You know that great book you've got on the shelf that you've been meaning to read? Or that film in your Netflix queue that you've meant to watch for months, but you keep putting off? If you write a food blog, the same thing happens with restaurants. I've got several that I've been meaning to try, but a variety of excuses keeps popping up. "I'm on the wrong side of town." "My bride won't like it." "James Beard Award nominee Katharine Shilcutt just reviewed it, and I'll never get a table."
|Here's what I've been avoiding. Yes, I'm an idiot.|
|Be still, my beating heart.|
|But wait... there's more.|
|Direct from the fryer's duck fat to you|
|Superlative ingredients prepared by an expert chef|
In short, Mazzu is a grandmaster of the grill; here is a brief video of him seasoning and starting a phalanx of burgers.
He makes it look so easy. I would no doubt be on the receiving end of third-degree burns if I tried this at home.
Others in our group sampled a variety of burgers, and were patient enough to indulge me and let me photograph them as they came out:
Today, the James Beard Foundation announced the nominations for the 2011 awards, and Houston was well represented.
Bryan Caswell has been nominated for Best Chef: Southwest. Caswell is executive chef and an owner of Reef, and is an owner of Little Bigs, Stella Sola, and El Real Tex Mex. Caswell also appeared on the Next Iron Chef.
Katharine Shilcutt, has been nominated for best Multimedia Food Feature, for her story Designer Meats. Shilcutt is the food critic for the Houston Press.
Robb Walsh has been nominated for best Food Culture / Travel for his story in Garden & Gun. Walsh was the long-time food critic for the Houston Press and is a noted author and an owner of El Real Tex Mex.
Congratulations to Bryan, Katharine, Robb, and all the other nominees!
March means many things - the return of spring, NCAA basketball, and spring break. We were itching to get out of Houston, and wanted to explore a new part of the country, so we decided it was time for a road trip.
As Texans, we've done road trips all over the state, so we decided on a new destination: Tennessee. Far enough away to be different than what you'd see in Texas, but close enough so that we could complete the journey in a week. So we did some reasearch, plotted our course, packed up and headed to the Volunteer state.
Our journey out of Texas was taken down US 59 toward Texarkana. Since we were leaving Texas, we decided to grab Tex-Mex as our last meal in the Lone Star State, and ended up consuming some forgettable enchiladas in a forgettable small town along the route.
Before long we were in the great state of Arkansas, heading east on I-30. My memory of Arkansas was that there is nothing interesting to see along the entire stretch of I-30. And that's a shame, because for many driving through the state, that's all they'll see. We passed through Little Rock and merged with I-40, and took that highway into our first destination: Memphis.
Memphis is perhaps the prototypical southern city. Known for the blues, Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King,, Jr. Sun Records, and Beale Street, Memphis has a rich history and a strong tradition of friendly southern hospitality.
Memphis is a town that's on the short list for BBQ lovers, so we knew we'd have to try the city's specialty: Pork ribs. But our research also revealed that Memphis is known for two other comfort foods: Burgers and fried chicken. So we planned to investigate each of these offerings, with the goal of learning how Memphis compared to Houston for these three Southern favorites. Knowing that schedules can be fluid for some hole-in-the-wall restaurants, we targeted a couple of recommendations from locals in Memphis for the best places to visit to sample these dishes.
First up is fried chicken, and one place kept being mentioned: Gus's Fried Chicken. This humble spot downtown near the Mississippi River is beloved by locals and visiting foodies alike, so we decided that dinner there was a must.
Gus's was within a mile of our downtown hotel, and on-street parking was available about a block away. We parked in the slightly sketchy neighborhood, and walked up to this Memphis landmark.
Upon entering Gus's, we made our way past the clot of people waiting for their tables; the line was almost but not quite out the door. The friendly counterman put our name on the list, and we ended up waiting about 30 minutes for a table. Gus's is a slightly dingy but homey chicken joint filled with everyone from families to couples to business types, and apparently they were all in the mood for fried chicken. The juke box played a good selection of Memphis blues, making us feel at home and setting the stage for our meal.
Once we were seated, we placed our order and waited for another 20 minutes or so. Gus's is clearly not a place for folks who are in a hurry. Locals were split on the merits of white meat vs dark meat at Gus's, so we ordered a piece of each, along with seasoned fries and dirty rice.
After a brief wait, our chicken arrived, and it was time to dig in. The crust was golden brown and very smooth, and was fairly thick - no one would confuse this for fast-food chicken. Fried to a golden brown, locals assured us that this was chicken that we would remember.
Our first bite of the breast was a revelation.
The crust was indeed thick and crunchy, and nicely seasoned with just enough heat to keep this Texan's attention. The chicken within was perfectly cooked and remarkably juicy; I can't remember ever experiencing fried chicken that was this moist. The spicy seasoning permeated the chicken, and I happily gobbled down every bite.
Next up was the drumstick, also coated with a nice, thick crust. Biting into it was a slight letdown after the stellar breast; it too was juicy, but almost too juicy as the natural oil of the dark meat was present in copious quantities.
Sides were excellent. The dirty rice was moderately spicy and had a delicious, earthy flavor. The fries were frozen but well cooked, with a crispy snap, good fluffy potato flavor, and lightly seasoned.
Gus's World Famous Fried chicken lives up to its reputation. I've eaten some good fried chicken in Houston, but none measured up to Gus's stellar chicken breast. So if you're craving the best friend chicken, it's time to drive Outside the Loop and head to Memphis.
Score: Memphis 1, Houston 0
Next up: Burgers
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken - 310 S. Front Street - Memphis, TN 38103 - 901-527-4877
The latest Cirque du Soleil touring show opens today under the Grand Chapiteau at Sam Houston Race Park, and it promises to provide a memorable evening. We were invited by Cirque du Soleil for a media preview / dress rehearsal last night, and enjoyed a spectacular performance.
This 25th Cirque du Soleil production is titled OVO, it is a journey into the world of insects, a headlong rush into a thriving, colorful ecosystem populated by some very unique characters. The show was written, directed and choreographed by Deborah Colker.
If it's your first time at a Cirque du Soleil performance, you must forget everything you know about a circus. There are no animals -- although in OVO, there are no human characters, either. (Everyone is a bug, in uniquely colorful costumes designed by Liz Vandal.) There is ethereal original music, performed live. There is very little talk. There are no clowns, although several of the characters are very funny. While most circuses feel distinctly American, OVO is presented with an unmistakable French accent. Cirque du Soleil is unique entertainment, an amazing spectacle that grabs you at the start and doesn't let go until the curtain call.
OVO is, in short, the story of a bug and his egg. Along the way you'll experience beauty, love, loss, and endless feats of physical grace and acrobatics. The performers in OVO are talented acrobats and graceful dancers, and you will find yourself lost in this fantasy world of color, light and sound.
We were repeatedly taken by the overwhelming sense of artistry in the performances. There have been many shows with acrobatics and stunts, but none combine the level of artistic excellence that pervades Cirque du Soleil's DNA. It's similar to the feeling when you walk into Walt Disney World after growing up on Six Flags. The attention to detail is stunning.
As the story unfolds, you'll see contortion, balance, dexterity, strength, and bravery demonstrated in ways that you've probably never even thought of, much less seen. You'll laugh at the romantic antics of a paternal bug and his adorable love interest. You'll see acts on stage, flying high above, clinging to walls, and scurrying over all sorts of unique apparatus.
OVO is the seventh Cirque du Soleil show I've experienced, and it's one of the most engaging. The Grand Chapiteau is a surprisingly intimate setting, with flowing, organic sets designed by Gringo Cardia. No seat is too far from the stage. The music is often more techno than new age, providing an energetic atmosphere for the throbbing ecosystem performing before your eyes. As always the performers will thrill you with their superhuman talents, but OVO feels more intimate. Its small moments are just as captivating as its big stunts.
If you've seen a Cirque du Soleil show, you'll love OVO. And if you've never seen one, prepare to be hooked.
I have only one warning: Don't try this at home.
Flat Out Crazy Restaurant Group has leased 5,821 square feet at 25 Waterway Avenue, located on the southwest corner of Lake Robbins Drive and Waterway Avenue, for Stir Crazy Fresh Asian Grill, according to Dan Leverett, vice president of commercial for The Woodlands Development Company. This will be the first Stir Crazy Fresh Asian Grill in Texas. It is expected to open in May.
Stir Crazy is a full-service Asian restaurant that offers a diverse menu of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese food. The Asian fare is served in a fun, vibrant atmosphere with a focus on fresh, quality ingredients and bold flavors to deliver a truly unique casual dining experience for its guests. Prepared from scratch with no added MSG and minimal oil, Stir Crazy’s menu features more than 65 “mouth-watering” appetizers, entrees, desserts and its popular Market Bar, where diners can create their own Stir Crazy wok-tossed dish from more than 20 fresh ingredients and eight sauces.
A Stir Crazy highlight is the full-service bar featuring an extensive drink menu with a list of 35 quality and award-winning wines available by the glass or bottle. Beer, sake and several signature drinks are also available.
The restaurant will also include a large, outdoor patio.
"We are truly delighted that Stir Crazy Fresh Asian Grill will have its first new location in 2011 built at Waterway Square in The Woodlands, Texas," said Greg Carey, president and COO of Flat Out Crazy Restaurant Group. "The entire community of The Woodlands has such a beautiful, upbeat, yet relaxed feel to it that we couldn't think of a more perfect place to open our first Texas restaurant. Stir Crazy is about fresh, quality, upscale casual dining and we think the residents of The Woodlands will agree that Stir Crazy is a great fit."
Flat Out Crazy operates 30 restaurants in eight states – Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, New York, Missouri and Wisconsin - consisting of 14 Stir Crazy locations and 16 FlatTop Grill locations. For more information, visit www.stircrazy.com.
|Funnel Cake is the most popular food at the rodeo.|
Best Breakfast Food:
1st: Stubby’s Cinnamon Rolls’ Big Stone Breakfast Sandwich
2nd: Yoakum Packing Company’s Bacon Blast
3rd: Texas Sized Pizza by the Slice’s grilled breakfast burrito
1st Freebirds World Burrito’s carnitas burrito
2nd Tad’s Bodacious Burrito’s garlic chicken burrito
3rd Texas Pride Grill’s fajita taco
1st Berryhill Baja Grill’s crispy shrimp taco
2nd Sudie’s Catfish House’s duo of fried shrimp and oysters
Best Baked Potato:
1st: Harlon’s Bar-B-Que’s super baked potato
2nd: Ranch House Pork Barn’s pulled pork super potato
3rd: Crown Cinnamon Rolls’ Just-Do-It Baked Potato
1st: Holmes Smokehouse’s angus, bacon, cheese mushroom burger
2nd: Paradise Burger’s ½ lb bacon cheeseburger
3rd: Texas Sized Pizza by the Slice’s cheesy burger bites
Best Food on a Stick:
1st: Granny’s Cheesecake & More’s chocolate covered bananas and strawberries
2nd: Ranch House Burger Barn’s jalapeno & cheese sausage on a stick
3rd: Burton Sausage’s Rodeo K-bob
1st: Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ’s pork spare ribs (RCS Carnival Midway)
2nd: Ranch House Pork Barn’s pulled pork bbq sandwich
3rd: Ranch House Burger Barn’s bar-b-que pork ribs
Best Fried Food:
1st: Sweet Cheeks’ deep fried moon pie (RCS Carnival Midway)
2nd: Bear Mountain Bison’s Buffalo chips with The Works
3rd: Texas Sized Pizza by the Slice’s Tornado Potato Fries smothered and covered
1st: Granny’s Cheesecake & More’s chocolate dipped cheesecake
2nd: Sill’s Funnel Cake Hause’s funnel cake
3rd: Saltgrass Steakhouse’s ribs and chicken platter
1st: Sills Funnel Cake Hause’s fried Snickers
2nd: Texas Sized Pizza by the Slice’s Juicy Lucy Cheeseburger
3rd: Bum’s Blue Ribbon Grill’s pulled pork sundae
1st: Sills Funnel Cake Hause’s banana split funnel cake
2nd: Stubby’s Cinnamon Rolls’ cinnamon roll with “The Works”
3rd: Cobbler Café’s pecan cobbler with soft serve vanilla ice cream
Best New Flavor:
1st: Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Grub chicken, sausage and shrimp jambalaya
2nd: Crown Cinnamon Rolls’ Lava Flow Smoothie
3rd: Paradise Burger’s fried brownie bites
1st: DGZ Chocolates & Fudge’s Toffarazzi (toffee)
2nd: The Caramel Candy Co.’s pecan caramel
3rd: Kettle Korn of Texas’s ribeye sandwich
If you've been following this blog, you might have noticed that I have a thing for cheeseburgers. I travel far and wide trying to find the best burgers around, trying to visit all the new or undiscovered spots that could be hiding the next great burger.
But a Houston burger lover has to keep his scale calibrated. For a long time, discussion of the best burger in Houston revolved around two places: Lankford Grocery, and the subject of today's post, Christian's Totem. (They've since opened a second location and rebranded themselves as Christian's Tailgate, but I use the older name to refer to the original I-10 location.)
After a 15-minute wait, I was still sans-burger, so I walked up to the counter to see how much longer it would be. "Five more minutes" I was told, and my burger appeared shortly thereafter.
The burger featured a slightly thickish hand-formed patty, griddled and topped with melting American cheese, just how I remembered it. But closer inspection revealed that it was missing was Christian's near-perfect ooze, an ominous sign. The patty was only slightly moist, and the cheese was only slightly melty.
Biting into the burger was a bit disappointment
The beef's flavor was completely unremarkable; the bold rich beefy flavor that's a hallmark of the best burgers was absent. The beef had been cooked more than a bit too enthusiastically; it was uniformly grey all the way through. And the half-melted cheese congealed quickly, and had an unremarkable flavor and texture. The generic bun, which had been griddled to a golden brown on my last visit, was only slightly warmed, and rather mushy.
Saving graces were the nicely fresh vegetables; the snap of the lettuce demonstrated just how fresh it was. But that wasn't enough to save this iconic burger.
If I had been served this burger at Whataburger, I'd have been pleasantly surprised. But this was Christian's, named by many (myself included) among the best burgers in Houston.
This burger simply didn't measure up. It is with great sadness that I remove Christian's from the list of Houston's Best Burgers.
Five years ago, Christian's served the benchmark Houston burger. But the current version was a mere shadow of what had been. At the same time, upstarts like Hubcap Grill, Beaver's Icehouse, and Samba Grille have advanced the burger game considerably. Heck, even the out-of-town SmashBurger chain now has a superior product.
The best burger in Houston is a moving target, and sadly Christian's is moving in the wrong direction. This is the second legendary Houston burger joint that disappointed me, and I hope this trend reverses very soon.