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Well Dear Readers, before I can move forward for 2015, I need to take a look back at 2014. It was an interesting year for me, for the City of Houston, and for the Houston Food & Restaurant scene. Many great openings and closings, many changes, many good things keeping on keeping on. I had a number of good life experiences in relation to this website as well as in relation to my professional and personal life. Other great food writers whose websites I read regularly gave me much to chew on and think about, and overall, I can honestly say that most folks, the City of Houston, you my dear readers, Chefs and Restaurants in Houstona and life in General have been very good to me. Call this a sausage column or a clip show if you will, but here it comes anyhoo!!! So with that, I want to share:

My 2014 Favourites

Favourite Folks I Met in 2014 During 2014 
I had the pleasure of making a number of new friends and along they way I’ve met some great folks who are REAL CHARACTERS. I got to reflect on more than a few of them recently in my second appearance on Cleverley Stone’s Radio Show, and that’s a great thing because she is one of the folks I met for the first time this year. These folks are, in no particular order:

Belen of Sweets by Belen: This Afro-Peruvian Baker and Sweet-maker was tipped to me by a reader. This lively woman makes all kinds of Peruvian treats such as a special tres leches cake and exotic Peruvian street fruit ice pops. I really enjoyed her Guanabana Ice Pops, though they were all good. You’ll see her selling her wares at local farmers’ markets, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t set up a brick and mortar location before too long.

Brooks & Marciela Bassler of BB’s Café: A friend of a friend asked me why I had not reviewed BB’s Cafe, and as I thought about it, I realized that I had not been there in a while and that I loved their Po-Boys, and that it had been too long. I was fortunate enough to meet the Basslers and feature them when their Briar Grove location opened this past year. Brooks is an easygoing, relatable guy and he knows Cajun, Texas and Tex-Mex cooking.

Chef Pedro Silva of Mr. Peeple’s: Chef Silva reminds me a little of the Actor Danny Trejo from many Tarantino and Rodriguez films. He’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but he can be a little over the top! Plus he loves Chihuahas and as a Chuhuahua owner myself, that is quite cool. He served me up a Wagyu Tomahawk Ribeye Steak with bone that Chichi had to work on for a month!

Cleverley Stone of Fox 26 and AM 650: Ms. Stone, much like Alison Cook and Ken Hoffman, has been a long term voice for the Houston dining community. She educates viewers on Fox 26 and listeners on her Saturday AM radio show about the wonderful dining venues in Houston, culinary terms and events as well. Ms. Stone was kind enough to invite me on her radio show twice in 2014, and though I’ve been a long-time follower of her for years, I finally met her this year.

Drew Rogers of Drew’s Pastry Place on Louetta: You’ll never meet a more passionate New Jersey Italian American cum Texan Pastry chef like Drew Rogers! The guy is a real character, larger than life (and quite tall too!) He’s a loveable family man who loves pastries and loves Houston. Drew has been a good friend to this website and to me, having come to visit with some of my Lone Star College students to talk about Entrepreneurship. He also makes the best Cannolis you can get in South of the Mason Dixon line and West of the Mississippi, and he also makes great pizza & cupcakes too!

Huan Le of Caphin Bottled Vietnamese Iced Coffee:  Huan Le is a creative guy who loves Ca Phe Sua Da and wanted to find a way to share it in a broader sense.  He and his crew learned how to work an industrial kitchen and though stumbled a bit here and there, they created an awesome product known as Caphin Bottled Vietnamese Iced Coffee.  Huan is a very likeable fellow and his coffees have been a huge hit here in Houston.

Janice and Bobby Jucker of 3 Brothers Bakery:  This couple who run a local group of family bakeries that have been operating in Houston for a few generations are a real hoot!  They recently got national attention for one of their wild Texas sized desserts called the Pumpecapple Pie Cake.  That dessert was called a Texas Diet Dessert on Saturday Night Live recently.  However, the Juckers do wayyyy more than just that one unique item.  Their Washington Avenue location has a great coffee bar with baristas who do latté art, and they’ll talk your ears off if you let them!

Chef Steve Haug of Del Frisco’s:  This guy makes a mean steak, crafts wonderful seafood and sides and is a Rush fan as well.  I met him this past year via the Cleverley Stone Show, and found he’s not just a great chef but a fun guy as well.

Pastry Chef Johnny Wesley:  Johnny was working at Mr. Peeples when I first met him, though he has since moved on to Cullen’s from what I’ve heard.  Johnny is a Mad Dessert Scientist, nay the Walter White of Pastry Chefs.  Between ingenious use of liquid nitrogen, unique and special ice cream flavours and twists on old favourites, Chef Wesley is DA MAN for wild desserts.

Ms. Myrtle Jackson of Not Jus’ Donuts:  The Matriarch of 3 Generations of Bakers in the Historic Third Word, she leads a group of powerful women who do wild fondant cakes, traditional Southern favourites, and yes, donuts as well.  Some of her wares reminded me of my Great Aunt’s famous desserts and her sense of Southern Sweets rules the roost.

The Roca Brothers of Cellar can Roca:  Dishes that look almost too beautiful to eat.  Cocktails that make you laugh in the best way possible.  Dishes plated like a Spanish Winter bonsai diaroama, a rasher of Spanish ham that melts in your mouth.  I cannot sing enough praises for the Three Brothers from Catalan who took their restaurant on tour in Houston, Dallas and Latin America.  Although I only got to go to their tapas serving, I was floored by their food and moved to tears at their artistry.  I also cannot forget their awesome interpreter, Chef Ingrid  Hoffman as well!

My Favourite Beverages in 2014
Sometimes the “and Beverage” part of “Food and Beverage” doesn’t always get the love it should. However, I make no attempt at concealing my love of craft beer and cocktails. 2014 was a GREAT YEAR for all of them. Here are some of my favourites:

Revelstoke Pecan Infused Canadian Whisky: Canadian Whisky is always a fave of mine, along with Bourbon.  Doc’s Motorworks took Revelstoke Canadian Whisky and infused it with Pecans themselves.  Revelstoke’s rep tried it, liked it so much that the Revelstoke company began doing it themselves as well.  This is like smooth Canadian Whisky took a bit of Texas pecan pie.  It’s not too sweet though, and it’s great neat, on the rocks, or mixed in Cola/Doppelganger.

Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel 6 (Rum Barrel Aged Pumpkinator) & 7 (Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout):  How can you live in Houston and not love Saint Arnold’s, Texas Oldest Craft Brewery?  Their year round and seasonal offerings are wonderful, their Icon series has been of great quality, their annual Divine Reserve lives up to its name, but their most superior offerings have been the Bishops Barrel Series.  During 2014, two excellent exemplars that they produced came out–a Rum Barrel Aged Pumpkinator that all of us which they’d made more of, and a Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout that echoed the original BB 1, but with more OOOMPH to it.

VIP Pineapple Infused Martini from Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse: This was a Houston Restaurant Weeks special that went over very well.  I like Martinis, I like infused Vodkas if the vodka is superior and the infusion has good taste, and Pineapple is a great fruit.  This Martini had the kick you’d expect, is not watered down or excessively sweet, but has great pineapple essence all the way through.  If it’s not on their permanent menu, I humbly suggest to Steve Haug that he talk to the bartender and persuade them to keep it.

Miscela Bianco RSV (white wine) 2012 from Solaro Winery:  A Texas winery with a Houston Tasting Room just a stone’s throw away from Buffalo Bayou Brewing.  Had a lovely afternoon tasting and this particular white wine was slightly dry, very clean and goes well with seafood or just for sipping on a warm afternoon.

Caphin Artisan Bottled Vietnamese Iced Coffee:  I’ve already told you about Huan Le, let me remind you of his product.  The Artisan Bottled Coffee is special–no two production runs are alike and they have a limited time range for consumption.  Most iterations I’ve tried are slightly spicy, bold in flavour and have a good caffeine kick with a creamy sweetness.  Little by little, it’s being offered in more places.  If you’ve not tried it yet, I urge you to take the plunge.

My Favourite Appetizers in 2014 
It’s tough for me to choose just one, because there were many great appetizers I tried this year. Three that stood out from the pack–and let’s be clear the pack was VERY COMPETITIVE:

Tex-Cajun Virgin Fries from BB’s Café: Fries are good, cheese fries are better, Fries slathered in tender roast beef and gravy with spicy queso are a Tex Mex Cajun Poutine delight.  Everybody whom I’ve introduced to this dish has told me they are addicted and often if they see a BB’s Café they want to stop and just grab a plate of these fries.  Yes, they are THAT GOOD!

White Wings from Doc’s Motorworks: Chicken Breast Tenders, stuffed in a Jalapeños, with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, spun in buffalo wing sauce.  A whole lot of awesome meat and heat in a snack.  Yowzer!!!

Green Chile Lime Wings from Wingstop:  This is a seasonal item that I wish was on the permanent menu!  Cool lime, smokey herbal green chile, on chicken wings.  Mmmmm…. Mmm…. I can taste them now in my mind, so BRING THEM BACK FOR REAL, WINGSTOP!!!

My Favourite Main Dishes in 2014 
The main dish is always the main thing, and again, in the Houston area and I enjoyed a number of great main dishes that come out of well established venues as well as new restaurants that opened. Among my favourites:

The Clucker Hot Dog from Happy Fatz in the Heights: Hashed browns, cheese and a fried egg on a hot dog?  Yes please!

Duck Pizza from Coltivare: A small place, a wood fired oven, limited parking and packed.  One bite of this pizza and you understand why!

Double Bacon Pizza from D’Marco’s Pizzeria: Robust natural marinara and good quality cheeses and meats.  One bite reminds me of how pizza tasted back when I was a kid, and makes me wonder what those large chain pizzerias are putting in their pies.

Grilled Pork Chop from Hearsay on the Green: Beautifully plated, juicy and lean, nicely seasoned, satisfying from start to finish.

Smoked Octopus from No 13 in Galveston:  One of the most memorable dishes I ate this year (see further on down).  Smokey, juicy, NOT RUBBERY, served on
a slate and decked out like a treasure map.  A must try at No. 13!

Texas Antelope Loin from Noe Grill:  Lean, juicy, and well paired with Saint Arnold’s Beer.

My Favourite Desserts in 2014 
No meal is complete without a great dessert to finish it off (if you have room) or to take home and enjoy a little later. I got to try a significant amount of wonderful desserts in 2014. Again, I had to weed them out. So with that, my favourites are:

Cannolis from Drew’s Pastry Place: The best you can get down here.  Authentic, crunchy, creamy and not too sweet.

Dessert Shooters from Seasons 52:  A great way to try many different desserts but not overdo it.  A good regular set along with seasonal rotations as well.

Pretzel Bread Pudding from Hearsay on the Green:  Some folks think Bread Pudding is overdone.  Not this food writer.  Pretzel Bread has always been good to me, and adding that rich, thick, soft bread into a bread

pudding is a masterful stroke.

Exotic Ice Pops from Sweets by Belen:  Guanabana, Purple Corn, Guava, Mango, name that exotic fruit and then try an ice pop made naturally from it.

Sweet Potato Pie from Not Jus’ Donuts:  The authentic Southern Recipe
that can’t be beat!

Frozen Custard from Inside Scoop in Sugar Land:  Well run, fresh and creamy, locally owned and operated.  Worth a stop off of 59 and Highway 6.

Fall Ice Cream Sundae from Cloud 10 Creamery:  A Sundae based on a typical fall feast.  Makes you think of Thanksgiving leftovers as ice cream and toppings.

ANYTHING from the mind of Pastry Chef Johnny Wesley:  White chocolate ice cream pops, carrot cake twinkies, deconstructed and blown up favourites, flash frozen with
liquid nitrogens.  I bow to the Master Mad Dessert Scientist here!

My Favourite Restaurants of 2014 
Some are new, some are well established, some transitioned from Pop-up to Brick and Mortar. Again, so many great restaurants, not enough space to choose them all. I’m posting links to my reviews which should make it clear why they stood out from the crowd:

Alamo Draft House Vintage Park
Coltivare Pizza & Garden
Common Bond Café & Bakery
Corkscrew BBQ
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
D’Marco’s Pizzeria
ēT Craft Burgers & Beer
Killen’s BBQ Brick & Mortar
Mr. Peeples
Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen

New Restaurants/Bars I loved in 2014: 
Black’s Market Table
Seasons 52 in City Centre
Hearsay on the Green
Happy Fatz Gourmet Hot Dogs
Revelry on Richmond
Doc’s Motorworks
60 Degrees Mastercrafted

Restaurants that I miss which closed in 2014 
Boyz II Men once sang “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” and for many of us, that includes great restaurants we love.  Between business failures, customers chasing what’s new and forgetting what’s good and well-established, commercial landlords getting too greedy and folks retiring, we had more than a few places close that diners wish had not.  Links are posted to reviews or restaurant websites.  Here are a few that I miss terribly who took their final bow this past year:

The City Oven
Lucky Burger
Sorrel Urban Bistro
Van Loc

My Favourite Burgers of 2014
Because this website started off with a burger focus and I am always looking for another good burger, I need to mention a few great burgers of this past year.  Three of the best to me are:

Akaushi Beef Burger from Black’s Market Table
Sweet, flavourful, meaty, juicy, peppery, a satisfying burger.

The Regular Burger at Revelry on Richmond
The pickled red onions combined with high quality beef and good seasoning make it the perfect complement to a good craft beer.

The Korean Burger at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted
Darn you, John Karas, for posting the pics of this burger.  I had to go try it, loved the kim chi,loved the juicyness, loved the egg… reminds me of a burger from The Burger Guys…

My Most Memorable Dishes of 2014

Small Dishes Sampled from the Roca Brothers from Celler can Roca
Certain meals leave you with a feeling, whether it’s a flavour in your mouth or some associated memory, that make you want to eat them all over again.  Chef Joan Roca and his brothers Jozep and Jordy used those memories of their childhood and their humour to create memorable pieces of culinary art at Celler Can Roca, and their work, along with a couple of others, created such memories for yours truly:

Chef Ryan Savoie’s Saint Arnold’s Weedwacker infused Kim Chi topped Spicy Pulled Pork Sandwich.

The pork was seasoned with Savoie’s secret combination of spices and slow smoked over night. Similarly, he gathered fresh veggies including crispy cabbage, carrots, mushrooms and hot peppers, along with more seasonings, and had them percolate in Saint Arnold’s Weedwacker under proper temperatures for a good period of time. The pork is served on a Challah long bun with the Kim chi on top and garnished with a spicy plum sauce. Your nose gets teased with a spicy, sweet, sour and bitter essence, with a bit of heat before you even take the first bite. When I took that first bite, I got a bit more heat–enough to singe, but not so much that I couldn’t taste anything else.

Favourite Stand-bys of 2014 
It’s always important to have a short list of reliable places where you can take friends, business associates, out of town guests and family. These are restaurants who you make sure to visit regularly, lest anyone forget about them, and whom you sing the praises of far and wide, as you want them to remain and succeed as long as is practicable.  These are places that, every time you return to them, regardless of what new dish, beer or dessert they are serving, feel like a second home for you, the staff knows you and you have no reservations referring colleagues, friends and strangers to them.  For me, this past year these names rose to the top consistently:

3 Brothers Bakery
BRC Gastropub and Liberty Kitchen
The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in Sugar Land
Jonathan’s the Rub in Memorial Village

Boxing It Up To Go 
As I said in this Month’s Odds & Ends posting, 2015 is going to be a great year. I already have some reviews and columns in the pipeline that will be posted in the coming weeks which will continue to share the ever-evolving story of Great Food and the Great Folks who bring it to us in the Houston Area and Beyond. This story of Houston Food is continually being Written, Rewritten and Revised, and I intend to continue to report it from my Point of View as long as I am able and as long as y’all keep on reading. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to travel more in 2015, as I did not travel much last year. So there will be a few more Beyond postings on the website this year. However, I will not be neglecting the Houston area or Texas, not by a long shot. I am hoping to continue to partner with other food writers and websites, as well as continue to branch out into other media (do more radio, create a few more videos, do another magazine article) and do a few life-experience postings beyond food and beverage.

Regardless of any of that, Dear Readers, my motto is and always shall be:

Eat Happy, Y’all!!! 

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