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.
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)
A while back I declared the iPhone to be the ultimate gadget for foodies. I still think this statement is true, and the explosion of interesting apps makes it even more useful and fun for foodies. In the real world I'm a partner in a technology firm, and keeping on top of the state of the iOS app world is an important part of staying current in technology. My iPhone 4s is with me all the time, helping me find great meals and recording the experience to be shared later via this blog, Twitter, and FaceBook.
Most of you know about popular apps such as Yelp, FourSquare and OpenTable; they're a standard part of our iPhone app arsenal. But there are a some new apps that any foodie should consider.
Trover is a photo-sharing app with a killer feature: Location. You can explore interesting images near you, or near any other location. And as you'd expect, food images are becoming more and more popular. You can also filter for images taken today or in the past week, letting you focus on the latest images taken nearby.
I find the location-based images to be incredibly useful, letting you focus on things nearby you can actually check out in person. And you can easily share your photos on a variety of other social networks.
(Free. iPhone and Android version available)
Fondu is a restaurant review app with an interesting twist: Micro reviews. It's the Twitter of review sites, a socal network with reviews restricted to 175 characters, and establishments rated on a 1-4 "leaf" scale. You can follow reviewers you like, and search for nearby reviews with a map. Sharing your reviews via other popular social networks is quick and easy.
Fondu has launched recently, and doesn't yet have a strong presence in the Houston area. This is a perfect chance for the discerning foodies who read this blog to have a strong voice and get the word about about the best places in the area. And with the micro review format, it's quick and easy to share you opinions while they're still fresh in your mind.
(Free. iPhone only)
Texas Monthly BBQ - Texas Monthly is a fantastic resource to learn more about the State of Texas, and this app is their suggested way to find BBQ in your area. It's a comprehensive list; you'll find both big chains and the mom-and-pop joints known mainly by locals.
You can browse nearby BBQ joints, view Texas Monthly's list of the best BBQ in the state, and read the buzz from your fellow BBQ hounds. Registration on the Texas Monthly site is require to post your opinions.
(Free. iPhone only)
Have you discovered some must-have apps for foodies? Let us know in the comments, and we'll check out as many as we can.
We brought home brisket and pulled pork from Corkscrew BBQ tonight - first time I'd done carryout from them. Very well packaged, arrived in Indian Springs hot and moist. Loved that the pulled pork had its own vinegar-based sauce, a rarity in Texas. Brisket was superb as always.
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 jalapeños, 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.
Summer is in full swing, and for many of us that means it's time to get outside and cook some meat. There's nothing more American than standing outside by the fire, breathing in the aroma and anticipating a delicious meal.
We're fans of grilled meat, but we're even bigger fans of real BBQ. And yes, there is a difference, as any pitmaster will tell you. Grilling is done fast, with the meat directly over a high heat source. Bar-b-cuing is done slowly, with the fire away from the meat, and the meat spending quality time in a relatively low-heat, smoky atmosphere, slowly cooking and absorbing the flavor from the smoke.
|Meat like this comes from a BBQ smoker, not a grill|
(To us, grilling is like a good song, but real smoked BBQ is like a symphony. The great smokehouses of Texas become legendary, with people driving hundreds of miles and waiting in long lines to sample their delicacies.)
So you want to BBQ at home. The first step is to determine what you want to cook. We think the place to start is with beef brisket, and we're fond of the selection at HEB.
You also need the right equipment. You need a real smoker, not just a regular grill. A quick perusal of the local big-box retailers (Lowe's, Home Depot, and Walmart) turned up plenty of outdoor grills but not a single BBQ smoker. So we did what any smart food geek would do - we asked around, and everyone suggested that we search online.
We ran across a great source for BBQ equipment (and regular grills, too.) Called csgrills.com, they're a one-stop shop for grills, BBQ smokers, and accessories. Their prices are very competitive. And for novices, they've got some handy guides including this one telling how to choose the right smoker.
Browsing the website, I felt like a kid in a candy store. They have a vast selection of grills and smokers at a wide variety of price points. They offer free shipping, too.
And if you're looking for a great gift for your favorite Houston food blogger, these guys can help.
We're fans of Jasper's, the upscale restaurant concept from Dallas's Kent Rathbun. We love pretty much everything about their Woodlands location, from the great spot overlooking the Market Street park to the gorgeous modern interior to the excellent service to the creative takes on traditional Texas favorites. We've been many times, and consider it to be one of the best restaurants in both the Woodlands and the entire Houston area.
But a recent show on TV got our attention. The claim: Bon Appetit magazine ranked Jasper's BBQ ribs as their third-best ribs in the nation. That's a serious claim, and it runs contrary to our First Tenet of BBQ Wisdom: The Fancier the Store, the Worse the BBQ.
Since we love BBQ almost as much as we love a great burger, we had to test out the claim for our readers.
The thin-cut russet potatoes were flash-fried to perfection, and covered with Maytag bleu cheese mixed with chives and a mild soft cheese sauce. The result is nothing short of amazing. We've recommended this dish to everyone who goes to Jasper's, and the feedback we get is universally positive.
But now it's time to get down to the ribs. Our server suggested that the half rack was plenty, so we took his advice and ordered them. After a reasonable wait, they appeared.
The half rack was split into two three-rib bits, artistically stacked, and served with their creamy "baked potato" salad.
We dug into the ribs, and were impressed by their tenderness; the meat came off the bone without any significant effort on our part. It was thoroughly basted in Jasper's spicy-sweet BBQ sauce, and more of the sauce was on the side.
All we could taste was the sauce. We simply couldn't taste the meat, and we didn't use the extra sauce.
We are firm believers that world-class BBQ is delicious with no sauce at all, and should be served with the sauce on the side, not pre-slathered on the meat. We find the preapplication of BBQ sauce to be a crutch to disguise meat that hasn't been adequately rubbed or smoked; it's popular at high-end, high-volume BBQ restaurants because the meat doesn't have to spend hours on the smoker - the flavor comes from the sauce. Folks who've never been to a great Texas BBQ joint probably won't see anything wrong with this saucing technique, but I contend that they've never really had great BBQ, either.
Bottom Line: We enjoyed the ribs, but weren't blown away at all. We believe that better ribs can be had at the County Line upscale BBQ chain, not to mention at landmark establishments like City Market in Luling.
And we're convinced that Bon Appetit really shouldn't be ranking ribs.
I maintain that the best BBQ is found in little ramshackle shacks located in small towns off the beaten path in Nowhere County, Texas. So why do I like the County Line?
They do a good job at pretty much everything. Inviting, faux-camp decor. Friendly, professional waitstaff. And BBQ that's plenty good, and better than pretty much any other chain that I can name.
I started at County Line when I lived in Austin, and frequented both locations. The concept has made the trip down Hwy 290 with its goodness intact.
What to order? My favorite here are the baby back pork ribs. A full rack is large; a half rack is plenty for most folks. In either case you get some tender (but not falling-off-the-bone) meaty pork ribs, nicely prepared and doused with a sweet-but-not-too-sweet sauce. Beef lovers will be thrilled with their gigantic beef ribs, served with a sauce that's not quite as sweet, and the brisket is very good too.
Bread is another high point here. Why pay for bread in a BBQ joint? Because it's homemade and superb, fluffy and sweet and when topped with the provided honey butter it's a decadent addition to the carnivorous offerings on the table.
What's not to like? It's a bit more expensive than some places, but the prices aren't out of line for a sit-down meal; this one just happens to consist of very good BBQ.
County Line is a great choice for those who love great BBQ, especially if our town's more elemental BBQ joints are a bit too edgy for them.
The County Line: 13850 Cutten Rd, Houston, 77069, 281-537-2454
Thelma's Bar-B-Que, the landmark Houston BBQ spot was seriously damaged over the weekend by fire. They are closed until further notice, and there's no word about when and if Thelma will rebuild and reopen.
We at H-Town Chow Down wish Miss Thelma the best during this difficult time, and look forward to her reopening her legendary establishment.
Robb Walsh gives us the sordid details.
There are a lot of Indian restaurants in the Houston area. But when talk of the best Indian cuisine comes up, one restaurant is always mentioned: Himalaya Restaurant and Catering. Located about 45 minutes outside the Woodlands in southwest Houston at the intersection of Hillcroft and Hwy 59 (6652 S.W.Freeway @ Hillcroft, Houston, TX 77074), Himalaya has become the go-to spot for Houston foodies craving the best of Indian and Pakistani cuisine.
Founded by Chef Kaiser Lashkari and his lovely bride Azra (both of whom are there daily), Himalaya has been delighting guests for almost 20 years. And the patron list is a who's who of national and local foodies: Anthony Bourdain was a regular when he visited Houston, Andrew Zimmern has featured Himalaya on his program, and the walls of this modest restaurant are covered (literally) with accolades from the media, both local and national. Chef Kaiser has been nominated, not once, but twice for a coveted James Beard Award, a feat matched by only a small handful of chefs in the United States. No restaurant in Texas (if not the nation) has been more recognized for its excellence.
The hospitality at Himalaya is warm and inviting. Chef Kaiser is ever present in the dining room, greeting guests and making suggestions for those overwhelmed by all of the choices on his menu. Unlike many restaurants, Kaiser and Azra are present every single day that they're open, insuring that quality never slips and that customers receive the best experience possible. This dedication and work ethic are remarkably rare today, and are a key part of the success that Himalaya has enjoyed.
Speaking of overwhelmed, it's a bit overwhelming to first walk in to the humble Mahatma Ghandi District location, and look around. The walls are literally covered (and by literally, we mean in the literal sense) with recognition from food publications from around the country. Many establishments have a "brag wall" with a half-dozen framed articles praising the restaurant. But Himalaya has hundreds; I wouldn't be surprised if there are more in storage because the walls are out of space. It's a stunning visual testament to the excellence that Kaiser, Azra, and their hard-working team achieve each and every day.
From countless local food writers to Houston's James Beard Award-winning Alison Cook to national media from coast to coast to two nominations from the James Beard Society, Himalaya's walls reflect the recognition that has been showered on the restaurant by those who know great food. We were lucky enough to run into the late great Anthony Bourdain at lunch at Himalaya a few years back; talking with him was an incredible honor.
Curries are a core component of Indian cuisine, and Chef Kaiser has not only mastered the classics, but he has devised new curries that reflect his approach to feeding hungry Houstonians. Perhaps the most notable example is his Chicken Hara Masala, a verdantly green Hyderabadi curry that combines large chunks of moist, tender chicken with lush herbal flavors and a moderate degree of heat. Mexican food lovers will adore this curry; the unmistakable flavor of green chiles and cilantro pervades each bite. This curry is utterly unique, and available only at Himalaya; folks drive from all over the state for another bowl.
Of course, the traditional dishes are well represented. From the best rendition of Chicken Tikka Masala that we've ever experienced to the savory Tawa Gosht (Alison cook called this dish “berserk boeuf bourguignon”) to the Goan delicacy Lamb Vindaloo, Himalaya turns out a tremendous range of curries from mild to wild. One could spend many visits simply exploring the range of curries that Chef Kaiser has mastered.
Himalaya's Biryanis are superb version of this Hyderabadi classic. Made with a base of fragrant Basmati rice, variations include mutton (Anthony Bourdain's favorite), beef, chicken, and two vegetable versions.
Chef Kaiser is a master of grilled meats, many in the Punjabi tradition. The place to start is the Special BBQ / Grill Platter, which is a delight for any carnivore. Combining Lamb Seekh kabab, Chicken Seekh Kabab, Chicken Boti, Persian Kabab and Himalaya's famous Steak Tikka (another Bourdain favorite) this dish is an introduction to the range of tandoori grilled meats that Texans can't get enough of. We keep going back to this dish, because it's very difficult to choose a favorite from these savory bites, but if we had to pick only one, Steak Tikka would be our choice. Not only is this house specialty a delicious north Indian dish, it's one of the best steaks you'll find in Houston, with flavors unlike any other.
Himalaya presents a rare Pakistani delicacy that's not found anywhere else in the United States: Authentic Hanifa-style Hunter's Beef. This south Asian beef creation is reminiscent of pastrami, but with its own unique flavor profile. Andrew Zimmern gave this dish his highest recommendation; meat lovers should not pass it up.
As we mentioned earlier, the cuisine at Himalaya goes beyond traditional Indian and Pakistani cuisine, to Chef Kaiser's groundbreaking fusion dishes, which combine centuries-old desi spice and flavor profiles with modern American cuisine and sensibilities. He's always working on new fusion creations; this keeps the experience fresh and every week.
Perhaps the best example is the iconic Himalaya Fried Chicken. Considered by many foodies and writers to be the best friend chicken in the city (no less than Andrew Zimmern raves about it to this day), this profoundly flavorful rendition relies on Chef Kaiser's secret blend of herbs and spices and a painstaking preparation, which begins days before the chicken even hits the fryer.
Whole chickens are broken down and marinated in a savory mixture of masala spices for 48 hours, allowing the rich flavors to permeate and perfume the tender chicken. Upon ordering, the chicken is dredged in a seasoned batter, and fried using the chef's selected oil that is changed out frequently.
The result is nothing short of remarkable. Friend chicken is definitely a big deal in Texas, and Himalaya's version stands alone with its incredible flavors that are infused down to the bone. Lovers of Nashville-style hot chicken definitely need to try Himalaya Fried Chicken; we think it's the next step in the evolution of this American classic.
Chef Kaiser has also put his spin on another iconic southern favorite: The pot pie. This staple of southern cooks has been elevated to the next level. It begins with a housemade pastry crust, as light and flaky as the proverbial grandmother used to make. But that's where things take a turn to the south; in this case, South Asia.
Instead of the tasty but often bland filling found in a traditional pot pie, Chef Kaiser kicks things up a notch or three with his Desi Pot Pie. He builds a savory combination of tender, juicy meats, fresh vegetables, and his own blend of masala spices to create a pot pie that's incredibly unique and flavorful. Kaiser doesn't do bland, and this dish is a perfect example of the wisdom of his approach.
The fillings of the pot pie change with the seasons and the whims of the chef, so be sure to ask what's available. We've sampled several, and wouldn't hesitate to order any of them again. And again. And again.
To say the food at Himalaya is broad would be an understatement; to say it is outstanding doesn't do it justice. Chef Kaiser Lashkari and his team have wowed everyone from dedicated foodies to award-winning chefs to the media to national food personalities. The approach at Himalaya focuses on providing great food to each and every guest, and after numerous visits, we can confirm that they are experts at exceeding expectations time and time again.
If you're seeking out some of the best Indian and Pakistani food in the nation, hop in your car and head down to southwest Houston to Himalaya. We think you'll be delighted. It's definitely food worth the drive.
Himalaya Restaurant | 6652 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX 77074 | +1 713 532 2837 | http://www.himalayarestauranthouston.com