Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Texas Land & Cattle to Raise Funds for Cassidy Stay Fund

Houston’s Texas Land & Cattle Restaurants to Host
Dine-In Day on Sunday, July 20, for Cassidy Stay Fund
Premium steakhouse will donate 15% of net sales to family of Spring shooting victim

HOUSTON (July 16, 2014) – Texas Land & Cattle's four Houston-area restaurants will donate 15 percent of their net sales on Sunday, July 20, to the Cassidy Stay Fund (http://www.gofundme.com/bbh9go). The fund was established after six members of Stay’s family were shot and killed in their Spring home on July 9.

“The Stays were regular visitors to our Willowbrook Mall location on holidays, so this senseless tragedy really hit home for us,” said Chris Jones, executive general manager of three of the four local TXLC restaurants. “All of us in the Houston area are determined to do whatever we can to honor their memory and support Cassidy.”

What: Texas Land & Cattle Dine-In Day for Cassidy Stay

When: Sunday, July 20, 2014; 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Where: Texas Land & Cattle – Houston Restaurants
·      12313 Katy Freeway (I-10 & Dairy Ashford)
·      11900 Dickinson Rd. (I-45S & Beltway 8, exit Fuqua, next to Home Depot)
·      8015 W. FM 1960 (FM 1960 & 249, across from Willowbrook Mall)
·      12710 US 59 South (Stafford - Hwy 59 South & Kirkwood, in the Fountains Shopping Center)



ABOUT TEXAS LAND & CATTLE
Plano-based Texas Land & Cattle is a popular restaurant chain noted for its unique “Texas Craft Dining” experience. Renowned for its premium steaks sourced exclusively from Hartley Ranch in Stephenville, TX, as well as a Texas-inspired menu of traditional favorites, the brand offers premium dining quality and service at casual dining prices.  The company also owns and operates the Lone Star Steakhouse chain, America’s trusted brand for quality Texas-style dining delivered with a Texas-sized value. For the location nearest you, visit txlc.com.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: Pre-Concert Dinner at Mia's Table

We were excited to hear about new restaurant projects from Johnny Carrabba, a scion of the famed Mandola restaurant family, and founder of one of Houston's great Italian spots, Carrabba's.

So on a recent weeknight, we met friends before a concert for a meal at Mia's Table, the new fast casual comfort food concept from Carrabba. Mia's is named after his daughter, a charming tradition that continues with his other new spot, Grace's, named after his grandmother.

Mia's is a casual, inviting space, reminiscent of an older (but meticulously maintained) Hill Country home. Patrons order at the counter, and are presented with an eclectic menu of Texas comfort food: Sandwiches, tacos, burgers, and an assortment of fried entrees, from chicken to chicken-fried steak to fried shrimp and snapper. We ordered at the counter from a helpful and friendly teenaged staff member, and were off to find our seats.

The sprawling dining room was filled with families and small groups enjoying an early dinner; the organizer of our gathering had reserved a semi-private space in the rear, away from the hustle and bustle. The room had a distinct energy; patrons were enjoying their meals, laughing, and seemed to be in a boisterous mood. Mia's is not the spot for a quiet, intimate dinner, but it's a great place to hang out with friends and family.

Our food arrived shortly.

No one will be surprised that we had to sample Mia's cheeseburger, an interesting architectural diversion from this classic American staple. The de rigeur beef patty, slightly melted cheese, and fresh veggies were placed on a distinctly oval bun - the two patties were essentially side-by-side, instead of stacked. This is an unusual arrangement, and resulted in a lot more bun than we prefer; we were essentially eating two smallish burgers instead of one big one. The patty was cooked medium well and was slightly dry; the veggies were fresh, and the bun had a nice texture but very little flavor.


All in all, a solid burger, but not one we'd go out of our way to order again.

Next up was the Chicken Fried Chicken, a generous chicken breast breaded in the style of a chicken fried steak (the more traditional Southern Fried Chicken is also available) and topped with cream gravy seasoned with bits of jalapeño.


This dish was a winner - moist, juicy, well-breaded chicken, with a nice peppery kick, accented by just enough cream gravy and a mild jalapeño burn. Balance was the word that came to mind with the chicken; good balance between the meat and the crust, good balance between the fresh chicken flavor, the creamy gravy, and the spicy counterpoints.

Sides were a mixed bag. Mashed potatoes were very good; creamy, smooth, with just enough pepper to be interesting. Green beans were uninspired, limp, and lacking in flavor.

All in all, Mia's is a nice addition to the Kirby restaurant scene. It's a great spot for families and groups looking for a quick bit of Texas-style comfort food in an upscale but casual setting.

We'll be back.

Mia's Kitchen | 3131 Argonne Street | Houston, Texas 77098 | 713-522-6427 | miastable.com

Mia's Table on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 7, 2014

12 Ways to Tell that You're a Woodlands Area Foodie

Out here in the Woodlands we've got more than our share of foodies. No matter where you go, you overhear people talking about food: What's the new hot place, what's about to open, where's the best place for a steak. Some even take photos of their food.

Not a Woodlands Area Foodie

But folks who say these things could be anyone... not necessarily a real foodie. As a public service, we'd like to humbly offer the following list to help identify real Woodlands Area Foodies:

  1. Your friends message you when they can't decide where to eat. They may or may not invite you to come along.
  2. Cary Attar greets you by name when you walk into Fielding's. You don't expect him to feed you for free.
  3. Your iPhone's camera roll contains more photos of your meals than of your kids.
  4. You first noticed Chef Austin Simmons when he was the sous at Tesar's. And you happily devour whatever he's offering as a special that night at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro. You don't expect him to feed you for free.
  5. You belong to three different Facebook foodie groups, but only admit to two of them.
  6. You find yourself at 11pm driving across Houston to a restaurant where you won't speak the language just because Tom Nguyen said that the food was superb. As always, Tom was right.
  7. You know whether Phil Nicosia is in the house at Pallotta's before you walk in the door. You don't expect him to feed you for free.
  8. You get sad thinking about Jay Stone's late, lamented Wicked Whisk food truck. But you cheer up after you pledge your support for his Chingu project.
  9. You have no problem having lunch at Twin Peaks, but you wouldn't set foot in Hooter's or Bikini's.
  10. You see nothing wrong with having a second lunch when friends message you from Hello Taco. Or a third when they've ventured down the street to Viva Itacate.
  11. You get excited to find a great new place for chicken fried steak in the Woodlands. But you hold off visiting until Kim Bellini states whether the cream gravy meets with her approval.
  12. You run into at least four friends on Saturday morning waiting in line for Corkscrew BBQ to open. You don't expect them to feed you for free... but you enjoy the free beer they're providing.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Woodlands Chef turns to Kickstarter to Launch his New American / Korean Concept - Chingu

Starting a restaurant is a risky venture. Even proven concepts from established operators carry a great deal of risk. 60% of all restaurants fail in the first five years. So getting investors can be tricky, and restaurateurs often give up a great deal of control to the money guys in order to gain financing.

So what is a talented young chef with a vision to do? If it's 2014, and the chef is Jay Stone (of Wicked Whisk, Vallone's, and Jasper's fame) you take your idea to Kickstarter, the on-line marketplace that funds hot new ideas.


Kickstarter is a successful online phenomenon that's funded everything from the Pebble smart watch to the new Veronica Mars move. If you've got a great idea and you can present it well, Kickstarter is a good way to raise capital.

Chef Stone brings serious talent to the table. His cuisine has always drawn both popular and critical acclaim. Ever since we first sampled his cooking at the Wicked Whisk food truck, we were unabashed fans.

Houston mayor Annise Parker called Jay's Wicked Whisk her favorite food truck, and it's one that we miss very much. At a recent wine dinner at Jasper's, Chef Stone's dishes were the hits of the evening, and the popup events he's hosted with Will Buckman at Corkscrew BBQ all sell out within hours of being announced.

Chef Stone has the skills. We believe that the concept of New American comfort food with a Korean twist is one that will resonate well with Texans. So what is Chingu? In his words:

"Chingu has been my brainchild for quite some time and has evolved as I grew as a professional cook. After hosting pop-up dinners, food truck stops and collaborating with other local industry folk it came to me that this is what cooking is all about. Having fun, doing what you love and meeting great people along the way. Chingu means "Friend" in the Korean language and it represents my project perfectly.

"The Korean inspired fare will touch on American and Southern classics and be approachable by a wide audience. Korean Fried Chicken and Biscuits, Braised Beef Cheeks with Gochujang Mashed Potatoes and several varieties of In-House Fermented Kimchi will be menu staples. "Redefining Comfort Food" as I like to say."

Chef Stone has a clever strategy for his physical facility: He plans to start with a food truck, keeping his costs low and his location flexible. He'll then transition to a brick-and-mortar building when the time is right.

We're excited about Chingu, and urge our followers to support this exciting project. You can get onboard for as little as $5, but check out the larger pledges. They include generous rewards, up to a catered lunch or dinner for 15 guests at a bargain price.

Chingu on Kickstarter.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Free Movie Passes for our readers to Jon Favreau's Chef

There's a new movie opening at the end of the week, and it's one that will appeal to foodies. And we have a special offer for our loyal readers.

We're excited to offer our readers passes to an exclusive sneak preview of the movie Chef, starring Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, and Dustin Hoffman.

The preview will be held at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace at 7pm on Wednesday, May 21. The film opens to the public the following friday.

Passes are limited, and can be downloaded via this link.

Please arrive at the theater early; pass holders will be admitted first come, first serve. (More passes than seats are typically issued to make sure the theater is full.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Review: Republic Grille brings Texas Cuisine to the central Woodlands

The restaurant scene in the Woodlands is growing and thriving. New places open each month, but none have intrigued us as much as the Republic Grille, a new concept debuting in the Panther Creek Village Center in the Woodlands.


Republic Grill replaced one of the Woodlands' oldest restaurants, Ace Chinese, a restaurant that had lasted well beyond its sell-by date due to the fact that it was one of the only Chinese delivery spots serving the central Woodlands.

We'd heard rumors about Republic Grill, and were excited to hear (via our Woodlands Area Foodies Facebook group) that Monday was opening day. So we changed our lunch plans and headed over to investigate.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Venturing outside the Bubble to Nguyen Ngo 2

Living in the Woodlands spoils you in many ways. The town has grown up since its humble beginnings, and now boasts a population of nearly 100,000, along with a range of upscale businesses dedicated to supporting the highly sought-after demographic. And the restaurant scene is thriving, with some of Houston's best restaurants calling the Woodlands home. There's even a Facebook group devoted to finding great food in the Woodlands and surrounding areas.

For some, the Woodlands is a sort of bubble that never has to be left. But not for me, nor for other dedicated foodies who are always in search of great new places to eat.

What the Woodlands doesn't have is a wide selection of small, ethnic restaurants, particularly the Asian spots that pop up all over the Houston area. The independents that do call the Woodlands home trend toward the upscale, largely due to the rents in the Woodlands proper.

But as someone who loves Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine, especially from small, family run establishments, venturing outside the bubble is a way of life if you're in search of great food. But which way to go?

Fortunately, friends in the Woodlands Area Foodies group are avid culinary explorers, and new suggestions appear on a regular basis. We've learned to trust the recommendations of several of the members implicitly, and when they say "Let's meet here for lunch!" we jump at the chance.

Proprietor Alex Nguyen talks with WAF members Huy Dang and Tom Nguyen (eclipsed)

A case in point is Nguyen Ngo 2, an Vietnamese sandwich shop located just south of FM 1960 on Bammell North Houston road. NN2, as regulars call it, specializes in that delicious Vietnamese sandwich that has become iconic in H-Town,  the Banh Mi.

Banh Mi is a big deal in Houston, driven largely by our large Vietnamese community. Even Houston's home-grown high-end burger chain, Beck's Prime, has rolled out its take on the Banh Mi.

Nguyen Ngo 2's version of this iconic sandwich is far more traditional. The proprietor, Alex Nguyen, learned sandwich making from his grandfather in Viet Nam - a photo taken in the 1960's showing the elder Nguyen's chicken sandwich shop hangs proudly on the wall.

Friday, March 21, 2014

First Look Review: We Say Hello to Hello Taco

Taquerias are a big thing in Houston, thanks to our vibrant Latin American community. Even the worst ones are pretty good, and the best ones are excellent. They're almost all family run, small operations, and in many cases the ability to speak Spanish is very helpful when you visit. We think it's part of the charm, but some less adventurous souls are put off by this.

For these folks, fast food tacos were created. From Jack in the Box tacos (which we admit to liking) to Taco Bell to Taco Cabana, different approaches to offering tacos to the terminally unadventurous have been tried, with mixed results.

Our biggest complaint: None of these chains offers a truly excellent taco.

Enter Hello Taco. Combine the traditional flavors of a great taqueria, wrap it in a slick package that won't scare gringos away. Offer a variety of tacos with both traditional and Americanized options. Sounds like a good plan. How does it work?


Hello Taco is located where Sawdust Road curves into Grogan's Mill, the busy commercial strip that connects to the south edge of the Woodlands. It's a smart location; lots of lunch business, and easy access to the Woodlands populace without paying Woodlands rents. Located conveniently next to a Baskin-Robbins store, parking is easy. Entering the store, you're met with a bright, clean environment that is so professionally decorated that it could easily be a nationwide franchise.

But it's not. Hello Taco is the brainchild of Armando and Susan Ocampo, a couple with years of experience in the restaurant biz; he in the back of the house, she in the front. Their expertise is evident in the slick presentation and bright colors that make Hello Taco an inviting place to visit.

But how's the food?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guest Blogger: A Visit to Oxheart

This week we're excited to introduce another guest blogger. Dr. Tom Nguyen is an active member of the Woodlands Area Foodies group, and one of the most knowledgable foodies I've met in years. He's constantly on the move trying new and different places, and he recently visited one of Houston's most written-about restaurants, Oxheart. Here's Tom's take on this media darling:

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Finally had the chance to check out the hottest restaurant in Houston. Hailed by everybody from the local press to New York Times, wanted to check out the talents of Chef Justin Yu.
Oxheart. (Photo: Kent Wang)

Located discreetly in gentrified EaDo (east downtown), Oxheart is in the building where Latin Bites used to be. Look for a place with 2 wooden doors at a corner. Walking in felt like walking into somebody's small loft, no formal host/hostess, but one of the waitstaff running around will greet and seat you. Definitely a casual atmosphere.

We get seated at the kitchen counter where all the action's at. Decor is pretty cozy, again, like you're in somebody's loft rather than a restaurant. First thing I notice, cats everywhere. Chinese lucky cats (Maneki-Neko) to be exact. At the counter, there are drawers near where you sit which contains utensils and napkins. You are expected to get these yourself.

Menu consists of a tasting menu, a seasonal menu (meat) and a garden menu (no meat). Food is locally sourced from wagyu in Wallis near Eagle Lake to veggies from Atkinson Farms in Spring. We order all 3 menus.

Details of the dishes follow. (Photos by Tom Nguyen)


Friday, February 21, 2014

Hubbell & Hudson Popup Dinner - Inside the Loop with Chef Austin Simmons

We're unabashed fans of the food Chef Austin Simmons creates at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro. From his incredibly creative seafood presentations to his world-class burgers, we've not seen a misstep from this talented young chef.

Last night the chef took his formidable talent and a section of his kitchen staff inside the loop for a pop-up dinner. The location was a stunning historic Museum District home, recently renovated by Pasternak Custom Homes, and offered for sale by John Daugherty Realtors.

For the event the meticulously restored interior of the home was converted into an intimate bistro. In attendance were members of the print, broadcast, and on-line media, all anxious to sample what was ahead.

As the culinary team prepared the eight-course tasting menu, craft cocktails were passed, accompanied by a surprising appetizer: A quick-fried morsel of battered and breaded foie gras, cooked to the point of liquidity. This burst of liquid flavor was a playful tease of what was to come.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Going Beyond the Pie - Calzone at Crust Pizza Co.

We've made no bones about being fans of Crust Pizza Co., the independent pizza empire that has announced the expansion to a third location in the Woodlands. Their focus on fresh ingredients, innovative recipes, and rock-solid consistency makes them our go-to place for a great pizza.

But we'll let you in on a secret. The outstanding pizza may not be the best thing on the Crust Pizza menu. That honor belongs to the superlative calzone, which takes the already outstanding crust to the next level.


Behold this delicious creation. The flaky, hand-tossed dough is folded around freshly cut fillings, in this case a carnivore's delight of pepperoni, bacon, Italian sausage, beef, and Canadian bacon. Melted with the meats are a mix of freshly cut mozzarella and cheddar cheese. The crust is baked to a perfect golden brown, then brushed with butter and fresh garlic. 

The result is, hands down, the best calzone we've ever tasted. Try it.



Crust Pizza Co. on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 17, 2014

RIP b4-u-eat.com

We were saddened to hear of the closing of the venerable b4-u-eat.com website, one of the oldest food review sites covering Houston since the mid-90's. They'd survived the rise of Citysearch and Yelp, and continued with their bare-bones format and ad-free approach.



Thanks for all your hard work, guys. You'll be missed.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

2nd Annual Houston BBQ Festival Announced


Update: More Information!



WHAT: The 2nd Annual Houston Barbecue Festival will celebrate and recognize what is unique about Houston barbecue. Specifically, we want to:
  • Recognize the talent, hard work, and dedication of the owners and pitmasters that make Houston barbecue great.
  • Make the citizens of Houston (and Texas, and the U.S., etc.) aware of the long history of barbecue here and that the quality of Houston barbecue is comparable to other regional styles of barbecue.
  • Make Houstonians true connoisseurs of barbecue by offering samples of great barbecue so they can choose to patronize those barbecue joints committed to only the highest quality of barbecue.
  • Celebrate the diversity of Houston barbecue by including the many styles of barbecue found here.

WHEN: Sunday, April 6th, 2014 from 1:00-5:00pm. VIP Admission at 12pm.

WHERE: Reliant Park, Purple Lot. Parking entrance on South Main Street.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

China Garden - A Houston Classic

In the breakneck-paced Houston food scene, new restaurants often appear, get hot, cool off, and ultimately disappear in a matter of months. Universal foodie acclaim doesn't prevent this vicious cycle -- witness the demise of media darlings like Feast and Bootsie's.

Certain parts of town seem to present even more challenges. Inner Westheimer has tremendous competition. The Heights has archaic liquor laws. Downtown can offer a strong lunch business, but is deserted on weeknights, and this combination has thwarted great restaurants like Samba Grille, Laidback Manor, and other high-profile, critical success stories.

Yet some restaurants endure, and do so for decades. Instead of embracing the hottest food trends, they find a formula that satisfies their customers, and they refine and perfect it.

A textbook example is China Garden, located downtown across the street from the Toyota Center garage. China Garden has been serving Chinese-American food for lunch and dinner from this location since the 1970's, and we've heard reports of good food from trusted friends.



We ventured downtown for lunch to try to find out why China Garden has thrived so long in the tough downtown restaurant market.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Beck's Prime Sums Up Houston with New Banh Mi Sandwich

As our readers know, Houston's vibrant food scene isn't limited to Tex-Mex, BBQ, and burgers. As our nation's most multicultural city, dining options span the list from African to Vietnamese, with pretty much everything in between.

And Vietnamese is a big deal here. Houston is home to one of the nation's largest Vietnamese communities, and these immigrants have brought the delicious foods of their culture along with them. Vietnamese restaurants thrive in Houston, and range from tiny mom-and-pop pho shops to thriving local chains like Kim Son.

Imagine our surprise when we got a note from Houston's home-grown upscale burger empire, Beck's Prime, talking about the Banh Mi sandwich they were adding to their menu. We received a generous invitation to visit any of the Beck's locations and sample this interesting new offering (along with a couple of others).

Burgers and Banh Mi. If that's not 21st century Houston casual dining, I don't know what is. But we had to wonder how good a Beck's Prime banh mi would be. To determine that, we put together a crack tasting team and ventured over to the Woodands' own Beck's Prime location.

Befitting this multicultural offering was our multicultural team, consisting of your humble editor and real estate guru / celebrity foodie Huy Dang, the man behind the stunning @uberbites Instagram account. His knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine far exceeds mine, and he has a very keen palate. He's also a sharp dresser, adding a badly needed touch of class to our dining party.

On a blustery February at noon we converged on Beck's Prime on Grogan's Mill in the Woodlands, skillfully avoiding the road construction that rendered the parking lot all but inaccessible. Even with the construction Beck's was doing a strong lunch business. Woodlands residents know their burgers, and Beck's are among the best. But we weren't here for the burgers.

Beck's staff demonstrated their usual flawless hospitality, and we ordered and grabbed a table. In short order the food came out. Front and center was the new banh mi.

Banh Mi at Beck's Prime

No, this is not your Aunt Thuy's banh mi. The traditional french loaf is replaced with one of Beck's signature egg buns, the fatty mystery pork usually found has been replaced with lean, chargrilled, generously-sliced pork sirloin, and the vegetables were crispy, very fresh, and freshly cut.