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While there is some debate over the benefits of a locovore (eating food, buying beverages, et al that are produced within less than a 100 mile radius of where you live), buying local, shopping local, et al is often good for the local economy and gives restaurateur, diner and chef a lot more quality control and information about the food they use/cook/eat.  Many of our great locally owned restaurants make every effort to locally source as much of their produce and meat as possible.  Even many of the higher end chains as well as fast casual chains try to stock a few local brands of beer, use some local ingredients in some of their dishes.  Which brings me to a long overdue visit and review of Dish Society at La Centerra in Katy.  Dish Society bills itself as “farm to table fresh for breakfast-lunch-supper and brunch”and takes great pains at all 3 of its locations to be as Texas and local as is practicable.

Per their website: Dedicated to using the highest quality and freshest ingredients possible, Dish Society sources a majority of its items locally from suppliers such as Atkinson Farms, Black Hill Ranch, Sustainable Harvesters, and Slow Dough Bread Company, among others. The all-day diner turns out a seasonally changing menu with healthful modern twists on traditional favorites. In addition to the robust coffee program by greenway coffee, guests can enjoy healthful juices and elixirs, a rotating selection of local craft beers, an approachable wine list, and hand crafted cocktails (excluding san felipe) served in a modern industrial atmosphere. Dish Society is counter service for breakfast, lunch, and brunch, and full service for supper and social hour.

This sounds good to me.  However, the proof is always in the eating.  We had a family get together at La Centerra not too long ago which brought us over to Dish Society and we wound up having a mighty fine supper!  Two things got our attention right away:  the house made Meyer Lemonade.  Lots of folks I know have Meyer Lemon Trees all over Houston, and many restaurants such as Sud Italia make lemonade or Limoncello using said lemons.  A nice touch!  Additionally, they stock Maine Root Natural Sodas, which are made in Austin, TX and not the state of Maine.  When they say Texas made, they mean it for sure.  This was a nice start to set the tone for a great supper.

We started our meal with tea and Maine Root Sodas, and as an appetizer enjoyed the house made Pimento cheese served with Town House Crackers.  Pimento cheese is a nice mix of sharp cheddar, mayo or aioli, sweet pimento peppers, salt and pepper.  It’s a Southern Thing that I grew up with between my Great Aunt Willie and local supermarket deli versions. Several elevated Southern cuisine places do a fine job on this snack, and Dish Society is definitely one of them!  Jason was in the mood for something not too filling, but satisfied his meat and cheese craving, and he went for it with their chicken quesadillas served in a Cafeteria/Bento plate. In his own words “Seasoned chicken, melted cheese blend including cheddar and jack, in a crispy yet soft flour tortilla wrap.  Everything you want, nothing you don’t!”

Moving on to those of us ordering main entrees, one of us was in the mood for Tacos and 44 Farms Chimichurri steak tacos fit the bill nicely.
Seasoned grilled 44 Farms steak, a purple cabbage slaw, house chimichurri sauce and fresh cojita cheese dusted over the top.  This was a spicy, but too hot treat with lots of juicy steak and crunchy cabbage slaw.  Another in our party wanted a veggie and grain dish, and they ordered the Quinoa Stuffed Avocado.  A whole avocado, pitted and divided in two, loaded with a scoop of organic citrus quinoa relish on a bed of organic mixed greens.  The avocado was fresh–no purple there; the quinoa was nutty and substantial, and the greens fresh, crunchy, not limp.  My daughter was really craving seafood and she went with the Citrus Glazed Salmon:  you get a nice pan-seared salmon in a citrus glaze, mashed sweet potatoes and a fresh salad of seasonal veggies.  I had to persuade my daughter to let me take a bite and boy was I glad I did. This was fantastic, like it was served at Joe Fortes Seafood House in Vancouver, BC.  Very nice indeed!

One thing my family has learned over the years is how to eat half of a dinner portion and save the rest for lunch later in the week so there is room to order dessert and not go home feeling like we need to be rolled out the door.  While Dish Society has several great in-house desserts, they indicated that some of their cakes are sourced from another local fave, Petite Sweets, part of Lee Ellis’s Cherry Pie Hospitality Group.  This evening they had a devils food cake that made Jason perk up and say “Yes please!” when it was shown to him.  Our party was nice, and we all shared the thick, rich, moist, choclatey goodness with glee as we wound down from a great family dinner!

Report Card for Dish Society:
Food/Beverage: 


     Quesadillas: A
     Quinoa Stuffed Avocado: A
     Chimichurri Steak Tacos: A+
     Citrus Glazed Salmon: A++
     Devil’s Food Cake: A+
Service:
     Friendliness: A+
     Speed:  A+
Cleanliness:
     Dining area: A+
     Kitchen/Bar: A
     Washrooms: A+
Atmosphere:
     True Texas Locavore with reclaimed materials: A+

Overall Grade: A+

Dish Society has 3 Houston area locations.
We went to the La Centarra location in Katy:
23501 Cinco Ranch Blvd
Katy, TX  77494
(281)394-7555

Hours of Operation
Mon-Sat: 7AM – 10PM
Sun: 8AM-9PM

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!!
Hank
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With all of the hype about that California Burger Company that has been in Texas the past several years about to open in Houston finally, Austinites have had a much better local option that has quietly expanded from a Lamar & Barton Springs burger shack to 14 Austin Area locations all over Texas’ capital city. All of their restaurants adhere to a style known as googie architecture. Designed by Michael Hsu office of architecture, these buildings have strong characteristics of wood, glass and stone. The straight lines give the structures a contemporary, timeless feel for a better dining experience.  Some folks see them as an amalgam of the two great burger joints in the Southwest, but really they are something different.  I am of course talking about P. Terry’s Burger Stand.  Their story is like a lot of “better burger” restaurants.  Per their website:

On July 6, 2005, Kathy and Patrick terry opened the first P. Terry’s burger stand at the corner of south Lamar and Barton Springs in Austin. The inspiration for the stand had come years earlier in Abilene, Texas where Patrick grew up. There was an iconic burger stand called Mack Eplen’s with its Googie architecture, hand-painted menu and giant sign selling great hamburgers, fries & shakes at affordable prices. This would become the genesis for P. Terry’s – it would be a throwback to the late 50’s and early 60’s. Food would be prepared the way it once was, everything fresh and most without preservatives, friendly service and the customer always treated with respect. As the store was being constructed, Mrs. Terry read the book fast food nation that would change the direction of P. Terry’s from a burger stand selling good quality food to one that sells a quality unmatched by practically any drive-thru stand in the country. It’s where fresh all-natural, ‘never ever’ beef and chicken became staple items along with all-natural potatoes cooked in oil without trans fats or hydrogenated oils. It’s why the Terrys visit the vendors that supply our meat and the family farm where our potatoes are grown. Our attention to detail goes deep because what we serve is what you eat.

As someone who prefers all natural, well sourced food, with good quality control and good treatment of employees, this appeals to me a lot.  While there is a knee jerk reaction that my son and I both had (it is like a fusion of In-N-Out Burger and Whataburger), we always keep an open mind and were very happy to give P Terry’s a try.  We ordered a few burgers–a couple of doubles, a single, some fries, some of their fresh made lemonade and a chocolate shake.  As you can see from the picture, this is fresh blended with a little bit of a strata with the milk, ice cream and chocolate syrup.  I took a sip and was taken back in time to a similar shake in a striped paper cup, sans wax, back in the early 1960s in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  It tasted like how a shake USED TO TASTE–in other words, REAL, not some corn-syruped craziness.  This bode very well for what was upcoming.

The double-meat, double cheese burger served with lettuce tomato and pickle (I added grilled onions and pickles) was hot, juicy, not bland, not dry and full of flavour.  The bun barely contained the juicy beef, but there wasn’t a bun falling apart, nor was there any kind major leakage.  A very well constructed burger, lots of flavour, basically a good fast food better burger and not any kind of fast processed crap.  The fries were very crispy, and unlike In-N-Out Burger’s fries, they maintained their crispness.  Unlike Whataburger, they have potato skins on them.  Basically a fusion of the best of both of those burger joints, keeping the best and forgetting the rest.  Very nice.

The best analogue for their lemonade is the old Corn Dog on a Stick at the beach near San Diego.  It is clearly fresh squeezed, has natural sugar in it, and some lemon pulp.  Chick Fil A and Raising Canes have a similar kind of lemonade, but this tasted fresher to me.  Maybe it was the nostalgia, maybe it was the architecture, maybe it was just plain dang good. Whatever is the case, P Terry’s Burger stand won me over on this family vacation, and as I am a bit of a burger connoisseur, that isn’t all that easy to do these days.  And what with finding out one of my fave local Houston area better burger joints was closing later the same night I tried them, it was some welcome comfort under the circumstances.  I have made a note to try their vegetarian patty burger and their chicken sandwich on my next trip to Austin and will post a follow up when that happens.  Whatever is the case, forget about the arrival of In-N-Out sometime this year in Houston.  I would like to see P. Terry’s get a beachhead here instead.  Yes, a I know not all Houstonians are happy with the invasion of some Austin-based restaurants.  My response is they are welcome if they provide good food and give back to the local communities in which they are operating.

Report Card for P. Terry’s Burger Stand:
Food/Beverage:
     Chocolate Shake: A+ 
     Lemonade: A+
     Double Cheese Burger: A+
     Fries: A
Service: 
     Speed: A
     Friendliness: A+
Cleanliness: 
     Dining area: A
     Kitchen: A
Atmosphere:
      Classic Burger Stand in Orange and Blue: A

Overall Grade: A+

There are 14 Austin-Area locations of P.Terry’s Burger Stand.  We went to the location at:
3311 Ranch Rd.  620 S
Austin, TX 78738
phone: 512-263-9433

Hours:
Mon-Thurs: 11am-10pm
Fri-Sat: 11am-11pm
Sun: 11am-10pm

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!!
Hank

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With all the chicken places in the Houston area, whether they be chain, regional or local, some folks ask if we need another chicken place? My response is that if the chicken is really good–quality ingredients, sourced well, healthy free-range, prepared well and tastes fantastic, then yes we need another one of those kinds of chicken places, and thankfully, Krisp Bird & Batter on Richmond near Fountainview fits the bill nicely.  I’d been meaning to get over to visit. A hiccup in a parking situation at a venue moved me to not attend the event and instead stop by the restuarant thatis the brainchild of former Prohibition chef Ben McPherson.  When I dropped by on this day I found Brad either behind Krisp’s counter or in front of it, helping his staff handle the deluge of customers who clearly like the hash he is slinging!  And one of his biggest cheerleaders is fellow restaurateur Randy Hines of my faves, The Kolache Shoppe, who just happened to be there when I dropped in ordering lunch for his staff!  But first a little about Krisp from their website:

Ben MacPherson serves Randy Hines at Krisp

Krisp Bird & Batter started as an all love for everything chicken and the world we live in. We take a sustainable approach with only using pasture raised chicken from Crystal Ranch Farms. Our entire menu is handcrafted by our chefs with a focus on being fresh and local. We take great pride in our community with giving back as much as we can. All of our products we use are recyclable and ecofriendly. Our cooking oil is reused to produce clean energy. We proudly use no antibiotic and hormone free Crystal Ranch Farms chicken which is fed non-gmo feed. To keep it simple we can just say “our chicken tastes like chicken”. All of our buns are baked fresh daily and come from Kraftsman Bakery using King Arthur unbleached flour. All of our batters contain zero preservatives and also use unbleached flour. We make this strive in quality for the simple reason of everything tastes better when the food is grown and raised naturally.

Ben took some time to relate to me how they were processing the chicken differently–i.e. after plucking and cleaning, leaving it to hang dry rather than use the ice and brining method.  Part of this came from a notion of how chicken is processed in France.  This is an older method, but one that produces a hearty flavoured chicken with legit natural juices rather than a mass amount of water that is injected or absorbed in from the brining process.  So rather than a run of the mill chicken sandwich or a good tasting yet mass produced chicken sandwich, you get a chef driven fast food style chicken sandwich that packs extra flavour in each bite.

The menu is not complicated, but rather has several creative variations on chicken sandwiches that run from a Klassic (with slaw and pickles) to Korean (with spicy Kimchi) to a Klub (with bacon, lettuce and tomato).  I asked Ben for his recommendation and he touted the Southwest (Krispy Chicken on a potato bun though you can get wheat – Queso – Cilantro – Avocado – Jalapenos) with waffle fries.  As a fan of spicy Tex-Mex who was quite hungry, this was right up my alley.  A couple of things I noticed about the chicken filet was that it was a bit larger than the more well known Chicken Sandwich chain, the filet was denser, and a good deal meatier.  Goes to show how properly sourced and processed meat stands out from the usual that we have accepted as a herd in recent years.  One bite gave a crunchy substantial layer of batter that gave way to chicken which tasted like it did at local chicken joints in the 1970s to me, or somewhat like the natural chicken at Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts or Lucy’s in Austin.  The queso, the jalapenos, all held together in that soft potato bun really hit the spot, and no argument that the batter fried seasoned waffle fries are very tasty too!  I will definitely be back soon to try the Chicken & Waffle, but will take the slaw on the side!

Report Card for Krisp Bird & Batter:
Food:
     Waffle Fries: A 

Jalapeno Ranch and Shhh! Sauce

     Southwest Chicken Sandwich: A+
Service:
     Speed: A
     Friendliness: A+
Cleanliness:
     Dining Area: A+
Atomsphere:
     High End Chicken Joint: A

Overall Grade: Solid A 

Krisp Bird & Batter is located at:
5922 Richmond Avenue
Houston, TX 77057
713-239-0320

Hours:
7 Days A Week
11 AM til 9 PM

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!!
Hank

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Photo by John Rigg

Every now and again there are these restaurants that we pass by all the time on the way to/from somewhere else.  I know in my case I always think “I need to try that place.”  Often I do, but every now and again there is one I drive by for many years with those thoughts but never act on them.  In more than a few reviews here over the past nearly 6 years, I have corrected that oversight and this review of Japaneiro’s in Sugar Land is another one of those.  Billed as a Sushi Bistro and Latin Grill, they have been ranked well by Sugar Land locals for many years.  Per their website:

Some people call us a Fusion Restaurant. We serve nourishing, made from the healthiest and freshest ingredients Sushi and a few select Latin American inspired dishes. Sometimes we combine those two influences and delicious things come out. We do have a great variety of vegetarian and vegan options in our menu. We also love to work with you on the spot, creating a dish that satisfies your eating style or allergies. You pay our bills, we want to make you happy, so we will cook for you! Our bar is one of our best features. We offer amazing original cocktails and well executed classics along with a great selection of Sake.  

Robert and Victor own Japaneiro’s and Jason is the big Cahuna there. They are truly a yin and yang team. Robert (who is also an Architect) is the creative person in charge of designing, building and fabricating stuff, concept and menu development and the look, taste and feel of things. Victor Luna and Jason Molinos are the smart, mature and orderly operations masterminds who keep everything from falling apart. Victor and Robert also created and own Guru, Jupiter and The Ginger Mule. Robert’s Architecture Studio is called R.A.White Architects and is located next to Jupiter. Jason “Quino” Molinos deserves special credit for being the other person who holds everything together, along with the rest of our crazy good people! 

Knowing that Japaneiro’s is owned by the same great cew as Guru Burgers & Crepes, Jupiter Pizza & Waffles and The Ginger Mule speaks well for their pedigree, as well as their command of Sugar Land Town Square.  I also confess to feeling a bit bad that I haven’t tried them sooner–their other concepts are among my favourite eateries in Sugar Land, places I visit in and around visits to the Flying Saucer Sugar Land I might add.  In any event, a million apologies to Victor and Jason for not stopping by your earlier concept.  I hope this makes up for some of the lost time!

On this particular evening, a good friend and I were open to trying a little of this and a little of that.  We started with two appetizers to appeal to both sides of their cuisine profile:  Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (aka Gyoza) with their home made dipping sauce from the Japanese side and Toston: fried green plantain sliced thick and pounded flat, served with a roasted bell pepper dipping sauce from the Latin side.  Both of these appetizers came out in a reasonable amount of time and both looked quite tasty!  The Gyoza Dumplings had a nice, chewy skin on the outside, with succulent shrimp on the inside.  I don’t know what was in that lip-smacking umami sauce, but it was a nice complement to the dumplings!  The Toston was a nice surpise–very crispy outside, soft tender plantain on the inside.  The roasted red bell pepper dipping sauce was full of flavour and I must confess, my dining companion and I dipped some of the gyoza in it as well.

On to the main course, we were more in a nibbling mood than a full meal mood so we went for a few of their different sushi rolls and tempura.  We had a Hippie Dragon: smoked salmon, cucumber and a little cream cheese wrapped with soy paper and avocado and topped with red tobiko and a bit of sriracha sauce, as well as a New Zealand Roll: shrimp tempura, avocado and cream cheese, topped with shredded kani, tempura flakes and unagi sauce, and some Latino Tempura too: hamachi, smoked salmon, kani, jalapeno, cream cheese and avocado fried in tempura, topped with green onion and spicy mayo.  The Hippie dragon was a mix of spicy, creamy and salty goodness.  The New Zealand was a bit milder, had a nice tempura crunch in the middle with a fishy, salty outer wrap.  And the Latino Tempura brought the fusion:  crunch, spice, cream, heat, sour, and a hint of herbs.  Overall this was a nice meal of a lot of nibbling bites which showed a broad palate for Japaneiro’s and a clear reason why they have been going strong for 14 years.

Report Card for Japaneiro’s:

Satisfied Customer

Food:
     Gyoza Dumplings: A- 
     Toston: A+
     Hippie Dragon Roll: A+
     New Zealand Roll: A-
     Latino Tempura: A+
Service:
     Speed: A
     Friendliness: A+
Cleanliness:
     Bar area: A
     Dining Area: A
Atmosphere:
     Latin/Asian Fusion with color: A

Overall Grade: A

Japaneiro’s is located in Sugar Land Town Square at:
2168 Texas Dr
Sugar Land, TX 77479

Hours of Operation:
Sun-Mon: 11 AM to 9 PM
Tue-Sat: 11 AM to 10 PM

I want to thank the staff and crew of Japaneiro’s for a nice, yet overdue first of many dinners I will be enjoying there along with their sister restaurants!

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!!
Hank
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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:
Food:

     Spicy Kotteri Ramen: A+
     Miso Ramen: A
     Karaage Fried Chicken: A
Service:
     Speed: A
     Friendliness: A
Cleanliness:  
     Dining area: A+
     Bar: A
Atmosphere: 
     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

Hours:
7 Days a Week
11 AM til 10 PM

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!!
あなたは幸せに食べる!!!
Hank

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Houston has been fortunate in the pizza department in recent years.  Long gone are the days of it being Star Pizza being the place for “good pizza” and otherwise order from one of the chains.  We have many great local pizza joints, some higher end, high quality chains and the mass produced semi-cardboard crust-ketchup sauce mass-produced cheese pies as well.  Today we will be taking a look at a Dallas (SPIT!!!) based higher end chain, Cane Rosso, that has established a beach-head in Houston and is putting out some very good pies.  But first, a little info per their website:

Cane Rosso was born when owner, Jay Jerrier, visited Italy in 1995 for his honeymoon. A former corporate exec, he had an epiphany upon tasting his first true Italian pizza and knew that he had found something special. Wanting to replicate the experience that he had in Italy, when Jerrier eventually made his way to Dallas, Texas, he had a wood-burning oven built and trained with Master Pizzaiolos at the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), an organization that promotes and protects the true craft of Neapolitan style pizza. Jerrier launched a mobile catering oven in 2009 and quickly developed a large and loyal following in the Dallas area and received a number of accolades from the press. Momentum grew quickly, and the first location of Cane Rosso was opened in early 2011 in Dallas’ Deep Ellum district. Jerrier and crew have since been fortunate to receive a bevy of attention, both locally and nationally. Cane Rosso has since expanded to five existing locations in the DFW area, and two Houston outposts as well.

Led by Executive Chef and Master Pizzaiolo, Dino Santonicola, another Naples-import, Cane Rosso adheres to the strict principles endorsed by the AVPN and serves the most authentic Neapolitan style pizza in the metroplex. Our fresh, never-frozen dough is made in-house every day, using all natural “OO” flour imported from Italy. The sauce for our pizzas is made from hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and our mozzarella is pulled fresh in-house daily. Cane Rosso pizzas are thin-crust, but are most definitely not “New York style.” Neapolitan style pizzas like ours are meant to be eaten with a knife and fork and are crafted using only the highest quality ingredients available. Our pizzas are fired in our specially built wood-fired oven from Italy that reaches 900 degrees and cooks our pizzas in under 90 seconds for a delicate and light, slightly charred dough. Cane Rosso also makes fresh pasta in-house and offers a selection of salads, sandwiches, and desserts.

All of this (especially the specialty built high temperature Italian wood-fired oven) sounds very good.  However, this doesn’t mean anything unless the pizza passes the taste test.  My good friend and colleague Abe Haje (Ladies:  he is still single–please contact me if you are interested in meeting him!) agreed to come out and meet me for us to try a couple of different pies, toss back a few craft beers and just chillax during the lull before Spring Semester starts.  While I consider myself to be a Pizza Connoisseur, Abe is the REAL DEAL.  Legend has it he was dating Taylor Swift, but he dumped her because she said she didn’t like pizza.  Legend also has it that he originated a meme of a couple chilling out, eating pizza and streaming music with the caption “This could be us, but you don’t like pizza!”  (Okay, maybe not Taylor Swift, but still… )

Usually when we visit a new to us pizza joint, we try two pizzas from their menu to get the lay of the land.  My choice was the namesake Cane Rosso Pizza: hand tossed Neopolitan Crust topped with Italian sausage, wood-roasted onions & peppers, san marzanos, housemade mozzarella and parmigiano cheeses.  One would figure that if a restaurant were to hang its name on a dish, it would be exemplary, and indeed this was!  This is a very nice, savoury pizza.  Onions and Peppers and Italian sauasage… echoes an Italian sub from Chicago or New York City (Get a rope!!!).. no heaving saucing involved here either.  The crust is light, much like a large pita bread, with a modest amount of char–and 90 seconds was accurate.  And for those concerned:  the crust was NOT soggy in the middle.

Abe chose the Vegetale: a hand tossed Neopolitan Crust topped with mushrooms, artichokes, roasted grape tomatoes, caramelized onions, olives, san marzanos, housemade mozzarella, basil, and rapini (a green cruciferous vegetable. The edible parts are the leaves, buds, and stems; fyi the buds somewhat resemble broccoli!).  If your a lacto-ova-vegetarian, or just someone who loves veggies, this pizza will definitely appeal.  Even if you aren’t in either of those categories, this is a fresh pizza that is full of flavour.  None of the veggies tasted like they’d been in long term cold storage nor reconstituted from dessicated–fresh was the key.  The cheese on this pizza (and the Cane Rosso pizza for that matter) was nice and stringy, and squeaked at the first bite.  A very tasty pizza that Abe ate all of except for the one slice he allowed me!

Their menu has other options as well–great appetizers like the Angioletti, Burrata Mozzarella, and Meatballs; Sausage and Peppers or Meatball Sandwiches; Bolognese Spaghetti; and desserts like Zeppole doughnuts and Tira Misu.  And for beer lovers (like Uncle Tex) they keep a few Texas Craft Beers, some mass produced for those who like that kind of thing, and yes, good red and white wines as well.

For those who need a local for comparison:  if you like Pizaro’s Pizza or Pizzeria Solario, the pizza at Cane Rosso is comparable.  If you like them, you will definitely like Cane Rosso as well!

Report Card for Cane Rosso in the Heights:
Food:
     Cane Rosso Pizza: A+
     Pizza Vegetale: A+
     Wicket Awesome ESB from Eureka Heights Brewing: A
Service:
     Speed: A

Uncle Tex’s Italian Cousin???

     Friendliness: A+
Cleanliness:
     Dining Room: A
     Kitchen/Bar: A
Atmosphere:
     Corner Italian Deli Pizzeria: A 

Overall Grade: A

Cane Rosso has two Houston area locations.
We went to the location at:

1835 N. Shepherd Dr.
Houston, TX 77008
713.868.0071

HOURS:
LUNCH:
Tues-Sun 11 AM – 3 PM

Ladies: He’s STILL SINGLE!!! 

DINNER:
Mon-Thurs: 5 PM – 10 PM
Fri-Sat: 5 PM – 11 PM
Sun: 3 PM – 9 PM

HAPPY HOUR:
Mon-Wed: 5 PM – 7 PM

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
Eat happy !!!
Hank

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A lot of folks I know have traveled to New York City (GET A ROPE!!!) and when they were there, they talked about a burger joint by the name of The Shake Shack, as being one of the better fast casual burger joints in the area.  Of course they have been gradually expanding since they were first founded and like many fast casual chains, they have taken an active stance in helping the local communities where they are operating.  Back on October 16th, they did a pop-up at Pass & Provisions which gave Houstonians a chance to try their basic single ShackBurger.  While I did some Tweeting and Instagramming, since the Full Menu wasn’t on the proverbial Table, I chose to wait until they were open and some of the furor had died down a bit.  Thankfully, Winter Break afforded me and the kids an opportunity to enjoy a late lunch at their Galleria Location.  But first a bit about them from their website:

Shake Shack sprouted from a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in Manhattan to support the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s first art installation. The cart was quite the success, with Shack fans lined up daily for three summers. In 2004, a permanent kiosk opened in the park: Shake Shack was born. This modern day “roadside” burger stand serves up the most delicious burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard, shakes, beer, wine and more. An instant neighborhood fixture, Shake Shack welcomed people from all over the city, country and world who gathered together to enjoy fresh, simple, high-quality versions of the classics in a majestic setting. The rest, as they say, is burger history.

H-town, baby! Our very first Shack in Houston, we’re proud to call The Galleria home. In addition to the Shack classics, the Houston Galleria Shack is servin’ up the Texas-exclusive Lockhart Link Burger, a cheeseburger topped with griddled Kreuz Market jalapeño cheese sausage link, pickles and ShackSauce. Even sweeter? Five percent of sales from the Vietnamese Coffee and Donuts concrete (vanilla frozen custard, Morningstar COP donut and Greenway Coffee café sua da marshmallow sauce) support Houston SPCA.

It’s hard to hate a national restaurant group that sources locally for some elements, especially when the burgers there (based on my initial taste in October) are quite good.  However, now that they had a chance to get established, it was time to see if the quality stayed high and matched the line-ups.  Helena, Jason and I swung by and got a nice cross-section of the Houston area menu.  While I was disappointed they were out of the Lockhart Link ingredients, I was okay getting a Double SmokeShack burger topped with all-natural smoked Niman Ranch bacon, chopped cherry pepper, and ShackSauce.

Jason went for a Single Shack with just ketchup and cheese (he’s a purist, so he says), while Helena wanted to try their Chicken dog, a Shake Shack chicken, apple and sage sausage on a steamed fresh potato bun.  We also shared some bacon cheddar fries.  Helena tried a Salted Caramel shake, while I enjoyed a Root Beer Float and Jason enjoyed a Creamsicle float.  And not to be forgotten, we also got the Vietnamese Coffee & Donuts Concrete!  WHEW!  Good think there were 2 hungry teens along for this ride to ensure no food was left unconsumed!

Now for the nitty gritty:  first of all the Double SmokeShack Burger was visibly loaded with bacon.  As you can see from the picture on the right, those bacon slices were thick and juicy and a nice load of cherry peppers that were more sweet than hot and reminded me a bit of Pepadew (YES!!!).  The cheddar cheese was nicely melted and gooey, and a good dollop of Shack Sauce to boot.  Of note:  the bun seems to be both toasted and steamed–it was not dry, was very soft and held the burger together very well with minimal loss of containment.  It seemed to be a soft potato/egg bread bun but I have been unable to confirm that for sure.  Very good burger, nice and smokey and peppery.  I really want to try that Lockhart Link the next time I come by though.

The Chicken apple sage sausage dog was served split on a similar composition of hot dog bun.  Helena chose to have it untopped and allowed me one bite, which confirmed that toppings were not necessary.  A very flavourful link, with savoury, salty and sweet elements.  And Jason gobbled up his SingleShack burger quicker than I’d seen him eat in a while, which for him is a mark of a good appetite and good food.  The bacon cheddar fries are served with a gooey white cheddar cheese sauce rather than a melted slice of cheddar.  These are the usual crispy crinkle cut ShackFries with a generous amount of bacon and cheddar sauce.  At times there were some plastic fork duels to get some fries, sauce and bacon, and an empty Fry boat when it was all said and done.

Last but not least, the desserts.  The Salted Caramel shake was more sweet than salty, but still pretty good.  The Floats had great vanilla ice cream in them which worked well with the Orange Fanta and the Barq’s Root Beer.  The best of the desserts, however, was the Ca Phe Sua Da and Doughnuts Concrete.  This was some good espresso with sweetened condensed milk thoroughly blended with the Morningstar Doughnut shreds.  Very tasty, not too sweet, very creamy, very satisfying.  I’d be tempted to have this for breakfast if it were available somewhere, though I’d have to do 2 workouts a day after having this.  Although the Shake Shack is a little more expensive than a typical burger joint, this is indeed a case of you getting what you paid for.  We were happy with this treat and will probably be back before Spring Break.

Report Card for The Shake Shack Galleria:
Food/Beverage:
     SmokeShack: A+
     Chicken Apple Sage Sausage: A
     Bacon Cheddar Fries: A
     Vietnamese Coffee/Donut Concrete: A+
Cleanliness:
     Dining Area/Kitchen: A
     Washrooms: A
Service:
     Speed: B+
     Friendliness: A
Atmosphere:
     Fast Casual Burger Joint: B+

Overall Grade: A

Currently this is the only location in the Houston area.  However, Shake Shack has indicated they will open a 2nd Houston location in the Rice Village sometime in 2017, with an announcement coming in the first quarter of the year.   This will be some great news for the Med Center and West U folks and will hopefully make the line-ups a little. shorter for the Galleria Location.  More to come on this as it becomes available.  Until next time Dear Readers, make sure that in 2017 you remember to…

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!!
Hank

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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:
Food:
     Grilled Pork Chops: A
     Chicken Fried Steak Fingers: A 
     Beef Slider Burgers: A
     Onion Rings: A+
     Fries: A- 
Service:
     Friendliness: A+
     Speed: A-
Cleanliness: 
     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.
SKIP THE PORK!!!”


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

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!!
Hank

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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
Cleanliness: 
     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

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!!
Hank

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Well folks, Torchy’s Tacos has been expanding from out of Austin all over the Houston area for the past year or so.  Of course some folks have said that some locations products aren’t the same as they are in Austin (and let’s be frank, sometimes those of us who lived in Austin for a time, tend to inflate how great things were there while we lived there, I am one of those).  Still, as a fella who loves spicy Tex-Mex and good food, I felt I shouldn’t judge based on scuttlebutt nor on what may or may not have happened during the first six weeks after opening.  So when Torchy’s opened a location off of Louetta and Cutten near Lone Star College University Park, I chose to cast aside my preconceived notions and headed on out there.  Between the Hot Stuff Devil a la Harvey Comics and the line-up of customers, along with happy folks filling their pie-holes with tacos, I knew this was a good location.  But first a little background:

Who says you need a business plan to start a taco joint? With a head full of ideas and a slight ache from partying all summer, Michael Rypka left his fancy executive chef job to chase his dreams. He soon found them in Austin with a newly acquired food trailer and a red Vespa scooter. A house was mortgaged. Credit cards were maxed out. And Torchy’s Tacos opened on Bouldin Creek at South 1st. Watching cars drive by, Mike realized he had bet his life savings on green chili pork and fajitas mixed with his own desire for some great street food. With no customers in sight, Mike hopped on his scooter and handed out free chips and his award-winning salsa to personally invite everyone to stop by the trailer for some tacos. It worked.

The first menu was filled more with experiments than meals. So whenever Mike heard his customers holler “damn these tacos are good!” they were added to the menu. Soon “Damn Good” became a rally cry at the trailer. The Taco Dream grew and took on a life of its own with long lines and happy customers. Today Torchy’s Tacos operate several stores and a trailer park. They’ve won a bunch of cool awards and had write-ups and videos spread across the nation. You can still find that passion in the food at any Torchy’s, and none of it would be possible without all the customers, employees, friends and fans that share in the Taco Dream.

You have to love a place that tells a story like that!  So when I came out to that Vintage location and saw the line out the wazzoo, I was about to turn tail and leave, but then noticed empty seating at the bar and realized I wouldn’t have to wait as long as I’d thought.  Plus sometimes you see the coolest things while eating at the bar.  I perused the menu and went for two different tacos that appealed to my eclectic tastes:  The Mr. Orange and the Brushfire.  Mr. Orange (nice reference to Tim Roth’s character in Reservoir Dogs) has blackened salmon topped with grilled corn/black bean relish, queso fresco & cilantro, drizzled with avocado salsa, served with a lime wedge on a corn tortilla. The Brush Fire is Jamaican Jerk Chicken will grilled jalapeños, mango, sour cream & cilantro, topped with Diablo sauce, on a flour tortilla.

Yes folks, I was craving the heat on this particular day.  Those tacos came out and my mouth was ready to party.  Thankfully, Torchy’s also serves my favourite Maine Root Natural Sodas to put out the fire.  First of all the Diablo Sauce is really full of heat.  A little goes A LONG WAY unless you just are a glutton for punishment.  The spicy chicken is grilled nicely and the sweet mango goes well with it’s sweet heat.  The Mr. Orange is a great fish taco, tastes like something straight out of Old Town or Pacific Beach from San Diego.  The only thing missing was the aluminum foil wrapping.  Quite fresh and tasty, I say!

Of course there are other great dishes–their Queso is legen-wait for it-dairy (note the spelling) and has a nice spicy kick to it.  They have a good selection of mass produced and local craft beers as well.  To the noobs:  don’t drink an IPA when eating anything with that Diablo sauce.  Unless you’re going to say “challenge accepted” like Barney Stinson, and they, your tastebuds’ funeral.  Just saying…

Despite the long line up, for tables, the service once seated was reasonably fast for a Friday lunch rush. The staff was friendly and the food was really good.  I will be back to this location because it is sooooooo convenient to my work!

Report Card for Torchy’s Vintage:
Food & Beverage:
     Mr. Orange Taco: A+ 
     Brushfire Taco: A
     Queso & Chips: A+
     Maine Root Sodas: A+
Service:
     Friendliness: A+
     Speed: A-
Cleanliness:
     Bar/Dining Area: A
     Men’s Room: Incomplete

     Kitchen: Incomplete
Atmosphere (Hot as Hades Hipster Taco Joint): A

Overall Grade: A 

Torchy’s Tacos has 5 Houston area locations.
I went to the Vintage location at:
10123 Louetta.
Houston, TX  77070
(281) 803-5300

Mon-Thu: 7AM – 10PM
Fri: 7AM – 11PM
Sat:  8AM – 11PM
Sun:  8AM – 10PM

Eat Happy, Y’all!!!
吃得开心!!! 
Hank

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