Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Does Wendy's Deliver? We Review Dave's Hot 'n Juicy Cheeseburger

As a high school student, one of my favorite hamburgers was a Wendy's double.  From the iconic square patty to the much-better-than-McD's toppings, Dave Thomas's chain served the first burger that caught my attention.  But over the years new competitors appeared on the scenes, and Wendy's never really made improvements.  The awesome burger of my youth became one I would only order in an emergency.

But now there's something different.  Wendy's is upping their game.

Called "Dave's Hot 'n Juicy Cheeseburger", it is the first upgrade to Wendy's hamburger offerings in several decades.  From thicker patties to better quality toppings to a new toasted, buttered bun, Wendy's has responded to both the Better Burger competitors like Five Guys and SmashBurger, and to the higher-end burgers rolled out by McDonalds.  The advertising photos look very promising.

Dave's Hot 'n Juicy Cheeseburger - The Promise


I was anxiously anticipating sampling this big deal that Wendy's just released, so I stopped by a local Woodlands-area Wendy's to see whether it lives up to the hype.  I was immediately put off by the rather dated look of the store - other than new signage, this restaurant could be a Wendy's from 1990.  But I'm here for the food, not the atmosphere, so I ordered my benchmark double, and waited for its appearance.

What greeted me on the tray was this:

Dave's Hot 'n Juicy Cheeseburger - The Reality

The new Wendy's "masterpiece" was visually unimpressive.  The machine-formed patties were slightly thicker than I remembered, but they were extremely dry and totally ooze free.  My guess is that the patties were cooked a while ago, and had been sitting under a not-too-effective heat lamp.  So much for the "juicy".  And the patties weren't warm enough to melt the cheese.  So much for the "hot".  The vegetables were of higher quality than I remembered, but the bun was impressive in its ordinariness - Wendy's has offered better buns in the past.

And the flavor was... bland.  It was a generic mass-market, fast food burger, with slightly fresher veggies on top.  This is what Wendy's is excited about?

I was completely underwhelmed with Dave's Hot 'n Juicy Cheeseburger.  It was neither hot nor juicy.  It didn't approach the quality of the newest McDonald's offerings, much less that of fast food burgers from What-a-burger or Culver's.  To compare it to Five Guys or SmashBurger would be ludicrous.  

I admire the intentions behind Dave's Hot 'n Juicy Cheeseburger.  But intentions alone do not make a great hamburger, or in this case, even a good one.

Back to the drawing board, Wendy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Where to Eat Now in The Woodlands - 2011 Edition



Updated Nov 30, 2011

The dining scene in the Woodlands is never still.  Restaurants open and close on a regular basis as they try to find the perfect balance of food, service, and atmosphere that will keep notoriously fickle Woodlands patrons coming back.

The Woodlands Market Street (photo credit: The Woodlands Development Co.)

Most suburbs have the reputation of being filled with chain restaurants, and the Woodlands certainly has its share.  But the Woodlands has also attracted more than its share of independent restaurants.  We don't discriminate - we enjoy good food no matter who owns the kitchen.

Here are the best restaurants in The Woodlands right now (May 2011).  In alphabetical order:

The Black Walnut - This locally grown casual cafe has toned down the quirky factor, but it's still like going to a restaurant that's run by your crazy cousin Louie... if Louie could cook.  Breakfasts are very good here, as are the unique sandwiches and salads.  And be sure to save room for dessert; seasonal gelato offerings are rich and enticing.

Capri - The secret is out about this small, family-run Italian cafe.  Barbara Coglianese's kitchen turns out exquisitely handcrafted pastas, and entrees, both featuring sauces made from family recipes brought over from Bologna.  An enthusiastic cadre of very happy regulars calls Capri the best Italian spot in the Woodlands, and one of the best in the Houston area.  This isn't the Olive Garden; it's more a place for foodies in search of authentic, handmade cuisine than for those wanting overly Americanized versions of Italian classics.

Capri

Chuy's - The Woodlands is home to plenty of UT alums, and when they want Mexican food, they often choose to visit this Austin export.  You'll find offbeat wait staff, Mexican food that trends as much toward New Mex-Mex as Tex-Mex, and some of the best margaritas anywhere.  Texas Exes will insist on asking for the complimentary creamy jalapeno sauce alongside the light, citrusy salsa.

Chuy's in the Woodlands

Crust Pizza - This new locally-run pizza parlor has been garnering great reviews from everyone who's tried it.  The owners are on-site, the pizza dough is handmade and never even refrigerated, and the creative toppings give pizza aficionados reason to order outside their comfort zones.  We're usually pepperoni traditionalists, but the jerk chicken pizza is something we can't stop ordering.  Crust has proven to us that great pizza isn't about a special oven, it's about massaging all the variables until the result speaks for itself.

Jerk chicken pizza at Crust Pizza

Corkscrew BBQ - This new Woodlands food truck is backed by an experienced BBQ team, and the results speak for themselves.  Delicious brisket, buzzworthy pulled pork, and perhaps the best cobbler we've tasted in years.  Daily specials, too.


Brisket at Corkscrew BBQ

Eden Cafe - Located in Egypt (literally, it's the name of the area just behind the northwest border of the Woodlands) this family-run cafe surprised and impressed us with its well edited menu and daily specials.  The talented kitchen turns out excellent work in a variety of cuisines (we're particularly fond of their chicken entrees), but their Cuban dishes stand out among the best in the Houston area.

The Goose's Acre - This pub, located on the Woodlands Waterway, features a beautiful deck perfect for al fresco dining on the water.  The kitchen turns out considerably better-than-average pub food; can't miss items include the half-pound burgers, creative salads, and well executed pub favorites.  A spirited weekend crowd keeps the parting going.

Grimaldi's - The second Houston-area outpost of this iconic Brooklyn pizzaria calls the Woodlands Waterway its home, and locals are raving about the coal-fired NY-style pizzas.  We're fans of the savory Italian sausage, rich with fennel.

New York-style pizza at Grimaldi's

Hubbell & Hudson Bistro - This upscale American bistro is attached to the Woodlands' largest gourmet market, guaranteeing access to some amazing ingredients.  And Executive Chef Austin Simmons makes the best of them, turning out impressive seafood dishes, entree salads, and a variety of design-your-own steak dishes designed to please the pickiest Texan.  He's even added an epic Wagyu Burger to the menu, and it blew us away.

Wagyu Burger at Hubbell & Hudson

Hubble & Hudson Kitchen - The more casual cousin to Hubble & Hudson has been packing them in since the day they opened.  Patrons wait in line to order superb burgers and outstanding sandwiches, and the brunch offerings on weekends are among the best in the Houston area.  Thank goodness for the outdoor patio, because the dining room can be packed during peak hours. Hubble & Hudson Kitchen combines perhaps the best fast casual concept we've experienced with a small gourmet market, giving home cooks the perfect place to stop for ingredients, inspiration, and a delicious quick meal.

Burger at Hubble & Hudson Kitchen

Jasper's - Upscale backyard cuisine is how this Dallas export describes its fare, and we think that fits it to a T.  This is Texas cuisine as imagined by Kent Rathbun, an Iron Chef contestant who's known for his innovative takes on hearty food.  Great bets include the prime steaks, excellent pork loin, and half-pound burgers.  We're always impressed with the care that goes into the excellent side dishes, and their desserts are some of the best in the Woodlands.  But you simply cannot miss the housemade potato chips with Maytag bleu cheese.  Addictive.

Maytag bleu cheese-topped potato chips at Jasper's

The Olive Oil - Suburbs aren't know for their ethnic food, so we were pleasantly surprised to find an excellent Greek restaurant in a nondescript strip center location along Sawdust road.  All the Greek standards are well represented on the menu; the gyro is one of the best we've enjoyed anywhere.  The restaurant turns into a party on weekend evenings, with belly dancers, Greek dancers, and live music, so be sure to make a reservation to guarantee a table with a view of the festivities.

Perry's Steakhouse - There are plenty of steakhouses in the Woodlands, but Perry's stands apart for three reasons.  First, it's located away from the "downtown" area, making parking a breeze.  Second, it's a local business, albeit one with several locations.  And most importantly, the grilled meats are very satisfying, and handled with an expert touch.  Those in the know go for the absurdly thick pork chop, which is perfectly prepared and rubbed with seasonings that really bring out the flavor.

Rico's - Tex-Mex in the Woodlands is popular, and it seems that every second Tex-Mex place is now a Rico's.  This local empire has been growing rapidly thanks to its deft handling of traditional Tex-Mex favorites.  The fajitas are very good and offered with some tasty embellishments (melted oxaca cheese and chunky bacon are our pick) and the margaritas are strong and tasty.

Schilleci's - The Houston area has become the home to many New Orleans expatriates, and the Woodlands is lucky to be the new home of the Schilleci family's eponymous restaurant.  This New Orleans-style restaurant serves up outstanding etoufee and gumbo, and the authentic po boys are as good as you'll find outside of the Crescent City.  The secret?  The Schillecis import bread from New Orleans for that authentic chewy crunch.

Schilleci's New Orleans Kitchen

There you have it.  Our favorite places to eat in the Woodlands.  If we've missed yours, tell us about it in the comments.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What kind of pasta is that?

If you have trouble identifying a specific pasta, our friends at CharmingItaly.com have a handy guide that will help identify it for you. (You can click on the image to zoom in)
What kind of pasta is on my plate?
What kind of pasta is on your plate? by Charming Italy

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cadillac Culinary Challenge this weekend at the Galleria

Houston foodies, you won't want to miss this event.  Cadillac is presenting its culinary challenge event this weekend (Sept 10-11) at the Galleria.  Events each day are at 11:30am, 2pm, and 4pm.


Chef Geoffrey Zakarian of The Lambs Club will be competing against Houston's chef Karl Benko, of Del Frisco's steakhouse.  In addition Cadillac's line of vehicles will be on hand for comparison with BMW, Lexus and Mercedes - test drives will be available.


If you're into fine food or fine automobiles, it promises to be a great event.  I'll be judging the culinary challenge Saturday at 2pm - all H-Town Chow Down readers are encouraged to drop by and say hello.

For more information, check out the website, or the Facebook page.