We love a great pizza.  We've been known to discuss great pizzas at length with friends.  But compared to Jeff Varasano, we are complete and total dilettantes... because Jeff is serious about pizza, and is willing to share his opinions.

We don't know if his recipe tastes as amazing as he says, but we are in awe of the amount of detail that he puts into it.

If anyone in Houston successfully duplicates his work, we'd love to try it.

We make no secret that we think Tesars is one of the best restaurants in the Houston area, and that it stands head and shoulders above its competitors in the Woodlands.  But we have to confess a problem:  We are so taken with Tesars fantastic burgers that it's tough for us to sample other offerings on the menu.  But that changed last Sunday.

We'd heard that Tesars was serving brunch, and we were very curious to see what Executive Chefs Jeramie Robison and Austin Simmons would offer for this popular meal.  So we made our reservations (always a good idea) and headed down.

We were seated, and relaxed enjoying the view and their wonderful iced tea.  Shortly after, our appetizer appeared.

We're generally not big fans of cool soup, but Chef Robison has put a very interesting twist on the classic Spanish Gazpacho.  Centered in the sea of moderately spicy tomato/onion/garlic soup was an island of tangy housemade ceviche - shrimp, fish, several different mild peppers, avocado, and onion.  The flavors danced around each other, each being highlighted while still working together to become greater than the sum of their parts.  This is a superb Gazpacho, and the one by which we'll be measuring others we sample.

After the refreshing soup, we were ready for more traditional brunch fare.  We started south of the border, moving from the Catalan coast to the border towns of Mexico, and delved into the Tesars version of Huevos Rancheros, the staple of the Tex-Mex breakfast.

The presentation was one we'd not seen before.  A base consisting of quadrants of of black beans, pico de gallo, roasted pepper salsa, and guacamole (all housemade) was covered by a crispy corn tortilla, and topped with two fried eggs.  The combination was a study in balance; the rich, earthy flavor of the beans contrasted beautifully with the sharp, fresh taste of the pico, the slow, smoky heat of the salsa, and the smooth, creamy guacamole.  The composition of the dish reflected the kind of care that we've become accustomed to at Tesars; clearly these two young chefs are sweating the details.

Next up was a traditional American breakfast - eggs, breakfast meats, grits, potatoes and toast.  On paper, it sounded similar to the full American breakfast that you can get anywhere.  But what showed up pretty much sums up what's so special about Tesars:

The artfully composed plate included smoked ham, two different types of smoked link sausage, applewood smoked bacon, perfectly prepared eggs, chopped breakfast potatoes cooked with a melange of peppers, coarse-ground cheese grits, and grainy whole-wheat bread.  It was plenty of food for two people, and each component was considerably more interested than we dared expect.

It's as if the chefs at Tesars view every item on the plate as a composer views instruments in a symphony - they must stand alone and yet work together, playing off each other to create a piece that the audience will remember long after the performance.  We've enjoyed many American breakfasts, but we can't recall when we've devoured one where we were singularly impressed by each component on the plate.  We left very happy and very full, and can't wait to try the brunch here again.

Foodies will get together whenever there's something interesting to eat. But one group of foodies is getting together, and the reason is far more noble.

The reason? Helping in the fight against Multiple Sclerosis. In this case, to raise money, and ride across Texas in the 2010 MS 150.

These foodies (and chefs) got together and formed Team Liverstrong, sponsored by Anvil Bar & Refuge.
For those who don't know, the BP MS 150 is a two-day fundraising bike ride from Houston to Austin organized by the National MS Society. It's the largest non-profit event of its kind in North America with more than 13,000 registered cyclists, 3,000 volunteers, and countless supporters and spectators. In 2009, the ride raised $17 million for MS research and services for persons living with MS. This year, the ride is on April 17 – 18, 2010.

Who's on the team? A bunch of folks you may already know if you're active in the Houston food scene:

Sunny Bogden (@sunkneelion)
Melanie Campbell (@mctello)
Gus Tello (@gtello)
Matt Cuddihy (@mattcuddihy)
Jenn Molholt (@treelight)
Plinio Sandalio (@psandalio)
Erika Mandeville (@hungrysmalls)
Sheri Davidson (@sheridavidson)
Jonathan Platon (@bondbuddha)
Greg Lopp (@greglopp)
Sharon Stinson (@sharonmoves)
Kris Hayes (@krishayes)
Sara Proffitt (@sproffitt)
Renae Virata
Carlo Soli

The team has its own Twitter presence: @teamliverstrong

Want to support the team? Visit the team web site and make your donation. It's for a great cause.

Perhaps the best thing a foodie can do is to discover a new restaurant, and explore its menu. But how many can we sample each week? The short answer - fewer than we'd like.

The Houston Press has a solution - its Menu of Menus Extravaganza. This annual event (now going on its 8th year) showcases over thirty restaurants, and also features wine, beer, and liquor tastings.

Participating restaurants include Laurenzo’s, Fins Seafood, Sushi & Grill, Tinto’s Spanish Restaurant & Wine Bar, Italiano’s Restaurant, Textile, Kahn’s Deli, Ooh La La Dessert Bakery, Bodegas, Taco Shop, Rice Thai Kitchen, Ritter’s Frozen Custard, Harry’s Restaurant, Shipley Do-Nuts, Auntie Chang’s Dumpling House, Kaneyama Japanese, Tampico Seafood & Cocina Mexicana, Thai Bistro Restaurant, Lucky’s Pub, Cork Soakers, The Teahouse Tapioca & Tea, My Dee Dee’s Pie Shoppe & Deli, tasti D-Lite, Alamo Drafthouse Theater, Sushi King, Anothai Cuisine, Last Concert Café, Nelore Churrascaria, Danton’s Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen, Hearsay Gastro Lounge, Rudyard’s Pub, Two Saints Restaurant, Tila’s Restaurante & Bar, Georgia’s Farm to Market, Mumbai Spice, Dosey Doe Coffee House, Fruituzy, Fadi’s Mediterranean Grill, Simply Splendid, Kim Son, Blue Nile Ethiopian Cuisine and House of Blues.

As you'd expect, there will be entertainment. It turns out that it's one of our favorite local bands, Faye Robinson & The Mid City Players. We've seen 'em several times at Sammy's, and they put on a wonderful show, always to a packed house.

Where? West Ave, at 2920 Kirby.

The event is Tuesday, April 13th, 2010, from 7pm to 10pm for general admission guests. VIPs get in an hour earlier.

UPDATE: Presale tickets are no longer available. You've got to buy 'em at the door now. I hope our readers were able to get in on the great deals.

Get your tickets direct from the Houston Press. All proceeds benefit Discovery Green and The Center for Hearing and Speech.

HOT: H-Town Chow Down readers can receive a discount of $10 on general admission tickets by using the promo code friendsandfamily, or a $15 discount on VIP tickets (while they last) with promo code VIPCHEAP.

The event is sponsored by LikeMe.Net, Momentum Audi, Momentum Volkswagen, Georgia’s Farm to Market, West Ave, Flowers by Nino, Admiral Linen, Nauset Concepts and 104.1 KRBE.

See y'all there!

One of our ongoing quests is to find a good independent Italian restaurant in the Woodlands - a place that can be our "go to" spot when we're in the mood for something from Italy.

We heard rumors of a new authentic Italian place, but couldn't imagine where it could be.  Google Maps led us to the location, a nondescript strip center on I-45's northbound side, just north of Rayford/Sawdust.  We've passed this center a thousand times, and have never stopped in.

We turned in, and found Capri.  It's a small place, featuring pasta, pizza, "& more".  We entered, and were immediately taken by the charm of the small room.  A third of it is devoted to the open kitchen.  Not the artfully staged cooking theater found in some chains, but a real working kitchen out there in plain sight, a good sign of nothing to hide.  The rest of the room is nicely decorated with Italian art, and the overall feel is very homey - a thousand miles away from the slick corporate Italian spots that dominate the Woodlands.  The interior was fairly dark, which created a nice atmosphere; we certainly didn't feel like we were in a strip center.

We were seated, and the young waitress brought us menus.  A quick perusal revealed dishes that reflected a Tuscan slant to Italian cuisine, with a variety of pastas, meats, and vegetables.

The owner, Barbara Coglianese, appeared at our table, welcoming us.  When we showed interest in her restaurant and what she was doing, we got the whole story.  Barbara and her husband Maurizio moved to the States from Italy several years ago, and they opened this restaurant in January.  Maurizio travels in his business, and Barbara runs the place most of the time, with her family and a few dedicated staff members.  Barbara is a charming woman with a ready smile whose passion for cooking comes through when she talks about her food.  We put ourselves in her hands, and looked forward to what her kitchen would create.

My entree was pollo scaloppine with a light lemony sauce.  The chicken was pounded flat and very tender, and the sauce was smooth, slightly sweet and delightfully citrusy.  Served on the side was a wonderful zucchini dish; thinly sliced, delicately sauteed in olive oil, very simple but superb.

We also sampled gnocchi alfredo, with the small potato dumplings amidst a smooth, creamy, and lushly buttery alfredo sauce, dusted with some mild Parmesan cheese. The flavors melded very well, making for a satisfying dish.

The common theme through the dishes we sampled was a sense of handcrafted food, created with skill and pride.  None of the recipes were hugely elaborate, but the care that was taken shined through, and the result was outstanding.

Prices are very good - lunch entrees are under $10, and dinner is generally in the low teens.  Steaks are affordable (generally under $20) and kids meals are $4.

In the past, we have bemoaned the lack of a good independent Italian restaurant in the Woodlands.  We're very glad that Barbara and Maurizio have opened Capri, bringing authentic Italian food to an area served mainly by big chains.

Buon Appetito!

Capri Pasta Pizza & More
25602 IH-45 North
Suite 101
Spring, Texas 77386
(281) 298-0055


Capri on Urbanspoon

We received an interesting tip this week about a new place that had opened on Kuykendahl, a couple of miles south of the Woodlands.  Called South Street Dining, it's an ambitious new restaurant located in a strip center in Tomball.

We drove down yesterday for lunch, and almost missed the place.  From the outside, it's unremarkable, although there is a pleasant deck overlooking the parking lot.  But once you open the heavy wooden doors, you're in for a surprise.

Inside you'll find a gorgeous, upscale dining room, finished in woods and natural stone, decorated in soft hues of taupe and tan, elegantly lit and very inviting.  A slightly more casual bar area is to the left, with flat screens showing various sporting events.  It's a very inviting interior, and considerably more elaborate than we expected.

It was also cold.  We decided to lunch on the patio, enjoying the gorgeous Spring day in Texas.  We visited for a late lunch, and there were only a handful of patrons scattered throughout the establishment.

Iced tea appeared promptly, and our waiter offered to bring us some bread.  The bread service was simple but quite good, warmed french and herb bread, served with two flavored butters - honey cinnamon and chipotle.  The bread was very good, and the attention to detail boded well for the upcoming meal.

Now on to the entree.  We scanned the lunch menu, and noticed a variety of burgers, sandwiches, and some more ambitious beef, chicken, and fish entrees.  Our eyes locked on to the chicken-fried steak, offered with some interesting sides, including garlic mashed potatoes and fried corn fritters.  Very southern.  Having found one of our very favorite chicken-fried steaks at Tomball's Goodson's Cafe, we ordered.

After a brief wait, the dish appeared.  It was plated tall; the mashed potatoes served as an easel for the chicken-fried steak, and the dish was garnished with parsley and an odd, blue corn tortilla chip.  Artistic, but somewhat awkward.

We cut into the chicken-fried steak, and applied a bit of the brown gravy.  The steak was flavorful and not terribly overcooked, but the breading was a bit soft.  The housemade brown gravy had a lush bacon flavor and a rich fatty texture; it was miles ahead of the white gravy served with most CFS plates.  The size of the steak was good but not overwhelming; a nice choice for lunch, when taking leftovers is often not an option.  This wasn't the best CFS we've ever tasted (or even in the top ten) but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Less successful were the mashed potatoes.  They were whipped, smooth, creamy, but nearly flavorless.  We'd venture a guess that they came from a box; there was no sign of any skin or chunks of potato in the smooth presentation.

The corn fritters (also served with a garnish of corn chips) were a bit better; soft yet slightly gritty, with a gentle corn flavor coming through the fried surface.  We kept finding ourselves drawn back to them as the meal progressed.

All in all, we enjoyed our visit to South Street.  Clearly, the owners are planning something ambitious here.  The interior is beautiful, the service is friendly, and the food is generally good.  We don't think the kitchen currently lives up to the promise of the marketing or the decor, but we still found the experience to be quite enjoyable.

We'd recommend the spot for either a date or an outing with friends, and we plan to return in the future.

South Street Dining
24914 Kuykendahl Road
Tomball, TX 77375-3381
(281) 255-3141

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