UPDATE: Second visit to Beaver's
Over the next days, we kept thinking about that delicious burger, and wondered if it was really as good as it seemed. Beaver's isn't one of the usual suspects mentioned for the best burgers in Houston, and perhaps we just hit them on a great night.
So, in the interest of science, we returned over the weekend for a late lunch, and ordered the burger.
We were not disappointed. We were again blown away by the superb combination of meats in the patty; this time, armed with the knowledge of the ingredients, we were able to appreciate the individual flavors even more.
We tried to recall a burger we enjoyed more. Even the legendary Christian's Totem paled in comparison.
Folks, we have a new champion for Best Burger in Houston: Beaver's. Congratulations to Jonathan Jones and his staff for raising the bar even higher in America's best burger town.
We enjoy great BBQ. And we love a great burger. We've been hearing good buzz about Beaver's for months, especially since Chef Jonathan Jones took over the helm there, so we ventured out on one of the first cool nights of fall, perfect for BBQ.
Tucked away off Washington Avenue, Beavers was very easy to find. We parked and ventured in to a very cozy setting: Funky, modern, warm and comfortable. Immediately we were grabbed by the laid-back vibe; the feel was vintage Austin before it became too self-conscious.
We settled in at the bar (seemed appropriate here) and perused the menu. Both my dining companion and I decided to sample the Beaver Burger - he was taken by the description, and I'd been wanting a good burger for days.
It was a great decision.
The Beaver Burger is a hand-formed patty of ground sirloin, ground brisket, and bacon. It is cooked to order (the chef had no problem with medium rare, a situation which is, um, rare these days) and was perhaps the juiciest burger we've sampled in Houston. Topped with a very nice white cheddar (maintaining a superb beef/cheese ratio) the patty is perched on an excellent eggy Kraftsmen bun, and topped with very interesting veggies, including house-pickled carrots, cauliflower, and cucumbers. (We ate these veggies on the side.) At $9 it's a steal.
The result was nothing short of spectacular. The bun held up well to the supremely juicy patty, and its slightly sweet flavor was an excellent counterpoint to the savory meat, smooth, creamy cheese, and tangy purple onions. Clearly this was a burger designed by a chef who understand how to meld a variety of flavors into a whole that is greater than the sum of its excellent ingredients.
Beavers may very well have great BBQ, but I fear we'll never try it, because we already want to go back for another one of these superb burgers.
Beaver's - 2310 Decatur Street 77007 - 713-854-BEAV - beavershouston.com
Ciao Bello is the latest creation from the minds of Tony and Jeff Vallone, the father and son team who have become legends in Houston's culinary scene. Our foodie friends were abuzz when word of this new establishment leaked out, and we decided not to wait to check it out.
(With most restaurants, giving 'em a couple of weeks to sort things out is prudent, but knowing Tony Vallone, the staff will be ready and on their game before the first customer walks in the door.)
We scored a table late on a Friday night (no luck at all the previous weekend) and zipped over to the San Felipe location, ready to experience the food.
We walked in to a crowded, bustling restaurant, and were immediately seated in the dining room. Tall and airy, modern without being stuffy, the room buzzed with energy. There were no empty tables, even at this lateish hour, and the waiters were constantly in motion. The energy of the room reminded me of the Grotto in its heydey.
But let's talk food. We feel that the heart of any Italian restaurant is its pasta, so we sampled several.
First up was the Agnolotti di Zucca. Delicate, handmade, thin pasta pillows filled with butternut squash, the dish was finished with a light, creamy sage essence. This dish balanced sweet and savory with a deft touch. We've often found this sort of ravioli to be cloyingly sweet, but the Vallone kitchen avoided this misstep with deftness rare in a restaurant open a year, much less one open a week. One of us declared this the best example of this dish she's ever tried.
Next was the Osso Buco Ravioli. A bolder flavor, the amazingly tender meat was infused with an earthy flavor that was bold but not overpowering. The richness was impressive; without a doubt we will order this dish again.
Our final pasta dish was a suggestion from Jeff Vallone - the Rigatoni Bolognese. We were pleased by the smooth combination of the beef and tomato flavors, and the undertones of pancetta and onions were spectacularly balanced. This is perhaps the most complex and interesting Bolognese sauce we can remember sampling.
Veering away from the pasta, our next dish was the fascinating Cuscinetti. Plump chicken breasts stuffed with Italian sausage, spinach, and fontina, this dish seemed deceptively simple until the second or third bite, then the boldness of the sausage (with nice hints of fennel) balanced out the mild, tender chicken and the smooth fontina, the spinach adding a very slightly acidic bite to the mix. Our favorite dish of the night.
Dessert was an apple crostata, light and understated, and something were were barely able to finish.
An important note: We were impressed by the reasonable prices of the dishes we ordered. No item approached $20, which made our mix-and-match approach to dining surprisingly affordable.
We have a new favorite Italian spot in Houston. We'll be back again soon.
Ciao Bello. 5161 San Felipe. Houston, TX 77056. (713) 960-0333
Labor Day weekend found us on a much-needed weekend jaunt to San Antonio, and we were fortunate enough to be in Luling around lunch time. So a stop at City Market was mandatory.
We'd never been during the lunch rush, and we were not the only folks with BBQ on the brain this day. The line was long (stretching throughout the restaurant, almost to the far door) but it moved quickly, and we discussed 'Q with some other hungry travelers.
After about twenty minutes, we entered the holy of holies, and approached the altar/counter. As always, the pit room is 20 degrees warmer than the rest of the restaurant, and the meaty, smoky aroma almost overwhelms you when you enter this remarkable space.
After we had received our BBQ, we searched for an open table, or even a spot at one of the big community tables. We finally located one in an out-of-the-way corner, and were able to dig into the BBQ.
As always, it was the pork ribs that stole the show. Meaty, juicy, and perfectly smoked, the rich pork flavor was superb, and the meat was so tender that it pulled from the bone effortlessly. We've eaten pork ribs all over the state, and we've never found any that compare to those here at City Market.
Brisket was excellent as well (especially the outside cut that we specified) with a beautiful 3/8" smoke ring and an infusion of smoky flavor. The only disappointment was the sausage, which was too mild and had a somewhat mushy texture.
After engorging ourselves on BBQ, we headed out of town, stopping for fuel and snacks at the big Buc-ee's store located on the main road. We realized that we envied the folks here in Luling, and are looking forward to our next trip to City Market.
Truffles Chocolate, the candy/dessert spot on Market Street in the Woodlands, has closed. Hopefully this prime location, facing Central Park will be redeveloped soon.