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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Star Pizza

It's hard to find excellent pizza in Houston.  I mean, there's some good pizza in a lot of places, but New York and Chicago we are not.  No offense guys.  You know I love Houston!  But, its just tough to find delectable pizza -- New York Style or Chicago.  However, I do think our Star Pizza is on to something.  I do think Star Pizza is pretty dang good.  With two locations in town, both do a great job baking up a pizza pie.

Inside Star Pizza - Harvard Location

Star Pizza offers more than just pizza -- the menu includes various entree salads, pastas, and sandwiches.  But its the pizza that keeps me coming back.   With both New York/Hand Tossed and Chicago Style Deep Dish (oh, and a Focaccia Pizza, too), my kind of pizza is freshly made within these walls.

First up, The Veggie.  I know, I know, for you meat lovers, a veggie pizza is, well, just, um, wrong.  But, to me, a great veggie pizza hits the nail on the head.  When the veggies are fresh and cooked perfectly, they are a great accompaniment to a perfectly crispy crust, tangy tomato sauce, and melty mozzarella.    Their Veggie includes mushrooms, onions, green pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and sprouts.  Slap all that on a deep dish whole wheat...and .................Yum.  Star Pizza really piles on the veggies and cheese.  The veggies were very crunchy and juicy.  The crust was thick, yet crispy (Large 14": $19.25).

Large Veggie Whole Wheat Deep Dish

Next, The Margarita.  This time we went with the New York Hand Tossed.  Loaded with roma tomatoes, garlic, basil, cheese, and olive oil, this pizza pie was just as delicious.  The tomatoes were juicy and fresh and the basil was freshly picked (also $19.25 for a 14" Large).  

Large Margarita New York Style

Not only does Star Pizza bake up truly excellent pizza, but the service is top notch, quick, and friendly, too.   The staff truly anticipated our needs.   Don't need a whole pizza?  You can get pizza by the slice for $3.50.  

Star Pizza
2111 Norfolk                             77 Harvard
Houston, Texas 77098               Houston, Texas 77007
713-523-0800                           713-869-1241

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Becks Prime

I love Becks Prime.  I have been a fan of Becks Prime since the mid-1980s.  As high school kids, my friends and I would go there for "off campus" lunch.  Then way later in life, I frequented the eateries a great deal when I was pregnant (Hello - iron and dairy, of course! ...important components for a growing baby!).  And MANY, MANY times in between and since.   I am sure that Becks Prime is not perfect (no place is), but I truly don't remember having a bad experience at any of their locations.   This trip was no exception.

Becks Prime - Augusta Location

First up, the Cheeseburger ($7.95).   I'm a pretty much a traditionalist.  I love the plain, simple American Cheeseburger.   And, the Becks Prime Cheeseburger never disappoints.  Great char-grilled flavor.  Moist and juicy.  Not greasy.  Cooked medium.  Good seasoning.  Crunch from the veggies, extra flavor from the mustard and ketchup, soft bun, a cooked to order patty.   This burger makes me happy.


My dining companion ordered Bill's Burger ($8.95).  Sauteed onions, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce, jalapenos, and Prime Sauce.  He echoed all the sentiments of my description above.  He scarfed his burger down.  Another happy customer.

Bill's Burger

Clearly, a burger requires a side -- we ordered a side of the Hand-Cut Idaho Fries ($2.55).  Yum.  Delish.  A good fry.  Soft inside.   A little crunch on the outside, with skins.  The perfect amount of salt.  Loads of flavor.  Yum.  Delish.

Hand-Cut Idaho Fries

I got a little crazy this visit to Becks and tried the Parmesan Crisps ($3.25).  They were good.  Loads of garlic flavor.  Crispy.  Crunchy.  Light.  While they aren't really a "burger side," they would be fantastic accompanying a salad or other light dish.  So, while a thumbs up, I wouldn't order them again with burgers and fries.

Parmesan Crisps

My sweet finale -- The Chocolate Shake.   Heavenly.  I love their shakes.  Soft.  Cold.  Creamy.  Silky.   And, the best part is that Becks Prime offers "Dessert Portions."  ($2.75).  It's perfect....allowing you to have a big taste, without ordering a whole shake (unless you want a bigger shake, of course!). 

Dessert Portion of the Chocolate Shake

As usual, I left Becks Prime a very happy and satisfied camper.  Always consistent in quick service, fresh food, and perfectly prepared dishes.   Its no surprise that Houstonians named Becks Prime their Favorite Burger in the 2010 Houston Culinary Awards.

Becks Prime
2615 Augusta
Houston, Texas 77057
(Becks Prime is located in 11 Houston locations)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Little Bitty Burger Barn

Another trip for gastronomical indulgence.  I had high hopes for this little burger joint in Northwest Houston.  I needed - yes needed - a cheeseburger, so off we went to check out the Little Bitty Burger Barn.

Little Bitty Burger Barn

The place is a stereotypical dive.  Small.  Not fancy.  A few tables inside.  Additional picnic table seating outside. Order at the counter.   You know the type. Little Bitty's does actually offer many ordering options from the Basic Burger (of course!) to wings, salads, sandwiches, etc.  Again, what you'd expect from a place that has "Burger Barn" in the name. 

Menu Board

I tried the 1/4 lb. Cheeseburger ($5.25).  That's all I have to say.  Yes, that is about the extent of my thoughts on it.   The lack of exciting descriptive language might give a hint that I found the burger to be, well, pretty boring.  No pizazz.  No juiciness.  No flavorful seasons.  Just dull.  The Onion Rings were just as disappointing.  The batter didn't crunch.  And, the Rings didn't have that great sweetness that I love in an onion ring. 

1/4 lb. Cheeseburger and Onion Rings

My dining companion tried out the Ultimate Jalapeno Cheeseburger ($6.25).  Although the burger was indeed spicy, his sentiments matched mine.  Disappointing burger.  He ordered a side of the Cajun Fries, and while they had more flavor than the regular fries, tater tots, and onion rings, the fries were still limp, no zest, no crunchiness.  Just so ho-hum.  Disappointing for home-cut taters.

Ultimate Jalapeno Cheeseburger with Cajun Fries

Let me end on a couple of higher notes.  First, the Big Dog ($4.25) was big, beefy, and juicy.  It was really good!  We enjoyed the dog more than anything else we tried (even if the regular fries were a let down).

Big Dog with French Fries

Okay, so the other high note worth mentioning about Little Bitty Burger Barn is (okay,well, it's two):  Charlie's 5 Alarm Fire Burger ($7.95) and the Little Bitty Double Dare ($24.95).    The Double Dare contains 2 lbs patties topped with cheese, jalapenos, bacon, and BBQ Sauce.  If you eat the whole thing, you get a t-shirt and your picture taken for their wall. 
Order the 5 Alarm Fire Burger, and you get a hat!

Even more impressive is the....Fire Burger.  The 5 Alarm Fire Burger even comes complete with a siren sounded upon the delivery of the burger and a fireman's hat.  We actually sat next to a guy who ordered this insane burger.  In fact, it was so hot, he couldn't even finish it.  It ripped his stomach.  Two of his friends, who had also tried the Fire Burger previously, said it was THE hottest thing you can imagine.  And, from the looks of the guy eating today -- they were right.  This guy looked like he wanted to die.  So, for the non-faint-of-heart, go check out the Fire Burger.  The burgers may not be fantabulous at Little Bitty Burger Barn, but I guess if you want to challenge your gastrointestinal power, it doesn't really matter what the burger tastes like, you are just surviving!

Little Bitty Burger Barn
5503 Pinemont Drive
Houston, Texas 77092

Thursday, May 19, 2011

W Grill

Have you seen this little place as you drive down Washington Avenue?  I've driven by it a gazillion times (yes, I've counted -- a gazillion times) but never stopped.  Back when I was in high school (forever ago), Bambilino's Pizza was there.  We'd regularly stop for a slice of pizza and their yummy lemonade.  Ahhhhh...the memories. 

Okay, so anyway, today I decided to check out W Grill.  There are a couple of picnic tables out in front, but really, this little building only provides food (and "grown up" drinks -- beer, wine, and margaritas - made with wine) to go.  And, actually,their menu is pretty diverse ranging from Omelet in a Cup ($2.95) to Salmon BLT ($9.25) to wraps, salads, and 3 Mahi Mahi Taco ($9.25).   

Driving up to the drive-through menu/speaker put the pressure on me to order quickly (self-induced pressure, not W Grill's fault).  I hastily ordered a Cheeseburger (Cheddar Cheese) and Onion Rings (burger $7.25 + $.75 for cheese; Onion Rings: $2.25). 

The burger was actually moist, but there was no seasoning on this patty.  None.  Pretty darn bland.  No pop of flavor.  I enjoyed having my burger on a wheat bun (instead of a standard white -- the choice is offered at W Grill).  However, the bun wasn't anything special and sure did not compensate for the sad tasting burger.  Furthermore...note the fries in the above picture.  As mentioned previously in this post, I ordered the darn Onion Rings!!  But got the Steak Fries ($2.00).  The server (who was very nice and friendly) bragged about how great the Onion Rings were -- Plus, I LOVE Onion Rings.  So if seeing the Fries wasn't bad enough, the fries weren't even yummy.  If you are gonna mix up my order, serve me somthing amazing!  The fries, of frozen origin, were limp, but fresh out of the fryer...they were hot!  But nothing special. 

This cute little To-Go concept left me disappointed.  I miss Bambalino's.  

W Grill
4825 Washington Avenue
Houston, Texas 77007

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Haute Wheels Houston: The Food Truck Festival

The Haute Wheels Houston - The Food Truck Festival - is running today and tomorrow. 

Beautiful weather, many food options, fellow Houstonians, wine, beer, what could be better?  I was so in!

First up, Bernie's Burger Bus.  I have been wanting to try Bernie's for months!  I kid you not.  I just couldn't get my schedule and their schedule to jive.  So, upon entering the Festival...Bernie's was the absolute first place I went. I made a beeline...And, I was not disappointed at all.  The food lived up to all of the hype.

Bernie's Burger Bus

I tried the "Pre-Schooler" -- slider with Texas cheddar, ketchup, pickle and mustard.  This burger was Incredible (with a capital "I").  Moist.  Flavorful.  Very flavorful.  Extreme flavor.  Cooked medium.  Not the least bit overcooked.  The bun was soft.  And, the fries...they were just as tasty.  Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.  Excellent potato flavor.  Sea salt sprinkled on the outside.  I love salt, so the amount of salt made me happy, but if you aren't quite as much of a salt-oholic as I, then the fries might be too salty.  But, seriously, don't let that deter you.  The fries were Fabulous (with a capital "F").  And, the ketchup is made in-house.  The burger was divine.  I was so, so, so happy with Bernie's Burger Bus.  So happy.  (Side note, how long until Bernie's Burger Bus has a bricks and motar location?  The food is too delicious to last too long before investors line up). 

Bernie's Burger Bus'  Pre-Schooler

Next up, Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen's No Border Bus. 

No Borders

I ordered the Beef Fajita.  Yum.  Yes, that sums it up.  Yum.  The meat was very tender.  I mean, melt-in-my-mouth tender.  Nice marinade.  I ordered it all the way with raw onions, cilantro, and salsa (which was more like a sauce).  The fajita was not too spicy, but a baby-kick worth of hotness for flavor.  I ordered it on a flour tortilla which was soft and perfect.  Excellent fajita. 

No Borders' Beef Fajita

Then, over to The Rolling Hunger truck.  I loved the name....had to try it!

The Rolling Hunger

I ordered the Korean Beef taco.  Although, I had to wait forever to receive my order, it was worth it.  This taco was delectable.  Ground beef with Asian flavors, and a touch of sweetness and spice (I ordered it with pico de gallo). Served on a corn tortilla.  Fabulous.  Very tasty. 

The Rolling Hunger's Korean Beef Taco

Okay, now for the sweet treat trucks:  first up: MMM Cupcake.  I ordered the Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cupcake with chocolate frosting.  Pretty good.  The cake was moist.  Yipppeeee....A moist cupcake (too many bakers make dry cupcakes. Ugh).  The cake was courser, but not crumbly or dry.  Great chocolate flavor.  I loved the chocolate chips inside the chocolate cake.  I did not like her frosting.  It reminded me of a chocolate cream cheese, although I was promised there was no cream cheese in it.  Also, the frosting-to-cake-ratio too low.  The confection needed more icing.

MMM Cupcake's Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cupcake

Finally, Angie's Cake. 
Angie's Cake

Angie is the Queen Cake Ball Extraordinaire.  Seriously.  Cake balls are all that she makes, and she is very good at it.  I tried three flavors:  Peanut Butter (because ANYTHING Peanut Butter is heavenly), Lemon (because it is always refreshing), and Vanilla (because basic vanilla is a great standard by which to judge,er, uh, I mean, compare, cakes).   All three were very good.  I wish the peanut butter one had been more peanut butter-y.  The Lemon was indeed refreshing, light, and easy to eat.  The vanilla was light and airy, and extremely subtle with the flavor.  All the cake balls were very moist and very easy to pop in my mouth and eat, savor, and love!  I wish the flavors had been a little stronger, but let me not complain.  The cake balls were yummy, delicious,delectable!

Angie's Cake's Chocolate, Lemon, and Vanilla Cake Balls

Well, that is the end of my taste testing food trucks at the food festival.  I was out of money ($16 tickets to enter and then the food purchased at each truck added up!), and my tummy was full.  But the real reason I stopped eating was due to the LONG lines.  Seriously.  It was ridiculous.  I do realize the success of the food truck phenomenon is because of the fresh, made-to-order food, but for a festival - when all there is to do is eat at food trucks - exceptions need to be made.  Maybe some pre-prepared items and a smaller menu.  The lines were continuing to grow when I left....

Never ending line at a food truck (pack your patience!)

I do wish that I had tried the Good Dog Hot Dog Truck, Eatsie Boys, and Fusion Taco.  I'll have to find these trucks out on the streets one day.  But my favorite named truck (that I didn't get to try) was Hit n' Run: Killer Street Food.  Love it! 

Hit n' Run -- Killer Street Food

The Haute Wheels Houston Food Truck Festival (the first) was a success in my eyes.  Aside from the very long lines (pack your patience and grab a drink....), the vendors provided some great food.  The weather was beautiful, and all the attendees looked to be having a good time (although I did see some patience being tested).   I look forward to the next Haute Wheels Houston!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Le Mistral Restaurant

Le Mistral is always high up on the list of extraordinary restaurants in Houston.  I thought it was long overdue time to check it out.

Le Mistral is owned by two brothers, Chef David Denis and General Manager Sylvain Denis.  David Denis came to Houston in 1995, and few years later, the brothers opened up Le Mistral.   The Denis Brothers are from the Provencal Region of France, so the menu reflects that, but it also represents all French Regions.

The restaurant itself is light and open with great visual complexities.  High ceilings, rounded walls, funky light fixtures.  Different patterns and textures:  stone wall with suede chairs.  Soft butter colors contrasting with dark wood grain wall.  

Main Dining Room - Le Mistral

The Chef started us with his Pork Rillette amuse-bouche, a preparation of meat, similar to pate and traditionally made with pork.  The Rillette was on top of a crispy crouton with a baby pickle slice topping off the tasty bite.  The contrasting textures were excellent -- soft rillette with crusty crouton and a crunchy, salty pop of pickle.  An excellent way to start!

Pork Rillette Amuse-Bouche

Okay, so down to business, what did we order and how was it?  Well, our group ordered several items.  I'll hit high points. 

A favorite starter was the Salade de Bucheron -- baby spinach, warm goat cheese, caramelized pecans, and pear vinaigrette ($12).  The greens were fresh and contrasted well with the warm, creamy goat cheese.  The dressing was light, but held up well to the substantial cheese.  The pecans added some crunchy contrast to the soft salad.  Excellent starter.  And, check out that slab of goat cheese.  Ahhhhhh....heavenly!

Salade de Bucheron

A favorite entree was the Duo de Canard Confit et Roti ($32).  This dish was a duck duo:  one deboned leg confit and one caramelized breast served with squash risotto, green asparagus fricassee, and grand marnier orange sauce.   The duck was moist and tender and paired well with the light orange sauce.  However, the risotto was dry -- not creamy at all.  And, risotto HAS to be creamy. 

Duo de Canard Confit et Roti

I'll touch more on other appetizers and entrees later in the post, if you are interested in more.  Unfortunately, our reviews are pretty mixed.  Some dishes were good (yes, good, not great, not amazing, but good).  Others were disappointing.  But before that, let me talk about....Dessert!

If souffle is on the menu, its a given I will order it.  Love me some souffle!  Seriously, a light, airy souffle with some killer sauce makes my heart and furious.  Sadly, this souffle didn't do it for me.  The souffle flavor was Bailey's, which sounded fabulous, but I had wished for a little more Bailey's zest.  However, the sauce was not a deal breaker as much as the pasty, which I thought was too dense and too eggy.  ($11).

Bailey's Souffle

I had...and yes, "I had," to order the Fondant au Chocolat with Kahlua cafe-infused shake ($9).  Chocolate Fondant makes my heart flutter almost as much as souffle.  This dessert dish was excellent.  The chocolate fondant (aka "chocolate lava or molten cake" in American speak) was dense and chewy, yet soft and light at the same time.  It had a very pleasant chocolaty sauce, not quite fudgy, but not thin and runny.  Very nice.  The chocolate was a magnificent contrast with the tart raspberry.  And, on the side, a shot glass of vanilla ice cream layered with Kahlua.  Hello My Love! 

Fondant au Chocolat

Other tasting notes:  French Onion Soup: no zing.  Poulet Fermier Roti au jus (Airline chicken breast with mashed potatoes):  the chicken was way dry and so were the mashed potatoes!  Ugh.  However, the Filet Mignon Poele was tender with a savory flavor.  This steak dish also had mashed potatoes, but these were creamy and buttery.  Where is the consistency?  Hello?   The Escargot were gritty, chewy, and not garlic-y enough.  Humpf.   New York Steak au Poivre, though, had excellent Au Poivre.  Great, great, delicious pepper coating and the asparagus tempura beignets, on the side, were DIVINE.  Yes, the asparagus were a high point:  tender asparagus with a delicious batter.  These puppies melted in my mouth.  Yummy!  Yummy!  The Foie Gras was excellent.  Cooked properly with a nice combination of flavors between the pears, golden raisins and port wine reduction.

I could go on, but this post is long enough.  My closing thoughts on Le Mistral:  Not consistent.  Some dishes were delightful, others disappointing.  The wine selection is inconsistent, as well, in that their wine list does not necessarily match what is in their inventory.  Service was good and the atmosphere was pleasant.   But for all my high expectations, I think I was a little disappointed.  And, I'm really disappointed that I was disappointed.  I want to be blown away by Le Mistral. 

Le Mistral Restaurant
1400 Eldridge Parkway
Houston, Texas 77077