Southwell’s

Southwell’s (I-10 & Echo Lane location), Houston, Texas
November 30, 2007

There are days when, being a red-blooded American girl, I crave a cheeseburger. Nothing fancy on those days — no cracked peppercorns or Havarti cheese or sauteed onions, although all of those things are delicious. Just a fully-loaded cheeseburger: patty, cheese, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. And on those days, I usually find myself at Southwell’s.

Southwell’s is a well-established burger joint with several locations here in town. I frequent the one at Echo Lane and I-10, since it’s just down the street from both my house and my office. Although I adore Southwell’s, I understand that it’s not everyone’s favorite. And why would it be, in a city with as many great burger joints as Houston? My personal favorite is Bellaire Broiler Burger and all of its late 1960s glory, but that doesn’t stop me from grabbing a good, juicy burger at Southwell’s.

When I lived in Waco, my favorite burger place was a rundown joint in one of the many “bad” parts of town. It was called Dubl-R, and for all its inaccessible parking, shady patrons, yellowed linoleum and torn vinyl seats, I loved it. It wasn’t the prettiest sister, but it was the sister with the mad burger flipping skills.

Dubl-R’s burgers were classic: fresh beef patties, the tops of the buns glistening with grease and the entire concoction whacked flat with the palm of the cook’s hand as he manhandled it into its white paper wrapper. They oozed happiness and — for me — the joy of knowing that I was enjoying something that most other people in Waco wouldn’t, simply because they never looked past the exterior of Dubl-R to come inside.

During my senior year, Dubl-R closed down. I was crestfallen. I tried to enjoy the burgers at Health Camp, down the road, but nothing compared. And then, to my complete astonishment, Dubl-R reopened right next to Baylor’s campus. Not only did they reopen, they had restyled themselves into the kind of subtly hip place that college students would inevitably flock to by the hordes.

Suddenly, the place was overrun with my fellow classmates. Dubl-R began to showcase cottons (the awful slang term at Baylor for sorority and fraternity event T-shirts) on their walls. They began to pander to the college masses. What’s worse, their burgers began to suck. Once again, Dubl-R was dead to me.

I’m coming to a point here, I promise…

Southwell’s is like a strange hybrid of the lost Dubl-R of my memories — the Dubl-R with the excellently greasy burgers that doesn’t exist anymore — and the one today. Southwell’s is mostly overrun by what I politely refer to as “yuppie scum.” At my local Southwell’s, nearly every car in the lot has a Memorial High School sticker on it and everyone inside would fit in quite comfortably at my alma mater. It’s clean and neat inside: no linoleum floors, no sticky booths with cracked seats.

However, Southwell’s has managed to retain great burgers amidst all of this. Their menu is simple and straightforward, belying the attitudes of crowd they routinely serve. Their burgers are served in the same white paper wrappers, their waffle fries in the same red plaid paper boxes, as burger joints throughout the decades. Their cheese fries are unabashedly drenched in half a gallon of cheese. And their cheeseburgers would be at home in the Dubl-R of my memory.

And at the end of the day, I don’t care if I have to endure the shrieking children of clueless, vapid, self-absorbed parents or their Range Rovers parked across three spaces in the parking lot; the endless lines of chattering, high school volleyball players and their constantly-ringing cell phones; or the droves of chubby, red-faced wheelers-and-dealers who clog the lines at lunch, answering their Blackberries and telling off-color jokes to their business partners. It all fades away when I’m burying myself in this:

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On Ethiopian Food

Note:  This is actually a transported post from my other blog, which I wrote nearly two years ago, but I wanted to share it here nevertheless.  I — mercifully — don’t work for this boss or at this company anymore.

I conned a few of my coworkers into going to one of my favorite restaurants today, Blue Nile, with the promise of “It’s just regular food, like lentils and chicken, but cooked a little differently!”  Which is true, if a little misleading.  I left out the part about eating with your hands because I was stretching my luck as it was by dragging them out to the Richmond boonies amidst places with names like “Discoteca #14” and “La Belleza Salon — La Mas Bella!”

Blue Nile serves the most delicious Ethiopian food this side of Addis Ababa.  I am such a dork.  And yes, I’ve heard the joke about “How many ways can you cook a grain of rice?” or the one about “It’ll be a quick meal; we’ll order two empty plates and leave,” both courtesy of my manchild boss.  Quick visual of the boss, while we’re on topic:

He usually wears sleeves, but the accent and attitude is still Da Bears.

Ethiopian food is, as I said before, pretty much the same food we eat over here — chicken, beef, potatoes, lentils, greens, etc. — just prepared differently and with very distinct, unique spices and lots of clarified butter.  It’s also eaten without the use of utensils; you use pieces of injera bread to pick up your food.  Injera is a slightly sour-tasting flatbread made from teff flour, which is very nutrient-rich and does a good job of balancing out the spicy nature of most Ethiopian dishes.

Now that we have that out of the way, I’d just like to say that I’ve learned a lesson today.  Don’t force Ethiopian food on good friends.  It will only make them fear and resent you.  Also, when you’re driving back to work, sheepishly, let them listen to the radio and don’t force them to listen to your new Coheed and Cambria CD, which also — clearly — is not for everyone.

Within five minutes of returning to the office, everyone had heard about the fearsome meal.  I’m not going to say that Ethiopian food is an aquired taste, because I instantly liked it from the first time that spicy, rich, earthy doro wot first passed my lips three years ago.  I just think that maybe it isn’t for everyone.  As my friend Aurora pointed out, it’s hard to get past that first visceral reaction to food that looks as if it were a challenge on Fear Factor.

Okay, I admit that the injera does look a little like a Dr. Scholl’s insert.

All of that aside, I highly recommend Blue Nile as a jumping-off point for Ethiopian food.  The waitstaff are friendly and more than willing to explain their dishes to any newbies, the food is very reasonably priced (on other occasions, my friend Jacque and I have been known to split their enormous vegetarian platter between the two of us for $4.50 apiece; yeah, that’s right — $4.50 apiece!) and it’s all delicious.

A Sunday Afternoon Curry

From the delicious shrimp curry I made for dinner last Sunday (try to ignore the completely unrelated cookbook page with masa boats in the background):

 

I served the curry over some brown rice with a little dollop of the mango marinade on top (didn’t have any chutney, so this worked quite well in a pinch).  If you’re going to make this recipe, which I highly recommend as an easy, delicious and very healthy meal, I would make the following substitutions:

  • Use light coconut milk instead of 2% milk; the coconut milk is a bit more in keeping with the other flavors of the dish and imparts a much richer, sweeter taste to it.
  • If you like a bit more crunch (which I do), make it a full cup of diced celery.
  • I used Maharajah curry from Penzey’s, which is sweet instead of hot.  It’s also chock-full of saffron (*swoon*) and it’s salt-free!  If you prefer a hotter curry, well…use a hotter curry powder.
  • I added a teaspoon of powdered ginger root to give the otherwise sweet curry more of a pop.  You may not like this much ginger, but it sure did make the curry hum.
  • Finally, because a little butter never hurt anybody, I added an extra tablespoon of butter while I was sauteeing the shallots, celery, apples and garlic.  But please, people, if you’re going to do this — use good butter!!!  If you’re not going to use good butter — real butter — and are instead going to poison your body with margarine or oleo, why are you even bothering to cook?  Just go to KFC, buy a family-sized bucket of wings and thighs and just get it over with.

Enjoy, folks.