Update: We sample Chef Simmons's new menu

One of this burger lover's saddest days of 2010 was the day that Tesar's Modern Steakhouse closed in the Woodlands.  Tesar's Magic burger had become the thing of local legend; to this day I've been searching for a burger that comes close to that remarkable creation.

But good things have followed for those involved with Tesar's.  Chef Jeromy Robison landed the exec spot at La Colombe d'Or's popular new CINQ restaurant, and has been on everyone's short list of talented young chefs.

The other member of the dynamic duo, Chef Austin Simmons, was recently promoted to Executive Chef at Hubbel & Hudson, the hot gourmet market and bistro in the Woodlands.  Austin and I talked burgers on numerous occasions at Tesar's, and I was excited to see how he'd influence the already excellent burgers at H & H.

So I was pleasantly surprised not only to learn of Chef Austin's promotion, but to be invited to sample some of his new dishes on the winter Hubbell & Hudson menu.  And I was hoping a burger would be one of the offerings.

After rolling out several new dishes (which will be written about soon) a burger appeared.

Wagyu Burger at Hubbell & Hudson

I smiled when I noticed that instead of one of H & H's excellent buns, Chef Austin had selected an English Muffin as the foundation for his burger.  The half-pound patty was hand-formed Wagyu beef, from an American breed of cattle that produces Kobe beef in Japan.  Instead of bacon, crispy prosciutto di Parma was artfully arranged.  Fresh arugula and a unique tomato remoulade were piled atop a sunny-side-up egg.  No ordinary condiments were to be found.  These prime ingredients do not result in a bargain burger - served with the excellent house cut double dip frites, the cost of the burger is $25, not an insubstantial sum.

(I hate to second-guess a chef, but I'm not an egg-on-a-burger guy.  When I mentioned this, the burger was whisked into the kitchen, and reemerged in short order without the egg.)

I bit into the burger, and it was a revelation.  Front and center was the lush, beefy flavor.  The wagyu had been expertly ground; so many times super premium beef doesn't stand up well to grinding, but in this case it had been handled expertly and cooked to a perfect medium rare.  The juicy ooze was in full force; this was a rare case where wagyu beef delivered fully on its promise.

The tang of the tomato chutney was a delicious counterpoint to the swaggeringly rich beefy flavor, and this is coming from someone who typically doesn't like tomatoes on a burger.  The smooth, almost sweet flavor of the cured prosciutto provided balance, and the subtle crunch added textural interest.

This could very well be the best burger I've ever tasted.

Chef Austin is still fine tuning the burger.  He's contemplating a version replacing the egg with one of Hubbell & Hudson's artisan cheeses.

I shudder to think about the difficulty in resisting the result.

Hubbell & Hudson Bistro | 24 Waterway Ave, Suite 125 | The Woodlands, Texas 77380
281-203-5641 | hubbellandhudson.com

Hubbell & Hudson Bistro on Urbanspoon

I just saw a very curious tweet from El Real Tex-Mex, the hot new Montrose-area restaurant:

@ElRealTexMex tweets:
"Come one, come all.  Montrosians eat half-priced with TDL @elrealtexmex for Montrose Mondays!"

While I applaud the idea of a great deal on a slow night, I'm more than a little put off by the exclusionary nature of the offer.  If you don't live in the right neighborhood, you don't get the deal.

To me, this smacks of the worst sort of price discrimination.  If you aren't fortunate enough to live in the right upscale neighborhood, you pay a higher price on Monday nights.

Folks who don't live in Montrose:  How do you feel about this sort of offer, where you're excluded because you live in the wrong zip code?

It's a nightmare scenario:

Family and friends gathered around the festive Thanksgiving table.  An assortment of dishes heaping with delicious side dishes.  The golden turkey appears atop its platter, steaming hot, filling the room with the rich aroma of Thanksgiving.
Then you get a cold chill up your spine as you are handed the carving tools, and asked to "Do the Honors".

It doesn't matter whether the meal was prepared at home, or whether you enlisted the help of a professional kitchen - once the bird is on your table, someone has to do the carving.

Fear not, loyal H-Town Chow Down fans.  We've brought you instructions on how to properly carve that ominous Thanksgiving turkey.  Special thanks to our friends at the Food Network who created this video.

Thanksgiving is this week, and I'll bet that many of our readers have yet to finalize their plans for the traditional holiday meal.  While we're fans of a home-cooked extravaganza, we realize that busy schedules often make this impossible.  Heck, out here in the Woodlands, football playoffs have resulted in practice on Thanksgiving Day, further complicating plans.

Our solution?  Let a pro take care of the food.  We've complied a list of Houston-area spots that are on call to take the fuss out of Thanksgiving dinner, delivering great results without breaking the bank.
Hubbell & Hudson's Ho-Ka Roasted Turkey Dinner
Hubbell & Hudson
First up is Hubbell & Hudson, the Woodlands' own epicurean market and bistro.  Under new executive chef Austin Simmons, Hubbel & Hudson is offering a full slate of Holiday offerings.  Chef Austin is particularly proud of the Ho-Ka House Roasted Turkey Dinner, featuring a free-range, all-natural brined turkey, madeira giblet gravy, housemade side dishes and one of the superb Hubbell & Hudson pies to top it off.  $199, feeds six to eight.  281-203-5600
HEB Central Market
Folks inside the loop might scoff at driving to the Woodlands, so we contacted HEB Central Market to peruse their offerings.  We were impressed by their Naturally Gluten-Free Turkey Dinner, featuring a free-range oven-roasted turkey, gluten-free gravy, rustic Italian gluten-free rolls, and traditional sides, all gluten free.  $140, feeds six to eight.  713-386-1700
Kenny & Ziggy's
A New York-style deli isn't an obvious choice for Thanksgiving, but Ziggy Gruber's crew has put together a nice lineup of traditional and unexpected dishes that will make your meal memorable.  Their 20 lb whole roasted turkey, chestnut stuffing, and homemade gravy is the traditionalist's choice, but we suggest moving outside the expected with the superb glazed corn beef.  $ Prices vary.  713-871-8883

As the Woodlands has grown, we've seen explosive growth in the local restaurant market.  Newcomers open every month, anxious to tap into the thriving economy by feeding hungry residents.  Some succeed. Some fail.  But all help the dining scene change and evolve into something more interesting.

Once thing we've bemoaned repeatedly is the lack of good BBQ in the Woodlands.  While there are a smattering of BBQ joints, we've yet to run across a place that serves the kind of 'Q that we crave.  Heck, most of the time when we're in the mood for BBQ, we hike down I-45 to Louetta and give Rudy's, the San Antonio import, our business.

So we were excited to hear from one of our Twitter followers about a new BBQ place opening up off Sawdust road.  Called Corkscrew BBQ, it is an oversized BBQ truck/trailer semi-permanently located on Budde road, half a block south of Sawdust.  Painted black with a bright pink roof, you won't miss the trailer when you drive down Budde Road, perhaps on the way to an Orwall little league game.

The Corkscrew BBQ Truck

Corkscrew BBQ is new to the Woodlands, but the people behind it are not new to BBQ.  Will and Nichole Buckman are the owners, and they have operated a successful catering business on the north side for years.  Corkscrew BBQ is the result of their desire to serve a bigger market on a daily basis, applying their hard-won expertise in the catering field.

So how is the BBQ?  As every real Texan knows, BBQ is all about slow-cooking meat with plenty of honest-to-Robb wood smoke.  Corkscrew's wood of choice is oak, and they use plenty of it.

Native Texas Oak is the source of fire and smoke in Corkscrew BBQ's pit

Unlike many urban BBQ places, Corkscrew's pit runs exclusively on wood - there's no gas involved at all.  Oak was selected because it's a fairly hot-burning wood, and Will Buckman prefers not to overpower the flavor of the meat with the flavor of smoke, and a hotter fire shifts the balance in favor of the meat flavor.

The pit itself is a good-sized rotary shelf unit, with individual meats wrapped in foil to retain their juices.

The pit at Corkscrew BBQ

Corkscrew smokes the traditional brisket, ribs and sausage, and also plans to go beyond the standards with occasional daily specials.  On our first visit, we were in a bit of a hurry, and sampled only the chopped beef sandwich.

Chopped Beef at Corkscrew BBQ

Chopped beef can tell you a lot about the philosophy of a BBQ joint.  Some places use the least desirable scraps, hiding the poor quality behind too much strong sauce.  Corkscrew's approach is one we prefer: Freshly chopped brisket, mixed with just enough sauce, topped with veggies.  Crunchy sliced onions and pickles (and jalapeƱos, if you'd like) complete the sandwich, and we liked the not-overly-sweet tang of the housemade sauce.

We returned two days later, and talked with Will Buckman about how their first weekend went.  They were very busy - apparently we weren't the only ones in the Woodlands who were hungry for a new BBQ spot.  Will insisted that we try his brisket, and hauled out a slab.

Brisket at Corkscrew BBQ

The brisket had a beautiful dark bark, and the grit of the house rub was plainly visible.  A cut revealed a quarter-inch smoke ring in a nice, dark pink.

He sliced off a sample (an outside cut from the fatty end) and we dug in.  The smoky flavor was subtle, but certainly present.  We've had BBQ where the smoke totally overpowered the flavor of the beef, but that wasn't a problem at Corkscrew.  The 'Q was slightly drier than we prefer, but a dash of the tangy housemade sauce addressed that problem, and added a nice bite to the flavor.

Brisket at Corkscrew BBQ

Bottom line:  Corkscrew's brisket is easily among the best to be had in the Woodlands.

Will had an enigmatic smile on his face, and handed me a small container.  "It's our cobbler.  Today's is apple."  Never being one to insult a man with a hot pit and sharp knives, I opened the container and sampled the warm cobbler.

Apple Cobbler at Corkscrew BBQ

Corkscrew's cobbler is superb.  A soft, flaky, buttery crust balanced with the zest of the spicy apples, sweet but not cloyingly so.  We're anxious to return and sample the other cobblers, including peach and seasonal berries.

The Woodlands has been in need of a serious BBQ joint ever since I've moved here, and Corkscrew BBQ is already filling that void.  Between the tasty brisket and superb cobbler, we'll be back, and often.  If you love BBQ, you will, too.

Corkscrew BBQ | Budde Road just south of Sawdust | The Woodlands, TX 77380
832-592-1184 | www.CorkscrewBBQ.com | Twitter: @CorkscrewBBQ

Corkscrew BBQ on Urbanspoon

Recently, Marco Torres, a photographer for the Houston Press, announced that he was going to attempt to go a month without eating Mexican food.  We'd rather not even think about this, because Houston is home to some of the country's best Mexican food, and it makes up a regular part of our diet.  Folks in other parts of the nation aren't so lucky, having to make do with the offerings of national chains such as Taco Bell.

We'd been hearing good things about Texas Tamale Company, a Houston-based group that will make and send fresh tamales straight to your door, so we were excited when we were contacted by representatives of the company who generously dropped off a cooler full of their offerings for us to sample.  Is this the Mexican food solution for folks stuck far from Texas?  We were looking forward to finding out.
Our care package arrived before lunchtime, so the first order of business was to sample the breakfast tacos that they had included in our sampler.
Breakfast Tacos from Texas Tamale Co.
Included were a variety of tacos: Egg and potato, egg and chorizo, egg and ham, and our favorite, the egg and bacon.  The generous portion of scrambled egg and smoky thick cut bacon chunks was cradled on a fluffy, slightly chewy homemade tortilla - a tortilla we really like.  We enjoyed the breakfast tacos, and within a few minutes all that remained were the foil wrappers in which they arrived.
Later it was time to sample the tamales.  We heated up samples of their beef, chicken and the unusual spinach tamales, and plated them with the refried beans and spanish rice that TTC had included in our care package.
Tamales from Texas Tamale Co.
We started with the chicken tamale, which was very mild.  The chicken flavor was present, but unfortunately so were a few quarter-sized chicken bones.  Even without the bones these were our least-favorite tamales.
Next up were the beef tamales.  The fat content of the beef created a rich, smooth texture, offsetting the coarseness of the masa, and generating the characteristic sheen seen on fresh tamales when you remove them from the husks.  These tamales had a bit more bite, but it was more savory and spicy as opposed to any actual heat.  Those who wish a more caliente experience could certainly add some salsa or hot sauce, but we found these tamales to be very good.
Our favorites were a big surprise.  We'd never heard of spinach tamales before, but when we bit into one we were hooked.  Dense, herbal notes that really didn't scream spinach was our first take, and the counterpoint of this rich flavor and a light texture made this a delightful change from an ordinary tamale.  We'd order these again in a heartbeat.
According to the company, all these tamales are gluten-free.
Texas Tamale Company also offers their own special beef and pork sausage, chili, queso, and a variety of salsas, jellies, and mixers that can be delivered right alongside their homemade tamales.  This would make a great holiday gift for anyone unfortunate enough to be away from Texas for the holidays.
For those in Houston, "The Mexican Deli" is on Fountainview near the Galleria, serving tamales, fajitas, tacos, and a variety of other Mexican favorites.  Stop by for lunch, and you can take gift packs home with you.
Texas Tamale Company | 3340 Fountainview | Houston Texas 77057 | 800-T-TAMALE
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