Monday, June 30, 2008

BBQ Smackdown

Texas Monthly recently came out with their list of the top 50 BBQ joints in Texas; three are located in Houston. OK, fine – two plus an honorable mention. “The list” has caused quite the frenzy around town, and everyone, it seems, has brisket on the brain.

On Saturday I met 30 Houston food fanatics at Pearl Bar for a blind taste test from six local joints: Burns (rated 4.75/5 by Texas Monthly), Luling City Market, Pierson’s, Goode Co. (honorable mention in Texas Monthly), Kozy Kitchen, and the Swinging Door. Brisket and ribs and colesalw, oh my!

We all received a ballot to rank each brisket and each rib on smoke, tenderness, flavor, seasoning, and moistness. After taste-tasting all six, we ranked them in order of best to worst. The hardcore BBQ purists ate meat and meat alone. Others (myself included) added sauce and coleslaw.

And the results? Pierson & Co. won the brisket handily, and Luling City Market took the blue ribbon for ribs (narrowly beating Pierson’s). Goode Co. BBQ came in surprisingly low… but many participants were quick to note that Goode Co. is known for sausage and duck—not brisket and ribs. I’m going to go ahead and say avoid Kozy Kitchen at all costs; it ranked dead last in both categories. The brisket was leathery, and ribs were inedible. Burns BBQ ended up in 2nd place overall, and I was only moderately impressed with the Swinging Door.

Add in baked beans, roasted corn, couscous, and beer, and the afternoon was a raging success. I met the faces behind I’m Never Full, She Eats, Anonymous Eater, and I’ve Got the Munchies (who, by the way, was also headed to a wine tasting and a Tex-Mex dinner that day). And I got to stuff my face with some of Houston’s finest. I’m already looking forward to the 2nd annual BBQ Smackdown. Until then, I’m off meat.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Full-Sized Ice Cream

The price of gas has certainly taken its toll, and now it’s affecting my food, dammit. It’s increasingly expensive to get our vitals to market, so companies must charge more for the same item – or charge the same prices for less. Amidst all the downsizing, though, it’s good to know that one company is able to maintain its bulk: Blue Bell!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Houston Restaurant Week

It’s coming, it’s coming! From August 11-17, several dozen Houston eateries will offer a three-course meal for $35 (plus tax, gratuity, and beverages). What a great way to get fellow Houstonians out of the house in the midst of blood-boiling temperatures. Some places on the list better add that elusive truffle-and-caviar course to get their regular food to the $35 price point, but there are certainly other places where $35 is a bargain. $5 from each meal goes to Houston’s End Hunger Network, so it’s got that going for it.

Now. Who’s wants to go to Café Annie with me?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Culinary Adventure

A few months ago I accompanied my then-pregnant friend Jennifer on a culinary adventure. I love Jennifer for many reasons, only one of which is that her immediate response when I told her the location of my new house was: “Oh my gosh – the Shipley’s Do-Nuts right there has a drive-through!” I had been begging Jennifer for months to show me the farmers market on Airline, and Jennifer being Jennifer, she had to glitter it up.

Because everyone knows it’s best to start with dessert – and because we don’t argue with pregnant ladies – our first stop was El Bolillo, a Mexican bakery directly next door to the market. The sugary treats here are as they should be—sugary—but the real star is the tres leches. Tres leches is a traditional Mexican sponge cake soaked in three different kinds of milk. El Bolillo takes it one step further, adding diced fruit. The pineapple tres leches is dynamite, and FYI, ready for purchase by the slice or by the cake.

After dessert, we moved to the farmers market, where we filled our carts and hearts with produce of every variety. While you won’t find anything organic, per se, you will find quite a bargain. Prices are half those at the grocery, and we love supporting local vendors.

We ended our adventure on the patio at Teotihuacan. More Mexican than Tex-Mex, this place has great food and greater prices. For starters, the green sauce that comes chip-side is liquid heaven. The tacos and flautas are served to perfection by staffers that seem genuinely happy to have you. Do not miss the margaritas either. I am a beer drinker by trade, but the margs here are limey fresh and pack a punch.

El Bolillo - 2517 Airline Drive
Farmers Market - 2520 Airline Drive
Teotihuacan - 1511 Airline Drive

Monday, June 23, 2008

Les Givral’s

There are those restaurants that we obsess over and forget about, and those that we obsess over to stay. Les Givral’s is the latter. Vietnamese food is my favorite, and I have dedicated myself to tracking down the best in Houston. Mai’s, Pho Saigon, Cali, Mo Mong? No, no, no, and don’t even get me started.

I beheld the first indicator of success at Les Givral’s as soon as I bit into the spring rolls, the gold standard among Vietnamese joints. Filled with exactly the right amount of stuffing, the rolls exude freshness. Do not shy away just because the pork inside looks like 1) tofu, or 2) something processed. Trust me: it’s good. The peanut sauce is neither too creamy nor teeming with MSG, as at many other places. Simply put, these are the most delicious spring rolls I’ve found in Houston.

On to the sandwiches. The traditional Banh Mi sandwiches arrive on lightly toasted French rolls filled with marinated meat, shredded carrots, onion, and cilantro. They also feature long, thick strips of jalapeno. (Yow-zah! I usually forego, but they’re certainly easy to identify and discard if you attempt and dislike.) Categorically, the sandwiches are a flavor delight. A little of the meaty marinade sinks beautifully into the bread, exempting the need for condiments. Try the Grilled Pork with Pate or the tofu. By the way, these sandwiches will set you back a minimalist $2.15 each. Just because we’re in a recession doesn’t mean you have to eat at Applebee’s.

Finally, the noodles. Lord, the noodles. The vermicelli served here is the real deal, not the thicker version that some places try to get away with. Soft, slippery, and served with a lightly tangy sauce, I can never seem to eat these as slowly as I would like. The grilled pork vermicelli is fantastic, as is the tofu version. Avoid the shrimp.

Les Givral’s - 2704 Milam at McGowan in midtown

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Strip House

I met a friend at The Strip House last week, and my eyes were ablaze with the excitement that precedes a filet mignon. 8:30 reservations meant I was primed for a hearty meal, sooner rather than later. Service was swift, if not a bit stuffy, but we happily placed our orders with eager anticipation.

Now I love a good steak house as much as the next gal, but the stringent adherence to drowning lettuce in dressing has got to stop. I’m just sayin’. Salads sounded creative enough, but ours were doused with placid creamy sauces, rendering the flavors useless. Eeek. It is as I bite into a piece of calorie-laden lettuce that I notice the skinny little bitches on the wall: 1940’s style pin-up ladies slyly smiling down at me from every angle. And while the walls fascinate, interesting décor does not a great steak make. I say this because our steaks arrived soon thereafter, overly crispy on the outside and a little dry on the inside. My medium rare filet came medium, at best, and I'd classify the New York Strip as medium-well. Is this what we can expect from a steak chain HQ’d in NYC? The highlight was the roasted garlic clove that came steak-side, but... Oh no! They stole the bread basket! Oh well, we’ll always have creamed spinach. This, in all honestly, was a shining star.

The Strip House is on McKinney downtown, but if you’re downtown and looking to drop a money bomb on a steak, skip up to Vic & Anthony’s, in my opinion the best steak in this lovely steak town.

The Strip House - 1200 McKinney at San Jacinto downtown

Is This Thing On?

Hey team – I know there are food blogs a plenty here in Houston and with them I don’t wish to compete. This blog is purely because I love food and everything that goes along with it. It’s also to feed my creative mind (in addition to my forever-rumbling belly) and to encourage me to try new places, cuisines, and dining partners.

I welcome any and all suggestions, objections, and dining invitations… Hootie-hoo!