The Meat Sweats

The sixth day straight (out of ten) of working, walking, networking, schmoozing, live-blogging SXSW and shooting bands can sometimes lead to impaired judgment and poor decisions. Mental exhaustion will do that to a person. Which is what led me to think that ordering – and then consuming – 17 ounces of T-bone at Hoffbrau Steaks would be a good idea. I’ll just let the pictures below speak for themselves.

Parnters in crime: Brigitte, Hala, Dave, Marc and Adam.
World famous for one thing, and one thing only: steaks.
There's no menu at Hoffbrau. You eat what they have. Including this very garlicky salad.
Adam decided to be a rebel and ordered extra onion rings with his meal.
Hoffbrau is more than a bit lost in time, in a comfortable and comforting way.
Hala was ready for her steak.
My rare T-bone (yes, it's sitting in a pool of butter) before...
A brief interlude of steak fries, each one the size of an ear of corn.
...and my steak after. The gristle was happily consumed by Adam, as we all watched in horror.
Shiner Bock beer, salad, steak fries and T-bone grand total: $22, including tip. Not bad.

While the steak was tasty (after I sopped up all the grease with some spare bread and disposed of it), I still prefer my steaks cooked on a real grill – not a griddle – and definitely much smaller. I had a vicious meat headache within minutes of finishing it, and sweated it out walking the umpteen blocks back uphill to our hotel afterwards. The good news is that after all that protein, I had enough energy to finish off the day without consuming any caffeine or any of the terrifying energy drinks that every SXSW party seemed to have on hand like party favors. (Oh, wait – those were party favors. Ick.)

Still, the next time I’m suffering from sleep deprivation and a fuzzy head, I’m letting someone else choose both the restaurant and my food. A responsible someone else. Who’ll choose a salad and some fruit. Anyone?

Bacon vs. Tofu: The Battle That Never Was

I am particularly proud of this morning’s bacon-related item in the Houston Press, a blog post and an accompanying slideshow of the 11 reasons that tofu is not the new bacon. It’s heretical to even suggest otherwise.

Check out the blog post first and then check out the slideshow.

A preview: “Tofu is one of the most peaceable objects on earth: mild, unobtrusive, yields easily and has no real qualms about taking on the flavors and textures of other things. That’s why no one will ever make an automatic weapon out of it.”

You know you want to read it.

Oldies & Goodies

Because we all know that nothing says “oldie” or “goodie” like a deep-fried Oreo.

Oldies & Goodies

From this weekend’s World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Cookoff at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Oh, what’s that? You want to see some actual barbeque? Look no further:

Sausage, Brisket & Ribs: The Holy Trinity

Sausage, brisket and ribs: the holy trinity of Texas barbeque.

Under a Texan Sky

All hail the mighty state!

Taco Truck Tailgating

Ed: Comments are closed.

A few photos from the weekend, of which most of Saturday was spent tailgating with the Houston Chowhounds in various taco truck parking lots across the city.

Cabeza y Orejas

My favorite tacos of the day, cabeza and orejas from El Ultimo Taqueria on Long Point at Antoine. The cabeza was decadently juicy and bordering on almost too greasy, but the thick homemade flour tortillas solved that problem quite handily. The orejas were pleasantly chewy. This is exactly what the other Chowhounds disliked about them, though. The chorizo and the tripas were also crowd favorites here. The tripas in particular was like a thick slab of crispy bacon — completely the opposite of what you expect when ordering tripe. It was brilliant.

El Ultimo

The woman to the right takes your order at El Ultimo and hands it up to the taco guys inside the truck. It’s an incredibly efficient system, especially given the fact that you’re decamped in the tiny parking lot of a car wash while you await your order. It’s not the kind of place you generally want to hang out…

Rum!

…unless you bring folding chairs and coolers, like we did. Above you can see Peg creating what is sure to be the new popular beverage across the city: horchata with rum and lime. No, seriously; that shit was delicious.

Taqueria Tacamabaro

Tacambaro, behind the produce stalls at Canino’s on Airline, was actually our first stop. They were packed that afternoon and had quickly run out of the more popular items. Luckily, they weren’t out of mollejas, which was the entire reason for going there. As promised, the crispy mollejas were divine. I could eat about five of those in one go.

Nopalitos y Barbacoa

Next to Tacambaro was Taqueria Gloria. It wasn’t as popular and with good reason. Although the homemade corn tortillas and salsas were excellent, the nopalitos and barbacoa were only mediocre. Oh, well.

Estilo Monterrey

Later, we moved on to Taqueria El Norteno on Long Point near Wirt. Although I enjoyed the mural on the bright blue school bus, the food didn’t quite live up to the expectations. The tacos al carbon were good, but a bit too smoky. The chicken and ribs — specialities here — were dry and, again, too smoky.

Chamoyada

Across the parking lot, however, was another little gem: Refresqueria Rio Verde. Aside from raspas (snowcones), they also served elotes and tacos. The elotes were the popular item there, families grabbing an ear apiece of the hot corn and slathering it with mayonnaise and generous sprinklings of seasoned salt. I ordered a couple of brightly-colored raspas for the group: mango and chamoyada (pictured above).

Chamoyada, as it turns out, is not something that most white people are familiar with. The popular children’s treat is made of brined, pickled fruit (plums or apricots can be used) that’s made into a paste and spiced up with dried chiles. It’s an acquired taste to say the least. The general consensus was that it needed celery and vodka, whereby it would make a passable Mexican Bloody Mary. Only one person liked it in its native state, bless him.

Relaxing at El Norteno

All in all, a pleasant way to spend a Saturday with good friends. I could do this every weekend. Anyone else?

Big Expectations; Little Results

Little Big's, Now Open

I finally made it to Little Big’s this past Friday night after an evening spent at West Alabama Ice House with some friends. After having our fill of Shiners and bikers, nothing sounded better on a cool night than to relax on the patio with some hot sliders.

As expected, the place was a madhouse when we arrived at about 8:30.  Parking wasn’t an issue — surprisingly — but the barely-contained chaos inside was.  It was difficult to tell who was in line, who was waiting for their food, who was just milling about drunkenly…but we managed to get our orders in without too much difficulty (although with a lot of yelling; it’s extremely noisy inside the small space).  My three sliders — one beef, one chicken and one mushroom — and butterscotch milkshake came to $10.25.  A bit much for three twee burgers and a shake, but these are supposed to be top-shelf sliders after all.

We took our seats on the patio and began the wait.  The patio itself is every bit as relaxing as anticipated, the smell of freshly-cut wood under the sprawling oak trees, the breeze rustling through the leaves, the hypnotic sights of red-lighted traffic and wild pedestrians wandering up and down Montrose — I could have sat there all night.  Good thing, too, because that’s about how long it will take to get your order out.

Forty-five minutes later, the first name was called.  By this time, we’d run through a sickly sweet frozen sangria and a bland frozen White Russian.  Both were deemed barely drinkable by the group, but we continued to suck on them for lack of anything else to eat or drink.  My butterscotch milkshake was still nowhere to be seen.  When I finally heard my name called, I anxiously ran in to grab my sliders — only to see someone else pick them up from the unattended counter and abscond quickly with them.  Bastard!

The counter attendant came back and I said, “I think someone just ran off with my sliders.”  He looked at me like I was an escaped mental patient — they’re just sliders, lady, take your meds and get the fuck out of my face, read his expression — and went back to handing out the baskets of sliders that came up.  I stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do next.

“You called my name…” I trailed off.

“What’s your name?”  Gruff and irritated.

“Katie.”

“No, we didn’t.”

I looked back at my friends for confirmation that I wasn’t crazy.  “Yeah, you called her name,” one of them piped up.

“Nope.”

I continued to stand there nonplussed as he called out the names of all my friends who’d ordered after me, and handed out their baskets of sliders.

“No, seriously.  You called my name.  Can I just get the next basket that comes up?”  He ignores me completely.  In the back, the crew is working feverishly to get sliders off the grill and into the baskets.  I start to feel like an asshole, watching them work so hard as I complain.  But it’s been forty-five minutes.  And I’m really hungry.

The next basket comes up on the counter.  It has one of each slider: my exact order.  The attendant has his back turned to me.  So I do what any red-blooded American would do.  I took it and left.  Screw you, counter attendant.  You aren’t doing your job and you’re acting like a prick.  AND I’M REALLY HUNGRY.

Steeled by my freshly-acquired sliders, I go to the register to try and resolve my missing shake issue, only to have my head want to explode when the girl behind the counter snottily tells me: “We called your name for, like, ten minutes.”  I looked back at my friends in disbelief; they’re equally as adamant as I am: “NO, YOU DIDN’T.”  Which is it, Little Big’s?  Calling names and not having food ready?  Or not calling names and having food ready?  Choose a crappy customer service style and stick with it.

The girl throws the shake together quickly and thrusts it over the counter to me.  We are equally irritated with each other by this point.  But at least I have my food.

Outside, the chowdown begins.  Group assessment is that the chicken slider is surprisingly good, maybe even the best of the bunch.  The chicken is tender and juicy, lightly battered and perfectly offset by the sweet yeast roll and sour bite of pickle.  The beef slider is underwhelming.  The beef seems to be overcooked and chewy, with only a few wispy onions as an accompaniment.  The spicy remoulade sauce that I picked up from the condiment bar helps, but I end up not finishing it.  The mushroom slider is good, but the molten cheese inside is undersalted and bland.  Fortunately, the French fries and yeast rolls are out of this world.

The butterscotch shake, on the other hand, is abominable.  It tastes as if someone melted down a batch of Werther’s Originals into a tub of Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream (for those of you who don’t know, Blue Bunny is just about the nastiest ice cream on the market).  It is vile and appalling.  My friends all agree.  It’s undrinkable, as well as the third drink of the night to be deemed horrible.  Clearly, Little Big’s strength does not lie in their drink-making abilities.

I’m reluctant to go back on another Friday night (or Saturday night, for that matter).  I think I’ll go again on a weeknight, when it’s a bit calmer, and give the sliders another shot.  Those cooks were stretched to their limits on Friday, and I think the sliders suffered as a result.  Hopefully it will net a better experience this time around, as I seem to be the only person so far who isn’t blown away by their efforts.  Wish me luck!

Dam Good Food

My best friends and I have been best friends for going on 22 years now.

Christmas 2008
I’m the one in the green footie pajamas.

As happens when you get older, move away, get real jobs, get married, have children and find your lives filling up with the kind of activities that aren’t as important as they seem at the time, we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like.  So when we do find ourselves in the fortuitous situation of all being in the same city — and free of family and/or work obligations on the same night — we enjoy the hell out of that night.

This past Saturday night, I took my friends to Beaver’s for dinner.  Even the ones who live in Houston had never been before, so it was a treat to get them out there.  The thing I like about Beaver’s is that you get the feeling of having a special meal in a cozy, out-of-the-way spot without any of the pretentious trappings (and without the pretentious prices).  The waitstaff, bartenders and chefs are all serious about their trades, and it shows in every aspect of your meal.

The drinks, in particular, at Beaver’s are stunning.  This is old news, of course, but I tried a few on Saturday that were new to me.  The Rosemary Rickey is an old favorite, so I branched out to their Southern Gimlet (good if very strong) and later to a Mayahuel Fizz, a margarita-style mixed drink made with mezcal, rosemary syrup, foamed egg whites, lime and a dash of bitters.  Although small, it’s a revelation.  You’ll never want to drink another margarita anwyhere else, ever again.

Mayahula Fizz...or something.
Mayahuel Fizz, garnished with a sprig of rosemary. 

I would be writing this mini-review for Eating…Our Words if only Robb Walsh hadn’t done a smashing piece on Beaver’s only a few short months ago.  You should go and read it —  Busy Beaver’s — not just because it’s a spot-on review, but also because I really have nothing else of merit to add to what he wrote.  The place has improved drastically since Jonathan Jones took over and has genuinely returned to its intended purpose as an upscale icehouse/BBQ joint that takes its food seriously yet still has a fun time.

On Saturday night, I ordered the house special: a whole roasted pig.  My jaw dropped when the waiter described the special, until he quickly assured me that the entire pig wasn’t delivered to the table, only select parts.  Damn.

This Little Piggy Went to Beaver's
Whole roasted pig with kale and beans.

The parts I received were wonderful, with only a few rather tough exceptions.  A large, delicious chunk of pork loin was accompanied by a generous portion of crispy fried pork skin.  A few cuts of tender pork butt (the shoulder, not the actual butt…) and a few not-so-tender cuts of other shoulder meat rounded out the plate.  The entire collection was presented on a bed of sauteed kale and slow-cooked beans.  Although the beans could have cooked for longer (they were a bit too al dente for my preferences), the flavor was amazing — tangy and sweet without being cloying — and the dusky kale served as a perfect counterbalance.

My friends, for their part, enjoyed their macaroni and cheese, brisket sandwiches, fried pickles, beer-cheese dip and other assorted items as much as I’d hoped they would.  Comfort food taken to the next level was the keyword of the night, and we all had a wonderful time.  If Beaver’s continues this strong run, they could easily become my favorite restaurant of 2009.

Scotch Eggs, Sauerkraut & Turkey Legs

In what is perhaps my unhealthiest entry to date, I’m going to chronicle a few of the things that Jenny, Aaron and I shoveled into our mouths this weekend at the Renaissance Festival.

Before we even got on the road to Plantersville, we headed over to Teotihuacan for breakfast.  Had to give our stomachs a little bit of a warmup session beforehand, after all.

Chips & Horchata

Jenny got a margarita (it’s 5:00 somewhere, I suppose), Aaron a coffee, and for me? A huge glass of ice-cold horchata. Teotihuacan serves some of the best horchata in town. This is the real stuff, too. None of this powdered mix crap.

Chorizo!

My “grande breakfast” platter came to the table with a heaping mass of eggs and spicy chorizo, refried beans and freshly-made tortillas. As Jenny says, when you can nearly see through them for all the lard, that’s when you know they’re good. And for only $3.99, it’s pretty much the best damn deal around for breakfast.

An hour and a half later, we were finally pulling up to the parking area outside of the Renaissance Festival.  While I could take this entire post to expound upon the depth and breadth of weirdness that we encountered at the Ren Fest, I’ll instead direct you to Houstonist for more on that subject.  For now, we’ll just discuss the food.

Continue reading Scotch Eggs, Sauerkraut & Turkey Legs

Mo’s Bacon Bar: The Meaning of Life?

As I believe I’ve made perfectly clear here in past posts, I love pork. I love pork belly, pork cheek, pork snout, pork loin, honey-baked ham, hot dogs, pancetta — if it’s pork, I love it. And I love no pork-based item more than I love bacon.

A strong runner-up to pork in the Food I Live For Battle is chocolate. Chocolate on its own is lovely, but I really love chocolate when it’s been smacked around a bit and perked up with an unexpected ingredient, hence my total foodgasm over Starbuck’s Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.

When I heard about Vosges Haut Chocolate’s new creation, Mo’s Bacon Bar, I knew it was only a matter of time before we’d meet and fall madly in love. My totally rad friend Groovehouse obtained one for me this week, and it’s totally on, people. The love affair has begun.

As with every Vosges bar, the packaging is just as fascinating as the chocolate inside. I giggled as I read the back of the package, which smacks strongly of food porn:

Beside my chocolate-laden cakes laid three strips of sizzlin’ bacon, just barely touching a sweet pool of maple syrup. And then, the magic—just a bite of the bacon was too salty and I yearned for the sweet kiss of chocolate and syrup, so I combined the two. In retrospect, perhaps this was a turning point; for on that plate something magical happened, the beginnings of a combination so ethereal and delicious that it would haunt my thoughts until I found the medium to express it—chocolate.

It’s always nice to see I’m not the only one that holds such intense feelings for bacon and/or chocolate.

Following their instructions, I opened the package and broke off one small square of the smooth, dark chocolate, rubbing it with my thumb to release the dusky aroma.  Upon first glance, it looks like any other bar of chocolate.  Where is the bacon?

Still following instructions, I snapped off one small piece from the square and popped it into my mouth.  Ah.  Yes.  There it is…

The bacon is buried deep inside the bar in the most delicate little nuggets.  I was fascinated, and kept breaking off successively smaller pieces of the chocolate just to see the bits inside.  For such small pieces, they pack a hell of a punch.  Not aggressive or overwhelming, just an unexpected salty rush with just the faintest hint of sweet maple syrup.  It’s a pairing made in food heaven.

In a move that’s surprised even me, I’m now viciously hoarding the rest of the bar, determined to make it last as long as possible.  Greedy, rapacious me?  Who hoovers up anything set in front of her?  Hoarding food?  I know; it’s stunning.  But that should give you an idea of just how damn good this chocolate bar is.

I’d suggest getting one of your own, since any attempt to take mine would result in teeth and/or scratch marks.  It wouldn’t be pretty.  You can order it online at Vosges for a mere $7.50, or simply head down to your local Whole Foods Market and raid their Vosges section yourself.

p.s.  The answer is no longer 42.  It’s now Mo’s Bacon Bar.

Like Jesus to a Child

Trying to explain my undying love of pork, pork products and all things pork to a coworker this afternoon:

Me:  Me and pork are like…  Are like…  Are like……..

Mike:  Like what?

Me:  Like…you know.  I LOVE pork.

Mike:  You’re terrible at analogies.

Me:  Look, I’m just trying to think of a love that is reciprocal and doesn’t end in tragedy.  No Romeo and Juliet-type stuff.

Mike:  Like Windex and glass?

Me:  YOU’RE TERRIBLE AT ANALOGIES.

Mike:  Whatever.

Me:  Like Bobby and Whitney.  Oh, wait…no.

Mike:  Like Ike and Tina?

Me:  No!  No beatings or crack!  Like Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

Mike:  They broke up.

Me:  Oh.  Then, like Brad and Angelina.

Mike:  TOO NEW.

Me:  OKAY, FINE.  Like Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman.

Mike:  What?!?

Me:  Odd, but eternal.  Yes.  That’s how pork and I feel about each other.

Next time, I’ll stick to letting George Michael write the bizarre analogies and just go eat some bacon.

Food Poisoning + Chili = A Surprising Amount of WIN

A mysterious thing happened on Friday afternoon.  I was suddenly and fiercely stricken with some of the most unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms I’ve had since a full-blown bout of gastroenteritis a few years back.  All of Friday afternoon, evening, night and well into Saturday morning were spent virtually chained to the toilet.  Lovely, I know.

But here’s the mysterious part: Jenny, Fayza, Monica and I all came down with the exact same symptoms at the exact same time.  And we were all at the exact same party on Wednesday night.  Coincidence?  I think not.  While I was holding out hope that this was some kind of stomach flu and not food poisoning, I’ve had enough stomach bugs in my life to tell the difference.  All that’s left to do now is figure out the culprit…

While I was laying in bed sometime around 3am on Saturday morning with vicious stomach cramps, all I could think of was I’ve GOT to get better in time to judge the chili cookoff!  Nothing stands between me and chili/passing judgment on others.  I’m devoted like that.

So on Saturday afternoon, I dragged myself out of bed — pale and achy and weak — and down to Shady Tavern.  The smell of chili and barbeque in the air was like an aroma from the gods, like a victory banquet at Valhalla.  Surely I didn’t have the stomach flu; if I did, this smell would make me vomit immediately.

Along with Richard and fellow Chowhound Peggy, I began making my way through the tables and tents of contestants, eyeing their cooking methods and decorations.  One table, Hunka-Hunka-Burning Chili, had framed Elvis pictures painted on black velvet hung on the fence behind them, along with enough Elvis memorabilia to make Graceland pale in comparison.  Another table offered tempting side dishes — freshly pickled jalapeno carrots, various sausages and beer-butt chicken — in addition to their chili.  One team had men wearing wigs and housecoats (the Yo Mama’s Chili team) and another had small, adorable children passing out appetizers at the incongrously-named TNT Tits-n-Tails Chili tent.  And I sensed a distinct rivalry between the Sexual Chili and the Sensual Chili teams.

Continue reading Food Poisoning + Chili = A Surprising Amount of WIN