Back when I lived in Austin, I dined frequently with my good friend Bruce, a talented amateur chef who was very knowledgable about the restaurant industry. He had one rule he always recommended when dining: Order what the restaurant is known for.
It's a rule that has served me well throughout the years. But sometimes, it's a rule that begs to be broken.
Recently, I was contacted by RC Gallegos, owner of RC's Pizza. RC is a native Texan who moved to Brooklyn and spent a decade there learning the pizza business, and who brought his knowledge and experience back to the Lone Star state. What I heard from him was not what I was expecting.
"I've got a new Italian beef sandwich. You need to come try it."
RC's is one of my favorite pizza places, and serves a very credible NYC-style pizza; perhaps the most authentic in the entire Houston area. But Italian beef is a Chicago thing. What does a guy specializing in New York pizza know about Italian beef?
It was time to find out. It was a cool, sunny fall day in Texas, so the brief drive was a pleasant one. Entering RC's, we grabbed a table, and noticed a good lunch crowd chowing down on his excellent pizzas. It's tough to come into RC's and not order a pizza, but we did it this once. "RC is expecting us" we told the staff member, who whisked back into the kitchen.
In a few minutes the Italian Beef sandwich arrived. Whoa... this is a big sandwich, with lots of beef (probably half a pound), smothered in provolone and bell peppers (an unusual choice). The de rigueur giardinara was served in a small container on the side.
|Italian Beef at RC's Pizza
Biting into the sandwich, our initial concern that RC had gone a bit crazy with the peppers was put aside; the flavors melded perfectly. The slightly sharp bite of the peppers offset the creaminess of the high quality provolone, and the thick slices of beef were perfectly tender and richly flavorful. The bread was chewy without becoming too much work, and had a toasty crunch. The chunks of veggies in the giardinara didn't want to stay put in the sandwich, so they became a tasty, tangy side; we dribbled a bit of the juice on the sandwich, adding another layer of complexity to the flavor.
All in all, the sandwich was a success. We suggested to RC that he chop the veggies, and he agreed. This is a sandwich I will be ordering again. Soon.
But RC had one more surprise up his sleeve.
"Have you tried my calamari?"
Over the years, we've had a lot of fried calamari at Italian restaurants, and it ranges from rubbery and forgettable to very good. RC won't serve food that doesn't impress him personally, so we were game to check it out. What appeared was nothing like what we were anticipating.
|Fried Calamari at RC's Pizza
To say that this isn't traditional fried calamari is an understatement. Instead of the traditional breaded rings, we were served strips sliced from a calamari steak, hand-breaded and lightly fried. The batter was light and the texture of the meat was perfect - nowhere near rubbery, and evoking the flavor of the sea.
The sauce was another surprise. RC has a very good house marinara, but he's paired his calamari with a Thai-style sweet chili sauce he makes; the combination of gentle heat and controlled sweetness contrasts beautifully with the slightly briny flavor of the fried calamari.
While we certainly wouldn't recommend that you ignore the excellent New York-style pizza, the surprisingly good Italian beef and the very clever fried calamari cement RC's reputation as being considerably more than a place to order great pizza.
RC's NYC Pizza & Pasta | 501 Sawdust Road | The Woodlands, 77380 | 281-298-4663 | rcsnycpizza.com
It's frustrating to wait in line at our favorite BBQ spots, only to find out that they're run out of the meat you're craving. This happens to most BBQ lovers at some point, and many ask themselves the obvious question:
"Hey, BBQ guy! Why don't you just cook more BBQ when you run out?"
There's a very good reason.
BBQ takes hours to cook. Unlike just about every other food served in restaurants, there's simply no way to cook to order.
So pit masters at top pits prepare as much as they think they can sell, while keeping in mind the individual attention that each brisket requires. To execute at a high quality, a pit master can only manage so many briskets, no matter how much capacity his physical smoker can handle.
Lots of average BBQ places cook in larger quantities. The briskets don't get individual attention, and thus the quality varies from brisket to brisket. If the 'Q doesn't sell, it goes in the cooler, and gets reheated the next day. Again, quality suffers.
Rudy's is a great example. They produce very good commercial BBQ, but it's not consistent. Sometimes it's moist and juicy. Sometimes it's dry. Tenderness varies, too.
The best pit masters would never risk this. Franklin, La Barbecue, Killen's, Corkscrew, Pecan Lodge, Snow's and BBQ Godfather are examples. They cook the quantity of BBQ they can cook without sacrificing quality and based on anticipated demand, and when it's gone, it's gone. BBQ aficionados understand this. BBQ isn't like other dishes; it takes hours to smoke, so you can't just whip up more when you run out. Holding it until tomorrow kills quality, so if they smoke too much, it gets thrown out.
Pros like Will Buckman of Corkscrew BBQ even stage their briskets, so a certain number are ready at 11, more at 1pm, etc. This way the Q you get hasn't been sitting half a day in a warmer, drying out and losing flavor. It's also sliced right as you order it, again to maximize quality.
If you're less picky, places like Rudy's can provide tasty BBQ right up until closing. But if you crave world class BBQ, you've got to understand the realities of the business. They're not in a position to change how they create the BBQ; it's your choice whether or not you think the potential inconvenience is worth it or not.
I can't decide for you. While you're thinking, I'll be in line at Corkscrew BBQ.