet just like my dining companion got the first time and my friend ordered two eggs sunny that came with black beans.  To be completely honest, I forgot what he ordered because I was focused on my order.  The omelet - not fat and stuffed but thin and meager. The ham was a tiny dice and about as prevalent as hens teeth, as were the rest of the ingredients.  I think a teaspoon each went into that omelet, the cheese on top was plentiful.  The potatoes...wrong again.  The sunny eggs my friend got had runny whites (but, I find no one cooks a medium egg properly, so you have to go sunny and hope for the best) and the beans were denounced as mediocre at best.

I will go a third time, mostly because I am dying to see if the elusive crispy breakfast potato side exists, or if it is a freaking misprint.  Overall, with breakfasts running around $8-$9 and with the West Gray Cafe down the street doing the same, better for less get the picture.  The third time will be the charm, I'll either decide to go regularly or go not at all unless someone else insists.

Shut: Souper Salad in River Oaks

I was just having a nice cell phone conversation with a dear friend, about anything but food.  Apparently, he was driving for a late lunch, as he advised me that the above referenced establishment and location is closed.  They have a "Thanks for the business" sign up.  I did my best to find him another salad bar, that might also sport soup and some cornbread, to no avail.  As we began to lament the sheer lack of salad bars (I guess they are scarce and perhaps passe - but, I love being able to make my own salad with spinach, canned beet cubes and cottage cheese and then glop some skroodle salad on the side), he said the best thing ever.  I don't think he realized it, but, he did.  And it paraphrases something like this, "How the hell, in the third largest city in America, is it that a grown man cannot find a single decent salad bar inside the loop."

 I bet he eats quiche too, on account of he's a real man, and he just wants to pile all the onions he can stand on a bed of greens and top it all with some dressing and cheese.  Me, I like the beets and green peas, myself.  I don't care if sneeze guards are so a couple decades ago - I'm with him on this, I want a salad bar, with soups and corn bread.  While you're at it, tell me where a Steak N'Ale is, I loved their french onion soup.

Food PSA: Fertitta buying Morton's Restaurant Group Inc.

So, he who likes food as much as I, and shares my complete lack of infatuation with the Landry's group and it's illustrious CEO sent me this here article this morning.  Fortunately, I'd already eaten my kolache or I would not have broken my fast yet.  So, it appears that the transaction will close in February, 2012 with Morton's selling it's soul for $6.90/share, or $117 million, which is 34% more than the shares were trading.  Take note, if you want something, you gotta pony up for it.

What this leads me to believe, if I follow my logic, is that people are flocking to these chain restaurants.  *Sigh*.  Okay, this is simple really - follow me.  "The Protester" is Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" (I am grappling with the concept, it's sorta like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Pol Pot - and the announcement has resulted in a lot of people laying claim to being the basis for the decision).  Where was I?  Yes, here - so, effectively protesting can work (why do I have visions of Greek persons hurling rocks?).  Given that protesting doth work, and given that I'm not the only one that is not his biggest fan, if people put their money where their mouth is and eat local, we can make a difference (and I still caveat the whole shebang with my liking Vic & Anthony's and feeling dirty about it).   Or, you can keep running food down your neck from McLandry's.  Really, it is your choice, as a consumer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December a, 2011: National 3.14 Day (That's Pie, Fools)

Today....National Pie Day! I know, right after Thanksgiving, the holiday during which pumpkin and pecan pies are for dessert, second breakfast, high tea and a before bed snack. However, National Pie Day is a time for indulging in sweet or savory pies. So, whether it's a fast food pot pie, shepherd's pie, or apple pie - go forth and get thy pie on.

Houston Area Pie Joints

- any local diner/cafe/pub in your general vicinity
- Oh My Pocket Pies (food truck, seek 'em out)
- House of Pies
- Flying Saucer
- your local bakery, nooooo, not the grocery store chain one, the family-owned one near your residence

And many, many more.  You have a favorite crust-encased hand held place I have missed?  Yeah, I am thinking "empanada", but, that ain't pie peeps....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Food PSA: Fertitta Finally Purchases McCormick & Schmick's

Not really "good news", I'm really no fan of the Fertitta Empire.  Back in March, Landry's (Fertittaville) offered Mc &Smick $9.25/share or $137 million for the restaurant chain.  That buys 80 restaurants in 26 states with an estimated $300 million annual net revenue (per the Houston Chronicle).  SOOO, chain, chain, chain......of dining fools.  I know there are smallish towns where just such chains are considered the nicest place to dine (I was reared near one).  I know, there are Landry/Fertitta groupies out there.  I'm not one of them. 

Oh well, we should all "SLGT" and find the small restauranteur in the little, unique and un-franchised joint and give him or her the business.  Occupy Food Street, refuse the megalomonsters - eat local, or watch local businesses die.

Rant Over.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Food PSA: Winds of Change @ Bibas

I was out having a few drinks on W. Gray, when in walked a sizable dude in a chef coat. He was chatting us up about the Bibas across the street, and how he had purchased it. There are, from what I gathered some really impressive changes afoot over there. Many of you know all about the beleaguered location and it's three year hiatus from normal operations, following Hurricane Ike. It has been remodeled, including a fancy new parking lot and opened briefly a couple of months ago. The rumor mill has it that the Bibas/Ones a Meal empire divided, with OaM opening on lower Westheimer and Bibas struggling open later on W. Gray. Then, after it slunk open, it shut not long after. The OaM owner re-opened it, and has now sold it to the aforementioned dude. Or so the rumors would have me believe. Now, there appears to be big change on lower W. Gray, as the menu is beginning to morph into something completely different. Beginning, allegedly, this weekend, the breakfast menu will be overhauled. I overheard things like a scratch biscuit, topped with a pork chop and country gravy and then something about crawfish, brown butter and crab. It sounds like an upscale, yet down-home diner is in the works. The full menu should be out by next weekend. I also heard that the grand opening and brave new name should, should be hitting Houston around the 21st of October. I will have to give it a whirl, soon. Sounded so good, I had to quit listening as I had just enough to drink to make a Taco Hell drive-thru run. NOTHING good ever comes of that...and I do mean nothing. Don't take me at my overheard word, head on over there this weekend and see what's for breakfast. Who knows, could be a very pleasant and gravy addled surprise.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Food PSA: Crabs...Again (The Good Kind)

Yup....once again, they've "got the crabs" at Pico's....softies, ahoy.

This is some seriously great gastronomic news. If you like soft shell crabs, you absolutely must go to Pico's Mex-Mex, RIGHT NOW! Pico's fixes some of the best soft shells I have ever tasted. From fresh and live, right off of the plane, to lightly floured and pan-fried al mojo de ajo (in garlic and olive oil) they are perfect, succulent and juicy.

I do suggest you make tracks to Pico's quickly, as these luscious pretties will not last long. The best soft shell crab in Houston, they are highly sought after, some customers request a special phone call when they are available. Market price.

Pico's Mex-Mex
5941 Bellaire Blvd.

Have a shaker margarita while you're there - try not to roll your eyes or make your "O" face, I double dog dare you.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Missing Peanut and a Few Bad Weeks

About a month ago, I sent a blog post by Bellwether Vance over at Open Salon to my friend and fellow pet-lover and sometimes doggie foster mom.  It was a wonderful article, sprinkled liberally with humor and heartbreak.  Mostly it's about closing one of your personal tubes on the interwebs with a password containing the name of your pet.  And the loss of the said best friend.  My pomeranian, "Peanut", lovingly nicknamed "Turd" because he shat on an ice house picnic table when he was six months old, is now resting peacefully, in a little wooden box, in my living room.  I won't be participating in some mental self-flagellation and have changed all passords to the name of  my ex, Sneaky McCheaterson (there's a joke in there people).  I think he did the hokey pokey with half of Harris County - seriously.

Losing that super loving, yet totally incontinent dog has been difficult.  He was no prince, he urinated on everything left on the floor, pooped on all bath and door mats and had a genetic cough.  I rescued him from a purported trip to the pound, or that lady fibbed about dumping him, when he was six months old.  At two, the vet told me he had a collapsing trachea from in-breeding or "puppy mill" genetic coughing stuff.  Said coughing was normally really bad in the early morning, or whenever I wanted to sleep.  Sounds like he was a total pain, and he was.  But, he loved me with all his little heart and I lovd him right back.  Just as much.

Speaking of love, he had a girlfriend - File Gumbo, my little girl cat.  He would hump her furiously, and mostly when I had company he could show off for.  When she died suddenly, in the living room, I wrapped her in a towel.  He nudged it back and sat next to her.  That little boy was five pounds of personality plus.

I won't say much about his refusal to eat, the trips to the vet, the testing.   I won't mention in detail all of the foods I tried to get him to eat, the droppers full of pedialyte unflavored.  I will say, I tried and my vet tried.  But in the end, I made the toughtest choice we make as pet owners and let him go with dignity.  Hopefully, with no, or minimal suffering. My brother offered up a 21 "Gak" salute, to honor him and his quack-like cough.  I still listen for him, but, that's all part of grief.  Fortunately, I have Libby, my PitMix Princess and a cat I purchased at a rodeo benefit - who puts a kitten in a silent auction?  They keep me company.

Now, I am going to be playing the lottery, on account of I'm due a little something "good".

Soft Shell Alert: Pico's Mex-Mex

Yes, I will probably copy and paste this post every time they have a new shipment of fresh softies.  Yes, they are the best ever.  Consider yourself informed.

This is some seriously great gastronomic news. If you like soft shell crabs, you absolutely must go to Pico's Mex-Mex, RIGHT NOW! Pico's fixes some of the best soft shells I have ever tasted. From fresh and live, right off of the plane, to lightly floured and pan-fried al mojo de ajo (in garlic and olive oil) they are perfect, succulent and juicy.

I do suggest you make tracks to Pico's quickly, as these luscious pretties will not last long. The best soft shell crab in Houston, they are highly sought after, some customers request a special phone call when they are available. Market price.

Pico's Mex-Mex
5941 Bellaire Blvd.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sexy Sandwiches: El Super Cubano @ Cafe Piquet

El Super Cubano - Cafe Piquet
I was first introduced to Cafe Piquet during the Elián González fracas, they made the local news with protests against sending him to Cuba.  It still took me years to make my way there (it's every bit of 1.5 miles from my residence).  I have since had quite a few items on their menu.  My favorite lunch item is El Super Cubano.   I have been on a bit of a Cuban Sandwich mission lately.  I find this to be the best in town, so far.  Yes, I tried El Rey - and yes, I am open to suggestions.

I have a couple of favorite sandwiches, one of which is the "Reuben",  the other is the "Cuban".  Cafe Piquet offers both El Cuban and El Super Cuban.  When in doubt, super size me, hurry.  El Super comes with Mariquitas (plaintain chips) con Mojo, or, you can ask nice and get the Yuca Frita.  Construction-wise, both sandwiches are the same, just the El Super is a one and one-half sandwiches.  The bread is crisp, chewy and warm from being pressed.  The sandwich boasts a decent quantity of good quality sliced ham and swiss with the perfect amont of pierna (house-roasted pork) to round out the flavors. 

My only complaint, I only had three pickle slices - I love pickles, and on a 16" sandwich, I would have liked about, 8 or 9.  I need a crunch in every bite, I think.  Honestly, the thought of pickles vanished and my focus honed in on the sandwich itself.  Priced at $11.95, this seems a little on the steep side, but, for the quality of ingredients and the sheer size of it all, it's a great deal.  It was two meals, easily.  My total bill, including a beer and tip was around $20.  Good food, good company and a second meal - worth every penny.

The service at Cafe Piquet is friendly and accomodating.  In the many times I've been, I have never had a complaint, about anything, at all.  This could be partially due to the house Sangria, which, with the demise of Tio Pepe, is the best I have found.  It's available by the glass or pitcher, but, don't order a pitcher for yourself - they'll have to pour you into a taxi. There's a lovely warm depth from the fruit and spices without any hint of "alcohol bite", or that super cheap wine aftertaste. 

Cafe Piquet
5757 Bissonnet
Bellaire, TX 77401
Mon - Thurs:  11 AM - 9 PM
Fri - Sat:  11 AM - 10 PM
Sun: 11 AM - 7 PM

Here's a link to their full menu.

Bottom Line:  Best Cuban food in Houston, that I have found so far.  Excellent service, moderate prices and comfortable decor.  If you find yourself on the Southwest Side, or shopping Meyerland Plaza, drive on over.  I promise you won't regret it.  The Ropa Vieja is outstanding, in fact, I have never had a bad meal here.  Ever.

So, you have a sandwich you think is sexy?  Tell me about it.  I'll try anything....once.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What Price Food Blogging? Jail?

A Taiwanese food blogger was ordered to 30 days in the ole pokey, fined $6,900 to compensate the restaurant, and two years of probation.  All for saying a restaurants noodles were too salty and complaining about the presence of cockroaches and how overbearing ("bully") the owner was.  A court said she exceeded reasonable bounds? 

Let's remember kids, our reviews should be fair and balanced (okay, honest) and we should post pictures.  I normally don't, but, that's mainly so I am not picked out as one of those "crazy foodies".  I'd prefer to dine anonymously, on my own dime (you can assist with that, it won't hurt my feelings), and post a write up that should mirror the service and quality of  product that "everyman" can expect.  Please do not put me in the clink, if your food sucks, I am going to let you know.  Crappy service, yes, I'll say something for the world to read (or about 11 readers). I'll find something nice to say to offset my not nice thing(s) to say....."sweet glass tiles", or "nice paper lamp thingies". Or, killer crudite.....(how do you eff that up? srsly?).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Home Cookin': Avocado Bacon Potato Salad

This recipe is probably the last one you'll ever need, and the one you only make a couple of times a year.  You know, for special occasions when the entire family gets together.  This is retarded delicious and rather, um, not low calorie.  I just made a batch last night (I'll finish it off with the avocado tonight, before I tote it to a fish fry) and plan to bamboozle my friends with it.  The only thing I can think of that may improve your results would be homemade mayonnaise, with a touch of lime juice rather than lemon and a healthy shake of cayenne powder.  This is not the easiest on your wallet, either, however, if you play your cards right, it's not too expensive (like, eschew the $3 per each organic, hand-coddled avocados and get the $0.99 each ones).

I received the recipe from one of my older brothers, in advance of our Easter family barbecue and ham feast.  I volunteered to make the potato salad, to which I was emailed, "You need to make THIS one".  None of us had ever tried it, now my entire (large) family possesses the recipe.  Well, except my sister who's always on some carcass reducing food plan of sorts.  Me, I am fat and sassy - all systems normal.  I like eating, I don't like eating rice cakes.  I'll buy the bigger pants, whatevs.  At any rate, you simply must, must attempt this at home, I promise that you will make your "O" face.  It is carbohydrate crack.....for real.

Avocado Bacon Potato Salad

5 lbs red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
12 strips of thick-sliced pepper bacon (I just used the whole 1 lb pkg, what the hell)
1 bunch of cilantro, stemmed and chopped
2 cups mayonnaise, plus more if needed
1 Tbsp Tabasco course ground mustard (or dijon plus hot sauce)
5 - 6 medium avocados
1 head of garlic, roasted - you can use 2 Tbsp of jarred roasted garlic, if you're a cheater
2 bunches green onions, chopped
1/3 red onion, diced
2-3 jalapenos or serranos, seeded, deveined and finely diced
2-3 limes
salt & pepper to taste

Put the garlic in the oven to roast.  Prep potatoes and place in a stock pot with about 2 Tbsp salt and water to cover, begin boiling.  Note:  I use a "pasta insert" to make draining much simpler.  Just raise the insert and perch inside the pot to drain.  Cook bacon until crisp and drain. Crumble bacon when cooled. Dice the avocado and squirt with lime juice, sprinkle with 1/4 of the cilantro and season with some salt.  Gently fold, cover and refrigerate.

Keep an eye on the potatoes, they should only take 15 minutes or so.  Taste one for doneness, if they are tender-ish, drain, they will cook a bit more.  Don't let them go to mush on you.  Cool potatoes.  A great idea is to cook the potatoes the day before, and refrigerate them until you're ready, if you have time.

Dressing:  combine roasted garlic (squeeze out of skins), mayonnaise and mustard.  Stir well and store in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl, place the cooled potatoes, crumbled bacon, onions (both kinds), cilantro and peppers.  Add the dressing and fold gently until all of the potatoes are well-coated.  Gently stir in avocado.

Test for seasoning and serve.  I like to make the whole shebang a day ahead and let it marry in the refrigerator, prepping and adding the avocaco right before serving so it's not brown and nastified.

This would be fantastic with your Independence Day feast.  It goes well with burgers, hot dogs, barbecue, grilled chicken.  Really...anything you want to serve it with.  Just not "these", for the love of Mike.

P.S.  My Doll Hairs for Dining button works now, just saying.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Opens and Shuts: June 15, 2011

Yeah, I know, I am busy at a three-legged cat with a weak constitution, busy.   Writing breaks are necessary, now that I'm getting a routine, or have honed my juggling act to optimize my time and not bust my company dreadlines.  So, now I hope to be more regular at posting, hope.  I make no promises.  Here's who's out and who's on the horizon in the world of Houston food:

The Joe's Crab Shack at Pier 19, which Hurricane Ike had his way with, has reopened as of Monday.  News? Yes. Exciting? No.  I call this chain, "Joe's Crap Shack", not worth the time, nor the money.  I think I'd hit Red Lobster first, if I just couldn't find a local seafood slinging joint, to save my soul.

King Biscuit, the Heights icon on White Oak @ Beauchamp was rumoured to be a new venture for Ms. Fitzgerald, prior owner of Fitzgerald's.  Now, Swamplot says it's listed as "For Sale or Lease".

The 11th Street Cafe (which I found mediocre, homestyle, but, mediocre) has shut and will re-open on Saturday as Ruggles 11th Street Cafe.  Ruggles.  Now that is some exciting news.  I have loved Ruggles and everything they stand for, since, forever.  I also love that the new locations are not just a rote reiteration of an existing location - they are a new food concept or have a "twist".

Hogg's n' Chicks now has two locations in Missouri City.  They serve up fare that's "Southern Fried with a French Twist".  Folks, this is a serious restaurant, even if the name almost implies "titties", perhaps that's just what sprang to my mind.  I have an aversion to bad food that draws a crowd solely for the half nekkid women.  Hell, I have an aversion to bad food, period.

Headed to San Leon?  The waterfront spot that was Judges Bar & Grill is, as of last Friday, Bubba's Shrimp Palace.  I have no opinion, I normally make that drive to hit Topwater Grill or Gilhooley's.  I smell road trip.

The Heights has a flurry of activity going on - Christian's Tailgate opened last weekend and is pitching a Grand Opening this Friday.  New location location is found at 2820 White Oak.  I seem to recall they are in the same spot as a very sorely missed barbecue joint.  I could be incorrect.

Casa Dominguez, one of my regular Sunday Tex-Mex haunts should be open or opening soon in the old Tio Pepe on Cedar.  I miss Tio Pepe, best lamb shank and sangria anywhere.  I am looking forward to CD opening, I really like their queso and that you can substitute white cheese for american cheese.  The Rollitos are delicious too.

You have some food news I missed?  Hit me up in the comments or fire off an e-mail.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Burger Love: Hubcap Grill (Finally)

Things in my world went from busy to holy shat approximately 6 weeks ago.  Now, I'm an office of one, with a supervisor and there's no slow time or vacation in my line of sight.  Why the supervisory person - I require adult supervision, as anyone who knows me, knows.  At any rate, I found myself with a summons for noon jury doody, on Congress, awhile back.  Holy hamburgers, fatgirl, that's right proximate to Hubcap Grill!  Bonus.  So, I in my frumpalicious business attire, waddled a few blocks over and anxiously awaited the unlocking of the door.  Here's what I make of the Hubcap Grill's Bacon Cheeseburger.  Note: I always get a bacon cheese concoction when opining about burgers, or the closest proximity thereto.  How the hell do you compare otherwise?  Really?  Same basic premise, different basic joint = fair assessment of who's got the better product.

The inside of the place is very small, and just reeks of burgers (one deep breath and the diet is all the way off).  With such limited seating, one really should not be a jackass and sit at a table that can accomodate more people, than, say oneself.  Which I did...One girl, one two-top; in my defense, I was early and did not dillydally.  Here's how the burger and fries break down:  The burger is served on a fresh ciabatta bun, with all of the standard ingredients.  The bacon is thick-sliced and crisp, the meat was properly cooked to order.  The veggies were fresh and crisp.  Overall, the burger was delicious, hot fresh, with gently melted cheese and a fabulous amount of ooze/drippage.  And that's what caused me pause.  The bun.  The overall juiciness.  They scrap with one another about 2/3 of the way through the burger.  The last few bites, my soft, perfect ciabatta morphed into a soggy and disintigrating thing.  Caveat that:  I was not leisurely gnoshing, I consumed it - doody of the jury variety and my need for timeliness resulted in fast mastication.  The fries were extremely good, crispy, nicely seasoned and really, unless you just like to slurp up the ketchup, it's not necessary.

One word of caution, for the unititiated - bring either cash or a debit card.  They do not accept plastic monies, but, do provide a cash machine for your use.  Oh, and make sure you are hungry, and not feeling all "dainty", it's big, juicy meat.  As we all know, you cannot have your pudding, if you don't eat your meat. (ouch).

Bottom Line:  Good value for the money, excellent burger and fries.  The bun was the issue for me.  That being said, it may have been an isolated instance.  I will definitely go back, when I am in the area.  Further, I would suggest you hit their food truck (buscept, I hear that it is no mas - apparently, some food trucks offer more trouble than they are worth).  SO, drive your arse downtown and try one on.  Hopefully, the Heights location, is still forthcoming. If you haven't tried Hubcap Grill, you should.  Now that I've done my standard, I'll be venturing to the Philly Steak burger (what a delicious hot mess that looks like).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

News Flash: The Fertitta Empire Did Not Expand

As reported by the Houston Chronicle, McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants has rejected Tilman Fertitta's acquisition offer.  Spurned, but, nowhere close to giving up, Landry's Restaurants, the three hundred pound restaurant gorilla, is going to attempt the infamous Karate Kid "Sweep the leg, Johnny", and put up a proxy fight.  This acquistion, was an all-cash offer for 100% ownership (that a hella piggy bank you got there, mister).  The offer on the table was for $9.29 per share, or more than $137 million.  Fertitta owns slightly over 10% of McCormick & Schmick's currently.  Do the whooping crane move, fight the Fertitta.  Please.  For the love of all of us who have dined at Landry's, post-Landry family ownership, fight to the bitter end. 

Wait, you're both chains - catch ya'll at Gilhooley's, or Mardi Gras....just saying.

Easter Eats

Every holiday has a "food association", mine is Easter ham and deviled eggs.  Also, there are scads of people who head straight from Easter services to a brunch buffet.  Houston's own 29-95 has compiled a nice list of brunches and special three-course meals.  Here's the complete list for your perusal.  If you prefer to cook your own Easter Feaster, and you're rather tired of ham...there's always a lovely braised rabbit, courtesy of Eating Our Words.  Go gently into the rabbit area, as evidenced by the comments some meat is more murderous than others. "Me-OW".  I happen to like rabbit, it's yet another "white meat".

Peeps, everyone is weighing in on the candy front, and who am I not to follow them, hopping down the bunny trail, in search of the best basket stuffing sweetness?  I love black licorice jelly beans and malted milk "eggs".  The Reese's peanut butter eggs are far superior to the normal cups you can purchase year round.  Cadbury creme eggs....if I do a cartwheel without experiencing an isolated gravity storm, will you gimme one?  Sugar coated marshmallow peeps....nastified.  I bet Peep-based s'mores suck too.  I don't like them, never have.  Now, it's not a real dislike, on account of I have not wrapped my soup coolers around of of those suckers in about....25 years.  Nope, not since I was four years old.....oh, yeah, my pants are on fire, one moment, please.  I don't like peeps, unless they are "art" the pole dancing ones I've seen on the interwebs....or these.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Let's Do Lunch: Carribbean Cuisine

This is the finest and least expensive lunch, ever.  Located cattywampus from Sharpstown High School, on Bissonnet, and tucked back in the corner of a strip center, you'll find Carribbean Cuisine.   Many reviews would have you believe this is a scary, scary place.  Well, not during the day....besides, reports indicate that the sketchy apartments across the street are slated to be razed.  Hell. Yes.  I stop in for patties on the weekend, my grand idea of brunch.  Two meat patties, to go, $3.03 total drive out.  They are hot, fresh, flaky-crusted stuffed patties. Two will completely fill you up, feeling guilty?  Get one meat, one veggie. Yes, I told you Reggae Hut made some nice patties.  Don't tell them, I said - but, these are better.  Not by a couple lengths, perhaps by a nose, or three. 

Family-owned, Miss Ina has been cranking out home cooking and the price is nice.  Two people can have a pattie and share "Roun' De Yard" or a nice jerk or curry plate, and be stuffed.  Also, they have a grocery nook, if you're looking for pigeon peas, jerk seasoning, and a host of other Jamaican groceries.  The restaurant is small, seating about 24 people.  Those of us from the Southwest Side, get it to go.  Goat Curry, Jerk Whatever (Pork, Chicken, etc), vegetable and meat patties,  Coco bread.  Fish.  Shrimp.  Outstanding.  Do yourself a favor, don't be put off by the neighborhood.  I mean really, EaDo is a little are many places/neighborhoods lauded for their superb ethnic restaurants.  Besides, all the foodies know you need a CHL and a piece to try some of the best places....really.

Carribbean Cuisine
7433 Bissonnet St.

Hours:  10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
(I need to drive by and check this information.)

Friday, April 8, 2011

KPFT's 11th Annual Gumbo Cookoff: Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gumbo and music - what a fine combination!  This Saturday, KPFT 90.1 will host their long-awaited, newly revived, 11th Annual  (with a little gap between 10 and 11) Gumbo Cookoff!  Admission is only $5 for adults and children under 12 get in free.  There will be music on two stages, one outdoor and one indoor, provided by Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie, Don Fontenot and Friends of Louisiana, The Zydeco Dots, The Dallas Street Ramblers, Kevin Robinson Band, Texas After Dark Band, Country Road 101 and more!  We will start having all the fun at 10:00 a.m. and shut'er down around 7:00 p.m.  First, Second and Third Place Cash & Gift Prizes for both seafood and non-seafood categories.

KPFT's 11th Annual Gumbo Cookoff
Billy's Hall
4070 Wells Drive
Pearland, TX 77584
10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
$5/adult, $Free/Children under 12

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What's For Lunch: Reggae Hut, Mon'

I've been to Reggae Hut twice for lunch, once for brown stew chicken and once to see Jawad, while sucking on some oxtails.  Well, okay, I was polite since I was "into public" and used my knife and fork.  No gnawing on tailbones... Had I spied some marrow, things would have worked out a little differently.  Jawad, local cool guy and awesome singer/musician/poet, plays Reggae Hut on Thursdays from Noon - 2:00 p.m.  My opinion of him is very slightly biased, Jawad lived next door to me for a little while.  He's a kind and thoughtful soul, with incredible talent.  Please, please hit the link in his name and give him a listen.  I have his CD "The Collected Soul", good stuff - and conveniently available for you to purchase via that same website.

So, a perfect lunch on a gorgeous day would be unctuous oxtails with peas and rice (pigeon peas), vegetables like Mama makes and an iced tea.  Dining whilst Jawad performs, and not so loudly that you can't have a civilized conversation with your favorite dining companion.  It's a soothing background for a comforting meal. The oxtails were large and meaty, in a warm-spiced brown gravy, seared and braised to a delicate fork tender.  The problem with the oxtails at Reggae Hut, is that now that I've had them, unless I see the word "goat" on the menu board, I will fixate on the oxtails and never try anything else.  You looking for some tail(s), you need to get yourself to Reggae Hut, immediately.  If not, sooner.

Bottom Line:  Large portions of Jamaican home cooking, a nice selection of patties (pies, with a tumeric infused crust and filled with goodness, spicy goodness - just pick your protein).  The atmosphere is eclectic and relaxed.  It's a wonderful place for lunch, follow them on Twitter @ReggaeHut, or friend them on the Facebook, to find out what kind of fun they have going on any given day.  If you're there on a Thursday, give Jawad some appreciative applause, and some tip love.  Please keep him coming back!

The Reggae Hut
4814 Almeda Rd.
Houston, TX 77004
(it's right near my Tex-Mex affliction - Spanish Village)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Final Four: This Calls For Caek!

epic fail photos - Cake Spelling FAIL

Why every watch party worth attending has a cake!  Trust me....I'm just glad whoever "did" this wasn't trying to say "Go, Buttler"...just sayin'.

Burger Love: Vic & Anthony's

I met the illustrious Christy for lunch at Vic & Anthony's a week or so ago.  I typically don't spend "big money" on lunch, unless you count that "Crazy Combination" I purchased at the grocery store that netted me free chips, mayo, cheese and snack crackers with the purchase of a family package of lunch meat.  I typically eat lunch at my desk three to four times per week, leftovers or sandwiches (Out of my head, little Bad Santa kid).  I save my "eating out" lunch for something I really want or just have got to try.  In this case, I have been wanting the oft-lauded crab cake and the Burger Friday special.  I have seen the mac'n cheese burger in pixel form, and it made me drool on my keyboard.  Explains why the comma button malfunctions sometimes, I guess.  Here's the picture, so you can drool too - stupid burger porn.  I am not responsible for the state of your keyboard.

I don't normally have much nice to say about the local restaurant "magnate" that is Tilman Fertitta. Local gems have been aquired, marked up and dumbed down. Or, you don't get what you pay for anymore.   After all, my last trip to La Griglia, and I do mean last trip, ever, unless someone with a big funny bone totes my ashes along for the ride, was a disgusting adventure riddled with very poor service.  I keep hearing, V&A's is the jewel of the empire...the "Hope Diamond" in a sea of gastronomic mediocrity.   Best crab cakes ever, I hear.  The burgers on Friday are so divine, I hear.  FINE, I'm going, I'm, uh, I went.  I did it, I put revenue in T.F.'s pocket.  Here's how the adventure went down:

There are parking meters across the street, but, the valet service (not complimentary - $6) is efficient, well-run and you don't have to make the block to park "over there", when you know that if you try it, when you drive back - they'll be full and you'll be making the block, again.  The staff are all well trained, helpful and supremely professional - excellent service.  Now, let's get down to brass tacks.  The crab cake.  My "real" reason for going.  We split one cake to start our meal, that was a bit of a mistake.  The jumbo lump crab in a delicate chive beurre blanc, without any discernable breading as binder, should really not be shared.  I don't care how rich it is, it's truly delightful, and I know I can eat the whole thing. By. My. Self. That being said, sharing allowed us to have some burger action.  Well, and I'm working to cure my chubbiness.  It's not sexy.  Hell, it's not even cute. 

One Vic Burger and one Anthony burger, both ordered medium-rare.  Apparently, we hit on a Friday without a special burger.  Rats.  Both came with fries (so much for that "diet", they were delish) and we had a plate with each having our own ketchup, mustard and mayo, plus the little aioli for the fries.  We cut our burgers in half (we split, half a burger dressed with bacon and cheddar, half of a bleu cheese)  my burger was a perfect slightly warm pink inside. The exterior of the patty was nicely seared and slightly crisp, the meat stood up to the condiments and "squish" needed to wedge it in my mouth for a bite. Christy's was not perfect.  It was grey through and through and an over-cooked burger is not a juicy burger, back it went.  When the new one arrived, it was almost too rare, but, if you leave it be a few minutes, it keeps cooking.  So, it ended up being more okay, than not.  The buns are outstanding (Bernie's like, chewy - excellent) the burgers were thick, not quite as flavorful as I anticipated, but, better than your average burger.  Crisp fresh toppings and very good fries.

Bottom Line:  While somewhat expensive, well, when you add a crab cake, the overall experience was worth it.  I'll go back for the crab cake and a salad at lunch.  I'll go on Fridays, when I do, so I can stalk the Mac'n Cheese Burger like it's Justin Bieber.  The service was impeccable, including the valet service.  This was a splurge, including valet and a valet tip (SirRon, I officially declare myself a "Tip Idiot") the whole thing cost me $38 plus toll fees to get downtown and back.  Damn that crabby patty was good.  No complaints, but, my bologna will have a first name for the next week or so, just saying.

As an aside, when I go places like this I am reminded that I am Ellen Tebbits, all grown up.  Hair gone wild, food stains on my shirt that I was unaware of and just an overall, feeling of dorkiness.  Thanks for not making me feel like an outright goober, V&A's.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Eco-Mumbling: Gettin' Fruity...Fruitful...I Dug Holes in My Yard!

I have not really been all ecological or greenlike out here.  In light of recent and somewhat back-breaking events at Hell's Half Acre, I feel a strange compulsion.  First of all, I really cannot resist a good deal - you start talking about coupons and I may go all Pavlov's dog on ya.  The Houston Garden Center has been regaling me with glossy ads and, you got it, coupons.  I moved in (not really a full half acre) and the back yard was like a football field with a few trash trees and one seriously overgrown bed against the back of the house, it matched the one in the front of the house, perfectly.  I had patches of bamboo in the yard and have determined that stuff is my personal scourge.  I buy a house, there's bamboo and it's "game on" as I work to kill it off.  I have installed lots of beds and a nice garden (this is a double-edged sword, as I have an insane amount of weeding to do).  First, I planted a Thompson Navel Orange and a Sam Houston Freestone Peach.  They "fruited"....if you call 2 dozen oranges and 3 peaches a crop.  That was about 5 years ago.  My apricot promptly croaked, it went in around the time of the peach, no fruit, no leaves and no idee what I did to kill it.  Then, I got a Moro Blood Orange (12" plant off the ebay, it's still wee-ish) a half-dead clearance Satsuma and then a half-dead clearance Meyer Lemon.  They all lived and they are all still somewhat small. 

This year, I apparently went batshit crazy - or had delusions of modest wealth, or something.  I purchased and planted (by my ownself) five, count them, FIVE different fruit trees.  This last winter, YaYa told me that the pears I had received and shared from my brother's tree in Abilene was a Keifer Pear.  I love those pears with all of my crusty, half-rotten, little heart.  They are sweet, crisp and keep for yonks and evers in the ice box.  They make a fabulous pear/cranberry cake.  I got my coupons and headed for the HGC, as they had (and still have) fruit trees for our area, on sale for $19.99 a piece.  They have a nice variety and I promptly lost my last, serviceable, cracked marble.  I not only got that pear I desperately wanted, I also managed to convince myself to buy an Asian Pear, an Ein Shemer Apple, an Excelsor Plum and a Brown Turkey Fig.  Sheebus.  I had to dig five holes, 6" in diameter larger and deeper than a 5 gallon pot.  I go out in the yard every day, when I get home and while my large puppy runs and plays I carefully inspect the trees.  They are thriving, 5' -6' trees, with new leaves and other such growth, daily.  Next year, I hope to have a good mess of fruit to eat, put up and share.

My garden is about half "in" and half in need of turning.  I'll get that done this weekend.  As it stands, I have white cucumbers coming up, okra and volunteer okra from last year on the rise, three Early Girl tomatoes and two wee butternut squash.  The asparagus is harvestable and my blueberries are making this year.  The blueberries are still pretty small, I can't wait for them to be 4' -6' bushes.

I have a couple tips for you in the fruit department.  First, saving the half-dead clearance tree is a noble effort but, you will not see any fruits from your labors for some time.  If you can, you should, buy a tree that is 5 gallon, or larger.  Compost, however you do it, compost.  Weed and weed often, for the love of peat moss, do NOT compost the weeds.  Weeds begat weeds, even in death.  Just saying.  I purchased a compost tumbling unit that has a tea-catcher.  The tea is fabulous fertilizer, just dilute it in a hose-end sprayer, lest you burn up your plants.  Unless you have the space to plant two of each fruit, make sure you have self-pollenating trees.  I have not done enough research to know for sure, but, I have plenty of room for more. 

Perhaps next time, I will regale you with my herb stories.  Perhaps.  I just received new coupons....I need a nectarine, for reals.

Stupendous Deal Today! Feast

I receive LivingSocial and Groupon deals and quite honestly, it's rare that I purchase one.  Today's LivingSocial deal, found here, is irresistable!  The deal is, you get $40 of food at Feast for $20 - WHOOT!  That's a fantastic deal for one of Houston's best restaurants.  If you have been, or have not been - this is a do not miss opportunity.  For the completely unitiated, they serve more than offal, the fish pie is to die for, and the pork belly is perfection.  Hit 'em up!

Go get yours, I already got mine.  I may have to just "step up" and get the pig tattoo on my person!

219 Westheimer

Friday, March 25, 2011

PSA: Softies Are IN @ Pico's Mex-Mex

I rave incessantly that these are the best soft shelled crabs in the Universe.  Pico's Mex-Mex has received their second shipment, and they will continue to receive these succulent beauties throughout the season.  They are "al mojo de ajo", that's in garlic and olive oil, ya'll.  They are worth any drive, flight or short trip on a riding mower required to get at them.  They are market priced.  Pico's will sell out of them, before you can bat an eye.  Call first, but, whatever you do - go there at LEAST once this softie season and get the crabs!!

Pico's Mex-Mex
5941 Bellaire Blvd (near Hillcroft)

Houston, TX 77081

Really, shoe horn your pennies if you have to, they are so worth it.  Bring enough coconuts to have a couple margaritas, they are the bestest, too.

This food PSA was not paid for or suspected of existing by Pico's Mex-Mex, or it's affiliates, if it has any.  Just saying.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Let's Do Lunch: Prince's Hamburgers

I know, back to back burgers.  One is love at first bite, one is a love/WTH relationship, at best.  Bernie's Burger Bus and The Burger Guys (my two most recents, this is not a slam, spike or unintentional oversight of some of the other top-notch burgers in town, I'm looking at you, Hubcap Grill - you're my next victim) those are the burgers dreams are made of, sweet and greasy burger dreams.  And then there's that Prince's on Briar Forest right by my place of employment.  Thrice I have been recently, and, other than the fried chicken salad, I've gotten a freshly-made burger that was cold inside and incapable of melting the cheese.  I hope this is something they resolve.  I like to frequent Houston's long time legendary food spots (like, oh...Spanish Village), but, I am struggling here.  So, please to fix the cold pink burger patty and the un-melty cheese for the fat girl.  While you're engaged in burger basket restoration, please to serve piping hot crispety, crunchety fries.  Burger girls don't like the limp ones, just saying.  Especially when they are cold and stuff.

I know you will get back to a good place, Prince's.  Back to where you used to be, crispy griddled on the outside and warm and pinky on the inside.  I have faith.  I hope it's neither misplaced, nor misguided.  I'd like to see you bring your "A" game to my burger bracket.  Your veggies were fresh and crisp.  You got that going for you.

P.S.  The bacon was fresh, crisp and thick cut - you got that going for you too.  However, I did not find my "thrill", just saying.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Burger Love: Gettin' Some at Bernie's Burger Bus

A few weeks ago, I met a dear friend and customer for lunch in the parking lot.  The Inversion Coffee House parking lot, in which a "short bus" was parked for the duration of lunch period.  Uhuh, Bernie's Burger Bus - a converted school bus that turns out burgers and fries that will blow your mind.  The day we went, my companion had sent me an instant message declaring his order would be the Kindergartener, two mini burgers.  Well, the bakery had crafted buns that were a touch too large, so, no little burgers.  I arrived very early and had a quick chat with Bernie himself (Justin, actually).  The website says "you're sure to fall in love", and I did. I mean, he did call out my name, and all.  Okay, it was so I knew the order was ready...but still, a burger girl can dream. I think that makes me a "Burger Cougar", with a carcass one would expect of  such beast as that.  I am in shape, damnit!  Round, as I learned at kindergarten, is a shape.

Our order consisted of The Principal for me, add cheddar and bacon, The Substitute and one Extra Curricular Activity, the Trufflelaced, hand-cut french fries with parmesan and green onions and two containers of homemade ketchup.  The bun was light and slightly chewy, the burger patty a perfect pink in the center and warm and all of my vegetables and bacon were crisp, throw in the gently melted cheese and... one moment, I think I drooled on my keyboard.  The fries were outrageous, skin on crispy and loaded with parmesan and green onion.  I tried the ketchup, because my last experience with "homemade" was sweet-ish, and it was spot on.  Tangy, with a burst of ripe tomato on the front, followed by deeply subtle warmth from the spices and not too salty.  For three dollars an order, we had more than the two of us could eat - even after forcing down a couple "grabfuls" because they are too good to waste.  We wasted perhaps a dozen, even after I suggested that, if no one was looking, one could dump the remnants in the wax paper holder in one's mouth.  If no one was looking, or one had enough barley pop to not particularly care.  The burgers run $7 each, plus Electives.   Total food bill for two, including one water (my friend brought his own water), $23.  Great deal for a stupid good burger (here is where I give you the "evil ojo", Beck's Prime).  Next time, I may try grappling with Detention, but, I'll probably have to beat erasers during recess for not finishing it all.  The Dentention is a double cheese burger with tipsy onions and all the fixings delicately clothed in two (TWO) applewood bacon grilled cheese sandwiches made with locally baked sourdough bread.  Love hurts (but it hurts so good).

Bottom Line:  One of the best burgers I have had, ever.  The price is excellent for what you get.  I am not responsible for the distraction you suffer while pining for the next opportunity to indulge your inner burger fiend.  Click the link above (or here) to follow Bernie's Burger Bus on Twitter and on Facebook. Currently, Bernie's can be found at Inversion Mondays and Wednesdays between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and at Lizzard's Pub every Wednesday - Friday from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.  Please note, when they run out, they out.  If you go late, you are rolling the burger dice on availabiltiy.  Click on this link to be taunted by the menu. 

Justin, you get an A+++++++++.  From a newly minted "Burger Cougar".

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pico's Mex-Mex 27th Anniversary TONIGHT!

Tonight is Pico's Mex-Mex Anniversary and margaritas are on "special" tonight only.  So if you don't have big Fat Tuesday plans, head on over and take advantage of this special.  Here are the details:

Shaker Margaritas

Original and Blue
Only $3.50
(regular $8.65)

Pico's World-Famous

Silver & Gold PicoRitas
Frozen or "On the Rocks"
Regular (12 oz.) — $2.95 (regular $5.95)
Grande (27 oz.) — $5.00 (regular $9.75)
Mucho Grande (48 oz.) — $8.95 (regular $15.00)

While you're there, enjoy some of their fantabulous food!

5941 Bellaire Blvd (near Hillcroft)

Houston, TX 77081

Monday, March 7, 2011

Meatasaurus: Saldivia's South American Grill

I am one carnivorous woman.  Oh sure, I like the vegetables and fruits too, but, a meal without meat leaves me somewhat incomplete.  Well, unless it's a hearty root vegetable stewed concoction, sometimes.  Some of the best chimichurri sauce (and skirt steak) I have ever had went AWOL years ago.  This fabulous divey place called Chimi Churri's on Bellaire Blvd. just vanished when the old location was razed to make room for a new and improved strip center (is there such animal?).  I mourned the loss like a loved one.   You cannot know the joy the My Table news of Saldivia's South American Grill brought to my crusty little heart.  It's them!  It's the Chimi Churri's family, reborn as Saldivia's!  Yes, they have been open since 2009, but, I had not formally connected any dots, until My Table pointed this critical fact out.  We have been trying to put a plan to go since prior to the Christmas Holidays, but, a group of 9 - 12 people, with one in Boerne, TX makes coordination sorta tricksy.  It happened this past Saturday.  It was glorious.

The old location was divey and I loved it.  The new location is modern and sleeky and I love it.  The space is very clean, uncluttered and warm feeling.  Crusty bread is brought out to accompany the chimichurri on the table and it's difficult to resist.  Their chimichurri is slightly tangy, not all herb and oil and somewhat loose in texture, perfect for dipping.  I ordered the Ensalada Mixta, while two of my friends mixed it up by ordering the Ensalada de Palmitos (hearts of palm).  The salads were nice and crisp with a perfect amount of vinaigrette that kept them from being weighty or soggy.  The hearts of palm was raved over (I behaved and didn't badger anyone for a bite).  I ordered the Entrana, which is served with Spanish rice, grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes for $18.95.  Other entrees ordered at our table included the Milanesa Napolitano (beef cutlet) which has a tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese on top, the Pechuga A Las Brazas and boneless beef short ribs (whose name I cannot recall - I'm fired from food blogging, I know).  The short ribs were $12.95 and the deal of the night.  The "short rib" is a bonless strip of beef that was about an inch thick and served with grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes.  It's grilled to perfection (as were all of the beef orders) and the plate is large enough for two, with a salad to start. 

All dinner entrees are larger than a body can consume, but, that's not a complaint from me.  To clarify, I will grouse to high heaven about over-sized portions of fish or seafood, they don't reheat well.  Trust me, you will only stick fish in a microwave one time, unless your olfactory senses are on the fritz.  Reheating beef, chicken or pork?  Put that mess in a box, preferably eco-friendly and non-polystyrene and I will gladly tote it to home.  Diced entrana, veggies and potatoes, when added to slightly carmelized diced onion and then scrambled in egg makes a stupendous breakfast.  Tonight, I make a fritatta out of the last remains, or a tortilla (Spanish version). 

My skirt steak was perfectly medium rare, as ordered and had the perfect smattering of sauce on top.  The tangy chimichurri is a perfect complement to the buttery richness of the beef.  The grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes were also perfect.  Soft potatoes with a slight crunch on the outside and al dente, well-seasoned vegetables in thick slices.  I did not have dessert, in fact, I brought slightly over half of my entree home with me.  The Milanesa filled the entire plate with potatos carefully perched around the edges.  Again, I wasn't badgering for bites and nibbles, however, my friends raved.  The tweenager we had with us said the chicken was the best, ever (he cleaned his plate completely). Now that I have found them, I'll be lunching there as well, as my office is close.

Saldivia's South American Grill
10234 Westheimer (just inside the Beltway @ Seagler Rd.)
Open for lunch until 3:00 p.m. Monday - Friday.
Open for dinner Tues - Sunday until 9:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday

Bottom line:  The pricing is moderate, portions are large enough to share and the wine list boasts reasonably priced wines of good quality, primarily sourced from Chile and Argentina.  The House Red is a perfect compliment for the beef and is sold by the glass. They are tucked back in a strip center, so you need to watch for the typical Houston signage, large and lit-up.  The space is inviting and the waitstaff were friendly and very accomodating.  The owner was making rounds in the dining room to ensure that everyone was well taken cared of, which is a nice touch.  The only drawback was slight understaffing, which caused some wait on our part.  However, it was not enough of a wait for anyone to get grumbly.  I will absolutely be back for more.  I may have to see if they still sell the Chimi Churri to go, it's that delicious.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tipping: The When's and How's - My Perspective

Today, 29-95's Whine and Dine has a nice reminder about tipping and waitstaff/service industry pay.  It's extremely topical at this juncture.  Read your local news, the price of oil has shot up to record levels, nearing $100/bbl.  How could this POSSIBLY be relevent to tipping etiquette?  Have I taken complete leave of what senses I have left in my possession? NO.  Tipping is likely to be my first in a series of posts about how we are cavorting around a perfect storm, economically and in my humble opinion.  We are in the "cone of uncertainty and rising food costs".

In general, most service employees are earning less than $3.00 per hour, plus tips.  Waitstaff tip-out and the end of their shift to everyone who helps them, bartenders, buspersons, and anyone else the establishment they work for includes in the pool.  I will spare you the reiteration, click the link above and read the article, it's on point.  Read the comments, too.  I am a 20% plus tipper for decent service, never less than 10% for poor service.  I have waited tables, I fully appreciate the work and effort that goes into making the general population happy.  I fully appreciate that there will be at least one person, couple or family, each shift, who possesses some insane notion that they are "all that and a sack of chips" and you, lowly service person are chattle.  They're jackwagons and likely tip for crap.  Those upon whom the odd cup of coffee or sticky dessert must fall, on accident, of course.  These people make the appreciative customers who do tip properly a shining light in your shift. One thing I should mention in particular, if you have a "koopon" or discount offer, it is proper and expected that you tip on the full MSRP of your meal.  Also, doubling the tax on your bill is not really an effective means of calculating a tip.  Those little tip cards?  If you can't manage the basic math in your head...well, that's your first and last meal in my presence.  What is twenty percent of a $40.00 check?  Pssst, $8.00, just saying.

To those who say they never tip, I say, stick to fast food, buffets and institutions offering counter service.  If you can't afford to tip properly, please only go where you can afford not to look like a cheapass.  Say, Apple Garden, or whatever that place is.  To those who think the employer making an alleged adjustment to ensure waitstaff make minimum wage:  The lady at the drive-thru who couldn't get my order right after I repeated it three times, and then couldn't make change.  That lady?  She makes minimum wage.  The person who remembers a four-top of orders and special instructions, keeps your drinks refreshed and works hard to make sure you have an excellent experience is worth far in excess of minimum wage.  You try living on minimum wage.  It requires an inodinate amount of sacrifice, if you've not done it in awhile.

Times are getting tough, that means it costs everyone more to travel to work.  Groceries are going to be increasing in price.  Spend wisely, and tip properly.  Nobody likes a cheapass.  Am I sure of that?  Uhuh, just read the Forum on "poor tippers" if you have any doubts.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Surviving Bitter Texas Cold, or Easy Frito Pie.

So, the mercury has raced below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit for the second time in two weeks.  This means war.  See, it's humid here in the coastal region of Texas.  This makes for bone-chilling cold.  Anyone who can operate a microwave can make a corn chip concoction that will warm you up.  All you need is a sack of corn chips, or Frito's, a can of chili with the dog-like predator on it (no freaking beans), shredded cheese and some toppings (like a crapload of chopped onion, if you're single and don't need to worry about snuggling anyone) or sour cream, cilantro, fresh chopped jalapeno (what you have in the ice box).  Some assembly is required, but, not like, say, a bicycle, you can do this.  First, you put the chips in a bowl, a single serve bowl (making one family-sized one yields mushy chips, no bueno), open the can and put the chili in a microwave safe container and zap until hot.  The "Reheat Plate" button suffices on my microwave.  Pour chili on chips until nicely coated, cover liberally with cheese and top with what you got (onion, sour cream, etc).  Grab a spoon and a napkin, eat.  See, easy.  It's also really good.  There's something about certain brands of chili, when assembled into this concoction that just works.  If the can says "hot dog sauce", don't fall for it, it's a trick.  Chili, accept no substitutes.

*Don't be scared of the calories, or amount of cheese, it's cold and you therefore need to bulk up a little.  Self defense, I call it.  Besides, you know you have all this crap in your pantry, and the chips can be purchased at the "Stop N Rob" on your way home.  Don't forget to load up on other essentials, beer, mad dog 20/20 and plenty of smokes.

Stay warm peeps, it's gonna look like Spring has sprung by next week.  Well, if the weatherpeoples are correct.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Armed Roosters? Really?

So, today is not all about the food.  Well, it's sort of an ironic twist in the food chain.  Okay, it's a news story that was sent to me early this morning.  Now, everywhere I turn on the interwebs, I see "Armed Rooster Kills California Man".  It's my domain, I am the master of it, and I find this headline magnanimously hilarious.  As I sit here, basking in the flourescents and listening to Alison Kraus & Union Station's live version of "New Favorite" and push all thoughts of Valentine's Day and it's ensuing total misery out of my head, and ramble on.  Well, I have to say something to this headline.  What's wrong with this picture?  I have visions of "Rambo, the well-muscled yard bird" pulling automatic weaponry, Crocodile Dundee knives and a few toothbrushes carefully-honed into shivs out, and tracking down the rat bastard that made him fight.  To the death.  Which is only a misdemeanor in Sunny California. First, some jackwagon put a sharp implement on that poor chicken, who did not voluntarily participate in some bizarre avian version of West Side Story, or Fight Club (depends on if you like musicals or not, work with me).  Second, the bird was probably freaked out and accidentally spiked this guy with the sharp thing someone put on him (typically over the spurs they already have).  The fact that he died is not to be made light of, necessarily. However, I cannot help but think in terms of "Darwin" and perhaps a pool of sorts getting deeper.  Color me crassly insensitive, I'm really not.  I also don't have any use for fighting animals, animal cruelty of any manner, taking advantage of defenseless children or the elderly, or any person who needs defending on account of they are not as wily as some of us.  Those who engage in said behavior and end up suffering a "bad", well, good on ya.  Karma or Nature, or whatever, will bite back, on occasion.  Armed Rooster...I am still giggling, rather inappropriately, but, giggling. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Burger Love: The Burger Guys

I have to confess to being an "SBG", or Standard Burger Girl.  By that I mean to infer that I always try to consume and review bacon cheeseburgers, or a variant thereof.  My recent trip to The Burger Guys sort of put me off of my formula.  Change is not only inevetable, it's a "good thing" (I say this in my very best Martha voice).  I set off at lunch determined to find and sample The Burger Guys.  Particularly, as I have heard so many wonderful things about them in the foodie community.  I will warn you, when I went I had a time finding them.  Their sign was a temporary one, but emblazoned with their purple logo.  I've lived in Houston too long, I have grown accustomed to the strip center signage and large free-standing parking lot signs.  Plus, I might need me some new glasses.  They are located in the strip mall next to a free-standing "Raising Cane's", which serves chicken tenders, at 12225 Westheimer Road. 

I ordered the Lancaster, medium rare with "Brussels", which are Belgian fries, er, frites, and come with your choice of two sauces, to go.  Nothing tests the mettle of a burger and fries like a quick road trip from the restaurant to elsewhere.  I selected house made ketchup and a cilantro bleu cheese aoli for my fries.  I found all of the staff to be extremely helpful and friendly.  After a short wait, amid friendly assurances my order would be right out and offers of something to drink while I wait, I had the goods in hand.  I drove the 5 minutes it takes to get back under my flourescent lights.  No easy task with the smells emanating from the bag, I assure you.

The breakdown goes like this.  I ordered medium rare and I got it.  Extra points for seeing slightly red juices running from my burger.  The patty was about 3/4 inch thick, so, it's a hand and mouthful.  All ingredients are as local and as fresh as you can find.  More extra points.  The fries were crispy and still very warm.  I love "formal french fries", or, fries made from potatoes still in their jackets.  The house ketchup was sweeter than I am used to, but, had lovely flavor.  The other sauce, the cilantro bleu cheese?  Well, it just rocked.  I won't cop to licking the plastic cup clean.  I couldn't, my coworkers had not all gone out to lunch.  I don't wanna be "that girl", and it wasn't a jello shot, anyway.  I didn't get an egg on my burger, a fresh, local, Hatterman Poultry Farm egg of the chicken or duck variety.

Other things to note:  The mustard is made in house with Saint Arnold Brewing Company's Fancy Lawnmower Ale.  They use Houston Dairymaid's cheeses.  Given that you could sling a dead cat, as the saying goes (not that I, myself, personally would), and hit Phoenicia Specialty Foods, what a great Saturday that could be.  A delectable burger, followed by a trip to explore an awesome store.  Hookahs, groceries, cheeses, an olive bar and fresh warm pita that descends from the second story plus, much, much more.  That could be a perfect day, well for me, definitely.   If Feast made a burger, it would be such as this. Yes, I know, I'm rather falling all over myself - I was impressed.  Just a little bit.

For one of the better to best burgers in town for the value (I recall my total order being around $11 including tax, title, license and a wee tip) you cannot go wrong with The Burger Guys.  I have serious issues paying that much at a chain, regardless of how "good" it is, this goes for you too, Beck's Prime.  I would gleefully drop the cococuts on this burger again, and again.  Next time, the Houston Burger - as the bacon marmalade just fascinates me.  I am even mustering up letting go of the same amount of money for dog (I know, it's not your ordinary dog - it's double-fisted).

The Burger Guys
12225 Westheimer Rd. #G

11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. Mon - Thurs
11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. Fri - Sat
Closed Sunday

The Menu

Urban Harvest says the hens laying Hatterman's eggs are "free-roaring", I'm not sure what to make of that. A hat? A brooch?  A pterodactyl?  Sorry, I had to, and yes, I do know what they range, un-caged, like us country folk were raised on, eggs.  Otherwise known as the freshest, best available eggs in H-Town and it's surrounding area.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taco Bell: Whaddya Want for Nothin'? Rubber Biscuit? (UPDATED!)

It's really not a big surprise to me that there are "fillers" associated with fast food meat products.  After all, I add oatmeal to meatloaf to stretch my budget.  I like porcupine meatballs, that are aptly named, as they have rice in them.  Again, grains to stretch meat dollars.  I was kinda surprised to see on Twitter, and in the Chronicle that Taco Bell (or Taco Hell, or Taco Smell - we all have nicknames for chain places) uses less than 35% real meat in their "seasoned beef".  I would love to say with absolute conviction that I have never, personally, noticed a difference - but, I don't really trade with them.  Like most chains, it's a desperation play on my part.  Well, buscept for Taco Cabana.  If you've read my blog, you know I have a very soft spot in my even softer belly for them.  The stewed chicken is delicious, in my ever so humble opinion.

All these things being said, for the average chain and the even more average value menu, we might be rather startled at the ratio of real USDA, inspected and certified meat vs. filler.  This is something that really merits more research on my part.  I'll get right on that, provided the data is available.

On a side note, how do the vegetarian processing companies make a sausage that actually tastes like sausage?  You can't really convince me that there exists a vegetable that is pork-flavored.  Anyone have some ideas on that business?  Inquiring minds wanna know, and have to get back to work. 

Just remember, this under 35% meat product is served up by the fine folks that also pawn off reconstituted bean powder as "beans".  How's that for high-quality, reasonably priced Mexican fare?  Me, I'll just stick to the taqueria or that Cabana place I am so endeared to.  Now that is thinking outside the leavened food product that holds my sandwich, or bun.

Taco Bell plans to counter-sue, claims to use 100% USDA-inspected beef from the same people the common consumer might buy from, like, say Tyson Foods.  Really?  Lab tests allegedly confirmed a large (say, 65% plus) presence of maltodextrin, soy lecithin, etc.  Looks like Battle Meat is heating up!  Even though the original suite asked for no monetary compensation, just truthful advertising.  Wouldn't 100% honest advertising shake up value menus across the nation...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Home Cookin': Thyme for Navy Bean Soup

Wow, I have been radio silent since mid-December?  Really?  I have no excuse for myself, unless you buy the one about holidays putting me in some type of emotional funk.  I drove four hours straight, and 3 of them were in silence, anyone who knows me is painfully aware of my penchant for singing in the car.  Like I said, funk, funk, funk.  But, it's over now, until about mid-February, when I try to carve my heart out with a spork. I know, I am supposed to love Christmas, but, my love is turning to complete ambivalence, except for the food part.  Smelling the 15 pounds of smoked ham from the greatest meat market in my home town and most of the surrounding area makes me happy.  Okay, fair enough - pork and processed pork products of all manner make me happy.  But ham, ham is the most revered.  It's sliced hot with a nice horseradish mustard sauce, then sliced cold for a sandwich, it's diced into a cheesy fritatta with some fresh herbs, it's ground for ham loaf or spread and then, the entire family leg wrestles over the bone with it's scraps of clinging meat.  If you're lucky, you get the skin too (reserve that smoked skin for soup, tossing it is a cardinal sin, seriously).  Or, if you are like me and have to drive all over Texas and back to visit family and eat all of their ham, you get no bone.  I got no bone.  How sad for me.  I didn't save the skin, and I think Ms. Boot Camp put it in the trash can.  Healthy people, sheesh.  Oh, fear not, I know how to work around this bone issue.  There, in my grocer's meat case, I can always find me some smoked ham hocks, skin-on, bone-in, with a bit of meat to taunt you with, ham hocks.

With the weather remaining cool to colder, but, not freezing and damp enough to make your bones hurt - it's soup time.  One of my very favorites, which happens to be cheap as sin to boot, is Navy Bean.  What goes best with the magical fruit?  Magical meats...pork.  Ham to be specific.  Hocks if you gotta, but smoked and ham - accept no substitute.  Here's how to pull it together, very simple and ridiculously delicious.

Thyme for Navy Bean Soup

2-3 smoked ham hocks, or one coveted ham bone
1 medium onion, roughly diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced (or, I just rough chop the center of the bunch, leaves and all, leaving the root base for 
the compost bin)
1-16 oz bag of navy beans, or small white beans, picked through and well rinsed
2-3 quarts of water
1 cube of Knorr Ham Bouillon or, you can substitute chicken broth/stock if you don't have the ham stock cube or crystals.
1 tsp dried thyme, or strip the leaves from three stems (about 4-6" stems) of fresh thyme
1 tsp minced garlic (2-3 cloves fresh)
1 serrano pepper, sliced into rings
Salt, white pepper and black pepper to taste.
1 Tbsp. olive oil, if needed

In a dutch oven, drizzle a very small amount of olive oil and heat to medium.  Add ham hocks and "brown", turning every 5 minutes.  Add diced onion, celery and bell pepper and saute down until softened.  Pour water over meat and veggies, add rinsed beans and bouillon and bring to a boil.  Add seasonings (including the serrano and garlic) and stir well. Reduce heat and continue at a nice slow bubble for about 2-3 hours.  Remove ham hocks to cool, turn soup off to cool. Adjust seasoning to taste. Skin the ham hocks and shred the meat, adding the meat back to the soup. Put the cooled soup in the refrigerator overnight.  Reheat the cold soup, and simmer for an additional hour or two (I like to do this,as the released starches thicken the soup and the flavors have time to marry and honeymoon, it's just more flavorful).  Test again for salt/pepper. Serve warm with crusty bread or whole grain crackers.

If you have the real thing, the ham bone...skip the browning part and once the veggies are soft and the liquid added, toss in the ham bone.  If you have the skin, render the fat from the skin and crisp it up in place of "browning" the ham hocks.  If you have carrots, by all means, scrape and dice two medium ones and submit to the pot with the rest of the veggies.  I have been out of the habit of keeping them.  Well, I have not been cooking very much, either, which would explain the lack of beta carotene in the cold box.

This soup makes a fantastic lunch to take to work.  I have been taking sandwich makings and having a bit of soup with a half or "foldover" sandwich for lunch.  Last week, I bought lunch every day - even the crappy deli sandwich in the basement of our building, without any chips or drink is over five bucks.  I am ashamed of myself, and am now determined to pack a sack lunch most days.