Trader Joe's opened its doors in Texas this morning, and the residents of the Woodlands showed up in droves to welcome this newest import from the West Coast.  This fabled grocer is known for quality food, an interesting, well curated selection, and affordable prices.  We joined the crowd to see what all the fuss was about.

Walking through the door, we were greeted by the sound of a Jamaican steel drum, and hundreds of Woodlands residents checking out their new neighbor.  Navigation around the store was tricky; the word had clearly gotten out, and intrepid foodies packed the aisles.
Working our way through the smiling crowd, we were pleasantly surprised by both the interesting selection of unusual food items, and the amazing prices.  A few items that caught our attention:
A deli case with some very aggressively priced trays of Italian meats and assorted cheeses.
Over a pound of Belgian chocolate for under $5.

Amazingly delicious "Cookie Butter" - creamy gingerbread spread.  I'm anxious to try this on waffles, bagels, plywood...

A sample of TJ's Mandarin Orange Chicken - one of the best frozen Chinese entrees we've tried.

And last but not least, one of the Charles Shaw wines, aka "Two Buck Chuck".  (Now $3, thanks to inflation.)

The assembled masses were scooping up items left and right, and the lines for checkout were easily 30 shoppers deep.  But Trader Joe's friendly staff was doing a great job of keeping the line moving, and doing so with a smile.

If opening day was any indication, Texas has a great new addition to the grocery store scene.  Trader Joe's combines an interesting product selection with great prices, and that's a winning combination that will draw in foodies for years to come.

We'll be back.

The Beer & Cheese festival is a great way for Houstonians to become acquainted with new and unique pairings of different styled beers and cheeses. Throughout the event, beer and cheese experts will be available to answer questions. Featured local Texas Breweries include Rhar & Sons (Fort Worth, Texas), St. Arnold (Houston, Texas), Karbach (Houston, Texas), Independence (Austin, Texas) and Southern Star (Conroe, Texas).

The event will take place at Hubbell & Hudson Market, located at 24 Waterway Avenue in The Woodlands, on Saturday June 30th from Noon to 5PM.

Admission to the event is granted with any cash donation to Montgomery County Youth Services. Participants are required to verify age to sample products.

Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen will continue offering an oasis for beer and cheese lovers throughout the summer with their own weekly Beer & Cheese sampling event starting, Monday July 2nd and every Monday thereafter.

For more information, check out the Event Website.

We have sad news to report during National Burger Month.  Coal Burger, the coal fired oven burger concept from the folks at Grimaldi's, has closed.  We were fans of the burger, but will admit that there were consistency issues:  Sometimes the burger was perfect, sometimes it was dried out.  Apparently cooking ground beef in a 1000+ degree coal-fired oven requires a very deft touch.

Combine the consistency issues with the notoriously dicey parking situation at the Woodlands Waterway, and Grimaldi's decided to close this restaurant after less than a year.

According to our sources, Grimaldi's plans to expand its pizza operation into the Coal Burger space.

We have no word on whether other Coal Burger locations in Arizona are closing as well.

We were excited to hear that Trader Joe's, the California-based specialty grocery company, was heading to the Houston area. We were even more excited to find out that their first Houston-area location would be in the Woodlands, across the street from our neighborhood HEB.

We've been keeping an eye on the progress, and it's been good. The building is complete, the sign is up, and now the work is underway getting the interior of the store ready for business. They're making good progress.

We're anxious for them to complete the store, so we can check out the unique product selection. We'll keep you updated on the progress.  

JerryBuilt Burgers, the hot new fast-casual burger place, has announced that the grand opening of its Woodlands location will be this Saturday, March 31, at 11am.  The Woodlands location is located just off the ring road around the Woodlands Mall, near the Container Store.

JerryBuilt Burgers is a locally owned chain that features high quality ingredients that are locally sourced when possible.  They serve Niman Ranch beef, Blue Bell ice cream, and buns from Three Brothers Bakery, for example.

We previewed JerryBuilt's first location on Holcombe, and were very impressed with the thoughtfullness and attention to detail behind this burger concept.  When we visited they were still fine-tuning the burger, so we're looking forward to seeing how they've tweaked their creation.

I'm planning to be there for the opening, so if you're in the area, please stop by and be sure to say hello.

Houston has a new celebrity restaurant opening on the southwest side, and today is the grand opening.
Cherie Johnson (Photo: IMDB)

You may know Cherie Johnson, best known for her roles on situation comedies such as Punky Brewster, Family Matters, The Parkers and her leading role in the movie I Do.I Did.  Ms. Johnson is now ready to make a name for herself as restaurateur. She has enlisted the help of close friend Janice Wright, founder of Houston 411 Magazine and Kay Matthews with Extraordinary Cakes. 

These women entrepreneurs are opening Datt's It Restaurant today (March 26, 2012) in a developmentally challenged and underserved area in southwest Houston. Cherie, Janice & Kay believe that by opening the restaurant will address a need for more restaurant establishments in the area. Additionally, the trio expects to increase employment, and Ms. Johnson ability to attract celebrity interest in the project may spur further economic development in the area.
"Living in Los Angeles has allowed me to witness what happens when entrepreneurs realize the opportunity and invest in underdeveloped and otherwise forgotten areas in a city," said Ms. Johnson.  The group has also sought and received guidance of Houston and Atlanta businessman Toney Means.

"These entrepreneurs fill the void in public interests in investing in these areas either from apathy or lack of available funds" stated Mr. Means. "I believe these ladies have the recipe for success in this venture and in future opportunities. This belief has led me and my investment group to support their activities" continued Means. 

Datt's It will feature American fare such as burgers, hot dogs, fish and chicken and on weekends will feature Saturday breakfast and a Sunday brunch. The restaurant will begin live music on Friday and Saturday nights beginning May. The hours of operation are 10am to 10pm on Monday through Thursday. Friday 10am to 1am. Saturday hours are 8am to 1am and finally Sunday from 10am to 6pm. The restaurant is located at 10101 Bissonnet St Houston Texas, 77036. Cherie, Janice & Kay plan additional ventures in underserved neighborhoods in Houston and other Metropolitan areas.

We look forward to checking it out.

Datt's It | 10101 Bissonnet | Houston 77036

New York City's famed Le Cirque, named by Gayot as one of the Top 40 Restaurants in the USA, is bringing its show on the road, and Houston will be one of the stops this spring.  On April 13, the main dining room of the Downtown Club at Plaza will host this culinary classic.  Executive chef Olivier Reginensi will be overseeing the travelling kitchen.

Le Cirque's Creme Brulee (photo credit: Le Cirque)

The $150 prix fixe menu will deliver a three-course meal with wine pairings, and a copy of the biography of Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque.  Featured selections will include Le Cirque favorites like filet of beef, tuna tartare, and porcini risotto, and of course their famed Creme Brulee will be offered.

For reservations, call 800-402-3933 or click here.

(via New York Times)

Houston's own celebrity pastry chef Rebecca Masson is organizing a star-studded event that will delight the discriminating foodie, and it's for a good cause.

Entitled sweet & savory, it's a chance to sip, savor, and stroll with Chef Masson and some of her chef friends from across the country.  Several were featured on Bravo's Top Chef Just Desserts.

The event is limited to 125 guests.  Get your ticket by making a $100 donation to Lucky Dog Rescue at .

More info:

Want to win Dinner for Two at Chama Gaucha, the hot Brazilian steakhouse on Westheimer? Simply "Like" H-Town Chow Down on Facebook, and add a comment to the Chauma Gaucha post.

We're giving away dinner for two to five lucky winners. No purchase necessary. Terms and conditions apply.

You can follow this link to Facebook to get started.

As Texans, we profess our love of Whataburger, the state's home-grown burger chain.  Founded in 1950 by Harmon Dobson in Corpus Christi, Whataburger is known for its very good burgers, its fantastic customization options, and last but not least, it's delicious Fancy Ketchup.

But 2012 is a time of change (just ask the Mayans) and in honor of the end of the Long Count (ok, not really) Whataburger is introducing its new Spicy Ketchup.  Taking the legendary sweet/savory combination of Fancy Ketchup one step further, Corpus Christi turns to the Valley to turn up the heat, adding real jalapeƱo pepper paste to their established formula.
We'll be waiting on January 2 to check out Spicy Ketchup for ourselves.  (On the fries.  Not on the burger.)  Watch this space for an update.  And if when you try it, let us know what you think.

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