Category Archives: southern cuisine

Moonshine in the Afternoon

Martini with ruby red grapefruit juice and champagne at Moonshine

Ruby Slipper Martini with ruby red grapefruit juice and champagne at Moonshine

I’ve made a few recent weekend trips to Austin — for work both times — but managed to have a little fun on the side while I was there. This most recent trip to the Hill Country was for the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) and just to answer any questions you may have, let me just say this: I saw exactly one band over the course of three days, subsisted on nacho cheese Doritos and Red Bull in the media area and worked for a good portion of the weekend with my laptop in a clear plastic garbage bag to protect it from the torrential rain.

The highlight of that particular weekend was getting fresh carnitas tacos (with pickled habanero peppers!) and elotes slathered with mayonnaise and parmesan cheese delivered to the tent courtesy of an Austin taco restaurant whose name I shamefully can’t remember (I think I was distracted by fighting for the last plug on the lone power strip so my laptop didn’t die). And after the last band played on Sunday night, Groovehouse and I packed our gear, hiked out of Zilker Park and back to our car, where we promptly deposited a heavy load of cameras, lenses, batteries, docking stations, laptops, iPhones, power chargers and all manner of 21st century detritus before walking to Shady Grove for a late dinner.

It was far from the best meal I’ve ever had, but we both dove headfirst into our veggie burgers and salads, clinging desperately to the promise of roughage cleaning out our systems from the trash we’d shoved into it all weekend. I reflected later on the poor quality of my Thai noodle salad and how eagerly I devoured it, thinking that I should never, ever, ever review food when famished.

The trip to Austin before the three-day endurance sport that was ACL was decidedly more relaxed, however. I was in town at the request of Robb Walsh, serving as a preliminary judge for the 19th annual Austin Hot Sauce Festival. I chronicled my misadventures on Sunday in a recent post on the Houston Press, if you care to read about how sick I got somewhere around sampling my 200th salsa. The highlight of that trip was a meal at Moonshine, the pictures from which are below.

And they still look pretty damn delicious, if I do say so myself.

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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!

Been Gone Too Long

I haven’t had time to update she eats. as often as I’d like lately, owing to work (curses!!!) and actual paid writing (although if any of you want to start paying me to blog here, I’m cool with that, too). So just to briefly round things up, this is what I’ve been up to:

Writing articles for the Houston Press, such as “Praise the Lord and Pass the Mimosas” — an account of the inaugural Gospel Brunch at the new House of Blues here in Houston — and “The Grocery Store Corridor” — which is exactly what it sounds like. And although I haven’t quite figured out the settings on my new camera well enough yet to shoot moving things in the dark (i.e., concerts), here are some of the shots I was able to salvage from Gospel Brunch itself:

Concert Hall
The concert hall stage.

Umbrellas
Bringing diners/patrons up at the end of the show.

Testify
Sylvia St. James, emcee .

Bronze Peacock Room
The Bronze Peacock Room in the members-only Foundation Room, marking my second time to weasel my way up there and get free booze.

Buffet

The only picture I could get of the buffet; hungry socialites are like stampeding, enraged water buffalo, I tell ya.

I went to Gospel Brunch with my friend Eric Wilson, the music editor at Houstonist, which I’ve also been writing for as time allows. That said, none of my pieces are pertinent to food in the least (midget wrestling, anyone?). For one that is, check out this article by Jason Bargas on the closing of none other than that bastion of shitty service, The Daily Grind. As I’m sure you can guess, I was heart-broken.

I’ve also been eating this week. A lot. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I finally made it over to Cafe Pita + (read Jenny’s great review with pictures here). It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped. On Tuesday, I ate with Jenny, Katie, Hala, and nearly all of the Schipul girls (and poor Lance, who was the only guy at the table). Despite the high concentration of giggliness and silliness at the table, the waitstaff were very patient with us. And the food was amazing. I had the plejskavice, which is a lamb and beef patty stuffed with melted cheese and mushrooms, all on top of this beautiful, fluffy bread with pureed red pepper sauce. I was in heaven. The next day, I dragged Jeff out there and had the cevap, the sausage link version of the plejskavice (sans cheese) and had a fried cheese appetizer in its place. Jeff had the burek, which is essentially spanakopita on steroids and is about as large as a clown shoe.

On Friday, I grabbed lunch at my favorite pho place, Pho Huy, with some coworkers and found out that I should really stop speaking Vietnamese in restaurants when all I really know is “restaurant Vietnamese.” Or, as a friend suggested, at least learn how to say, “I’m going to order in Vietnamese for everyone, but that’s really all I know how to say.” In Vietnamese. I think it would solve a lot of problems. Friday night found me at Goode Co. Seafood with Groovehouse, as we sat at the bar and devoured the best campechana in Houston (seriously. I don’t say this lightly.). We watched enraptured for hours as a little old man behind the counter shucked oyster after oyster, placing them temptingly on platters of crushed ice and lemons. Next time…

There’s been more eating, of course. And even more pictures. And news, news, news. But for tonight, I’ve got to finish writing articles and paying invoices (two entirely separate work functions, mind you). So I’ll leave you with this photo from the market where I picked up some excellent, cheap produce this morning:

Favor de no mayugarlos
Produce stands behind Canino’s on Airline.

Good night, all!

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.

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.

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Kentucky Fried Nonsense

Seriously?

Colonel Harland Sanders’ handwritten fried chicken recipe blending those 11 herbs and spices is going to be moved from its home in a locked file cabinet inside a vault to an undisclosed location. After KFC headquarters in Louisville, Ky., modernizes the recipe’s permanent hideaway, it will be returned.

The recipe has been in the file cabinet for more than 20 years.

Ex-New York City police detective Bo Dietl has been hired to protect the age-yellowed sheet of notebook paper that holds the recipe, which will be tucked away in a briefcase handcuffed to him when it is whisked away by armored car.

From WNBC.com.

KFC isn’t taking any chances when it comes to their secret recipe of “eleven herbs and spices,” it would seem.

The brand’s top executive admitted his nerves were aflutter despite the tight security he lined up for the operation.

“I don’t want to be the president who loses the recipe,” KFC President Roger Eaton said. “Imagine how terrifying that would be.”

So important is the 68-year-old concoction that coats the chain’s Original Recipe chicken that only two company executives at any time have access to it. The company refuses to release their name or title, and it uses multiple suppliers who produce and blend the ingredients but know only a part of the entire contents.

From the AP.

KFC, I got news for y’all.  My momma’s fried chicken is better than KFC’s could ever hope to be.  And I bet that every other Southerner can say almost the same thing (my grandmother’s fried chicken, my wife’s fried chicken, my aunt’s fried chicken, etc…).  I’ve had your fried chicken, and it’s almost the polar opposite of what I would call “great.”  I said almost the polar opposite, so I’m not saying it’s disgusting.  It’s just…not that good.

That stuff may go over like hot cakes in places like China or Quebec, where they don’t know any better, but down here?  Yeah.  You need to get over yourselves.

Black Food Is In

From The Root comes this interesting story about the health benefits of dark-colored food:

Black food is in. And we’re not talking about your grandmother’s fried chicken or Aunt Sadie’s peach cobbler. Instead, it seems that with food, the darker it is, the better it is for you.

Wait…what?  Aside from the really awful “darker the berry, sweeter the juice” jokes that this begs, could that intro have been any more blatantly racist?

I guess since it’s written by a supposedly black author at a black website, it’s okay.  Right?  …not really.

Number One, fried chicken and peach cobbler are no more “black” foods than cornbread and catfish.  Those foods are Southern foods, traditional Southern cuisine.  Not “black” cuisine.  Both blacks and whites in the South eat foods like grits, barbecue, sweet potato pie, okra, field peas and collard greens.  Always have, always will.  What a ridiculous idea that certain foods are “blacker” than others.  Which leads me to…

Number Two, the insinuation that black folks only eat fried chicken or peach cobbler is offensive.  Why not just throw watermelon and pink lemonade into the mix and further stereotype yourself?  Even better, we can go back to old-timey advertisements like this:

Or some classic old Cream of Wheat ads:

While the rest of the article was interesting, that intro almost completely turned me off from reading it.  Nothing like setting a group of people back fifty years or so.  Well done, The Root.