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Spring is in full swing in the Houston area and Sud Italia once again has some great seasonal offerings that I want to share with y’all, Dear Readers.  Shanon Scott’s labour of love inspired by his time in the lower coastal area of Italy. Owner Shanon Scott’s 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry at high end Italian eateries enabled him to create a vision that is unique to Houston’s dining scene. The menu true to the regions includes dishes and ingredients from the five main areas of southern Italy as well as select southern Italian vineyards. Olive oil, tomatoes, eggplant, capers, mushrooms, olives, fresh hand-pulled burrata, fresh herbs from their own on-site garden, seasonal vegetables and fresh seafood are staples of the menu; and don’t forget the Meyer Lemon Limoncello (a sweet and sour Lemon Liqueur) made by Scott himself from his own Meyer Lemon tree!

I also learned a couple of other interesting facts about Sud Italia over the last couple of years:  Chef Ale “Sandro” Scarfile is married to a woman who is a Vegetarian.  While he is an omnivore, his wife’s eating habits have helped push him to create create fresh vegetable dishes that fit the Southern Coastal Italian profile but are friendly to her eating choice.  This explains how such great appetizers like the Grigliata di Verdure  come into being.  Here you get fresh seasonal grilled veggies topped with house-made pesto and served with a little more pesto and fresh rosemary to boot!  The selection on this particular evening included red bell peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, red onions, mushrooms and a cherry tomato to boot.  These veggies tasted like they’d just been picked at the right time from the garden before being washed and grilled.  Saluti Chef Scarafile and Mr. Scott!  Grade: A+

Of course you cannot have Southern Coastal Italian without some fresh seafood pasta in the mix and the seasonal menu has two such choices:  a Spaghetti Neri con Ricci (squid ink infused spaghetti with sea urchin, cherry tomatoes and garlic in a white wine sauce) and Paccheri con Gamberoni e Asparagi (Paccheri pasta–think really thick macaroni that flattens in the middle like a cut inner tube of semolina–shrimp, asparagus and other mixed veggies, seasoned with a lobster based sauce.)  We went with the Paccheri and were quite happy with it!  Now this is some seafood veggie pasta that some of my Pescetarian friends  would embrace wholeheartedly.  Vibrant, colourful, full of zest, a nice amount of shrimp as well.  The veggies have a crisp freshness with strong flavour, whether sweetness from the peppers, a slight bitterness to the asparagus and that wonderful stinking rose essence of Garlic.  Magnificent!  Grade: A+

Of course this Texan is tried and true in his love of beef and thankfully the seasonal menu also includes one of my favourite cuts of meat for a Steak–they call it Bistecca alla Griglia, but to us Texans it’s a bone in rib eye steak served with fresh veggies and fingerling yellow potatoes.  I take my steak medium rare to medium and this steak was grilled to perfection with nice char marks and a good herbal/garlic/salt seasoning rub, but juicy and having a hot reddish pink centre.  The veggies included fresh asparagu and carrots with plenty of flavour and the right amount of snap when you bite into them.  But the steak was the real prize in how juicy and tender it was.  Grade: A+

Of course no meal is complete without having a good wine to enjoy it with and thankfully Sud Italia maintains a good wine list that matches every palate and every budget. With our meal we enjoyed a Primitivo Tormaresca red wine –it was earthy, tart, and notes of black cherries, a perfect complement to the bone-in rib-eye steak to be sure.  And also I must note, Sud Italia does not allow outside wines to be brought in with Corkage.  Shanon Scott has taken great pains to curate a wonderful wine list that would complement all the dishes that Chef Scarafile prepares and it would behoove any Wine lover/Oenaphile to check the wines out when they come to his establishment.  I promise you that you will find a couple you will simply love.  

I want to thank Shanon Scott, Chef Scarafile and all the staff at Sud Italia for a wonderful dinner.  I want to urge all of you Dear Readers to head to Rice Village and give Sud Italia a try.  You will very much enjoy the homey hospitality of this converted house and the staff will make you feel right at home.

Sud Italia is located at: 2347 University Blvd. Houston, TX 77005. Ph: 713-664-7571.  Hours of operation are:  Mon-Fri Lunch: 11-3 Mon-Wed; Dinner: 5-9:30. Thurs-Sat Dinner: 5-10.  Sat Brunch: 11-3.  Sud Italia is closed on Sundays.  

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Miami has a little Havana.  Houston, not as much.  However, we do have some good Cuban food available here in the Houston area, such as Flor de Cuba, Rincon Criollo, and even El Rey for a quick bite and fused with Mexican food.  However, not everyone is aware of the Havana Houston Grill, which recently went through a great remodeling (kind of like Memorial Drive in front of it is experiencing) which has made the environment a little more upscale, yet still friendly and worth braving the road construction to come visit.  But first a little background.  

Fusing: Our Heritage. The roots of fusion cuisine are probably ancient, since humans have been exchanging culinary heritage for centuries. Fusion cuisine is generally broken down into three categories. One combines the cooking styles and flavors of several related regions or sub-regions. Another commonly takes traditional dishes from one cultural or ethnic region and applies unique ingredients, spices, herbs and flavors from other cuisines to create new dishes. The third fusion cooking category simply takes the basic preparation method of an established dish and replaces the ingredients with those of a totally different cuisine.

We here at Havana Houston take an eclectic concept into fusion dining to bring your taste buds an explosion of flavors that will have you wondering “Where did these recipes come from…” Let us take care of your dining needs. We have strict etiquette when it comes to waiting on our patrons. We take pride in serving and make it a true art form. Experience our exceptional catering service offered for Corporate and Private Events. There is no greater dining experience in Havana Houston than the Chef’s Table. It’s a one-of intimate experience you can share with up to 8 people. You will receive an exclusive menu and have a one-on-one with our Master Chef. Call to make your reservation for Havana Houston’s Chef’s Table Experience. 

Some great selling points, to be sure.  However, without good tasting food, it’s a lot of words.  But certainly, Havana Houston Grill has all of this in abundance on it’s menu.  They have Caribbean style Ceviche, Barcelona Chickpea Soup, a Havana Caesar Salad, A signature burger, Ropa Vieja (a Caribbean style shredded beef served with fried plantains), and Lechon Asado (shredded pork with black beans, white rice, maduros and mojo sauce).  Cuban food, Caribbean food and some fusion with other styles of food.  As advertised and all sounded great to me!  

Clockwise:  Stuffed Tostone cups, Fried Yucca,
Fritura de Malanga, Fried Plantains & a Cuban Tamale

As this was a lunch visit, my usual litmus test of Cuban/Caribbean food is in the appetizers and of course the famous Cubano aka Stogie Roll aka Cuban sandwich.  I started off with the Guajiro Sampler which includes Stuffed tostone cups with béchamel sauce, ham, and cheese; fried maduros (aka plantains), fried yucca in chimichurri sauce, and fritura de Malanga (Malanga is a Caribbean vegetable related to Taro root–these are fritters made from shredded Malanga).   They also threw in a Cuban tamale as well, bonus!  Each of these appetizers has a nice mix of flavours.  The Yucca is crunchy, kind of like a potato, kind of not–the chimichurri works well with the starchiness of the Yucca.  The Frituras de Malanga were very good–crunchy, a bit bold, and the mojo sauce was a creamy, herbal offset to them.  The plantains and tamale were also quite good–sweet on the plantains, salty and grainy with some heat in the tamale.  I really enjoyed the cheesy, creamy, saltiness of the tostone cups.  This was a good preview of what was to come.  

I was very tempted to try the Havana Signature burger–who doesn’t love a burger with caramelized onion, bacon, tomatoes, lettuce, pineapple, avocado and provolone cheese, right?  But, I was here for what cannot be had elsewhere, and while there are many great restaurants doing a version of the Authentico Cubano, the real deal is the best. Here you get Cuban baguette loaded with roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, dill pickle, and hint of mustard.  Some places use Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco, but really a nice melted white cheese works here quite well.  Part of what makes this sandwich so good is the pressed, grilled nature of it.  Part of it is the mustard and pickles offsetting the sweetness of the Pork.  Much like Carolina BBQ, the pork is the main feature of this sandwich, but with the more Caribbean type of seasoning.  This is the real deal and it’s served with fries that are really crunchy outside, not limp, not too soft inside.  As my son Jason tells me “good fries go with everything” and these are good fries, all right.

I definitely need to come back soon and try their dinner menu.  Items like the Cubano Sampler (Ham croquettes, chicken cheese empanada, beef empanada, stuffed plantains with shrimp, and beef stuffed potato)  that lean more meaty, their oven roasted lamb loin or the Cuban Osso Bucco.  One thing I noticed for sure during this leisurely Friday lunch is that the guests were very happy with their food, and I will also add the service is top notch–not too fast paced, not invisible, but present when needed or wanted.  

Report Card for Havana Houston Grill
     Guajiro Sampler: A to A+

     Authentic Cuban Sandwich: A
     Speed: A
     Friendliness: A
     Dining Area: A+
     Bar: A
     Patio: A
Atmosphere (High End Latin Bistro): A+

Havana Houston is located

on Memorial Drive near Dairy Ashford at:
14543 Memorial Drive 
Houston, TX 77079


Monday – Thursday: 11a.m.-10p.m.
Friday: 11a.m.-11p.m.
Saturday: 5:30p.m.-11p.m.

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Ramen has always been a staple of college students as an inexpensive, flavourful and filling meal.  The higher end version, still reasonably priced, has been available at many an Asian restaurant over the years.  The highest end version of this wonderful noodle dish is usually fully loaded with meat, veggies, soft boiled eggs, and a plethora of seasonings in marrow broths, curries and all kinds of sauces.  Since the opening of Tiger Den on Bellaire a few years ago, Houston has had a number of the higher end Ramen restaurants open up and enjoy some success due to the city’s appetite for all kinds of different foods, Ramen included.  Agu-a Ramen Bistro which has become a staple in Hawaii since 2013 made its first jump to the mainland, bypassing California and the West Coast and landing with both feet in the Houston area.  Here’s a bit more about them from their website.

“A harmony of aroma and complex flavors is affirmation of my love for the art of ramen.
Steeped deep within the noodles, is a reverence for life and the Japanese culture.
However, these bowls of passion can only reach perfection,
if I succeed in passing on their secrets to future generations.”— Chef Hisashi Uehara

We don’t just love ramen, we live ramen! Not long ago, a group of savvy business partners sat together enjoying a beer and doodling ideas on their cocktail napkins. In 2013, their collective dream of a high-end ramen house became reality when AGU a Ramen Bistro opened with fanfare at its first location at the Saint Louis Alumni Association in Honoloulu. A recipe for instant success, more AGU locations sprang up on Oahu over the next couple of years.

Hisashi Uehara, Executive Chef and Owner, named his premier ramen bistros, “AGU” which means “fellowship” or “best friends” in Miyako, his native Okinawa dialect. Every day, more than 1,560 pounds of pork bones are slowly boiled at an extremely high heat for over 24 hours in order to create AGU’s signature, creamy yet hearty, tonkotsu broth. The resulting enticing rich flavor speaks of the love that goes into every bowl. Tonkotsu Ramen is considered by many to be the “king of ramen”.

All of the soups and dishes served at AGU are made with only the freshest, exceptional ingredients. The rich, clear chicken broth is made using organic, cage-free Jidori chicken that has been raised on a vegetarian diet. Our noodles are made fresh daily from a special house recipe. However good ingredients are not enough to create AGU’s specialty soups and dishes. Our chefs are dedicated to preparing each item with perfection, patience and a little extra Aloha! Our ramen cannot be rushed!

Karaage Fried Chicken

Delicious Tonkatsu Ramen in thick broth with all the trimmings or a nice Jidori Ramen are a welcome bowl of comfort to me and my kiddos.  On a recent day off from school the three of us headed to the location at 9310 Westheimer Rd near Chuy’s.  This is one of 3 locations already open in the greater Houston area with plans for 3 more opening this quarter of 2017.  Agu’s Menu includes all levels of Ramen and ingredients from the very basic Shoyu Ramen to the sublime Innovative Hot Mess and plenty of variations in between.  They also have a good variety of small plates/sides, including Spicy Kim Chi, Gyoza Dumplings, Kicked up Fries and Karaage (a special moist and crunchy fried chicken, picture on the right.)  We came hungry and tried a few things!

We went with two variations on the Tonkatsu Ramen–one with Miso, the other a Spicy Kotteri Ramen, as well as Karaage Fried Chicken.  The Spicy Kotteri Ramen is made with bonito-infused shoyu tare with a choice of spice level (hot but not blistering for me) and
topped with fresh house made pork char siu, aji tamago*, crunchy menma, fried garlic chips, fresh negi & sesame seed.  I elected to add a Jidori soft boiled egg for good measure.  This Ramen was prepared and served piping hot and had a great, savoury scent from the pork, the broth, the onions, peppers, spices, sesame and other wonderful ingredients.  A nice garnish of fresh green onions and half a soft boiled egg crowned this lovely bowl of noodles and it proved to be very photogenic on this sunny day.  When it came to the eating, there was no disappointment.  The broth was rich, had a nice oily marrow essence to it and it teemed with chewy, satisfying ramen noodles.  A Bit of Heat hit at the end, clearing out the ol’ sinuses. Everything delivered as advertised, no disappointments!

Miso Tonkatsu Ramen

The Miso Tonkatsu ramen has a traditional rich & hearty broth full of robust flavors, with a unique blend of miso and an additional topping of sweet corn. It also includes the fresh house made pork char siu, aji tamago*, crunchy menma, fresh negi & sesame seeds.  The kids wanted a Jidori egg in the mix as well–always a good call.  This ramen was less spicy, more smooth and salty–more to the kids tastes.  The sesame seeds add a bit of a nutty essence to the mix and add a layer of texture to the umami and the other sensations.  The two of them ate the full contents of their bowls with glee.  And the Karaage fried chicken is crunchy outside, moist inside, has a great flavour much like the salt and pepper wings from House of Bowls.  Had I not already eaten a substantial bowl of Ramen, I might have craved waffles with that Karaage chicken.

Report Card for Agu Ramen on Westheimer:

     Spicy Kotteri Ramen: A+
     Miso Ramen: A
     Karaage Fried Chicken: A
     Speed: A
     Friendliness: A
     Dining area: A+
     Bar: A
     High End Ramen Bistro/Bar: A

Overall Grade: A

Agu Ramen has 3 open Houston locations now, with 3 more to open 1st Quarter 2017.  We went to the location at:

9310 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77063
(832) 582-5530

7 Days a Week
11 AM til 10 PM

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One of the things I am often amazed at is how Houston area businesses and entrepreneurs, especially in the Food Service Industry, help out and give back to the communities that make up this Great Area where we live.  Whether it’s the many great works from the crew at Peli Peli that are all over the place, to the very specific target actions of Saint Arnold Brewing, the Houston area has a friendly culture of caring that transcends ethnicity, faith, gender, sexual orientation and politics.  Some businesses are speifically set up to help those in need in a broad sense–i.e. Second Blessing from WHAM, or in a more focused sense, like the topic of this article Sweet Angels Café & Bakery in Pearland.  First, let’s hear their story straight from them:

Sweet Angels Cafe-Bakery was born out of a dream from the Forgotten Angels Foundation to provide meaningful vocational activities for individuals living with developmental, intellectual and physical disabilities. Job coaches work with residents of Forgotten Angels to develop vocational opportunities that promote success. Our vision is for Pearland and the world beyond to embrace the active and meaningful participation of people with special needs. The Forgotten Angels Foundation transforms the lives of people living with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities – at home, at work and in the community. Forgotten Angels was founded in 2001 by Renee McGuire, a Pearland business owner, to help friends who were struggling to find appropriate services for their adult children with disabilities. In 2011, Forgotten Angels Foundation partnered with Unified Care Group to provide foster care and Home and Community-based services. Today, Forgotten Angels Foundation provides specially designed homes and facilities, as well as recreational, educational, and vocational opportunities for more than 100 individuals with special needs. 

This is something I can wholeheartedly get behind on several levels.  I have worked with adults with different kinds of disabilities in my job ever since I got hired at McDonald’s back in high school.  I have a daughter who is in the Autism Spectrum but is very high functioning and most folks don’t even realize it.  While Forgotten Angels is working with those who are more severely learning disabled, what I found out from sitting and chatting with their head baker and the Café’s executive director Tim Pylate is that they get folks out in the community and in the workplace.

As you can see from the short video from Rashi Vats of Fox 26, the Angels as the employees are known, are trained thoroughly in different jobs as baking assistants, servers, dishwashers, bussers and so forth on down the line.  This includes vocal coaching, safety and hygiene training as well as customer service skills.  Of course, as good as all of these are, and in and of themselves makes Sweet Angels Bakery and Café worthy of support, the fact that the baked goods they serve are so delicious, well that is just icing on the proverbial cake!  And as you can see from the display case over here, they have plenty of awesome baked goods to choose from!

On this particular visit, I started off (clockwise from right!) with a nice French Press of locally roasted coffee.  Very smooth, very rich and was very pleased with it.  The coffee was there to offset some of the sweeter items I tried this day.  These items included a four layer lemon cream cake–very luscious, not too sweet, nice tart lemon flavour throughout (think there was lemon curd in there!) along with sweet cream vanilla icing in betwen the layers.  Magnificent!  Next was a chocolate cream tart–rich, luscious chocolate pudding with house made whipped cream topping (the kind that is not as sweet as Reddi-Whip!).  This was luscious and woudl scratch a chocolate lover’s itch!  And for the lovers of cheesecake, there was a chocolate pecan caramel turtle cheesecake that was heavy with cream cheese or was it ricotta… a thick, crunchy graham cracker crust and nice chunks of pecans.  
I managed to restrain myself from gobbling them all up, brought the leftovers home, which were promptly gobbled up by my kids Helena and Jason.  From their feedback, they thought I’d brought the desserts from any number of our great bakeries like Three Brothers, Rao’s or Drew’s Pastry Place.  When I informed them about Sweet Angels, my son Jason said “Whomever is training the baking assistants is doing a good job because these desserts rock!” As you can see from this other picture, they have many great multi-layer cakes, as well as pies, smaller pastries and the like.  During my visit, they had temporarily suspended lunch service.  However, Lunch Service is now back per their website!   
As this was a first visit, I’m not going to do a formal report card.  However, each dessert I tried was an A+ in my book and the work they are doing to help a plethora of folks in the Pearland area is immeasurable.  
Sweet Angels Café & Bakery is located at:

1330 Broadway Street #104
​Pearland, Texas 77581
​Phone: 281-612-2924

Tuesday – Friday 10am-6pm
Saturday 8am-6pm
Closed​​​ ​Sunday & Monday

I want to thank Tim Pylate for hosting me and informing me of the great work the Bakery & Café, as well as the Forgotten Angels Charity is doing in the Pearland area.  I want to also apologize that this story is coming out a bit later than intended.  I highly recommend the next time you go out to Pearland, make this a stop to help out those in need as well as feed your sweet tooth!

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It seems that it’s seafood season in the Greater Houston Area all the time.  And we are all blessed to have many great Seafood restaurants here in the Greater Houston Area.  Some are Chains of all levels of quality and service.  Many more are local establishments that provide a bit more of a interesting take on great seafood.  One of the ones I tried recently, Playa Azul Seafood & Oyster Bar, has a distinctly coastal Mexican take on Seafood and such, as I discovered when I went there for lunch on a recent weekday.

Playa Azul quite literally means “Blue Beach” and is also the name of a famous Cozumel Island, Quintana Roo, Mexico Resort, just off the Yucatan Peninsula.  This restaurant is not some luxury resort though–think of Captain Benny’s meets a Mexican beachside seafood joint and that best sums up this place.  But it is not without it’s charms.  The staff is laid back and friendly.  There is a huge Oyster bar service right in the Middle of the Restaurant.  Fresh oysters are visibly shucked for the diner as they watch and the aroma of delicious Latin Spices and Lime is evident.

After studying the menu, I decided to start off with a Toro Appetizer:  a Jalapeño pepper, stuffed with Queso Fresco, battered, wrapped in bacon and deep fried.  These are a crunchy, spicy, creamy and meaty treat that started off my meal quite nicely.  This is served with cocktail and tartar sauce, along with a side of fries or another side item if you prefer.

For my main meal, I was kind of torn because there were several different types of Tex-Mex, Cajun and Mexican dishes, many of which were seafood based.  After thinking about it for a decent amount of time, I went with the Fish Tacos al Pastor.  These are three spicy grilled, street style fish tacos, served on white corn tortillas with steamed white rice and lime wedges and a creamy cilantro dressing if you wish.  I folded one up and took a bite, getting a spicy kick from the sauce the fish was grilled in.  I cut the spice by adding some of the creamy cilantro sauce and a squeeze or two of lime juice.  These tacos were like a spicy, almost Tandoori version of Fish Tacos that  you see in San Diego or other Mexican Coastal towns.  Very nice indeed.  Of course they have the more traditional fried and grilled fish filets, shrimp, oysters, shrimp brochette, grilled Tilapia and so forth if that is more to your liking.
Report card for Playa Azul on Grant Rd.
     Toro Appetizer: A
     Tacos Al Pastor: A+
     Speed: B+
     Friendliness: A
     Dining area: A
     Oyster Bar: A-
     Men’s Room: A-
Atmosphere (Yucatan Capt. Benny’s): A-

Overall Grade: A-

Playa Azul is located at:
10966 Grant Rd (at Jones Rd).
Houston, TX 77070
(281) 955-5772

Hours of Operation: Mon – Thu: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Fri – Sat: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am – 10:00 am

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Usually the words Barbecue and Downtown Skyline don’t mix together very well for some reason.  Maybe it’s the potential for fire and smoke in a condo or office building that makes the location less than desirable for such a restaurant.  In other cases it evokes the image of someone in business attire getting red BBQ sauce smeared all over their starched collars, not a good fit.  Or the notion of smoking the meat off site and hauling it to be reheated and served.  However, one Barbecue and Grill Restaurant is defying those sensibilities in a delicious manner:  The Republic Smokehouse and Saloon on Bagby.  This place combines elements of a High End Bar and Grill, a heck of a Bar, a live music venue and a few scenic views in a great space right across from Mr. Peeples.  But first a little background from their website:

At The Republic Smokehouse & Saloon, we put an upscale spin on authentic southern BBQ and serve it up with a heaping side of Texas tradition. Enjoy live music in our dance hall and main dining area, catch your favorite sports teams on one of our 30 flat screen TVs in the bar, or revel in the energetic atmosphere of Midtown from our covered patio. With revolutionary BBQ dishes, enlightened drink concoctions and a lively character, we’re bringing Houston back to its roots with LIBERTY & LIBATIONS FOR ALL.

Pit Master Cedric Williams 

As a fan of good craft beer and cocktails as well as good barbecue, this appeals to me greatly.  It doesn’t hurt that they also hired noted Houston Pitmaster Cedric Williams, formerly of Williams BBQ in the Acres Homes community.  Williams and his father ran a BBQ joint that attracted folks from all over the Greater Houston area for many years until a fire burned it down in 2007.  Cedric had gone into semi-retirement after that, and when Lucky Chopra of Landmark Houston Hospitality Group began conceiving of this brand, Cedric Williams was the first name he thought of for pit master, and lucky for us diners, he was happy to oblige.  Williams has his own rub he uses for all of his smoking, and no he wouldn’t give away the recipe.  Williams also stands by the use of Post Oak wood for smoking, as it doesn’t overpower the flavour of the meat like other woods might.

Head Chef Matt Knotts 

Besides the BBQ Pit, Chopra also wanted to make sure the menu was varied enough to appeal to the broad palate that is found in the Downtown area and chose from inside Landmark’s own House, Chef Matt Knotts, most recently Sous Chef at another Landmark project Hearsay Gastrolounge.  Knotts is very particular about making good quality food for his clientele.  Pretty much all of the sauces are made in house, the dishes made from scratch, including any ice cream used in the desserts.  Heck, he even uses rosemary from a bunch of rosemary bushes growing around the restaurant.  You can’t get much more local or fresh than that.  Pairing Knotts and Williams, two culinary craftsmen as it were, is a recipe for success in my opinion.

On this particular day I had a chance to taste several dishes at The Republic Smokehouse.  These included a BBQ’D Avocado (some folks don’t know you can smoke them!) among other great dishes.   In fact that hit me as so interesting that was the appetizer we started out with. You get a half an avocado that’s been smoked in the skin, filled with queso fresco and topped with chopped brisket & bbq vinaigrette, This is a very colorful starter, has a creamy texture with a nice hint of the Post Oak smoke that doesn’t overpower it either.  Grade: A

Next we went with  a strong recommendation from the Chef:  Chef Matt’s Reuben sandwich.  This sammy has smoked corn beef (smoked by Pitmaster Cedrick Williams himself), house made sauerkraut, onions, house made 1000 island dressing, served on grilled marble rye bread.  Again, this is a beautiful sandwich and the smokey taste of the corned beef (also corned in house I might add) adds a bit of something extra.  I never though about having a Reuben Sandwich at a BBQ joint before, but this one is a good one!  Grade: A+

As if that was not enough of a nice unique dish for a BBQ joint, I was presented with a smoked Texas Quail, served over wild rice with Okra and Rosemary grown right on the property.  This very beautifully plated dish that has a nice fragrant aroma from the Rosemary and a nutty sense from the Wild Rice.  This isn’t Uncle Ben’s Rice, podnah!  The quail was juicy and smokey, not try nor tough.  Again another win for the Republic Smokehouse.  Grade: A

The tasting continued and the next item that was presented was highly recommended by Cedric Williams as a good representation of Chef Matt Knotts’ repertoire:  Smoked Duck Breast with a Raspberry Gastrique sauce and grilled okra, served atop rainbow grits that are cracked in house using… LIQUID NITROGEN!!!  (Glad to see there are other Chefs channeling their inner Mad Scientist!)  This duck was smokey, had a nice visible smoke ring even, was juicy and savoury–almosted melted in my mouth.  The Raspberry gastrique was a sweet and sour offset to the savoury, peppery duck.  The grits had a bit of a pop to their taste–using multiple breeds/colors of corn was a really nice touch by Chef Matt Knotts.  So far, more awesomness!  Grade: A++

For the Pescetarians out there, they also have smoked salmon, smoked by Cedric Williams himself.  Fish has to be smoked at a lower temperature than other meats.  Mr. Williams said once he figured out how to get the temperature just right, it came out phenomenal.  This salmon was served with the wild rice, garnished with Rosemary and atop a set of glazed carrots.  No wonder this dish is in the “For the Foodies” section of the menu.  Beautiful to look at, deliciously savoury, slightly smokey and the carrots were sweet, tender but firm and a nice contrast to the nuttiness of the wild rice.  Grade: A+

As wonderful as all those dishes are, the piece de resistance for any local BBQ fans who miss the Williams Smokehouse was this sampler plat of 5 different meats all smoked by the Pitmaster himself, Cedric Williams.  We got to try smoked turkey, moist brisket, Pork babyback ribs, jalapeño sausage and beef sausage.  (FYI: the sausages are all prepared by Williams!).  This platter is what has brought the fans of Williams smokehouse to Downtown Houston after Republic Smokehouse opened and scratched that flavour itch.  The Turkey had a nice smoke ring, was tasty.  The brisket moist and juicy.  The sausages savoury, juicy and a little spicy.  And the baby back ribs were fall off the bone tender.  Cedric Williams make the rub and the sauces, and whether you sauce those meats or eat them as is, they are a great representation of our local classic BBQ scene.  Grade: A’s and A+’s  

Lest I forget, the is dessert as well.  We were treated to a funnell cake that was served with house made vanilla ice cream topped with the raspberry gastrique, and a special milk shake that was flavoured like caramel buttered popcorn.  The funnel cake was more crispy than the usual carnival versions, but was nicely sweet and worked great with the raspberry gastrique and the cool, creamy ice cream.  The popcorn shake was buttery and salty, yet creamy and frothy as well.  I loved the caramel popcorn garnish and I think I may have found a few caramelized cashew nuts in the bottom of the glass.  Bonus points for creativity on that shake!  Grade:  A & A respectively.  

Folks, I got a good taste of a broad cross-section of Republic Smokehouse’s menu in this tasting session, and was overall very pleased.  Fans of the Williams BBQ, if you’ve not come out already, you need to.  Folks who work downtown and have a hankering for BBQ or great Gastronomic Grub need to come on down as well.  I’ll also mention they have a great selection of Texas Craft Beer, as well as mass produced beer, a very well stocked bar and plan to be having occasional live music on the stage near the front of the restaurant.  The staff is also friendly and provide great service in a Texas casual atmosphere.

Oh, and before I forget: next Thursday, April 23, The Republic Smokehouse and Saloon will host a special evening with the Houston Police K9 Unit, Houston Police Chief Charles A. McClelland, Jr. and the Houston Police Foundatio. You can meet the officers and their K9 partners, and The event will kick off the opportunity for Houstonians to step forward and sponsor a HPD K9.   To ensure the K9 Unit is able to operate at its current capacity, they are seeking financial support from corporations, organizations, and individuals to offset the unit’s operating costs for the 23 specially trained policy dogs. For those interested, please consider sponsoring a K9 partner. The tax deductible $3,500 sponsorship will cover all of the operating expenses for one K9 member for one year.  For more info, please check out:

The Repblic Smokehouse and Saloon is located at:

1910 Bagby Street, Suite 100
Houston, Texas 77002

Sun – Wed: 11:00 a.m. – Midnight
Thu – Sat: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.

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Texas kitsch works very well around Houston, but if you’re going to use it in a restaurant, the food needs to be good, satisfying, and utterly Texas style.  Imagine a place made out of cedar and oak, with huge back patio under sprawling live oak trees, with Texas Flags, Texas kistch on the walls, a good selection of Texas brewed craft and micro beers, Chicken fried steak, Pecan Pie and all kinds of fixins.  If you’re fixin’ to want to go there, then I’ve done a pretty good job of describing the Live Oak Grill on Dairy Ashford, just north of Alternate US HWY 90 in Sugar Land.  
But first some background info per their website:

Voted by Readers Choice Awards as “Best Burger” (’05) & “Best Chicken Fried Steak” (’06) in Ft.Bend County! Also voted “Best Blue Cheese Bacon Burger” & “Best Chicken Fried Steak” in 2010 Best of Ft.Bend County Magazine. Besides the great Angus burgers, other favorites are mesquite grilled pork chops and salmon, chicken fried steak & chicken, grilled or fried shrimp and catfish, wonderful salads and original soups, and a great kids menu. Dine in or sit outside under 120 year old live oak trees.

Inside the ranch-style restaurant, expect a relaxed, down home atmosphere and a menu dominated by Southern classics. Order at the counter and pull an icy Lone Star from the cooler before finding a table. Favorites include Angus burgers with crisp-coated fries (or swap fries for some old-fashioned crunchy onion rings) or the best chicken fried steak in Sugar Land. Opt for a table outside under century old oaks so the kids can enjoy the spacious playground area. Top off your classic Texas meal with some homemade banana pudding or pecan pie. Enjoy! 

Well if that doesn’t make you shout Yee-Haw and down a bottle of Shiner Bock, then you’re just not Texan enough!  (Kidding, folks!)  So my kiddos and I headed on down with a notion of getting some Texas comfort food.   What we found when we stepped in was a mixture of nostalgia and Texas kitsch that would make Kinky Friedman jealous.  Heck, even ol’ Uncle Tex Moustache was pleased (until I ordered that is!)

Their menu features a good selection of burgers, Specialties, and sides as well as desserts.  Although all their burgers looked mighty good, I went with their Grilled Pork Chops (which upset Uncle Tex I might add…) along with some fries and onion rings.  My kiddos each went with their usual bent:  Jason went with a pair of Beef Slider Burgers with Fries (seriously) while my daughter went after the Chicken fried steak fingers with sweet corn on the side.  By the way, the kids meals come with either mandarin oranges or yogurt along with them, so don’t worry about things only being fried over there.  I’ll also add that they also have Okra, Sweet Potato Fries, Blackeyed Peas, green beans and garlic cole slaw, so it’s not just a fried carnivore’s place.

Personally I found the grilled pork chops to be nicely meaty, very juicy and tender, not dry and properly prepared.  I was in the mood for Frings and the batter on their onion rings was crispy and a little peppery, but hit the spot.  The fries were also seasoned very nicely and in retrospect, I’m going to try the chili cheese fries next time we come by.  My son was mainly happy that they had his favourite meat and potatoes that he could get his way, with no fussing.  Helena seems to have been on a growth spurt recently and her appetite has grown.  She enjoyed the Chicken Fried Steak Fingers, but also said that she would have enjoyed a larger portion more.  I’m not worried–she’s running track, playing volleyball and doing dance, so she needs that protein!  The fact that she said it was very delicious did not hurt them either!

Report Card for Live Oak Grill:
     Grilled Pork Chops: A
     Chicken Fried Steak Fingers: A 
     Beef Slider Burgers: A
     Onion Rings: A+
     Fries: A- 
     Friendliness: A+
     Speed: A-
     Dining Area: A
     Kitchen: A-
     Men’s Room: A
Atmosphere (Texas Ranch Roadside Diner): A-

Overall Grade: A

Uncle Tex says “Order the Chicken Fried Steak or Seafood.

Live Oak Grill is located at:
12935 Dairy Ashford Rd
Sugar Land, TX 77478

Hours of Operation:
Mon-Wed: 11 AM til 8:30 PM
Thu: 11 AM til 9 PM
Fri: 11 AM til 10 PM
Sat: 11 AM til 9:30 PM
Sun: 11 AM til 8 PM

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As y’all know Crawfish season is in full swing, but it won’t be lasting much longer.  Even without Crawfish on the menu, good seafood is a real pleasure to eat and thankfully Houston has a lot of good local seafood joints at all levels that have many different tastes for the stuff.  One interesting take on the subject is a fusion of Southeast Asian and Cajun style seafoods that is not hard to find in Houston, partly due to the large number of Vietnamese immigrants who settled along the Gulf Coast from Houston/Galveston on east through Louisiana into Gulfport/Biloxi and Mobile.  Although Cajun Kitchen on Wilcrest just south of Bellaire Boulevard has an ostensibly Cajun menu with grilled/raw oysters, Crawfish Etouffee, and a good selection of PoBoys, they also have some Asian style takes on seafood such as their boiled blue crab in Garlic Sauce and their Oyster’s Vietnam.  We packed up on a recent Saturday evening for dinner there.

I am particularly fond of oysters so we started off with a half dozen Oysters Vietnam (grilled oysters topped with butter garlic, scallions, and nuoc mam (fish sauce) and half a dozen Oysters Thailand (raw oysters on the half shell in nam jim sauce, topped with fried shallots and micro cilantro.  These oysters were nice and meaty and the mixture of seasonings gave them a bit of a a pop on your tastebuds.  The oysters were all properly shucked–no bits of shell in the meat, and looked downright beautiful on the plate.

Thankfully, Cajun Kitchen has a good selection of items for folks like my son Jason who aren’t as fond of the heat spice.  Jason had a generous plate of Chicken Tenders with seasoned fries that were very crispy and meaty.  He ate half the serving and said he would save the rest of the chicken to have with a Toaster Waffle for breaky the next day.  I’ll also mention that unlike some of the Asian oriented restaurants, Cajun Kitchen actually has a soda fountain and sodas include refills at no additional charge.  This is very helpful when one of your party prefers Fanta or Dr. Pepper as opposed to hot green tea.

My daughter Helena was open minded enough to try the Pastalaya (think Jambalaya but with Penne Pasta instead of rice!)  This is Shrimp, chicken and sausage cooked in a spicy jambalaya sauce served on top of penne pasta topped with green onion and mozzarella cheese, served with toasted Garlic French Bread.  Although this was a little spicier than expected, it was quite good and again, the portion was generous enough to have some to pack for lunch the next day.  Very good stuff.

And then it came time to try the boiler.  For the first round, we went with two pounds of crawfish in their special kitchen seasoning that includes a heft heap of garlic, orange rinds and onions in it.  Although I ordered it medium, it had some heat to it, but it also had the essence of garlic, orange and other flavours as well.  The batch had a mix of large, medium and small mudbugs.  This year the crawfish have been of varying size at several places, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected.  I liked that they served them with lime wedges to squeeze some juice on.  Good crawfish overall.

Last but not least, we went with some boiled blue crab in a house garlic sauce.  A medium order is 3 crabs and these came out very meaty and juicy.  Again, this place DOES NOT SPARE THE GARLIC, which I am cool with.  Just FYI:  don’t be surprised if you ward of mosquitoes, birds and vampires with the garlic breath you’ll get afterwards.  These crabs had plenty of meat and were a nice end to a filling, satisfying meal.  Good Job, Cajun Kitchen.

Report Card for Cajun Kitchen:
Food & Beverage: 
     Chicken Tenders & Fries: A
     Pastalaya: A-
     Boiled Crawfish in Special Kitchen Seasoning: A
     Blue Crab: A
     Dining area: A
     Kitchen: A-
     Men’s Room: B+
Atmosphere (Asian Cajun Fusion): A-

Overall Grade: A-

Cajun Kitchen is located in SW Chinatown at:
6938 Wilcrest Dr
Houston, TX 77072
(281) 495-8881

Hours of Operation:
Mon – Fri3:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Sat – Sun12:00 PM – 10:00 PM

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Folks, though I favour photographs and written media more, when I first started doing Food Media, I was trying to make a YouTube Channel with a bunch of videos and many of them are still out there.  The problem I kept on running into was the time it was taking to edit the videos, and while I was learning quickly, I could only manage maybe 3 or 4 a month, which isn’t often enough for most Media Consumers to maintain a good presence, so I went with writing and photography and it’s served me well.  However, several other folks in the Houston Foodmedia got early access to an app called Tastemade™ which gave them the ability to do short “appisodes” along the lines of what I was trying to do, but with a smart phone and an easy to use interface.  Only problem was it wasn’t available for my old Samsung Galaxy S3 when it came out, only for iOS.  Then my S3 died, I got an S5, the app did work for that and the rest is history.

Some of y’all who visit this website regularly have seen a few videos at the bottom that I made with the Tastemade App.  I am using this app right now for two purposes:  to preview places that will get a larger write up later, and to revisit places I’ve already written about, but may not have mentioned in a while, so the newer readers/viewers can see places that have great food and folks as well.  Now that I’ve made 40 videos (yes the web interface says 31, they’re a work in progress!)  Here is a sampling of some of my favourite places I’ve covered with this cool app:

Floyd’s Cajun Seafood and Texas Steakhouse in Sugar Land
I wasn’t able to get into the Pearland location, as it was too popular, but I got into the Sugar Land locale just fine!

Floyds Cajun Seafood and Texas Steakhouse

It’s Ribs on Jones Rd & FM 1960
An old favourite, especially the Pineapple Glazed Beef Ribs.  Had to give them another spin for the newer readers!

It’s Ribs

The Ragin’ Cajun on Westheimer & Gessner
My local Westchase stop for classic Crawfish, Cajun and Creole Food.  40 years plus in Htown for a GOOD REASON!!!

Ragin Cajun

Guru Burgers and Crepes
A favourite Wagyu Beef Burger and Craft Beer Bar.  One of the best burger places in the Houston area!!!

Guru Burgers and Crepes

BB’s Café on Montrose
The original from the great Brooks Bassler and one of the first videos I did that went somewhat smoothly I might add!!!

BB’s Cafe

Folks, I am not going to discontinue doing write ups.  However, if you are on Tastemade and aren’t following me yet, click on the link with the TM logo in the upper left of the Menu Bar on the right and please follow me!

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Well folks, I am very fond of some N’awlins style oysters.  As a fella who has lived most of his life along the Gulf Coast, Mostly in Baton Rouge and Houston, they can be served great so many ways.  Batter fried, raw on the halfshell, stewed, Rockefeller or chargrilled.  Oysters are a seafood delight of which I love to partake.  Recently, a colleague from Louisville was asking where they could get some New Orleans Style Chargrilled Oysters and I drew a blank because it had been a while.  So I solicited some friends who write about food and they gave me several great places, one of which I had forgotten about:  The Rouxpour in Sugar Land Town Square.  Here’s a bit of background on them:

The Rouxpour, is a New Orleans inspired concept by Mack McDonald and Lincoln Ward. The two teamed together in the early part of 2010 to begin the planning and development of the 3,676 sq ft design located in Sugar Lands bustling Town Center. McDonald and Ward then hired veteran Chef J. L. Quevedo, and the three began developing a menu reflecting the flavor and culture of New Orleans’ renowned French Quarter. The Rouxpour officially opened Labor Day 2010. McDonald is an entrepenuer originally from Baton Rouge LA. and currently resides in Greatwood TX. Ward is a Texas born restaurantuer whose home is in Sugar Land TX. and J.L. Quevedo is a 10+ year chef originally from Vera Cruz Mexico and resides in Houston TX. Fashioned after the historic French Quarter in New Orleans, The Rouxpour offers an authentic New Orleans experience like no place else. The Rouxpour restaurant and bar boasts a classic New Orleans atmosphere complete with stunning decor, cozy patio seating, a warm yet vibrant ambience, and an ambitious menu concentrating on authentic New Orleans cuisine.

Although my colleague went to another recommendation, I knew I needed to haul myself over to the Rouxpour and refresh my absent minded professor’s memory on this seafood treat!   However, when I first stopped in I also knew I had to avail myself of the classic New Orleans Cocktail called The Hurricane (named after the Lamp glass that it resembles!) The hurricane is a sweet alcoholic drink made with rum, fruit juice, and syrup or grenadine. The creation of this passion fruit–colored relative of a daiquiri is credited to New Orleans tavern owner Pat O’Brien. The bar allegedly started as a speakeasy called Mr. O’Brien’s Club Tipperary and the password was “storm’s brewin.'” In the 1940s, he needed to create a new drink to help him get rid of all of the less-popular rum that local distributors forced him to buy before he could get a few cases of more popular liquors such as scotch and other whiskeys. He poured the concoction into hurricane lamp–shaped glasses and gave it away to sailors. The drink caught on, and it has been a mainstay in the French Quarter ever since. It can be done frozen or on the rocks, so I went with the Rouxpour’s frozen version called the SLURRICANE: light and dark rum, 151, pineapple, oj and passion fruit.  While this one is potent, it’s a bit less sweet than some Hurricanes I’ve had, so nice job!!!

Now for the Oysters (or as some of my N.O. peeps call them ERRSTERS!!!)  There are 4 Different Varieties of Chargrilled Oysters available at The Rouxpour, and since it was hard to commit to any one of them, I went with the Chargrilled Trio!  You can choose a dozen of their Rockefeller (Creamed Spinach, lump crab, and Hollandaise), Rouxpour Signature (Cheese and herb blend with their heralded secret sauce.), Marinara (Marinara sauce, asiago cheese, and pickled jalapeños) or Spinach Madeline (Creamed spinach, asiago cheese, and chopped bacon) style Chargrilled Oysters in the bunch.  Just be aware that if you go Rockefeller, it will cost a little extra.  These are served with a couple of slices of grilled French bread and they simply fill up the plate!  WOW!!!

I had the Rouxpour Signature, the Spinach Madeline and the Marinara style chargrilled oysters.  Each of them had a meaty shellfish topped with a good amount of toppings.  I found the Signature to be somewhat garlicy, had a semi pungence and perhaps a hint of horseradish in the Secret Sauce.  The Madeline had a good amount of spinach with the cheese slightly crisp on the top  and a nice smokey crunch from the bacon.  The Marinara had a good, robust, rich tomato base and the hint of heat from the jalapeño added some zest to it.  All in all a great plate of a dozen oysters for a good afternoon’s snack!  And in a place that feels like New Orelans without the long drive to get there!

Report Card for the Rouxpour:
Food & Beverage: 

     Signature Oysters: A++
     Spinach Madeline Oysters: A+
     Marinara Oysters: A+
     Slurricane: A
     Speed: A-
     Friendliness: A
      Dining/Bar Area: A
      Kitchen: Incomplete
      Men’s Room: Incomplete
Ambiance (High End New Orleans Seafood Place): A

Overall Grade: Solid A

The Rouxpour is located in Sugar Land Town Square at:
2298 Texas Drive
Sugar Land, TX 77479

Hours of Operation:
Sunday 10:30am-10pm, bar till 11pm
Monday-Wednesday 11am-10pm, bar till 11pm
Thursday-Saturday 11am-11pm, bar till 12am

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!

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