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, June 21, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Alto Pizzeria

I'm a fan of Ava Kitchen and Whiskey Bar (the sister restarurant downstairs).  Alto Pizzeria, the newest addition to the Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group, finally opened a few weeks ago (a couple of months after Ava).  While Ava is a little more buttoned up, Alto is more casual.  The decor is similar in both places, but again, Alto is a touch more laid back (in a very nice way, no dive atmosphere here).

Bar at Alto Pizzeria

My first impression (aside from liking the place visually) was that the service was S-L-O-W (also very loud and a tad warm in temperature).   It took a very long while for anyone to come on over and say hello, let alone bring us water.  It was busy?  New kinks to work out?  But just as I want to cut them a break, I feel again like they just don't seem to care:  Alto has 4 bubbles by the glass listed on their wine menu.   I ordered the $10 Proscecco (cheapest glass on the list and I like Prosecco).  They were out of that bottle.  Next price point upwards was a $16 Tattinger.  That's fine, but I asked our server since they were out of the $10 glass, if I could have a similar $10 glass of something else -- even $12 or so.  I mean $6 more per glass when they were out of their listed glass is a big jump.  The answer:  No.  Apparently, he even asked his manager who said, "no, unless I wanted to have a sweet Prosecco."  Well, no I don't want a sweet Prosecco.  I wanted a dry one.  No big deal, I moved on and enjoyed my $16 glass.  However, I'm pretty annoyed at that exchange.  Apparently, making the customer happy isn't part of their mantra.

Dining Room at Alto

Service is already off to an iffy start.  But what about the food?  The menu isn't extraordinary long, but full of great options from a vegetable platter to fried squid to open face meatball sandwich to pizza, of course.   Our table started with the Artichoke "Fonduta" with Fontina and Pecorino ($12).   Traditional Fonduta is an Italian style fondue made of Fontina cheese and served over toast or polenta.  Alto's funduta not so much a fondue or dip as a creamy sauce poured over artichokes.  But, very good!  The artichokes were very tender.  The sauce had a tasty kick of something.  The bread served with the funduta was soft, fresh, and warm.

Artichoke Funduta with Fontina and Pecorino

Next, we sampled two pizzas: Margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil ($12) and the Chicken with artichokes, fontina, and pine nut pesto ($14).   We like the Margherita a great deal.  The tomatoes were whole cherry tomatoes, not sliced larger tomatoes (like a Roma).  And, they had a great baked, roasted essence that bursted with flavor when I bit into them.  The pizza crust was chewy, yet crispy and thin.  Excellent.  Very delicious. 

Margherita Pizza

The Chicken Pizza with artichokes?  Hmmmm...not so much.  This pizza was a direct contrast to the excellent flavor combination of the Margherita  The chicken pizza flavors not only didn't compliment each other, they worked against each other.   Fontina and artichoke do work well together (see the Fonduta above), but not on this pizza.  And, pesto as the sauce is usually an great addition.  But not on this pizza.   Too salty?  Too lemon-y?  Odd flavors we couldn't pin point, but knew were not working for our palattes. 

Chicken Pizza with artichokes, fontina and pine nut pesto

Next up, a pasta:  Fettuccine with chicken, leeks, steamed garlic, lemon zest, and fontina (apparently, Alto likes their fontina!).  ($13).  The pasta grew on us the more we ate.  The cream sauce thickened with time and the flavors became more balanced.  The chicken was moist and tender (though, the pieces should've, could've been bigger).  The pasta was a light dish.  I'd order it again. 

Fettuccine with chicken, leeks, steamed garlic, lemon zest & fontina

Finally, our sweet finish.  Not many dessert options on the Alto menu, but the Sourdough Doughnuts (served with Nutella) called my name.  Whether you call these doughnuts or beignets, these fried dough balls rolled in sugar were soft and warm.  Thick sour dough that sunk our teeth into.   The Nutella was a great addition for dipping these babies.  And, at only $5, the dessert was a generous portion. 

Sourdough Doughnuts with Nutella

So to sum up:  I have mixed thoughts on Alto.  Our server was friendly and nice, but service was slow the entire night.  I'm still a little annoyed they couldn't substitue another similar priced-point sparkling wine for me or at least care to try.  But most of the food was pleasant.  And, I do like the atmosphere.  You can check it out and let me know what you think! 

Alto Pizzeria
2800 Kirby (at Westheimer)
Houston, Texas 77098

Thursday, June 2, 2011

French Gourmet Bakery and Cafe

How many times have I driven past both locations of the French Gourmet Bakery?  And never stopped?  Well, you know where this is going -- yesterday I stopped for lunch.   The eatery is definitely themed in a French way, but more like 1990's french country, minus the antiques and simplicity.  This is not a "Guy's Place."  I only saw one man, and he was getting something to go.  And, the customers are definitely an older crowd.  Hip and young this place is not;  however, the service was great, friendly, and quick.

Their menu is small and simple.  And, I actually like that.  Stay focus.  Stay on message.  Stay a French Bakery.  Breakfast consists of pastries (no hot dishes, but sausage and cheese kolaches on weekends).  The lunch menu is made up of sandwiches and salads.   And, with a name like "French Gourmet Bakery," they truly do offer many bakery items from cookies to cakes to breads.

French Gourmet Bakery

I opted for the Chicken Salad Sandwich on Tuscan bread (kind of cross between white and wheat) ($5.95, no sides, just the sandwich).   Yum.   Yum-o.  Yummy.   I liked their Chicken Salad.  I liked it a lot.  I'm not a real fan of fillers in chicken salad.  No fruit or nuts for me.  Just give me the good stuff.  The real deal.  Give me the actual chicken salad.  And, the French Gourmet Bakery did just that.  Creamy.  Moist.  Flavorful.  Delicious Chicken Salad.  The bread was very fresh and soft.  The kind of bread that your teeth just sink right down into.  The partnership of the soft, fresh bread, and the fresh, flavorful chicken salad was perfect. 

Chicken Salad Sandwich

What is a visit to a bakery with out a sweet treat?  So, I ordered some cupcakes.  Well, yes, "some."  I didn't see just single cupcakes so I bought a six pack.  I know.  I know.  But, I did share later on at home.  The cupcakes were excellent.  The icing was thick and creamy with a great buttery flavor.  The cake portion was very dense, yet very moist.  It truly melted in my mouth.  The icing and cake together was an excellent combination working well in perfect flavor harmony.  ($8.99 for 6 cupcakes).

Vanilla Cupcakes

My experience as the French Gourmet Bakery was a good one.  I'll go back. 

French Gourmet Bakery and Cafe
2250 Westheimer Road                        12504 Memorial Drive
Houston, Texas 77098                         Houston, Texas 77024
713-524-3744                                     713-973-6900

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