Spicy Pickle, the fast casual sandwich spot from Denver, announced that its new Houston franchisee has signed a lease for their first site and is actively pursuing additional locations. The first site is scheduled to open in the spring of this year.

From their web site:

"Spicy Pickle restaurants serve high quality meats and fine Italian Artisan breads along with a wide choice of 10 different cheeses, 21 different toppings, and 15 proprietary spreads to create healthy and delicious panini and sub sandwiches with flavors from around the world. There are over 150,000 delicious sandwich combinations for you to create, along with 8 specialty panini sandwiches that have become favorites of our customers."

Nationwide, the company notes that development has slowed considerably for the Spicy Pickle chain in the United States, but some expansion possibilities continue to exist. Bank financing for new franchise opportunities is simply not available in the current climate, and expansion will continue to be limited until capital becomes more readily available.

When money is tight, what cool things can you find to do in Houston? The Tribune (the local paper in Atascocita, Humble, and Kingwood) posted a great story on its web site with some wonderfully inexpensive ideas.


"It’s hard to beat Saturday afternoon tours at the Saint Arnold Brewery. For $5, fans receive a beer tasting glass from which they can enjoy Saint Arnold’s 10 different beers—our money is on the Lawn Mower—and a tour of the facility. Stay tuned for the biz to move to a bigger location later this year."

"Visit the hippest cinema in H-Town. With screenings everywhere from rooftops to junkyards, Aurora Picture Show is Ground Zero for new media artists. Expect irreverent indie-films like the recent Obama music video Change You Can Dance To and Toy Punks—a documentary on Japanese toys, fashion and punk rock. Admission for regular screenings is $6. Visit www.aurorapictureshow.org to view the event calendar."

"Set sail on a free, 90-minute tour of the Port of Houston. While on board the 90-passenger boat, you’ll learn about the history of the seaport and be able to watch ocean freighters and barges navigate the 50-mile channel. The tour is free, but reservations are required."

Many more ideas are discussed in the article.

Attention to all fans of 70's funk, attractive women, and man food: Brick House Tavern & Tap has opened a location on Highway 290 in northwest Houston.

Following in the footsteps of Hooters, Brick House is a new example of the "brestaurant" concept that is gaining in popularity. Combining guy-friendly comfort food, a "man cave" atmosphere, and an attractive, all-female waitstaff, Brick House is positioned as a guy's home-away-from-home, a place where he can relax with his buddies and behave in an un-politically-correct manner.

Beer selection includes tableside micro-kegs, 40 ounce bottled beers, 100 oz beer bongs, and hand-pulled cask beer.

Brick House Tavern & Tap, 12910 Hwy 290, Houston, 77040, 713-462-0576, brickhousetavernandtap.com

I maintain that the best BBQ is found in little ramshackle shacks located in small towns off the beaten path in Nowhere County, Texas. So why do I like the County Line?

They do a good job at pretty much everything. Inviting, faux-camp decor. Friendly, professional waitstaff. And BBQ that's plenty good, and better than pretty much any other chain that I can name.

I started at County Line when I lived in Austin, and frequented both locations. The concept has made the trip down Hwy 290 with its goodness intact.

What to order? My favorite here are the baby back pork ribs. A full rack is large; a half rack is plenty for most folks. In either case you get some tender (but not falling-off-the-bone) meaty pork ribs, nicely prepared and doused with a sweet-but-not-too-sweet sauce. Beef lovers will be thrilled with their gigantic beef ribs, served with a sauce that's not quite as sweet, and the brisket is very good too.

Bread is another high point here. Why pay for bread in a BBQ joint? Because it's homemade and superb, fluffy and sweet and when topped with the provided honey butter it's a decadent addition to the carnivorous offerings on the table.

What's not to like? It's a bit more expensive than some places, but the prices aren't out of line for a sit-down meal; this one just happens to consist of very good BBQ.

County Line is a great choice for those who love great BBQ, especially if our town's more elemental BBQ joints are a bit too edgy for them.

The County Line: 13850 Cutten Rd, Houston, 77069, 281-537-2454

Luby's, the Houston-based cafeteria chain, is celebrating its birthday by offering a present to its customers.

On Fridays and Saturdays in February, Luby's famous LuAnn platter will be half price, making it a legitimate bargain, and less expensive than the combo meal at your local McBurger place.

Grimaldi's Pizza, the legendary Brooklyn pizza joint, has opened its first establishment in the Houston area. Located across the Southwest Freeway from Sugar Land's First Colony mall, Grimaldi's has been delighting local residents with their three types of pizza: Red (traditional margharita) White (with garlic) and Green (with pesto). Prices aren't cheap, but for those seeking NY-style pizza, it's a lot cheaper than a plane ticket to La Guardia.

Closer to town, Russo's New York Coal-Fired Pizza has opened their second location on I-10 at Echo Lane. Befitting it's Memorial location this is a higher-end pizza joint, with a beautiful interior that complement the crowd-pleasing coal-fired pizza.

Thelma's Bar-B-Que, the landmark Houston BBQ spot was seriously damaged over the weekend by fire. They are closed until further notice, and there's no word about when and if Thelma will rebuild and reopen.

We at H-Town Chow Down wish Miss Thelma the best during this difficult time, and look forward to her reopening her legendary establishment.

Robb Walsh gives us the sordid details.

In a burst of generosity, Denny's is offering a free Grand Slam breakfast from 6am to 2pm today. The promotion was announced in an advertisement during the Super Bowl.

The free meal is available for dine in only.

Mia Bella, the popular downtown restaurant, has opened a branch in the Vintage Park shopping center, Hwy 249 at Louetta. Vintage Park is a themed outdoor shopping center along the lines of Market Street in the Woodlands or Town Square in Sugar Land.

Mia Bella is part of Youssef Nafaa's Bella Restaurant Group, which also operates Collin's Chop House, Cava Bistro, CoCo's Crepes & Coffee, Saffron Moroccan Cuisine and Cielo Mexican Bistro.

Another Mia Bella is planned for the new Pavillion center in downtown Houston.

More info: bellarestaurants.com

Truffles. That elusive ingredient that can transform an already excellent dish to another plane. Rich, earthy, musky, rare and delicious. We were having a craving for truffles, so we went to the place we knew would be offering them: Tony's.

Tony's is the iconic Houston fine dining restaurant. It has been the preferred destination for the city's glitterati for many years, but some foodies grumbled that the cuisine was too staid, too traditional, too boring.

In our experience, nothing could be farther from the truth. My guess is that these foodies have never dined at Tony's, and that is their loss.

Tony Vallone is a master restaurateur, and he periodically reinvents the restaurant, making it fresh and new, but never gets caught up in the fly-by-night trends that tempt the less savvy host. And the Vallone touch is evident on every plate that exits the kitchen... this attention to detail is a key that separates Tony's from Houston's other fine dining establishments.

The latest incarnation of Tony's resides at the beautiful Richmond and Timmons location that Tony's occupied after decades on Post Oak. Built from the ground up to Tony Vallone's exacting specifications, this dramatic setting was the backdrop for our truffle degustation.

Executive Chef Francesco Casetta's kitchen is firing on all cylinders, and created a variety of dishes that flowed together like movements in a symphony. Several featured the ethereal truffle as an ingredient.

We started with a simple Tortelloni Bolognese - housemade pasta stuffed with three cheeses and draped in Tony's superb bolognese meat sauce. The flavors are bold yet smooth, and this dish warmed up our senses for the upcoming courses.

Next was my favorite appetizer - Paglia e Fieno. A deceptively simple dish featuring fresh ribbons of green and white tagliatelle, drizzled with a light cream sauce and accented with thin slices of fresh black truffles. Simple and superlative.

We then tried something more exotic - Tagliarini with Sicilian Sea Urchin. Smooth strands of tagliarini were tossed in a light creamy sauce of pinot grigio and alba mushrooms, and mixed with chunks of sea urchin. The dish was surprisingly spicy; the heat was balanced by the creamy pasta. It was something we'd never experienced before, but would gladly order again.

Our final appetizer is one we can rarely pass up at Tony's - the Japanese-influenced Ribbons and Squares. Fresh, sushi-grade blue fin tuna prepared two ways: perfect thumb-sized cubes, and thin, pasta-like ribbons formed into a cylindrical shape. The tuna is accented with fresh avocado puree and a tangy soy-lime vinaigrette. We love sushi, and the balance of this dish speaks to a bright future if the Vallones ever decide to open a sushi bar.

After these delicious entrees, it was time for the main course. More truffles were called for, so we ordered the rich Stuffed Truffled Filet of Beef. This may be the best steak in the city - a large, thick filet of USDA Prime beef, naturally aged for 40 days, and stuffed with black truffle butter. The truffle flavor infuses the beef, and the combination is greater than the sum of the parts.

On the side we asked for the oven-roasted truffled potatoes and the decadent truffled macaroni & cheese. These side dishes accented the steak very nicely, and we were awash in the aroma and flavor of truffles.

We barely had room for dessert, but missing the souffle at Tony's seems like a crime. This time we selected the rich bananas foster souffle, which was a delightful finish to an unforgettable meal.

My waistline won't tolerate a meal like this every day, but I'll be looking forward to the next gastronomical adventure at Tony's. The restaurant never disappoints.

Tony's: 3755 Richmond Avenue, Houston, 77046, 713-622-6778

Tony's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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