Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Anybody out there?

Just wondering. I'm gonna keep blogging anyway. Rich and I went to Beck's Prime which wouldn't necessarily have been on our list, however, Texas Monthly rated it among the top 50 in Texas. Will post soon.

PS - let me know if you're out there...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Houston - Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich Shop

Richie finally got his Italian beef sandwich. I opted for the shrimp tacos. His comment was, "good, uh-hmm, okay" and I thought the shrimp tacos were small, light and flavorful (which is what I was looking for.) Served on 2 fresh corn tortillas, shrimp were seasoned well and topped with lettuce and some sort of sauce. I'd order it again. (Shrimp tortilla $1.85)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Houston - Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich Shop

I was watching "The Secret of Pizza" on the Food Network one Saturday after the first of the year and realized I didn't know or ever thought about the difference between thick-crust and Chicago deep-dish pizza. After that episode, I had learned something new.

Thick crust is thick. Period. But Chicago deep-dish pizza starts out with a pizza dough pressed down and up the sides of a round heavy pan with probably a 2-3" raised rim. The segment on television next showed a thick layer of cheese placed right on the dough which then went into the oven. After however many minutes, the pizza was brought out, topped with vegetables, meats, more cheese and then sent back into the oven. Now I knew the difference between thick-crust and deep-dish pizza.

We were going to see the Aeroes play the next day so Rich did some quick internet research and found where we could sample a Chicago-deep dish pizza before the hockey game. Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich Shop is in a small and sort of dilapidated strip center in the 1700 block of Airline between W. Cavalcade & North Main. The restaurant (and the strip center) looked like it had been there since the 60's, if not earlier. The first thing I noticed as we walked in was a chalkboard near the order line which read "Whole Roasted Pig, Order In Advance." No problem, I thought, since I've only experienced a whole roasted pig on one occasion and decided it's not my thing. I love ham, bacon, all kinds of pork, I just can't handle the idea of picking meat off a roasted carcass. I know this is a delicacy and very much a tradition in some cultures which I honor, I just can't eat pork that way.

The restaurant was simple with a friendly wait-staff who informed us the deep dish pizza could take as long as 30-45 minutes, which was okay since there were several mounted plasma TV screens around and the Texans were playing New England for their first play-off spot. The extended time also gave me a chance to study the extensive menu and the memorabilia on the walls, which as expected, was rich in Chicago history.

As I said, the menu was extensive with a wide variety of selections that would take some time to decide what to order unless you already knew, like we did. Otherwise you'd be drumming your fingers against your chin trying to decide between gyros, fish tacos, wings, po-boys, burgers, pizza, hot and cold sandwiches, or hot dogs, etc. I felt a little bad for Rich. He was born and raised northwest of Chicago and adores Italian Beef sandwiches. As much as I know he'd have loved Italian Beef, he was a good sport and stuck to the plan...Chicago deep-dish pizza.

The restaurant wasn't very crowded (cold & rainy mid-Sunday afternoon) and the pizza didn't take as long as was promised. After several bites I realized this pizza was different from the one I had seen made on the "Secret of Pizza" segment. Instead of cheese layered over the dough, this pizza started out with a pizza/tomato sauce, then the vegetables, then the cheese. This pizza was warm, gooey and very filling. Small dollups of the pizza/tomato sauce were dropped on top of the pizza which I think could have been omitted and the cheese layer first over the dough might have kept the bottom crust from being soggy. But all in all, it was a good first Chicago deep-dish pizza experience. Especially since the Texans beat the Patriots which had me on cloud nine until the Jets got the crap kicked out of them later that night. So long playoffs...

Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich Shop warrants another trip for us. I'd like to try either the po-boys or the fish tacos. And I know, without a doubt, Rich will be having the Italian Beef.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Schulenburg - Oak Ridge Smokehouse

This funny looking wooden structure with red-trimmed paned windows hanging at odd angles is situated on the north side of I-10 at Hwy. 77 in Schulenburg. I stop there every year on the way back from one of my Hill Country trips to buy at least 4 packages of their beef jerky (peppered beef is their original flavor) for Christmas favorites for my grown kids and grandkids (not grown).

Last December Rich and I stopped there for lunch on our way to San Antonio for my nephew's wedding. This particular day was the oh-my-gosh-I-can't-believe-it's-snowing-this-far-south day. We were seated in the back dining room where we were able to have an enjoyable cozy lunch while gazing through the paned windows at the flurry of snowflakes. I know people from up north (which is probably anywhere north of Dallas) would not find this to be any particular phenomenon, but once again, being a native Houstonian, I sat and marveled at the quiet, white beauty of it all.

Now the food. The Smokehouse offers a huge buffet for $10.95 which seemed a bit high until I checked it out. Fried fish, sausage, fried chicken, BBQ ribs, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, other vegetables, great salad bar (with good salad greens), biscuits, rolls, a drink, and an entire separate dessert buffet with cakes and several types of hot cobblers.

I scanned the menu and my eyes fell on one particular item....chicken and dumplings. Snowy-cold day outside, cozy setting inside and the chance to have one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. The chicken and dumplings were $5.95 which I assumed would be more like a small bowl and had me thinking I'd be picking at Rich's buffet plate. But when the serving-size bowl was placed in front of me, I settled back and zeroed in on my own food. The dumplings were perfect, the chicken tender and the broth was just the right consistency. I was in heaven. After briefly considering rubbing the remains of my meal I couldn't finish across my face, I heaved a satisfied sigh and pushed back from the table.

Before leaving I had to stroll through the gift shop where I've always been able to pick up a couple of fun things for stocking-stuffers for my grandkids. Not only is the Oak Ridge Smokehouse a restaurant but also a deli, bakery and a truly unique gift shop (toys, books, cards) with tons of what I consider "old-time" candy (gobstoppers, limonheads, bit o'honey, tootsie rolls, sugar daddies, sugar babies, sloe pokes, almond joys, hot tamales, jr. mints, milk duds, tootsie roll pops).

So, on your next trip heading west on I-10 out of Houston, make the Oak Ridge Smokehouse one of your stops, either for a meal, driving break or to pick up some of their home-made jerky (try the jalapeno jerky). Come to think of it they also offer turkey jerky (say that fast 3 times).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Canyon Lake - Lucky Sailor Oyster Bar

Sister to Lucky's Kitchen & Cocktails, the Lucky Sailor Oyster Bar is right down the road at the Canyon Lake Marina (280 Marina Drive, Canyon Lake, TX 78133).

We went for happy hour which turned into dinner for 2 reasons. #1: they have excellent outside seating and it was beautiful sunset over Canyon Lake. #2: we eyed the food being delivered as we enjoyed a glass a wine and became particularly interested in a platter of fried shrimp that passed our table. We found what we were looking for under appetizers which turned out to be 8 (EIGHT) hearty buttermilk battered fried shrimp served with cocktail sauce.

Long, long ago in a land far, far away, I lived in New Braunfels (mid 80's). Friends had suggested the fresh fried shrimp at a local restaurant and it was a meal I suffered through. Being a native Houstonian makes me somewhat of a snob when it comes to fresh seafood. And what was referred to as fresh fried shrimp in the 80's was more accurately categorized right beside Mrs. Paul's in the frozen section of the grocery store.

Having added that tidbit, the fried shrimp at Lucky Sailor's were some of the best I have ever had, and needless to say, fresh. As with Lucky's Kitchen, each appetizer and entree was served on unique-shaped plates with the presentation ever bit as classy.

The next time I'm at the Lucky Sailor I have already decided on the Lucky Sailor platter, which seems to be a Canyon Lake favorite (fried fish, shrimp & oysters served with fries, jalapeno hushpuppies and Shipwreck Sailor slaw).

Note: if traveling in the area, check the hours of operation on the website. During the winter season the Lucky Sailor is open mostly in the late afternoons and evenings.

Additional Note: all the places I write about have more figure-friendly and probably smarter choices, but when I'm on a road trip, the figure-friendly options seem to fly right out the window.

Austin - Cover 3

Came in at #12 on the Texas Monthly's "50 Best Burgers in Texas" list. I found Cover 3 to be a really nice up-scale sports bar (similar to BJ's Brewery, if anyone is familiar with that brewhouse). The tables aren't packed in so you feel like your eating off your neighbor's plate and they have some cool round (horse shoe?) shaped booths with soft leather (or leather-like) cushions.

The Chop House Burger (must add the longhorn cheese and applewood smoked bacon) was what was recommended in Texas Monthly, so that's what we ordered. The burger was served on a square ciabatta bun which wasn't too thick and this hamburger was quickly bumped up to the top of our own Texas Monthly list. The flavor of the meat was excellent (sometimes forget how important that is) and the applewood smoked bacon and the thick slice of longhorn cheese MADE the burger. Another added delight were the french fries which were shoestring in shape and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Food choices can be basic (burgers, sandwiches, salads) or kicked up a notch (grilled Pacific salmon, sauteed shitake mushrooms & scallions with a light soy-ginger broth or the sauteed Gulf snapper with fresh blue crab with lemon caper butter and pistachios). The wine list is extensive and I would also recommend Cover 3 for nice business lunches or dinner.

Cover 3 is located at 2700 Anderson Lane, Austin, TX 78757 and can be found on Facebook.

Definitely a "thumbs up."