Houston is a city that's obsessed with the latest and greatest. Along those lines, it's the newest restaurants are the ones that get almost all of the press.

We believe that one of the greatest accomplishments a restaurant can have is longevity. Keeping customers happy is hard work, and doing so for a decade is a significant achievement. Pappasito's has done this, and done it thrice. They're now celebrating 30 years in business, a milestone we think shouldn't be ignored.

“This is a big milestone for Pappasito’s, and we couldn’t have done it without the support of our loyal guests,” said Harris Pappas, co-owner and co-founder, Pappas Restaurants, Inc. “We want to thank Houstonians for their support and invite them to join our family for 30 days of celebration.”

The original Pappasito's opened on Richmond near Hillcroft back in 1983. Since then, the operation has brought its brand of high quality Tex-Mex cuisine to 13 Greater Houston area locations, with 8 others in DFW, Austin, San Antonio, and Atlanta.

In honor of this milestone, the restaurant is offering some awesome weekly specials:

Oct 1-5: Half price beef and chicken fajitas. All day, large size only.
Oct 7-11: Half price happy hour appetizers with beverage purchase. 3p-6:30p in the bar.
Oct 13-19: Half price lunch beef & chicken fajitas. Medium size only, 11am-4pm.
Oct 20-26: eClub free appetizer with Pappasito's Pass (with entree purchase, exclusions and terms apply)
Oct 27-30: Half price beef and chicken fajitas. All day, large size only.

We're big fans of Pappasito's fajitas. We're even bigger fans when they're half price.

During the 30-day celebration, customers of legal drinking age can also enjoy an anniversary drink, the Pappasito’s Reserva Margarita made with Corazon Reposado barrel-aged tequila, which has been hand-selected especially for Pappasito’s Cantina, Grand Marnier, organic agave nectar, and fresh lemon and lime juices shaken tableside and served on the rocks. Guests who order the special drink will receive a complimentary 30th anniversary commemorative glass, while supplies last.

They're also preparing a special dessert, Chocolate Tres Leches, a rich chocolate cake soaked in three milks with dark chocolate, Kahlua, and a hint of cinnamon, toasted meringue and shaved chocolate.

For more information, check their website or Facebook page.

UPDATE: Chef Stone has left Vallone's to pursue other opportunities.

Vallone's, the hot new steakhouse project from the team behind Tony's, has named Jay Stone as its Chef de Cuisine.  Vallone's is a collaboration helmed by Tony's executive chef Grant Gordon and Tony's GM Scott Sulma. Tony Vallone, Houston's legendary restaurateur, is rumored to be consulting on the project as well.

(Tony Vallone has a storied history of discovering and nurturing great culinary talent, including top Houston chefs Mark Cox [owner and executive chef of Mark's], Marco Wiles [owner and executive chef of Da Marco] and Olivier Ciesielski [owner and executive chef of L'Olivier], who all perfected their craft under Tony's watchful eye.)

Chef Jay Stone

Chef Stone was formerly executive chef at Spectrum Catering, and was the driving force behind the Wicked Whisk food truck, cited by Houston Mayor Annise Parker as her favorite food truck.

(He also collaborated with Corkscrew BBQ's pitmaster Will Buckman on the groundbreaking Wicked Corkscrew pop-up experimental dinner, the first to combine the techniques and recipes of a classically trained chef with the award-winning meats of one of Texas's top BBQ joints.)

We've been big fans of Jay's innovative cooking since we first got to sample it, and are looking forward to seeing what he'll produce in collaboration with the consummate culinary professionals of the Vallone organization.

Having Jay Stone and Grant Gordon collaborate in the kitchen reminds me of the friendship (and rivalry) between the two great 20th century artists Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The collaboration and creative tension that can result from having this much culinary talent under one roof promises to make Vallone's one of the city's most exciting kitchens.

We're fans of Black Walnut Cafe, the fast casual restaurant that started in the Woodands and has spread across the Houston area (and is soon coming to Austin and Dallas). One thing we love is the large, eclectic menu - it's a place we're not hesitant to visit with people whose food preferences we don't know.

And the menu is ever-changing. For the next few weeks, Black Walnut will be testing a few new items each week, and soliciting feedback from patrons who try them via a secret website, revealed only to those who try the dishes. We love the idea of getting direct feedback from customers, and what makes it even cooler is that one lucky customer will get the chance to name one of the dishes on the menu! (There's also a $100 gift card involved, which is certainly a good thing.)

We were excited about the opportunity to provide feedback about which items would make the next menu, so we accepted the generous offer to come sample this week's selections.

First up were the pork tacos. They're served street taco style on a sheet of aluminum foil. Of course, being a nice place like the Black Walnut, the foil was on a plate.

A generous portion of pork carnitas was served on warm corn tortillas, topped with shredded lettuce, fresh avocado slices, a bit of red bell pepper, and a mild peppery sauce. Biting into the first one, we enjoyed the smooth, mild flavors. The slight smokiness of the pork carnitas was accented by the creamy avocado and the mild heat from the sauce and peppers. Adding a zing of citrus from the provided lime slice brightened things up.
Next up was the turkey burger. I hear the assembled readers asking "Turkey burger?!?! Have you gone mad?" But I'm willing to sample even slightly disturbing things for science. And for our readers. The turkey burger is served open-faced with a side of Black Walnut's tasty sweet potato fries.

The patty is hand formed from high quality ground turkey, pressed fairly thin, griddled with a nice caramel-colored sear, then topped with swiss cheese and veggies. Biting into this burger was a big surprise... I LIKED IT. The expertly seared turkey patty had a nice savory flavor - the seasonings used were spot on. It didn't taste like a beef hamburger, but it was a very good sandwich that I would gladly order again. And I've never said that about a turkey burger before in my life. Kudos to the chefs at Black Walnut Cafe for doing the impossible.

Last up was an item that I saw, but didn't sample. It's an Eggs Benedict burger.

An English muffin is stacked with a hand-formed griddled beef burger patty, then layered with a poached egg, bacon, and hollandaise sauce. Not being a fan of poached eggs I decided to pass on this one, but it looked well constructed and the hollandaise sauce smelled very good.
We applaud Black Walnut Cafe for this decidedly social approach to vetting new menu items, and we look forward to seeing which of these dishes makes it onto the new menu. (Our vote is for the amazingly good turkey burger, and if it ends up being named the "You Won't Believe It's Turkey Burger" you'll know we won the contest.)
These dishes are available for tasting for a limited time, but will be replaced with other new tasting options each week. We plan to work our way through each week's offerings, and would love to hear from our readers as they sample these brand new creations.
Black Walnut Cafe | Several Locations
As fans of Texas-based breweries, we'd like to let everyone know about an event that will appeal to beer connoisseurs and casual beer drinkers alike.  It's the Battle of Texas Beers, a great chance to sample a variety of craft beers brewed in the Lone Star State. It's a two-day event, starting with a preview on Friday and finishing up with the voting on Saturday.
Both events are complimentary. You must be 21 years of age or older to sample beers.

Preview Event
Friday, July 5 - 6pm to 9pm
Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen
2526 Research Forest Dr, The Woodlands
Big Battle - Voting for Texas Beer Drinker's Choice Awards

Saturday, July 6 - Noon to 3pm
Hubbell & Hudson Market
24 Waterway Ave, The Woodlands
Everyone who votes will be eligible to win a variety of prizes, including a special hands-on cooking class featuring local brews to be held at Hubbell & Hudson Viking Cooking School.
If you're going, you can RSVP on Facebook. We'll see you there, and may the best beer win!

It's no secret that we're fans of Hubbell & Hudson, the gourmet grocer, restaurant, and cooking school located in the Woodlands Waterway district. Whether we're searching for gourmet ingredients for a special dish or a great meal prepared by the Woodlands best chef, Hubbell & Hudson is our go-to destination for all things foodie.

We've enjoyed each menu that Executive Chef Austin Simmons has rolled out in the upscale Bistro, but we'd heard rumors of more humble changes that piqued our interest. The Sandwich Bar, located in the Market, has been undergoing changes, and we were anxious to check out the results.

Sous Chef Fiorella Casteel and a member of her kitchen staff

The changes start at the helm, with Sous Chef Fiorella Casteel serving as Chef Simmon's field marshall at the Sandwich Bar. Chef Casteel brings a wealth of east-coast kitchen experience to the Woodlands, and appointing a sous chef to head up this casual spot shows how serious Hubbell & Hudson is about the quality of their sandwich (and burger) offerings.

The chefs have rolled out a slate of new dishes, and at a recent tasting we sampled several of the new hot signature sandwiches.

We started with the Prime Rib sandwich. Thickly sliced, medium-rare Angus prime rib is used, and it's cooked to a beautiful medium rare and then seared to give it a tasty char. Fresh red peppers, caramelized onions, greens, and an intriguing roast red pepper hummus finish off this sandwich, and it's constructed on a gently toasted slice of garlicky tomato bread. The chefs have a winner here - it's easily one of the best prime rib sandwiches I've ever tasted, and the unexpected spicy hummus is a clever counterpoint to the rich beefy flavor of the generous slab of prime rib.

Next up was the Crab Cake sandwich. A generously sized lump crabmeat cake is dressed with wasabi mayonaise, lettuce, and chunks of bright red tomato, and the result is served on an English muffin. As you can see from the photo, Hubbell & Hudson doesn't skimp on the crab cake, and we think this dish will please any seafood fan.

We now travel south to the Caribbean for the Not So Cuban Cuban, a modern take on the traditional Cuban sandwich. Both freshly roasted pork and black forest ham are joined by baby swiss and the de rigueur pickle slices, dressed with a spicy Asian sauce and slid between two slices of ciabatta bread. We loved the sandwich and were in awe of the stellar Slow Dough ciabatta, but felt that the spicy Asian sauce overpowered the sandwich. We'd suggest asking for light sauce for a more balanced dish unless you crave hot sauce.

The final offering was perhaps the most unique. Named the Seoul Pork sandwich, it is an Asian spin on a chopped BBQ sandwich. Shredded Asian bacon slaw, wasabi mayo and chopped roasted pork are combined with a sweet honey sesame glaze and served on a toasted challah bun. It's an unexpected combination that works - the rich roast pork and smoky bacon are complimented by the crisp slaw, and the spicy wasabi mayo is offset by the sweet glaze. The combination works - this is a sandwich we will order often.

We think that these sandwiches highlight the creativity and attention to detail that is the hallmark of Hubbell & Hudson's restaurants under the leadership of Chef Austin Simmons. As always, the chef both surprised and delighted us with unexpected flavor profiles that work on the plate even better than they do on paper. We're looking forward to sampling the next offerings from this talented chef.

Hubbell & Hudson Burger Bar | 24 Waterway Ave | The Woodlands, TX 77380 | 281-203-5600

Hubbell & Hudson Market & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Many of our readers are familiar with Corkscrew BBQ, the food trailer that serves some of the best BBQ in the entire Houston area. They've had universally good reviews, including a rare two-star review from The Houston Chronicle's Alison Cook. They've been so successful that they've had to expand from their original pit to a higher capacity model, and from their small food trailer to a modern, larger trailer. Even with these expansions, they still sell out of their BBQ every day. Rain or shine, in hot or cold weather.

Waiting for BBQ at Corkscrew

Just about everyone who's been to Corkscrew loves 'em... with one notable exception. There's another BBQ place, called Pit Master BBQ, that's in a shopping center on the main road near Corkscrew's side-road location. Unlike Corkscrew, Pit Master is a full restaurant, with walls, air conditioning, restrooms, and all the other accoutrements that come with a brick-and-mortar shop. Yet they don't seem to be able to compete with the little BBQ trailer. It's a classic David-vs-Goliath story, but instead of David being armed with a slingshot, he's got BBQ meats as his weapon of choice.

Pit Master is only lacking two things: Great BBQ and a sense of ethics. I've eaten at Pit Master a couple of times, and found their food to be utterly unremarkable - the type of corporate BBQ that's available all over the place, and simply isn't memorable. Until Corkscrew opened, Pit Master was the only BBQ spot in the area, and without competition their unremarkable BBQ wasn't a serious problem.

Apparently the appearance of a master pitmaster like Will Buckman upset Pit Master's apple cart, because according to reports, Pit Master's owners have tried to get Corkscrew BBQ shut down. Repeatedly.

Nichole Buckman, one of the owners of Corkscrew BBQ, shares the sad tale on her Facebook page:

"Well we are working on going permanent, starting the processes this week. We'll be staying in the same location in the trailer, we'll be getting bathrooms put in and we'll be able to sell beer and wine, yea!

"Everyone can thank Pitmaster BBQ for that...why you ask? They decided to go to the commissioner and try and have us shut down for having a pit room and canopy that was APPROVED but not written in the laws of having a food truck. So all those still frequenting them, this is how they treat other local family owned business, they try and shut them down bc they are loosing business, which has NOTHING to do with us but all with the quality of their food.

"I wish they would think that when they try and shut us down they are potentially taking the roof over my kids heads way, food from their mouths and clothes off their backs. I would never do that to a person, its shameful. We will not be bullied by them, it's not the first time they've been trying to shut us down since we opened."

We make no secret about being fans of Corkscrew BBQ and their world-class food. And we applaud Nichole's positive attitude, and her drive to make her business even better. Corkscrew is a perfect example of how hard work, customer service, and dedication to a superior product will enable a small business to thrive, even in a tough economy.

We hope Pit Master tries a new approach - serving better BBQ, as opposed to whining to local government to get a family business shut down. Until that happens, we ask each of our readers to ask themselves what sort of business they'd like to support.

And we welcome a rebuttal from Pit Master in the comments. We'd love to hear your side of this sordid story.

Update: We recap the first Houston BBQ Festival.

When you think of America's great barbecue towns, you think of Memphis, Kansas City, and Texas's own Lockhart. But if Chris Reid and Michael Fulmer have anything to say about it, Houston will be added to the national short list of great places to enjoy 'Q.

It's not that Houston doesn't have great barbecue. It does. From legendary smokehouses like Thelma's, Burns, and Virgie's to current favorites like Gatlin's and Corkscrew, Houston pitmasters put out some superlative brisket, ribs, sausage, and other smoked meats. What's been lacking has been public perception and visibility, and the Houston Barbecue Festival aims to change that.

J.C. Reid, and a close friend (photo: Paul Sedillo)

To be held March 24, 2013, the Houston Barbecue Festival brings together some of Houston's top barbecue talent in one location. Already on the docket are Blake's, Brook's, Burns, Corkscrew, Gatlin's, Gerardo's, Lennox, Pizzitola's, Ray's, Tin Roof, and Virgie's.  More may be added.

The festival kicks off at 1pm, and runs until 5 at the Bayou City Event Center, 9401 Knight Road. (map). It's near the south end of MetroRail, so those who'd rather not drive have an option.  For the price of an admission ticket attendees can sample tastings from each of the assembled 'Q joints - it may be the greatest assembly of pit talent under one roof that Houston has ever seen.

"You can get great barbecue in Houston, without having to drive to Lockhart." says J.C. Reid, one of the event's organizers. Reid is a food writer and noted expert on Houston barbecue.  In 2011 Reid established the Houston BBQ Project, a comprehensive database of Houston barbecue joints, complete with an interactive map.

Reid and fellow event organizer Michael Fulmer have done their homework. The pair has travelled extensively throughout Texas, sampling barbecue from some of the state's most storied pits. In their travels closer to home, they discovered some excellent barbecue in Houston, and thus the impetus for the festival was born.

Tickets are available online, and will not be sold at the door.  Admission is $40, which includes tasting portions from all participants. VIP tickets are available for $80, which include one hour early admission, drink tickets, and a swag bag including an event t-shirt.

March 24, 2013 1pm - 5pm

Bayou City Event Center, 9401 Knight Road (map)

Beginning today, four of Houston's food trucks have a regular lunchtime spot at the Houston Pavillions.

Monster PBJ Truck

"We've seen the demand for more relaxed lunchtime dining alternatives in downtown Houston,"said Karen Mulville, General Manager of the Houston Pavillions.  "As many Houstonians plan to test their taste buds, get healthier, and try new things in 2013, there is no better time to bring daily food truck service to the Pavillions."

The current lineup:

Monday: Monster PBJ will be serving their all-vegetarian options from 11am until 6pm.

Tuesday: It's a Wrap! will be offering a choice of gourmet wraps from 11am to 3pm.

Wednesday:  Golden Grill will be delivering its cheesy creations from 11 to 3.

Thursday: Ladybird will be offering a variety of sandwiches and other Texas street food from 11 to 3.

Friday:  Golden Grill from 11 to 3.

Saturday: Ladybird from 11 to 3.

The trucks will be parked at the corner of Main and Dallas, in front of Forever XXI.  The Pavillions will provide a seating area with tables and chairs nearby, allowing downtown diners to patronize the trucks and eat in comfort.

Goode Company is known around Houston for its award-winning BBQ, but did you know that they're also famous for their pies? The Food Network visited Goode Company to find out more:

Whether you're in the mood for pie, BBQ, or one of their other delicious offerings, our friends at Goode Company are extending a special offer for our readers.

With the holiday season is in full swing, Goode Company is offering our readers 10% off any order from their on-line store.  This includes their famous BBQ meats, sauces, and their delicious pies.

You can place your order directly at their on-line store, and use the code CHOWD12 when you check out.

Thank you to Goode Company for extending this generous offer.

Longtime Houston specialty food retailer Rice Epicurean Market today announced that they plan to close four of their five stores and lease spaces to The Fresh market, a specialty food retailer from North Carolina.

Press Release from Rice Epicurean

Press Release from The Fresh Market

The store on Fountain View at Inwood will remain open.

Our take:

We think it's unfortunate to see an iconic Houston gourmet grocer sell out to a national firm, but we can't say we're surprised that it happened.  Rice Epicurean has always been a pleasant, serene place to shop, but their prices often aren't competitive with other specialty grocers and their selection is lacking compared to other, bigger stores.

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