Devouring Houston: Exploring Houston One Bite at a time

Houston has so many incredible food establishments...from sumptuously designed restaurants to fun storefronts selling gourmet cookies. From Mexican Food Carts to the Best BBQ in the World. And...I want to expore it one bite at a time.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Counter - Custom Built Burgers

There is a new-ish burger joint in town, and I had to try it.  The Counter is a burger eatery that allows customers to build their own burgers.  Apparently, there are 300,000 possible combinations.  Options for burger building include everything from the traditional (tomatoes and Tillamook Cheddar) to the more unusual (dried cranberries and ginger soy glaze).  Menus are provided along with a "check off sheet" where you can order up all of your desires.  Burgers are also offered in 3 sizes: 1/3 lb ($8), 2/3 lb. ($10), or the 1 lb. ($13). are the burgers, you ask?  Very good!  Mine was cooked perfectly to my specifications.  I ordered the 1/3 lb. with Tillamook Cheddar, tomatoes, and the lettuce blend.  The bun was delicious -- soft and perfectly toasted with melted butter.  The cheddar was savory and fantastic.  Creamy and perfectly melted. 

The burger below was ordered with Cheddar, Grilled Onions, and Jalapenos.

We also ordered the Chili Cheese Fries ($5.50).  A huge portion covered in delicious meaty chili, chopped red onions, and drizzled with sour cream.  The chili cheese fries are supposed to have grated cheese, too, but it was very hard to find the cheese (I mean, can you even see it in the picture below?).  Need. More. Cheese!  But, these fries were still fantastic and could easily be a meal by themselves.  The red onions contributed a nice additional flavor and texture.

Our table also sampled The "Fifty-Fifty."  3 options:  fries and sweet potatoes fries ($4.95), fries and crispy onion strings ($4.95), or sweet potato fries and crispy onion strings ($5.95).  We went with the traditional option of fries and onion strings.  Yummy!  I'm sure the fries are frozen, but they were fried perfectly -- with the necessary desired crispness, not too greasy, and seasoned well.  The onion strings were thinly sliced, nicely battered, and perfectly lightly fried (a little greasy, but that did not detract from the savory eating experience).  Sides of Ranch Dressing and Barbecue Sauce were served on the plate.

Notes about the atmosphere:  the restaurant is light and bright thanks to big windows on 2 of the 4 walls.   The decor is simple chic -- a modern take on the 1950s diner.  In the middle of the eatery is a large eat-at bar -- a great nod to the 1950s diner as well.  Also, a favorite characteristic of mine:  the place was super clean.  Our server was very friendly,  helpful, and attentive.  The Counter offers a small selection of beer and wine. 

I will definitely return to The Counter.  The food was delish.  The service was excellent.  And, the atmosphere was happy and inviting. 

The Counter
4601 Washington Avenue
Houston, Texas 77007

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"All About Wine" Lunch

What is better than a lunch revolving around the yummiest wines?  And, I don't mean like a wine dinner where the courses are paired to bring out the best in the wine and vice versa.  I mean, a lunch where the whole purpose is to drink preeminent wines, oh and then you can partake in delectable and savory food as a side.   Well, that is what I did on Friday. 

A huge thank you to a great friend who included me an unforgettable lunch, I was able to sample some really fun, amazing grape juices.  Here is what I took away:

Domaine Weinbach Muscat 2008.
-$40 a bottle retail.
-Delicate. Feminine. Light.
-Floral. Aromatic.
-Great Aperitif.
-Drink with spicy food or fatty foods like foie gras or duck.
-I personally think it would be great to sip by the pool!

Nicolas Jaboulet Hermitage 2008.
-$100 a bottle retail.
-70% Marsanne
-30% Roussane
-Mint. Stone.  Flint.

Soter Brut Rose 2005.
-$60 a bottle retail.
-100% Pinot Noir.
- Rich. Raspberries.
-Clean Finish.
-Super Delicious.
-I would bathe in this stuff.

Pommery Brut Rose Non-Vintage.
-$70 a bottle retail.
-70% Chardonnay
-30% Pinot Noir
-Yeasty.  Not overbearing.
-Well blended.  Clean finish.
-Brioche. Cream.  Champagne grapes.

Peregrine Pinot Noir. 2007.
-$35 a bottle retail.
-Otago Region, New Zealand.
-New World Pinot Noir.
-Blackberry.  Blackberry.  Currant.
-Clean finish.

Pommard Pinot Noir 2005.
-$50 a bottle retail.
-Heavier fruits -- Red Cherry.
-Old World Pinot Noir.
-I LOVED this delish nectar. 
-It was like a chocolate dessert to me where I just wanted to keep sinking my teeth into.  Heavenly.

Domaine Weinbach Vendages Tardives 2007.
-$200 a bottle retail.
-Dessert wine.
-Higher residual sugar.
-Green Apples.
-Thick in a very happy way.
-Divine. Luscious. I wanted swim in this stuff. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cupcake Cafe - Sugar Land

Today I ventured into the Cupcake Cafe in Sugar Land.  The little cafe is whimsical and fun with bright purples, greens, and pinks.  A gigantic upside down "cupcake" flows from the ceiling -- white icing and a cherry.  Cute touch.

Most importantly:  The Cupcakes.  They stay refrigerated in their display cases, but the servers heated mine up in the microwave.  Might be a nice touch, as cold cupcakes aren't too super yummy.  But in nuking them, the icing became a little melted.  Not the ultimate baked good quality. 

The cupcakes were indeed very moist.  But, so are the ones I make from Duncan Hines.  Seriously, Duncan Hines has some good mixes out there.  I have a friend who makes killer cupcakes from the HEB brand and then makes her own buttercream.  They are scrumptious!  Anyway, the Cupcake Cafe's cupcakes were nice, but I don't know if they are fabulous.

The Cupcake Cafe offers their little confections in three sizes:  Jumbo - $3.75; Small - $2.50; and Popper - $1.50. 

I tried the Chocolate Lover's cupcake first (small size).  Moist cake.  Not too much cocoa, but not too sweet.  The icing was sweet and thin-ish, but a satisfying combination.  Next up, the Birthday cupcake (white cupcake with white icing) (small size).  This particular cupcake is what reminded me a store brand mix.  It was moist and lovely, but nothing spectacular.  The icing reminded me very much of traditional white icing made with shortening.  The server swore there was no shortening, only butter.  The icing was soft, but I wouldn't call it creamy necessarily. 

Finally, the Turtle cupcake (jumbo size).  Same chocolate cake as the Chocolate Lover's, but inside I found a filling - a nice, subtle surprise -- chocolate, caramel, chopped pecans, and cookie dough.  It was enough to make the cupcake come alive, but not a messy filling.  Same chocolate frosting on top, but chocolate ganache drizzled and chopped pecans.

The servers were very nice.  And, their website notes they can coordinate and manage a party for customers at the store.  That might be super cute for a little girl birthday party or a baby shower (However, Sugarbaby's in Houston would be a more precious place for a party).   I would go back, but since I do not live in Sugar Land, I am not making the trip specifically for these cupcakes.  I'll go to Crave.

Cupcake Cafe
16525 Lexington Boulevard
Sugar Land, Texas  77479

Jonathan's The Rub

This little, tiny place, with just a little over a dozen tables, is nestled on a little street about a block from the Katy Freeway.  Had friends not recommended this eatery, I would not have even noticed it sitting there in the back corner of a small strip center in Hedwig Village.

Jonathan's The Rub is a friendly neighborhood spot were the service is friendly and warm. The kitchen is the first thing you see upon entering.  The delicious smells of the kitchen waft throughout the little, intimate restaurant. 

The Rub, as in Jonathan's The Rub, is Jonathan's special dry rub that he sprinkles or rubs on all of his dishes, including dusting the garlic bread and french fries.  The Rub is a little salty and quite a bit sweet, without any spices with heat.  So, if you aren't a fan of a little hint of sweetness, you may not be a fan of Jonathan's.  But don't let that deter you.  The food was really delicious.

We started with the appetizer Meatballs Marinara (2 meatballs for $5).  They were savory, tender, and delectable.  These are no pre-made meatballs, and you can tell...the "from scratch" taste shines through.

Each entree comes with a Caesar or house salad, and choice of two sides.  I ordered the Pecan and Parmesan Encrusted Pork Tenderloin with lemon hollandaise - with the Caesar, Mac-N-5 Cheeses and Sauteed Spinach ($26).  The pork was tender and cooked perfectly to my specification.  The mac and cheese was a white cheese pasta and became creamier and thicker with time (that is a good thing -- creamy and thick cheese sauce!).  The Spinach.  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....the Sauteed Spinach.  It was truly Heaven.  With lots of diced garlic, a touch of olive oil and parm cheese sprinkled on top, this vegetable stood out as Divine.  Yummy!!

My Dining Partner ordered the Salmon, blackened - with the sides of Sauteed Mushrooms and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes ($28).  The Salmon was good, but not impressive.  The potatoes were buttery, creamy, with some potato chunks mingled in.  Homemade flavor.  While the mushrooms were sauteed like my spinach, the spinach won the vegetable round.

We ended with the White Chocolate  Raspberry Cake.  While I'm guessing that Jonathan does not make his desserts in-house, the cake was pretty good.  Light.  Moist.  While I have to admit, I polished off my entire slice of cake, I couldn't help but wish Chocolate Pizazz was open next door for some yummy chocolate after dinner treats!

I liked Jonathan's The Rub.  The prices are high, but the portions are large.  From what I understand, Jonathan never serves a skimpy plate.  You can count on always leaving with a very full tummy. 

Also, fyi, the eatery is BYOB (which I love).  There is nothing like bringing your favorite wine to combine with a delicious meal. 

Jonathan's The Rub
9061 Gaylord
Houston, Texas 77024

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Who doesn't love a picnic?  Just the idea is so merry, happy, and fun!  And, so is Picnic.  This bakery and coffee shop is quaint and charming with picnic tables inside where you can eat your lunch or partake in coffee and a scone.  You can eat sandwiches, soups, muffins, or cookies in house, or you can take a boxed lunch to go. 

I'm a Boxed Lunch kind of girl.  I guess it takes me back to the five year old in me...I love a package with all the necessities packed neatly inside.  The boxed lunch comes with a sandwich, fruit salad side, chips, cookie, and, of course, a pickle ($8.50).

I opted for the Egg Salad Sandwich.  The Egg Salad was creamy and include the addition of chopped green olives.  How fantastic is that?  The green olives added another layer of tang texture contrasted against the soft creamy eggs.  I could also taste the pepper which gave the salad a pop of flavor and prevented it from being bland.  The salad was placed between two very soft slices of sourdough bread.  Excellent, delish pairing.

I tried a couple of cookies...I know, I know, but I just had to!  First up the New Yorker Lemon Sugar ($1.00).  Crisp.  Good lemony flavor, yet subtle.  Nice cookie.  I don't have many other descriptors for it -- it was simple and really delicious. 

I also tried the Peanut Butter Cookie ($1.00)  I was a little disappointed only because everything else I had there was so divine.  It's peanut butter-ness was too subtle and it was too dry and crumbly.  But, to end on another happy note: The Cranberry Pecan Bread was heavenly ($4.50).  Soft.  Perfect berry to nut ratio.  Really fantastic.  And,  the Cranberry Orange Muffin was savory, too ($1.30)  Moist.  Dense.  A little crunch on top of the muffin.  It was yumminess in a baked good.

I like Picnic.  It is a delightful little spot for eating in or taking out.  The food is consistent and tasty.  I'm going back....

1928 Bissonnet
Houston, Texas  77005

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hubcap Grill

Seriously?  This place is considered one of the best Burger spots in Houston?  Really?  I was SO super disappointed.  As I sat there for 30 minutes waiting on my burger, I thought this better be the best burger I've ever tasted.   And, not so much.

I like the fact that the eatery is a small hole-in-the-wall dive.  Unassuming places usually make the best burger joints, don't you think?  However, we should have just taken our burgers to go because the seating is so limited we were sitting on top of other people (I barely exaggerate).  The seating is a mish mash of whatever they found in the back alley.  Which again, a mish mash can make for a great burger dive...IF the food is any good.

Our burgers (the Cheese Burger and the Jalepeno Double Cheese Burger) were so dry.  No juiciness.  No grease.  No flavor.  No seasonings.  And, the patties were all of maybe 1/4 of an inch in thickness.  The bun:  it was too huge and completely overpowered the pathetic patty.  The bun was also dry and flavorless.   Let me note something:  the burger below is a double patty burger.  Also of note: the bun is hard and dry, can't you just see it?  Ugh.

The Fries.  Well, they weren't super great either.  Soggy.  No crispness.  No seasons.  No flavor.  The Chili Cheese Fries were a little better than the regular fries -- because the fries had some flavor assistance with the chili and the cheese.  But even those I found to be bland.  Spice it up people!  Add some seasonings for goodness sake!

Needless to say, I do not plan on going back.  There are better burgers in Houston (Beck's Prime or Zelko Bistro to name just two....). 

Hubcap Grill
1111 Prairie
Houston, Texas 77002

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Tasting Room

Last Night I attended the Bubble Bath Champagne Tasting at The Tasting Room - River Oaks.  I think I learned a trick -- for the regular price ($35), they give the not so fantastic bubbles, thereby enticing you to upgrade to the VIP level.

We didn't upgrade, and we tasted some really disastrous bubbles.  Ranging from strong strawberry flavors to something you might actually want to put IN your bubble bath.  We were set on trying them made it to the yummier ones.  Again...there was some thoughtful strategy into their placement of the bottles.  The horrendous ones were front and center. 

TTR had some tidbits to nosh on along side our bubbles.  The weather was super nice, so sitting outside was really delightful. 

So what did we decide from our general admissions ticket was the cat's meow?  Well, here are my top 3:

1. Chandon Etoile Brut
              -Smooth. Dry. Pear. Apple.  A happy finish! 
              -53% Chardonnay
              -45% Pinot Noir
              - 2% Pinot Meunier
              -Etoile means star in French...and this sparkling was my star for the night.

2. Schramsberg Brut Rose
              -Smooth. Soft. Velvety. Creamy.
              -Very subtle strawberry flavors.
              -Plus, any PINK bubbles makes me happy.

3. J Cuvee
             -Crisp. Smooth.  Light. Refreshing.
             -Apple. Pear. Citrus.
             -49% Chardonnay
             -49% Pinot Noir
             - 2% Pinot Meunier

And even without trying the best of the sparklings, cavas, champagnes and proseccos, you can't really go wrong with a champagne tasting!

The Tasting Room
2409 West Alabama
Houston, Texas 77098
in Uptown Park
Houston, Texas
Coming to City Centre early 2011


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jus' Mac

A disappointing day usually leads to chocolate and bubbles, but when it is time for lunch, maybe a little nutrition is in order.  So, I checked out the new Jus' Mac.  I was there after a normal lunch rush crowd would be gone, but this little spot was still crowded.  Cute, simple, casual.  Plastic forks, paper napkins, and Styrofoam cups lend themselves to a laid back atmosphere that was still very energetic and happy.

As the name implies, it is just Macaroni and Cheese dishes -- with almost endless combos.  Four appetizers are offered -- all cheesy in nature.  2 salads are available and some cookies and sweets.  But that is it for options.  Needing some good comfort food, the options were fine by me.

When an establishment offers only one dish, essentially, it better rock.  And it did.  I ordered the Taco-Mexi ($8.95)-- ground beef in the pasta.  Super fresh and perfectly ripe tomatoes, avocados, and onions on top.  Cheesy.  Creamy. Tortilla chips dotting the sides.  Who knew chips would be such an excellent compliment to mac and cheese?  The crunchy with the creamy.  Something so simple and so obvious made me so happy.

I wanted to order the Fried Mac Balls or Fried Macarolls ($4.95 each) -- but alas, they were sold out.  The kitchen was in the process of making more.  Popular item.  Guess I'll have to go back to sample those.  Sounds like a celestial combination -- fried mac and cheese on a plate. 

Oh, and, yes, my super cheesy Taco-Mexi did make my day all better. 

Jus' Mac
2617 Yale Street
Houston, Texas 77008

Dessert Gallery

Love me some Dessert Gallery!  My favorite confection offered is the Turtle Candy Cake ($6.50/slice; $42.50/whole cake).  With caramel swimming on top of a moist, smooth, light chocolate cake, pecans sprinkled inside and an ample supply of chocolate buttercream, what is not to like, much less die for!?  Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!!  Heavenly.  Luscious.  Scrumptious.

This cake is jubilation....purely one of the greatest, most delectable, delicious things God ever helped man (or woman...) create. 

I also like their Brownies..."The World's Best Brownies" as they are called.  I don't know if they are the world's best...but they definitely can compete for the title.  The Wow Factor is bite and bliss happens.  Crispy top layer.  Fudgy inside.  Chocolate chunks are abundant.  Rich.  Delish.  I would have shown a picture in this post, but...well...I ate The Brownie in my car on the way home.  I'm just couldn't be helped.

Dessert Gallery
1616 Post Oak Boulevard
Houston, Texas 77057
3600 Kirby Drive, Suite D
Houston, Texas 77098

Monday, October 18, 2010

Americas - River Oaks

Funky is the first word that popped in my head as I walked through the doors at the new Americas located in the River Oaks Shopping Center.  I love the fun, whimsical big chairs, unconventional light fixtures, hip mod wall art and offbeat urban design.  The atmosphere is frivolous and fun.  I'm happy to be here.

We started with the BBQ Pork Avepas -- corncakes with pulled pork, pickled onion, queso fresco and apple-cabbage slaw layered on top ($8.50).  The corn cake was dense and substantial, but it need more corn flavor.  The slaw was very creamy.  The BBQ pork didn't have much seasoning, but did leave my mouth with some heat.  The textures worked well together, but the dish could have used a little more intensity to make it really explode in my mouth.

I paired the soup of the day, Potato-Leek Soup, with a Caesar Salad ($7).  The Soup:  somewhere in between thin and creamy.  The soup lacked any leek flavor -- or any flavor at all for that matter.  It was bland.  And I was disappointed. The Caesar salad, however, was composed of a beautiful presentation tied with a dried plantain.  And tasty, too.  The romaine was crisp, cold, and fresh.  Appetizing and Refreshing.  The Crouton toasts had an excellent, subtle parmesean cheese flavor.

One of my fabulous dining companions had the Bacon Wrapped Filet & Shrimp Brochette (as part of the Executive Lunch - $16.95 - the entree was also accompanied by the soup of the day and dessert).   The Filet was super delish.  Tender, juicy, and savory.  The meat melted in our mouths. The Americas Rice is a crowd pleaser, too, fluffy, light, and flavorful.  The side veggies were crisp and seasoned well.

Dessert.  Ahhhhhhhhh.....Chocolate.  We tried the Cocoa Tart ($8).  I mean, look at this decadent confection:

That is coconut ice cream on the side.  The tart is made of gianduja fudge (European style chocolate made from chocolate and nut paste, like Nutella) and chocolate ganache in a cocoa crust.  The crust was not sweet, but it was substantial to the hold weight of the layered yumminess on top.  Oh, and the fun part -- caramel corn sprinkled on top.  I really enjoyed the tart.  Not too sweet.  Just yummy goodness. Satisfying and delectable.

Our table also sampled the Tres Leches ($8).  And, I heard the words from the Tres Leches experts at the table, "the best ever."  The cake was sweet. Creamy.  Super Moist.  Not too heavy.  Just luscious and heavenly.

I liked this new Americas.  I loved the hip vibe.  The service was good.  The food was fairly consistent and delicious.  I'm looking forward to going back!

2040 West Gray
Houston, Texas 77019

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kraftsmen Baking

I headed to Kraftsmen Baking on a beautiful day to grab a sandwich.  Parking is tight, but I lucked out and found a place right in front.  The eatery is located in an old brick building tucked in between buildings from the University of St. Thomas.  Small inside, but there is seating available outside under huge, beautiful oak trees.  A perfect setting for a perfect weather day. 

I ordered the Green Gobbler ($8.25 - sandwich and chips).  The Green Gobbler, made on their Biologique Bread (aka: multigrain bread), was comprised of turkey, provolone, green apple sliced thinly, alfalfa sprouts with an apple butter.  The sandwich was fairly sweet, then I realized they forgot to slap on the provolone.  After I asked and received it, the cheese did add an additional salty texture to the sweetness of the sandwich. The ingredients were extremely fresh and the bread was soft.

I also partook in their sweets - I mean, it is called "Kraftsmen Baking" after all!  First up, The Brownie.  My Love.  Although, I'm not a fan of taking a brownie straight out of the cold frig (they did), The Brownie was very fudgy.  Very chocolatey.  Dense.  I loved the homemade flavor of the butter and melted chocolate.  It was large ($2.95).  A good value.  Happiness. I wasn't as stoked with the cookies ($2.00 each) -- Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter.  The chocolate chip cookie was way too crisp and thin for me.  I like cookies a little softer and at least a little thicker.  Could have used more chocolate chips, too.  But the flavor was yummy.  The peanut butter cookie was better - a little softer.  Excellent pb flavor to savor.

There are many great places to grab a quick sandwich...will I go back to Kraftsmen Baking?  I will if the weather is beautiful because Kraftsmen provided the perfect setting for outside eating.  And, The Brownie was satisfying, too!

Kraftsmen Baking
4100c Montrose
Houston, Texas 77006

Friday, October 15, 2010

French Riviera Bakery

Well, when an eatery wins First Place, it has to be tried!  So, off I went to the French Riviera Bakery and Cafe, which won the Houston Culinary Awards Best Bakery.   I have driven passed this little establishment hundreds of times over the years and never so much as noticed this little unassuming place.  Until now.

The place was fairly well packed at 9:30 AM on a Thursday.  For a small cafe, there is actually quite a bit of seating and most tables were full.  There is also some seating outside, which is perfect for this beautiful October weather.  Back inside, the place is cheerful, with a happy yellow color on the walls and saltillo tile on the floor.  Light and bright.  And, clean.

I tried the Spinach Quiche ($4.25) first.  The crust was light, but not particularly flaky.  The temperature wasn't really hot or cold, sort of tepid.  The quiche was dense, not light and fluffy.  Good spinach flavor, though. 

Moving the Apricot Croissant ($2.50).  I tried this pastry simply because I had never before had an apricot croissant, and it sounded yummy.  It was okay.  Although I was a little disappointed, it was acceptable.  Fear not, though, the best is yet to come....

The Chocolate-Almond Croissant. ($2.75) Oh yeah baby....this is why they won Favorite Bakery.  I had heard about their chocolate-almond croissants.  And, with good reason.  It was simply delish! 

Lightly toasted slivered almonds on top, as well, as a dusting of powered sugar.  The outside was not especially flaky, but that perfect crunch was there that you'd expect from a croissant.  The inside was soft with the semi-sweet chocolate being the perfect consistency, all melted yummy inside.  The croissant was buttery, but not greasy.

I liked the French Riviera Bakery and Cafe.  It was very much like a Cafe in Paris -- I heard several different languages spoken at different tables where diners were chit chatting over their Cafe au Laits and Espresso.

French Riviera Bakery & Cafe
3032 Chimney Rock
Houston, Texas 77056

Monday, October 11, 2010

Phil's BBQ vs. Goode Co. BBQ

Phil's Barbecue is the new kid on the BBQ block.  Goode Co. Barbecue has been around for over 30 years.   So, which is better?  Seemed like a time for a scientific tasting.

I went to Phil's first.  Having read many opinions on Phil's, I was super excited to try it out.  Looooooove me some good Texas barbecue!  The new construction building is very nice, clean, light, bright, high ceilings, and big windows. Although the servers behind the counter were very slow, they were extremely helpful and friendly (although not super knowledgeable about their dishes).

I did like that they offered kids plates -- $5.99 for one slider (choice of hamburger, chopped beef, or sausage) and a side.  Kinda pricey, but, hey, it comes with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, too.   We sampled the 3 Cheese Macaroni, which seemed to actually lack 3 full cheeses and was a tad too sweet. 

We also tried the 2 Meat Combo Platter with 2 Sides ($11.99).  The Ribs were tender, but too much brown sugar.  The brisket was dry.  Very dry.  It might have had savory flavor, but it was too dry to really get a good enjoyable taste.  The Beans had a nice kick to them, with onions and green peppers.   A little sweet.  Noticing a trend....the BBQ at Phil's reminded us more of Southeastern U.S. BBQ, heavy on the brown sugar.  Traditional Texas BBQ should not be sweet.

But, dessert should be sweet!!!  And it was....Phil's seems to already be famous for their Bananas Foster Bread Pudding ($2.99)....and, I can see why.  It was delish.  Very dense, very banana-y.  The sauce was full of delectable butt-ah and brown sugar (this time, the brown sugar was a good thing!).  For a casual BBQ place, this dessert was very gratifying....I. could. not. stop. eating. it. at. all.

Okay, so now on to Good Co. Barbecue.  This trip was to the location on the Katy Freeway.  I love the feeling that I'm walking into an old saloon with a gigantic old saloon-like chandelier, old wooden floors and shotguns and rifles hanging on the walls.  The staff behind the serving counter moves the customers quickly, they
We tried the 2 Meat Combo Dinner with 2 sides ($11.95).  The Ribs, moist and tender, embraced the smokey flavor.  The succulent smokiness really came through.  The brisket embraced the balanced smokey flavor.  Lean meat, but not dry at all.  Very tender and delectable. 

Their Potato Salad is exemplary.  Creamy.  Crunchy from the pickle relish.  Perfect balance of mustard and mayo.  I mean, this is how potato salad should be made.  There is no comparison.  The Austin Baked Beans are stellar, too.  A smokey flavor comes through, subtly, in the beans.  Bits of sausage and chunks of apples give these beans substance and zip. (I'm not in love with their Jalapeno Pinto Beans, not spicy, not exciting.  Stick with the Austin ones...)

I'm a big fan of the Jalapeno Cheese Bread.  But it is not for the faint of heart.  Who knew a cheese bread could pack such a wallop of spicyness!  The combo plates come with a thick, happy piece of this scrumptious, yet not timid, bread.

Finally, one must always end with dessert.  And, Good Co. has mighty fine Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie.  This is the way Pecan Pie should be prepared.  This corn syrup and brown sugar filling is the perfect amount of sweetness to hold the weight (literally) of perfectly overlapped pecans on top.  And...the crust was light and flaky. 

So who won?  Well, while I am ordinarily a big proponent of giving an eating establishment a second chance if the first try wasn't all that fantastic, I'm not sure there is any point in returning to Phil's when true Texas BBQ awaits at 3 other locations around town. 

Phil's Texas Barbecue                                                Goode Co. Texas Barbecue
110 S. Heights Boulevard                                           8911 Katy Freeway
Houston, Texas 77007                                               Houston, Texas 77024                                
                                                                                 Also, locations on Kirby
                                                                                 and Highway 290

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wine Extravaganza at Masraff's

Last night I attended the TPCR Wine Extravaganza at Masraff's.  TPCR = Tony's Prostate Cancer Research. Tony Masraff founded TPCR in 1999 to raise awareness and support the work of individual researchers focused on discovering a non-invasive cure for prostate cancer.

That said, the TPCR Wine Extravaganza (the largest fundraiser for TPCR) was last night.  The event is truly a grand evening of wine tasting from some impressive and amazing wineries (95 different wines were present).  Every wine exhibited was of the highest caliber.  Truly stellar representations.   Below are a few wines that jumped out at me that I thought were worth noting (I could mention many, many more...but I don't think you'd read this entire post if I actually named them all.....)

2007 Lewis Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
97% Cabernet Sauvignon
3% Cabernet Franc
All Estate Fruit
18 months age in New French Oak
Smooth.  Velvety.  Plumb, currant, blueberry, and chocolate flavors.
Napa Valley.

Laetitia Sparkling Wine - Brut Cuvee Non-Vintage
Blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.
24 month aging process.
Mostly 2008 grapes.
Creamy and light, yet a crispness to it that gave it a little bite (which I like).
California.  Near San Luis Obispo.

2007 B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Mellow, elegant, but complex. 
Happy bitter flavors resulting from the tannins.
Tobacco, oak and anise flavors. 
Fun fact:  B.R. Cohn is Bruce Cohn, the long time manager of the Doobie Brothers.
Sonoma Valley.

Boekenhoutskloff The Chocolate Block
Anything with the word "Chocolate" in the name must good in my book -- and even though this wine does not taste like actual chocolate -- my theory holds true -- anything with the word "chocolate" in the title must be good, this wine include -- yummy!
Rhone Blend.
67% Syrah
14% Grenache Noir
10% Cabernet Sauvignon
7% Cinsault
2% Voignier
Spicy.  Plumb. Currants.  Acidic (I love acidity).  Mellows with age. The Voignier makes it very aromatic.
Also, fun fact:  15% of the entire allocation is for Houston.
South Africa.

The Venue.  Masraff's is elegant and classy, with a contemporary twist on traditional interior design.  For the Wine Extravaganza, an enormous tent was erected at the entrance providing an abundance of space for silent auction items, additional tables and a band.  The flow of the event was excellent.

The Food.  Masraff's provided a variety of mouthwatering items in which to sample.  From crispy and delectable Spring Rolls to fresh Salmon to Beef Tenderloin with yummy Horseradish Sauce (subtle, yet fine horseradish flavor).  The Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna, seared, and slightly cool, was delicious!  See below.

Two side dishes really got my taste buds jumpin'!  The roasted potatoes with green and red bell peppers woke up my palate.  The big old kick of caynne gave the potatoes a spicy pop.  The peppers were roasted perfectly -- crisp, tender, yet the delicious roasted flavor burst with each bite.  Then there were the Mashed Potatoes -- creamy, yet still containing lumps and skins (Mmmmmm).  Lots of Butt-ah! They were served with a side of Parmesan cheese and pico de gallo.  Hello yummy flavors!  The textures and flavors of the creamy potatoes with fresh, spicy pico was an excellent pairing.
For dessert, a sampling of cupcakes were served (along with Mini Chocolate Eclairs and Mini Fruit Tarts).  I devoured the Lemon Meringue Cupcake in seconds.  The cake was moist with a solid, yet subtle lemon flavor.  The icing was a meringue buttercream, complete with browned peeks. 

The evening was a tremendous time!  The wine was fantabulous.  The food was delicious.  The venue of Masraff's was elegant and superb.  And....TPCR raised almost half a million dollars to go towards prostate cancer research.  Congratulations to everyone involved.  Cheers!

1753 Post Oak Boulevard
Houston, Texas 77056
For TPCR info:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Zelko Bistro

I immediately felt relaxed walking in Zelko Bistro (named for 1/2 of the ownership -- Executive Chef Jamie Zelko.  The other half is Jeb Stuart).  The 1920's bungalow in The Heights is light and airy.  With a simple interior, the restaurant is small and intimate.  Lots of wood, including a vaulted ceiling lined with old planks of wood. 

The menu provided many enticing choices.  American Fare with a fun twist. We started with the Fried Pickles ($6).  They were fabulous.  Crisp pickles.  Flavorful.  Lightly breaded.  Non-greasy.  Topped with Parmesan cheese.  They were Deeeee-vine!

For my Entree, I ordered the Captain Fried Chicken ($15) -- so named because Captain Crunch cereal is crushed and used as part of the crusting.  Zelko Bistro is known for this dish, so my expectations were pretty high.  It was good.  The chicken was immensely moist and tender.  The outside was super crisp.  Surprisingly, with the Captain Crunch coating, no sweetness at all. 

The chicken came with perfectly cooked (crisp tender) green beans and Yukon mashed potatoes.  The potatoes were the good old fashioned kind -- with lumps of potatoes and skins!  The chicken was topped with a shallot gastrique (a thick sauce created by a reduction of vinegar and sugar). The gastric was savory, but a little over powering, even in the small amount.  While the flavor was tasty, it was a distraction.

Another dish sampled at our table was The Boss Burger ($10).  My friend described it as a burger with complex flavors -- an adult hamburger.  All the ingredients -- caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, lettuce, pickles, and dijonaise -- complimented each other flawlessly.  The burger was served with Zelko's crispy and light Parmesan Fries.

The final dish ordered by our table was the Blue Crab Cake.  My dining companion said the cake was heated perfectly throughout.  The combination of the crab and the sauce reminded her a crab wonton.  She said the dish was delish.

I am going to go back to Zelko Bistro.  Our experience was first-rate.  All veggies and ingredients were notably fresh.  And, the portions were hearty.  We definitely felt we got our money's worth!  I want to head back for some more fried pickles to nosh -- with a glass of wine.  Also, I can't wait to try some dessert -- such as the Lemon Ice Box or Banana Spit.  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Zelko Bistro
705 E. 11th Street
Houston, Texas 77008

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Supreme Kakes

My sweet friend did the sweetest thing and brought me a sweet treat.  Thank you, Jennifer!  She picked me up a chocolate cupcake (ah....chocolate AND cupcake) from Supreme Kakes.  I have been in Supreme Kakes before to take a look around.  The staff was extremely helpful and extremely  friendly.  The bakery has displayed many wedding and birthday mock cakes to peruse.  They also offer "regular" food, too.  So, you can stop in for lunch.

Oh yes, back to THE chocolate cupcake.  The cake was notably moist with a subtle chocolate flavor.   More cocoa than a rich ganache.  The icing was not overly sweet, although by the end of my sampling, I felt I was tasting more shortening than butter in the chocolate buttercream.  Nonetheless, it was a tasty cake.  Oh, and there were chocolate sprinkles a top the icing.  Always a favorite touch for me....the sprinkles give way to an additional texture of crunch with the moist delicate cake.  And, a bonus topping of a delish white chocolate straw.  Mmmmmmm! 

I'm heading back to Supreme Kakes sometime soon to try another flavor...maybe white cake with vanilla buttercream icing this time? 

Supreme Kakes
14520 Memorial Drive
Houston, Texas 77079

Monday, October 4, 2010

2010 Houston Culinary Awards

Before I even mention incredible dinner and very deserved awards, let me tout the amazing culinary talent and skills that our Houston Region embodies! Our City is truly blessed by the magnitude of eating options, hugely talented chefs, and the finest hospitality industry in general.  We are on par, if not above, any NYC, San Francisco, or New Orleans.  We love and appreciate food, and it shows! 

The Houston Culinary Awards were presented last night at the University of Houston Hilton School by My Table Magazine.  Warning:  this post will be lengthy...there is so much to say!

The Dinner:

The cocktail reception provided passed hors d'oevures prepared by John Sheely (Mockingbird Bistro), Claire Smith (Shade), and Robert Del Grande (RDG + Bar Annie).  They prepared 3 different items -- all delish.  But, I'm going to focus on the meal.

First Course:  1st Part:  Taro "Rosespud" and Huancaina Sauce, prepared by Michael Cordua (Americas).  The beautiful crispy potato "chip" was sitting on our table as we arrived.  It was light, airy, very crispy.  The sauce was creamy, yet spicy.

2nd Part of the First Course: Farro and Shell Pea Salad, Honey-Butternut Gremolata, prepared by Monica Pope (T'afia).   Okay, if I could have just swam in a big old bowl of this pea salad, I would have been a very happy camper.  This dish was my favorite and beyond the simple description of "delish."  The farro (an Italian, chewy grain, somewhat similar to barley) and the peas were dressed in a scrumptious gremolata.  Gremolata is a chopped herb condiment usually made of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley.  I could taste each component distinctly.  Fresh, flavorful, and fabulous.  Each bite was cooked to perfection.   I don't believe this dish is on the T'afia menu...will she add it?  I'll be there every day....

The Entree:  Slow-roasted Prime Rib and Texas Wild Shrimp with Artisanal Local Grit Cake, Autumn Vegetables in a Spiced Lemon Butter Sauce, prepared by Mark Cox (Mark's American Cuisine) and Randy Evans (Haven).  My second favorite dish (although side dish in this case), was the vegetable melody as part of the entree.  The veggies were cooked perfectly -- no small feat when the kitchen must feed about 400 people at once!  They were tender, yet still retained their crispness.  The veggies -- a selection of mushrooms, cauliflower, green beans, and red bell pepper -- cooked in a spiced lemon butter sauce, with oregano.  The vegetables popped in my mouth.  Not over powering, just the perfect burst of flavor. 

The prime rib was tender with great flavor.  Excellently seasoned.  The Shrimp was cooked appropriately and was sitting on a very delicious grit cake -- kernels of corn with grits in a perfect combination.  It had a nice consistency, which allowed it to remain intact without falling apart, yet the cake was still extremely tender.  The grit cake had a big ole kick of spice that exploded in my mouth with happiness. 

The bread for the evening was provided by Heath Wendell (Slow Dough Bread Co.).  The cranberry-walnut was excellent.   I'm going to have to pick me up a loaf soon...  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Finally, the sweetest part of the meal...Dessert!  Lemon Snickerdoodle Ice Cream Sandwich with Whipped Caramel and Cinnamon Asian Pear, prepared by Rebecca Masson.   What an interesting combination of flavors and textures.  Bold.  Innovative.  I loved it.  The lemon ice cream sandwiched in between the crispy snickerdoodle cookies was a light and refreshing ending, yet still gave me something to sink my teeth into.  The whipped caramel tasted of butter...ah...butt-ah!  The pear was cooked perfectly retaining firmness and crispness with a hint of cinnamon. 

So, in summary, dinner was a True Treat.  Each chef displayed excellent technique, skills, and favor combinations.  They are all truly exceptional in their field.  I was honored to be a part of the evening. 

You can check out the winners down below, but, let me Congratulate a couple of winners -- first I'm so happy for the Mandola Family!  Congratulations to Damian, Vincent, and Tony for receiving the 12th Annual Legend of Houston Restaurants Award!  My Daddy, Sonny Look, received the first Legends award several years ago.  It is truly an honor to receive this honor from your peers.

Congratulations to Chris Shepherd of Catalan for receiving the Chef of the Year Award.  He also received a standing ovation!

And...Restaurateur of the Year -- Congratuations to Alex Brennan-Martin of Brennan's and Bistro Alex.  He, too, received a well deserved standing ovation!

7,000 votes were cast for the 2010 Culinary Awards, and the winners are.......

Houston Foodie Star Awards:

Favorite Bakery:  French Riviera Bakery & Cafe

Favorite Barbeque:   Goode Co. Texas Bar-B-Que

Favorite Breakfast:   The Buffalo Grille

Favorite Burger:   Becks Prime

Favorite Coffeehouse:   Empire Cafe

Favorite Houston Food Blog:   Cook's Tour (Allison Cook)

Favorite Ethnic:   Fadi's Mediterranean Grill (Middle Eastern)

Favorite Food Truck/Cart:   Little Miss Cupcake

Favorite Late Night Spot (serves food after 11 pm):   House of Pies

Favorite Mixologist:   Sean Beck (Hugo's, Backstreet Cafe)

Favorite Outdoor Dining:   Backstreet Cafe

Favorite Supermarket:   Central Market

Favorite Pub or Bar:   Anvil

Favorite Sweets/Ice Cream:  The Chocolate Bar

Favorite Wine Cellar:  Spec's

Houston Culinary Awards:

Best New Restaurant:  Haven

Best Interior Design:  Americas (The Woodlands)

Houston Classic:  Carrabba's

Service Person of the Year: Sean Beck (Backstreet Cafe, Hugo's, Trevisio)

Outstanding Bar Service:  Capital Grille

Pastry Chef of the Year:  Ruben Ortega (Hugo's)

Outstanding Wine Service:  The Tasting Room

Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year (age 35 or younger):  David Cordua (Americas)

Chef of the Year:  Chris Shepherd (Catalan)

Restauranteur of the Year:  Alex Brennan-Martin (Brennan's, Bistro Alex)