Thursday, June 30, 2011

Saturated Fat Bad for Your Heart? Not So Fast...

Conventional wisdom tells us that eating too much saturated fat is bad for cardiovascular health.  Millions of people have given up the joys of eating delicious, flavorful food in favor of something that's considered to be more "heart healthy".

But now, a breakthrough meta-study turns this conventional wisdom on its ear.
Researchers at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute have concluded a meta analysis of twenty-one different studies.  Ranging from five to 23 years, these studies followed over 340,000 subjects, and analyzed their dietary habits, incidence of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke.

The meta analysis of these epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease, inclusive of stroke.

Fellow burger lovers, rejoice.

The full report is available online from PubMed.  (link)

Quick Take: Update on Jax Burgers

When we visited Jax Burgers shortly after they opened last summer, we enjoyed the restaurant and its signature burger, but felt that it just missed the mark. The hamburger patty was a bit bland and unseasoned.  But we generally liked the place, and on a sunny late June afternoon we decided to visit again.

The restaurant was just as we remembered it - sparklingly clean and full of the aroma of grilled beef.  The Jax logo was prominently displayed all over the restaurant, and two flat-screen TVs were displaying a couple of different sporting events.

It was time to check and see how the burger had fared after Jax settled in.  We ordered at the counter, and our burger promptly arrived.  We bit in, and had a surprise...

A very pleasant surprise.

We're happy to report that the previous problem we had with the burger has been addressed, and addressed well.  The beef patty is still a half-pound of never frozen beef, but it's now sporting a lively seasoning of black pepper and just the right amount of salt.  The bite of the pepper is front and center, and it plays a nice counterpoint to the rich flavor of the high fat content beef.  There's a new swagger, and a bold, beefy flavor that is worthy of the lovingly hand-formed patty.  The difference is like night and day.

The patty was griddled to a nice medium - hints of pink were still present in the center.  The thickish slice of good quality American cheese was nicely melted, and the eggy bun also spent some quality time on the flat top, and the result was a gloriously oozy burger.  Veggies were fresh, but not terribly crisp.

Interestingly, the burger arrived upside-down - something we can't recall ever seeing before.

We're glad to find that the staff at Jax have improved this burger, and we welcome Jax into the upper echelon of Houston burger joints.

Keep up the good work, guys!

JAX Burgers, Fries, & Shakes on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 27, 2011

Congratulations, Lewis and Sharon Krantz

Drivers around Houston's Galleria were surprised to see a new billboard pop up today, and it's a heartwarming story.  Lewis Krantz, long-time real estate professional in the Houston area, executed a tremendous romantic gesture for his lovely bride Sharon (a real estate agent with Martha Turner properties.)

Photo Credit: Ellen Krantz
In honor of their 50th wedding anniversary, Lewis commissioned this special billboard.  He went even further than this, and arranged for it to be unveiled to Sharon to the cheers of assembled friends and family members.

Lewis, you've impressed us with this gesture, but you're making the rest of the guys in Houston look bad.  Well played, sir.  And congratulations to the young couple!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Whole Foods - Walking the Walk

by Chuck Pena
Houston is doing pretty well in what we all seem to be calling "this economy." However, even the best-run luxury lifestyle establishments, particularly those in fitness, food, and furniture, have suffered recent reductions-in-force or closures, even in the upscale Galleria and in the trendy, aggressively marketed and re-gentrified Houston Heights.
Given that status quo, one might question the wisdom of Whole Foods opening their brand of a high-end, self-described "ultimate" shopping experience, located between Montrose and the Heights at this particular time. The land in Houston hasn't really suffered, so it can't be an opportunity that they can't refuse on the lot.

Also, Houston and surrounding areas already offer three Whole Foods, Central Market, Hubble and Hudson, a  handful of Rice Epicureans, and HEB's latest crown jewel, Buffalo Market. All of these groceries/restaurants play in the epicurean/green/organic market  space.
I arrived at the preview tour truly curious about why they were here, and why right now. Years ago, I'd been a customer of Whole Foods in Austin, both at the North Lamar location and at Westgate, and found them to be largely venues for a slacker/yuppie mix of posers with attitudes about what makes a good kiwi or pomegranate.  I guess that no matter how right I was at that time, what I neglected to register that they did, indeed, have kiwis and pomegranates, fresh ones.
As a Texan, I'm obliged to be man enough to reconsider my opinions given new data, and surely enough, as the tour progressed, I had no choice but to readjust those old stereotypes of Whole Foods. This place, or at least our great town's latest incarnation of it, is a lot more than a "luxury shopping experience"—that is, a place that simply stocks the better or rarer items. Whole Foods represents  a comprehensive commitment to genuinely implement "green" in every aspect of their business.
The green commitment includes not only the meat and produce, but every packaged item, every bulk item, every fresh-made item, every prep facility, and every sourcing practice. It also includes the architecture of the building and even the physical plant, right down to the water reclamation subsystem that provides the water for drinking, washing, cooling (even the meat lockers) and landscaping.
Water reclamation system at Whole Foods

Local growers are used whenever available, and items are offered strictly when they are available, on a seasonal basis. Local sourcing and seasonal offering significantly reduces the business' carbon footprint in trucking transit and long-term storage.
Of course, the name Whole Foods pervades the merchandizing philosophy. This is the only place I know of that I could buy anything from a box of cookies to a fresh-made deli sandwich from one of the many fresh-food counters and not have to worry about consuming one gram of color additives, trans-fatty acids, artificial sweetener, endangered animal, unsustainably-farmed grain, stripped grain, or bleached grain.
What makes it better, all this tasty-yet-guilt-free bounty is offered  in a beautiful, bright, comfortable facility with an near-zero carbon footprint. Downside: no double-stuff Oreos...
That's when you realize that this is not a business playing in the luxury grocery space at all, but indeed have invented their own product: they're not selling you truffled spinach pesto from Sicily; they're selling you a sustainable lifestyle—or at least as much of the part of one as they can that relates to food.
So I recommend that your first stop be the coffee stand. Similar in size to a Starbucks in other grocers, this is a separate business, similar to how Panera bread shares space with Schlotzky's in Austin. The Starbuck's-killing features here are the local roaster, and the availability of some of the rarest coffees in the world. Now, these top-shelf brews are not cheap, but they are appropriate and creative 21st-centruy alternatives to bringing a bottle of wine to every holiday. Be forewarned however; the "Dom Perignon" of coffees can run you $75/lb of roasted beans.
Beyond the coffee stand is the front porch, which blends in with the coffee shop seating. Both areas are equipped with wi-fi and feature works by local artists. I didn't get any good shots of the art, sorry. One of the more interesting interactive pieces is the "art vending" machine:  a converted 1960s cigarette machine that makes original art placards, suitable for a coaster, for $5 apiece. It's all similarly-appealing, non-threatening -but-still-occasionally-provoking, urban fare.

Which, by the way, is a great description of the freshly-prepared food area; I'm loathe to call it a "food court" simply because of the images that that phrase recalls to me. The Whole Foods version as the deli, Italian, pizzas, bistro, olive bar, extreme dry-rub barbecue with ready-to-go, all-organic briskets, and then the perfunctory salad bar and premade cold fare. This area is so huge you might even be able to navigate your cart through on a Sunday, which believe me, is going to be pa-aaaa-aaaked.
We've covered a lot, but several major points of interest remain:
  • Peanut butter grinding.  This is a station where you can grind and jar your own peanut, almond, or cashew butter.
  • Bulk area includes barbecue rubs and seasonings, including a tethering system that discourages "scooper-sharing" from container-to-container, a big pet-peeve of mine.
  •  Wine bar, conveniently located right by the cheese counter, that opens at 8am, which, oh, BTW, offers 24 beer taps. I'm thinkin', if you take advantage of this amenity, you may want to bring a designated driver AND shopper.

Finally, I must mention the attitude of the Whole Foods team associates. Any specialist in any area is always happy to tell you about how they achieve their quality and how they're doing things differently, and their sense of ownership and pride is obvious. This point perhaps illustrates the difference in the Whole Foods experience that I realized that day: Everyone, every facility, every practice, spoke with one voice, one message—and that is the hallmark of the most successful ventures in the world.
Of course, this store shall attract its share of tiresome, iPad-addicted, Croc-clad hipster clones, but if you're someone who takes your green commitment beyond the purchase of a Prius, beyond whining on political blogs, into actual practices in your life, then this is your store. You are why Whole Foods is expanding; you are the niche I didn't see before.
I thought we may have had too many Whole Foods, but now, maybe we don't have enough. They're not a player in the luxury grocery space at all: their product is a slice of a relevant, green lifestyle, from the food itself (no additives, organic) to how they get it there (local, seasonal growers) to how they offer it (green outlet architecture and engineering).
Get this as well—if you do drive a Nissan Leaf or other electric vehicle, you can charge it up right outside by the rainwater reclamation tank.
I gotta say, it's truly impressive to see a corporation that doesn't just talk the talk.
Best of luck, Whole Foods.  Welcome to the neighborhood.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Finally! Five Guys opens near The Woodlands

We were thrilled to hear that Five Guys was opening up close to the Woodlands, and visited this store on 1488 near 2978 the day after it opened.  We drove out 1488, and saw the store on the left, just before 2978.

Parking was plentiful, but other burger lovers had gotten there before us, so we had a short, five-minute wait until we got to the counter.

What we got was the prototypical Five Guys experience: A very good burger, friendly service, and a sparkling clean location. Unlike some other "better burger" places, Five Guys hasn't forgotten that value is part of the equation - the burger was around $5.

The burger is exactly what we've come to expect from Five Guys. Two medium-thickness hand-formed patties of never frozen beef, a slice of nice quality American cheese, fresh veggies, and a fresh, soft bun. The beef is cooked well done, but still retains a good bit of ooze. This isn't an upscale steakhouse burger, but rather a very good fast-food burger. If you enjoy the genre, you will enjoy Five Guys.

Our only beef? The orders of fries are just too big. Even a small is way too much for one person. So we just skip the fries, which is a shame because they're pretty darned good.

Bottom line: Go. If you like burgers, you won't be disappointed.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries | 6619 FM 1488 | Magnolia, Texas 77354 | 832-934-2660

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

QotD: Your Most Pleasant Restaurant Surprise?

Question of the Day:

What restaurant turned out to be your most pleasant surprise?  A place that exceeded your expectations by the greatest amount?

For me, that would have to be the popularly-priced chain Cheddar's - specifically the Louetta location.

On the first visit, I walked in expecting an Applebee's-like experience with mediocre prefab food served by disinterested staff.  But I was amazed by the quality of the food served, the prices, the pleasant decor, and the genuinely friendly staff.

After the surprisingly enjoyable meal I chatted with the manager, who shared that the secret to their high quality and affordable pricing was to make everything in-house.  That's more what I'd have expected from a small mom-and-pop store than a national chain.  Bravo.

So what restaurant gave you the most pleasant surprise?  Respond in the comments, please.