Thursday, July 31, 2008

Marine's Empanadas - Menu

Prices and dishes may differ at the restaurant.


It’s the hospitality business, you #?&*%#@!

When I go out to eat, it’s all about the food. Reading some online forums it seems to me there are lots of people for whom going out to eat is more of a control thing or about achieving absolute perfection in terms of service or ambience. Sometimes I get a good laugh out of some of the discussions and wonder how miserable some people might be to have to sit across the table from (and I’ve had my fair share of those experiences).

I’ve never worked in the restaurant business but I’m sure some customers can be very trying and everybody has bad days from time to time. I did work in a business that required dealing with at times a very demanding public that thought they knew everything about the business and the only reason I had my job was to lie to and deceive them and we all had our ways to cope with it, not all of them friendly.

A few of our local institutions have developed reputations for bad service, indifferent and surly staff, even shouting at customers. I’m happy to say I’ve never encountered nor even witnessed the latter anywhere and the worst I can whine about is one place near my home, since closed, which had a very surly staff and indifference or forgetfulness at a few other places. But I’m very forgiving because of my own career history.

All that being said, a few good words deserve to be said about some of the places I’ve come across recently where the staff is friendly and it’s a pleasure to go in. The folks at Pierson & Co. Bar B Que on West TC Jester is one such place; add to that the generous portions of very good Q and free samples and it’s become one of my favorites in a short time. Another one is the Little Bitty Burger Barn on Pinemont where I’ve been treated like a friend from the very first visit. Likewise the new place in Stafford, Huarache Azteca Express has been very friendly and they also are generous with the samples. The lady I’ve encountered at the window, at least during the week, at Sparkle’s Hamburger Spot makes me think she is the inspiration for the name of that east side eatery and the staff I’ve encountered at Las Hamacas on the Gulf Freeway, El Coquitos, Saffron Persian Café and La Roca Tamaleria have also been a pleasure to deal with.

International Mobile Vendors Roll Call

The majority of Houston's mobile food vendors purvey Mexican food, hence the common name Taco Trucks. Okay, there are numerous bbq wagons or trucks, a few Cajun, a few shaved ice, but mostly it's tacos, tortas, quesadillas, etc.

Then there are a handful of vendors offering the cuisines of other nations. Here's a list of the ones I've encountered or heard about with international fare.


CHINESE


The Rice Box Truck


COLOMBIAN


LinkCholaos Kitchen - a Colombian/Mexican truck
Perrida de Mao
- I've just seen this one parked (at a repair shop), not in operation, but from the name and the pictures on the side, it's a Colombian hot dog cart.

Los Perros, Houston - this one operates in a strip center parking lot at 9411 Richmond and serves hot dogs and kabobs according to a guy I talked to once. It's open only in the evenings.


FRENCH - L'es-Car-Go - review here. .


GUATEMALAN - see a separate report here.


GREEK

Papou Jerry's


HALAL/MIDDLE EASTERN

Abu Omar -
Hillcroft @ Pagewood, Mexican menu during the day, Middle Eastern menu in the evening.


HONDURAN


Antojitos Hondurenos - 7171 Fondren, just north of 59, and 9713 Airline - the Fondren location has been reviewed on this blog.

Comida Tipica Hondurena El Caracol - first seen on Beechnut at Club Creek but now parked on Bissonnet @ Hillcroft. A smaller bus than any of the other Honduran mobile units I've seen but what looks like a larger menu, reviewed here.

Jennifer's Food - Comida Hondurena - a truck spotted rumbling down Bissonnet but location of operation not known.

La Polera Colora
- 2435 Wayside, just NE of 45, noted by Alison Cook in the Chronicle but I haven’t checked it out. As Alison noted, from the name it was apparently at one time a Colombian vendor. I have made several trips and never found this truck.

Sabor Catracho - a big bus, similar in appearance to the Antojitos Hondurenas bus, one block east of 59 on Bellaire.


INDIAN

Ashka's Dhaba - Beechnut, just east of Highway 6 - originally located in the Heights, this trailer has relocated to the far west side, outside the city limits. Far back from the street it's easy to miss though there is a big street-side sign. It is open 7 days, evenings only. There are covered tables.

Bansuri Indian Food Corner
- Wilcrest, just north of W. Bellfort, vegetarian street food of Mumbai, reviewed on this blog.

Tandoori Nite, 7821 Hwy 6 South, Sugar Land, at a 66 Station, 7130-852-7642; open evenings, 5pm - Mid except Tuesdays, reviewed here.


Desi Grill and More
- an Indian truck serving tandoori chicken and the like at 12672 Veterans Memorial Drive near Bammel-North Houston at a Valero station.

Wally Wally - Indian street food for the streets of Houston. Facebook, Twitter.


MIDDLE EASTERN


FezExpress



NIGERIAN


There is a Nigerian food truck at Bush Intercontinental reportedly that sells mostly to cab drivers.


PUERTO RICAN

El Mofongo Boricua - 1925 Hwy 6 S, by the Mayflower Center (about 1/2 mile south of Briar Forest). Reviewed on this blog.


SALVADORAN

Pupuceria Ramirez
- Salvadoran - S. Post Oak, just north of W. Orem, mentioned in Quick Bites IV on this blog. but missing from that location for some time.

Taqueria y Pupuseria Esmerelda - See for a long time on Highway 6 @ Bissonnet @ a 66 Station, Sugar Land, but recently missing. They advertised tamales on weekends.

Taqueria y Pupuseria El Invasor, formerly found on Bissonnet but current location unknown. Reviewed on this blog.

I have seen numerous other taco trucks around that also serve pupusas but they usually don't have 'pupuseria' in the name.

THAI

The Pad Thai Box


VENEZUELAN



Arepas y Empanadas Dona Maria - 1960B east in Humble. UPDATE: The cart is no longer in operation but there is now a restaurant at 1315 E. 1st Street.

El Punto Criollo - now located next to the parking lot for World Foods, on Beechnut, just west of Highway 6. A table and awning are also provided for customers now; reviewed here.

Sabor Venezolano
- parked in a filling station driveway at Crossview and Westheimer, one block east of Fondren (713-780-2663). According to their card there is another unit at 5130 Hwy 6 N (281-859-2324). I've never checked that one out but did happen across another unit on Fry Road in Katy, about a half mile north of I-10, in the parking lot of a Gulf station.  Arepas, Cachapas, Empanadas, Patacones, Pastelitos, Tequenos, Pabellon, Venezuelan hot dogs and hamburguesas, Pepitos, Tacos, Quesadillas, Burritos and Tortas are listed on the business card which also says they're open til 4:30am Friday and Saturday.


On a visit a couple of years ago I had the Patacones here, a Carne Mechada (shredded beef) sandwich using mashed, fried slices of plantain instead of bread. It was no where near as good as the one I had had at the short-lived Pana's Cafe on Scarsdale. More recently I tried the Venezuelan hot dog here and an empanada carne mechada. Houston is not a town for great hot dogs and this one did nothing to change my view on that; the empanada unfortunately was made ahead of time and had been sitting in a glass case but the filling was very good, rivaling the best empanadas at the Original Marini's.



On another visit I had the Empanada Pabellon with carne mechada and black beans and an Arepa Pelua with more of the carne mechada and queso amarillo. The empanada in this case was much fresher and warmer and also included some plantain. The arepa was freshly made; apparently I could have asked for a different cheese. The arepa itself was very tough.


VIETNAMESE

Givral's Vietnamese Cafe, located on Bellaire in New China Town, has launched a Banh Mi truck that appears regularly at Jones Plaza. Keep up with the schedule on Facebook.

And Les Givral's Kahve has the BanhMieria.

Phamily Bites - pho cups, banh mi, Vietnamese egg rolls, etc. Picture here.


See also the list of Specialty Vendors and other taco truck (Loncheras) reviews on this blog.


Afghan Cuisine menu scans

These are scans of the to-go menu from the restaurant. Prices and dishes on the restaurant menu may differ.





According to a sign in the window, the restaurant is closed on Monday.

V & V Sausage

Cistern, Texas




I first ‘discovered’ V & V smoked sausage several years ago at Pizzitola’s Barbecue on North Shepherd in Houston. I thought their sausage was the best thing they served and it comes from V & V in beautiful Cistern, Texas.

Shortly thereafter I stopped off at the V & V plant in Cistern on a trip to Central Texas. The ladies in the office were very nice and went into the plant and came back with a couple of packages of their sausages right off the line. They make only two varieties, a beef and pork and beef and pork with jalapeno. The recipe is an old Czech family recipe although the modern formulation includes textured vegetable protein and soy flour which gives the sausage a smoother texture than most sausages. They use natural casings.

V & V is carried by some of the larger HEB stores in the Houston area; you have to look for it, though, because, with only two varieties, they aren’t allotted a lot of shelf space like some of the other brands.

V & V Sausage


Pizzitola's

Buses, Trailers, Trucks

There doesn't seem to be any repository of information about these vendors in Houston other than the very sporadic Taco Truck Gourmet in the Press and since I like to try them from time to time, I thought I'd make it easy to access my reports with this separate category.

Clicking on this link will bring up all the posts on the blog labeled Buses, Trailers and Trucks, in reverse order as posted. Many times these appear in a Quick Bites post with other short reviews based on just one or two visits.

You can also access the list from the bottom of any post by clicking on the Label Buses Trailers Trucks when it is present.

Pete's Fine Meats

5509 Richmond

Pete’s has been one of my favorite eateries for a number of years but unfortunately I have to emphasize the ‘has been.’ My most recent visits, over the past year and a half or so, have resulted in some disappointing fare.

I liked the burgers at Pete’s even before I started trying to carefully downsize the portions of food that I ate; it was a modestly sized burger, freshly ground meat (it is a butcher shop after all), fresh buns and fixings (yes, that’s a whole wheat bun). I also enjoy the ambiance of eating in a real butcher shop/grill and the array of sides that are available; given my french fry fatique I’ve never even tried the fries. But recently I tried their new home-made jalapeno bun and was disappointed both in the bun and the burger, which seems to have been up-sized and was simply a melange of flavors, none distinct. I like the contrast of tastes, textures and temperatures of a well made burger, the sizzling hot patty contrasting with the chilled fixings, etc., not one where everything seems to comes together as one flavor at room temp.

Other foods I’ve tried at Pete’s have not been as dependable. I used to go often for the chili which I regarded as among the best in town but a year ago, every time I tried it, it was insipid. Like many places in Houston it’s only prepared when the weather is cold - there’ll be a sign on the door when it’s available. One time I had it there was very little cumin or chili powder; another time a surfeit of black pepper and perhaps no red pepper (I was perplexed by the grittiness in the bowl until I figured it out). Another time there was so much cheese piled on top that it made me realize cheese is a mistake on chili unless what you really want it chili pie. I never even got around to stopping in this most recent winter to have a bowl.

Over the years I’ve become more and more of a purist about chili and this was the bowl that killed the idea of cheese as a condiment on chili; the only thing I add now is chopped raw onions.

The Steak Hoagie with Cheese likewise has been very good in the past but the last time I tried it the girl at the counter added a huge glop of mayonnaise and it was awful. The Chicken Fried Steak sandwich I tried one time was made with a frozen pre-fabricated patty and had a lot of gristle - not what I expected from a butcher shop.

They offer Hank’s and Jones sodas, Coca Cola Mexicana and Dublin Dr. Pepper and a good selection of different brands of chips. The store has recently been remodeled and expanded. Beyond the cash register in the picture now is an expanded convenience market and there are in store made jellies and salsas and more.

There is barbecue available and sausage on a stick - under heat lamps in a meat case. Sometimes the chickens look pretty good but other times they look very dried out. I’ve never tried any of these offerings.

Until I recently tried the new bun, the burger has never disappointed.



Pete's Fine Meats

Torta Ahogada

This article was previously posted on an internet message board. I haven't been back to try this again nor found any others in Houston to try.

Jay Francis alerted me last year to his quest for the elusive Torta Ahogada in Houston. I had no idea what he was talking about until I looked it up. It’s a specialty of Guadalajara, a drowned or dipped sandwich, drowned in chili sauce. Yeah, that got my attention, too.

I found that they serve one at Paparruchos on Sage @ Hidalgo, just doors from Alexander the Great Greek Restaurant. I found a good description of what it’s supposed to be like so I headed over there to check it out.


Just judging from this article I don’t think they’re using the right bread (birote) but it was a pretty tasty sandwich, soggy from the get-go, however. Lots of very tender pork in nice sized pieces, black beans, with a side of a black bean/lettuce taco which unfortunately also got soggy.

The basic sauce was mild (as was the restaurant's salsa) but the red sauce in the little cup added some heat, about the level of sriracha. I think if I try this again I would ask for both the basic sauce and hot sauce on the side and maybe a little more of the hot stuff.

Obviously I’m not an expert on this and would love to find more to try. It's been reported that a taco truck near Beltway 8 and Beechnut also serves one. I've been over there to look for it but couldn't find it where it was said to be. It was said to be mediocre, also, as judged by someone who's had the sandwich in Guadalajara.

There are other Mexican dipped or drowned sandwiches, known as Pambazos. I've had one of those at Mexico's Deli on Dairy Ashford although at the time I didn't know it was considered anything other than a variety of torta.

Paparruchos

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Saffron Persian Cafe

5711 Hillcroft # 82



As mentioned in a post under News, this place has changed ownership and become Saffron Kabob House. There is now an Afghan menu plus a Persian menu. I have not visited since the change so the following review may be useless.


I’ve noticed this restaurant many times driving by and wondered about it but never remembered it when trying to decide where to eat until a few months ago. It’s located on the second floor of the Plaza Center at Hillcroft at Harwin and is easily missed. I was surprised when I walked in to find it’s a counter service place, although a very nice one. In such an out of the way location I expected a white table cloth restaurant.

There has been some minor difficulty understanding the person at the counter and the menu board is huge; I recommend studying the menu on the website before going so you’ll have an idea of what you want. Don’t overlook the signboard next to the cash register with the daily specials listed; also, there are signs in the window indicating that Ghormeh Sabzi and Gehmeh are available on pizzas now, which they claim is not available anywhere else in Houston.

The sabzi is very generous here, with parsley, cilantro, mint, onion, radish, feta, lime and walnut. Apparently with a paid appetizer you also get a complimentary pot of hot tea (very good) and a cup of Aash Jo, a barley soup with texture like corn chowder. And of course there is the taftoon, the Persian version of a flat bread, which is thin and somewhat crispy. Among the appetizers available their version of tabouli is very, very, very lemony.

Appetizers are hardly needed, however, as portions are very generous. I’ve not only never yet had room for any dessert, I've usually wound up taking about half the meal home. I’ve had the traditional Persian stew Ghormeh Sabzi here, at Bijan and at Café Caspian, and I like the version here just a bit better, owing, I think, to a more restrained use of the dried lemon and maybe a little more fenugreek. The Gehmeh, pictured, however, is better at Bijan just down the street. The version here is dominated by tomatoes and you can hardly taste the split yellow peas; it reminds me of a pot of chili made by someone who loathes the taste of chili so tries to kill the taste of it with way too much tomato.







The best thing I’ve had here, indeed, the best dish I’ve had at any Persian restaurant in Houston, is the Zereshk Polo, basmati rice (polo) seasoned with saffron and topped with barberries (zereshk) and served with a quarter stewed chicken. Persians have several very outstanding rice preparations and this is one very, very good one. I haven’t tried this at any other place yet, but I will.


Side note: the best version of Gorhmeh Sabzi I've had was in my own home. I found a cannister of the dried herb mixture (Sadaf brand) at Phoenicia Specialty Foods and tried this on my own. The aromas which filled the house while the dish was cooking really enhanced the enjoyment.


Saffron Persian Cafe

Burt's Meat Market


5910 Lyons, between Lockwood and Kress

This is one of my favorite finds of the last several years. Burt’s is an actual meat market and small convenience store but they have a hot foods deli where they specialize in Cajun and soul food dishes and they do an excellent job on lots of things.

When you go in, you turn to the left and usually find yourself in a line, waiting to be served in the hot deli. Sometimes the line moves pretty fast - there are lots servers working behind the counter - but sometimes people (like me, for instance) come from across town to stock up not just get enough for one meal, and it can take a little longer. You’ll have to wait until you get closer to the counter to see the menu which consists of pieces of paper stuck on the wall to the left of the counter and get a look at the offerings yourself.

The gumbo is excellent, dark and rich, loaded with chicken and sausage. The first time I ordered it and saw the server deftly blending the rice and gumbo in the container I wanted to leap over the counter and grab it and gulp it down. Good thing I didn’t, though, it’s served piping hot. The greens are excellent, with a nice amount of heat, and the cabbage and sausages (+ bacon) is also excellent.

Then there’s the boudin which is sold both as links and loose, with the casing removed. It’s available either spicy or mild and it is without a doubt the finest boudin I’ve ever had. Of course that’s a matter of taste but I like that the rice is still firm, the grains identifiable, the burst of piggy-liver goodness on the first bite, the little, identifiable chunks of meat and even bits of green onion still having some of the texture of the raw vegetable. The boudin is also sold from the meat case to take home and prepare yourself and boudin balls are available.

The only things I’ve been disappointed in were the boudin balls and a piece of pie, I think it was supposed to be chess or buttermilk, which wasn’t much better than I could find at a supermarket. The boudin balls are precooked and under a heat lamp and tend to have absorbed too much grease in the cooking. One thing I’ve learned to look out for is if the server tries to drain too much of the pot likker off the greens or the cabbage, as mine did in the samples pictured here. They try to pack as much into the containers as they can and sometimes that means draining off too much of the liquid. I learned that too late for this report unfortunately.

There are many, many things offered that I haven’t tried but one unusual item I’ve had is the fried pork chop sandwich. I have an interest in the Pork Tenderloin sandwich common in the mid-west and very seldom seen on menus in this part of the country, but I thought I’d try Burt’s version of something similar. I’m not sure if this is a soul food thing or a Cajun thing but I’m guessing they don’t sell very many. The pork chops are already cooked and under the heat lamp - not an ideal prep, obviously. They’re quite large and served bone-in, even for the sandwich. The two times I’ve tried this it was prepared very differently but neither time did they have any ice berg lettuce. This is not a bad sandwich; not as good as an Indiana Pork Tenderloin (a credible version is served at the Little Bitty Burger Barn) or the fried pork chop sandwich at Sparkles’s Hamburger Spot (a review to be posted soon).

There is no eating allowed in the store and no place on the premises other than the front seat of your car but there is a small park behind the Tuttle branch of the library at Lyons and Kress, just a few blocks east. Other than that my only complaints about this place are: too many things to choose from and too far away. With regard to the latter, though, maybe that’s a good thing. If Burt’s was right around the corner from me I think I’d eat there far too often and I don’t think any of the offerings qualify as diet food.

For the sake of the pictures, I took the food home and put it in bowls; it’s served in lidded plastic containers and though the gumbo is so thick it’s practically forkable, all you get is a spork. The pork chop picture was taken in the front seat of my car.

Here's a follow-up review.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Texas Sausage Trail - Maeker's, Shiner



I was tipped to Maeker’s by Houston food explorer Jay Francis, who is from Shiner originally. I was headed out for barbecue at Novosad’s in Hallettsville and to visit Patek’s Shiner Smokehouse but was glad to include another stop on the tour. It’s a real treasure and very easy to miss. On the west end of town, 90-A at 16th Street, Maeker’s is a combination package store, mini-meat market and tavern (parking can require careful maneuvering) that makes a small variety of sausages including a very unique bright red pork and beef wiener that I’m very impressed with. They must use very good cuts of meat for these dogs and the spices are very good – they are very savory, more interesting than any frankfurter I’ve ever had. They’re ready-to-eat but benefit from warming up. I kind of feel like it’s a shame serving these on standard issue hot dog buns but I haven’t figured out yet what else to serve them with.

And the wieners are not even the best find; Maeker’s beef, cheese and jalapeno summer sausage is probably my favorite Texas-made summer sausage, and the dry sausages are awesome, also.

Patek’s, on the other end of town, also makes some good wieners and dry sausages; I’ll report on them in an upcoming post. If all you’ve ever been to Shiner for is to visit the brewery, you’re missing a lot.

Maeker's

Pierson & Co. Bar B Que


5110 West T.C. Jester

SO FAR AS I KNOW, THIS PLACE IS CLOSED FOR GOOD.
Barbecue afficionados in Houston are still mourning the loss of Williams Smokehouse which burned in December but there’s light on the horizon and, as it turns out, the horizon is only a couple of miles away.

Pierson & Co. Bar B Que has opened on TC Jester at Mansfield, just north of Tidwell. Mansfield is the same street that Williams was located on at the intersection of Wheatley.

Pierson’s has only been open a few months but Clarence Pierson learned barbecue from a man in New Iberia as a teen and has been at it ever since. He briefly operated a place on Houston’s southwest side up until a couple of years ago.

It’s a family operation and the Pierson’s are very nice folks. They’re being very generous with the free samples these days and portions are very generous.

This is East Texas style barbecue which means the meats are very tender and there’s a little brown sugar in everything, beans, potato salad, sauce, even the rub. Mesquite wood is used exclusively.

I haven’t cared for the potato salad – too sweet for me – but the beans, kind of like Boston baked beans but with some meat, are awesome. They could be served as chili, in fact and a large order could be a meal in itself. I understand they’ve added cole slaw to the list of sides but I haven’t sampled it.

These meats were photographed at home about an hour and a half after they were sliced so they look a little dry. That’s sliced beef on the left, pork butt in the center,
and all beef sausage on the right (with a good crispy natural casing). Note the depth of the smoke rings. The brisket and sausage are excellent. I persuaded Mr. Pierson to cut me some pork even though he said it wasn’t ready yet and my guess is it’s going to be some of the best in town. He does plan to offer pulled pork sandwiches as well as sliced pork.

Home-made desserts include peach cobbler (excellent) made from a recipe by Clarence Pierson’s 90 year old mother in Crockett and bread pudding, which I haven’t tried.

The times I’ve been there’s been limited accommodations for dining, a narrow counter along one wall and a few stools (see the picture, above), but I believe they have added some tables. Plans are to enclose the drive thru areas and add more tables and pave a parking lot out back. There’s also a nice park along TC Jester about a mile south with picnic tables for those driving from far away.

I’ve never been quite as fond of East Texas style barbecue as opposed to Central Texas (smoked meats) style but Pierson’s is the best of this style I’ve ever had and it could change my mind. This is a very welcome addition to the Houston BBQ scene. The brisket is better than William’s was in my judgement, and the ribs, while not the equal of Williams’ (few places in the world were), are very good, and the sausage is much better than Williams’ and you can get it all without a heaping dose of attitude as sometimes encountered at another famous Houston Q joint.

CORRECTION TO THE ABOVE: Pierson's now has a website and Clarence Pierson says he learned barbecue from a man from New Iberia here in Houston. He's a native of Houston himself.

Pierson & Co.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gazpacho - The Soup of Champions

Good news today from scientists at Tufts University. I was glad to read this account of their research about the healthful benefits of gazpacho.

I have loved gazpacho for decades, partly owing to my good taste (like Charlie the Tuna), but also owing partly to the fact my Dad was a very good gardener and for years I had a copious supply of not only fresh, home-grown tomatoes but home-grown, home-canned.

When I embarked on a weight losing, calorie counting regimen 16 months ago, gazpacho and vegetable soups made up about half of my diet for months. I would typically make 7 or 8 cups of gazpacho, 4 or 5 times a week. Oftentimes a batch wouldn't last 24 hours.

I have several different recipes but I could probably make it with my eyes closed. I like to call mine Texpacho both because I like it chunky (I've found a meal, especially a meatless meal, is much more satisfying if there's something to masticate - no pureeing for me) and spicy, though without any heat other than a little black pepper is good too. It's more of a stew than a soup the way I make it.

I wish there were more restaurants in Houston that served gazpacho. Heck, even fast food restaurants should offer it as a more healthful option. I have a list of places to try and would appreciate any suggestions.

Here are some of the places I've heard that offer gazpacho: Rustica, Yapa, Crickets, Kraftsman, Catalan, Café Red Onion, and, of course, Cafe Express.

And make that a bowl, please, a big bowl, not a six ounce cup.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Saba's Kosher Restaurant (Dairy)


Fondren @ South Braeswood, Houston

Moroccan Cigars ($8.75) - the generic term is cigarim. Crispy, crunchy, deep-fried Kosher veggie taquitos. I loved these. The hummus was a little grainy and the
spices flat on this occasion. The simple Israeli salad is just diced cucumber, tomato and bell pepper.






Sabich Plate (sah BEECH)($6.95) - I understand from Wiki this dish is from Iraq. Eggplant, hummus (much better this time), Israeli salad, harissa, hard-boiled egg and a piping hot, thick and almost fluffy pita that was excellent. The eggplant was chilled - I thought it would be better warm - but I made 2 very satisfying veggie gyros out of this and could have made maybe 2 more. Next time I’m going to ask for a second pita and maybe zap the eggplant briefly to heat it.







Malawach pizza (mah LAH wah)($5.75). Wiki says this is from Yemen - malawach is multiple layers of thin, deep-fried crepes. The crust on this was close to a half inch thick before the toppings went on and it went in the oven; unfortunately it not only collapsed but got sodden and wasn’t as interesting as I expected it to be. The only place to appreciate the flakiness of the crust was around the edges. Maybe pizza is not the best way to experience malawach - they also have a malawach roll (wrap?), malawach plate and plain malawach.

My favorite items on the menu so far have been the cheesecake ($4.25 a slice) and spinach bureka. The full size burekas ($2.75) fill most of an 8" paper plate and are made with phyllo. They are also available in potato, mushroom and cheese and snack-sized for $.99 each. I’ve found the snack sized ones have very little filling and aren’t that satisfying.

They have many salads, pasta dishes, and fish, including fish and chips and Moroccan Style Salmon. Also egg dishes including shakshuka which is supposed to be the Israeli version of huevos rancheros. They have regular pizzas (9" and 12"), cheese, veggie, deep dish, stuffed crust and bagel varieties. The worst thing I’ve had was a reheated slice of veggie pizza which was badly over cooked and I’ve seen others served like that - if you want pizza here, get a whole one, not a re-heated slice.

The dining accommodations are very plain - there’s a counter and tables; often they set tables on the sidewalk outside but it’s a rundown, mostly empty shopping center with a pock-marked parking lot and there isn’t any view. Dining-in means paper plates and plastic utensils so mostly I’ve gotten take-out since the restaurant is less than 3 minutes from my house.

The restaurant is open at 9am until 7:30 or 8, closes mid-afternoon Friday and is closed on Saturday and was closed 10 days for Passover.

Being kosher it’s a bit pricey but it’s been very satisfying and since it's so close it works well for me; I can even hike it in nice weather.

UPDATE: Remodeled in 2011, there have been a lot of changes to the menu; there are pictures on the Facebook page.

Saba's on Facebook

Makro Chicken - Bandeja Paisa Smackdown Part 2

Gessner, just north of Bellaire - CLOSED

I’ve been looking for a place that does great pollo asado on the southwest side for some time, hopefully some place that does as awesome a job with the dish as the El Norteno taco trailers and busses along Long Point, north of I-10. I’d passed by Makro Chicken many times, just north of Bellaire on Gessner, where the large signs proclaims Pollo Asado - Charcoal Chicken - and Open 24 Hours.

It’s a much nicer restaurant on the inside that I expected for that somewhat trashy looking strip center. There were some trappings of a stage and equipment for live music and interesting decor on the walls; the restaurant would not be out of place along the trendy Washington corridor. I noted as I entered the hours posted on the door indicate the restaurant is not open 24 hours except on weekends.

Pollo Asado is the main offering but not all there is to the menu; there are also some Colombian and Salvadoran dishes (tamales, curtido). I got the smallest order of chicken, 1/4 chicken, 2 pieces, plus 3 sides for $4.99. There were 15 sides to choose from including regular or Mexican rice, frijoles rojos o ranchero, new potato, casava fries, plantanos maduros, tortilla, arepa or biscuit, tomato soup and mixed vegetables, among others. The chicken was okay, juicy and flavorful, but not as good as that from El Norteno; the sides were also only okay. The vegetales in particular were disappointing, apparently nothing more than generic, chopped mixed veggies from the supermarket freezer case, steamed or boiled without any seasoning or sauce.

While I was waiting for the food to go, though, I saw a poster on the wall for a Bandeja Paisa, the Colombian national dish. I searched the menu board for it but could not find it, nor was it apparent on the more extensive menu you get if you dine in, so I asked the sole waitress. She spoke little to no English but she ran around the counter to point at the poster and when I nodded ‘Yes’ she then pointed to the entry Makro Montanero on the printed menu. So, yet another name for this dish.

On a subsequent visit I had to try their version. It came out looking exactly like the picture on the poster and was very good. It was a generous amount of food for $7.75. The chorizo was particularly tasty, a finer grind of meat than other Colombian chorizos I’ve encountered and savory but not spicy. The very smallish piece of skirt steak, however, was a little mushy, like it had been tenderized with Adolph’s perhaps, and not very flavorful.

A note on the salsas - I don’t know why this was included with the bandeja, Colombian food in general is not spicy. The best of the 3 was the bright green one, which was like a good pico de gallo. For the order of Pollo Asado to go, I gotten just one salsa and I had chosen the bright green one; it proved to be the best choice.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Texas Sausage Trail - Austin's, Eagle Lake

I’ve driven through Eagle Lake many times and seen Austin’s BBQ but it had never been open and I had come to the conclusion it had gone out of business since the publication of Robb Walsh’s Legends of Texas Barbecue. But one Saturday last winter as I rolled through town I spied smoke and pulled right in. That was when I first saw the sign on the side of the building, well back from the street, that they’re only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Four days out of the week, Austin’s looks like an abandoned filling station, but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, they open up the former service bays and roll out these big smokers and get to smoking.

I was not at all hungry but I really wanted to sample some of their wares while I could so I ordered a sliced beef sandwich. It was a very large sandwich on a big, soft, fresh bun; the meat had a 1/8" smoke ring and was tender, juicy and smoky, and the fixings included pickles, onions and sauce. My sandwich could have used a little more meat to fill up that big bun but it was good. There are some tables in a fenced in, covered area on the other side of the building but it was very chilly that day and I ate in the car. In fact every time I’ve been to Austin’s it’s either been miserably rainy or miserably cold and I’ve eaten in the car. There’s barely room inside the building to sidle along between the front wall and the counter to place your order.

Judging great Texas Q by a sliced beef sandwich is a mistake as far as I’m concerned and the only conclusion I drew from my first visit was that Austin’s was good enough to warrant another visit, so a couple of weeks later I made a special trip out to Eagle Lake and got a plate with one of their 2 varieties of potato salad and some beans on the side. I had re-read Walsh’s comments in the meantime and been reminded sausage is their best offering; Walsh also recommends avoiding the sauce but I come from a long line of DIYers and had to sample it for myself.

The brisket had less smoke ring than before but still was above average I’d say, but not really remarkable and it didn’t stand up to the sauce very well. The sauce is very tomato-ey and has the consistency of ketchup and I did not care for it. The potato salad was very good, better than what you get at many Q joints, and obviously home-made; the beans were very basic pintos with no special seasoning and were actually a little underdone so there’s no question they don’t just open up a can and dump these in a pot.

The highlight of the meal was the awesome sausage. I was so enthused by the sausage that I made a note to myself that it was quite possibly second only to Louie Mueller’s in Taylor. That’s very high praise and since I’ve had it several times now I do include it in my Top 4 of sausages at Texas BBQ joints (the list also includes Mueller’s, Black’s, and City Market in Luling). Though the sausage stood up to the sauce okay it would have been much better without it.

On still another visit I had a sausage plate and just opening it up brought a big smile to my face not only from the aroma but just the appearance of the food. I knew just by looking at that sausage it was going to be great. The sides included more of the home-made mayo potato salad - note the large chunks of potato - the salad also includes sweet red and green bell peppers and they also have a mustard potato salad. The slaw is of a creamy, sweet variety and I prefer vinegary but this was very good, ice cold and obviously freshly made, the cabbage still good and crisp. Unfortunately they didn’t hear me when I said to hold the sauce but at least the sausage wasn’t swimming in it.

The special of the day on one of my visits was fried catfish and it looked pretty pathetic. A sign on the door on a couple of visits indicates they serve cabrito on occasion but it’s never been available when I’ve been there. I understand they raise their own goats and only occasionally slaughter one.

I brought some of their sausage home after one visit. They make 2 varieties, pork and pork with jalapeno but it’s only partially cooked and I didn’t go to the trouble to get out the smoker to prepare it and it’s not as good as what I had at the joint – it needs more smoke flavor.

Besides their own product, I’ve seen some sausages from Eckermann’s in New Ulm for sale; Eckermann’s is available in some Super WalMarts in the Houston area, Fiesta, Kroger, HEB and Brookshire Brothers are also listed on their website. It’s a pretty decent sausage in it’s own right but it’s no match for Austin’s.

If you’re headed west thru Eagle Lake on US 90A, Austin’s is on your left just before 90A veers off to the left and FM 102 goes straight into the old part of downtown Eagle Lake. On a recent visit I noticed the sign in the window indicates they’re open for a few hours on Wednesday and Sunday around lunch time.

Austin's

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bandeja Paisa Smackdown Part 1 - La Fogata - Colombian

I’ve lived about 5 or 6 miles from this place for 30 years but only in the past year tried it out. It’s easy to miss, tucked away in an L-shaped strip center at the corner of Wilcrest and the Southwest Freeway outbound feeder. This was my first experience of any Colombian food other than the rotisserie chicken available at places like Dodo’s and Pollo Rico and I was very impressed with the extensive menu, the restaurant itself and the food.

Perhaps their most popular (and best?) dish is the Bandeja Montanero, or Mountain Tray, which is another name for a typical Colombian dish often called the Bandeja Paisa. Bandejas are common offerings in several country's cuisines - the word means platter or tray and this is like a Tex-Mex combo plate with generous portions of some typical Colombian foods including frijoles rojos (red beans), arroz (rice), chicharron, plantanos maduros, avocado, sobriebarriaga (skirt steak) and a fried egg. The lunch special is just $5.75 and is a generous portion of food. At most Colombian restaurants that offer a version of this the plate also includes Colombian chorizo but at La Fogata that is extra ($3 on the breakfast menu, with an arepa).

This blew me away the first time I tried it. The frijoles rojos and plantanos maduros were particularly good. It was apparent there was some pork and pork fat in the beans.

Colombian style empanadas are also available on the breakfast menu (but served all day) and are very popular. They’re similar to Venezuelan rather than Argentinan empanadas, made from an arepa wrapped around a ground meat and potato mixture and deep fried. They can be quite greasy; in fact, fried foods here in general are disappointing.

They offer a special soup each day and I was interested to note the weekend special is Cazuela de Mariscos, a seafood soup. The menu doesn’t include much descriptive help on the dishes and all the menu offered for this was ‘Colombian Gumbo.' Red beans and rice and gumbo??? - maybe there’s been some Cajun influence in Colombian cuisine. Or maybe not. This gumbo was not much like Cajun gumbo, a buttery base with some shrimp, tiny oysters and mussels, squid, pretty good sized portions of a mild white fish, thicker than typical tilapia filets so I wasn’t sure what it was (the only fish on the menu otherwise is red snapper but this was not red snapper), and some dumplings that were possibly yuca based? It was accompanied by some rice and slaw and, on the occasion I tried it, a rather unappetizing looking arepa.

Other dishes will be familiar to fans of Mexican cuisine, perhaps with slightly different names. They have liver, higado, en salsa or a la plancha, ditto for sobriebarriaga (skirt steak) and lengua sudada (beef tongue in sauce). They have a breakfast menu, jugos naturales (natural juices), a couple of Colombian sodas (Pony Malta and Colombiana) and a small selection of beers. One dessert I’ve wanted to try but either never had the room for or it wasn’t available because a staffer had called in sick is Arequipe, homemade caramel. And they have Tres Leches.

La Fogata appears to be a family operation; most of the staff speaks English and is very friendly; they do a very good lunch business with several specials to choose from. The decor is pleasant, about on a par with Café Pita +; the TVs, regular sized, have either been off or had the volume at a very reasonable level everytime I’ve visited.

First impressions can often be very good and in truth I haven’t been quite as impressed with this restaurant on any visit subsequent to my first one but it’s still a good neighborhood find.

El Campo - the 2nd Sausage Capital of Texas?

Nowak’s Meat Market, 205 N. Washington, El Campo (just north of Business 59 right downtown)

One of the inspirations for this blog is Texas sausage, an important part of our culinary heritage which sometimes gets short shrift compared to barbecue, Tex-Mex, chili and chicken fried steak, and I have enjoyed for several years investigating small town butcher shops and smokehouses for their sausages.

There are 3 places in El Campo, or at least claiming an El Campo mailing address: Prasek’s, which is actually located in Hillje a few miles south on US 59, Jr’s, the retail outlet of H & B Sausage Co. of El Campo, located in Mackay about 5 miles north of El Campo on US 59, and, right downtown in El Campo, Nowak’s Meat Market.

Compared to Vincek’s in nearby East Bernard Nowak’s is a small shop. They told me they’ve been in business for 26 years but the building looks like it’s been there a lot longer than that and there are relics of a much earlier mercantile era in a corner of the store. The heritage is Bohemian according to the clerk. A hand lettered sign taped to the front door the first time I visited advertised frying sized rabbits were available; I wondered about squirrels?

They only make 3 sausages here, a half and half (beef and pork), all pork, and a turkey summer sausage that is about 95% turkey and 5 percent pork from what they told me. They also carry a number of other sausages they don’t produce on premises including some interesting looking hot links and turkey franks plus Taylor wieners, a beef and pork, natural casing frankfurter from Taylor Meat Company in Taylor. I had never heard of this company before but apparently they’re widely distributed in Central Texas.

I like the summer sausage; it’s mildly flavored and probably a little healthier for you than a typical beef or beef and pork summer sausage. I’ve found the all pork sausage to be tastier than the half and half which is a bit too lean; both have natural casings. (I’ve only pan grilled them on the stove not in the smoker).

The Taylor wieners are good too, almost as good as my favorite Texas made wiener, Shiner Dogs from Patek’s Shiner Smokehouse.

They had some jerky but I didn’t ask if they made it themselves and some boutique produced preserves, etc., some of it from a company in Corpus Christi, plus a couple of their own canned items that I saw, beets and sauerkraut.

I plan to report on Prasek’s and Jr.’s in upcoming posts.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Little Bitty Burger Barn

5503 Pinemont

THERE HAS BEEN A CHANGE OF OWNERSHIP AT THIS RESTAURANT.

When I saw the mention on the front page of b4-u-eat.com last December about this new place I knew I had to try it in hopes the name implied they served sliders. Sliders are kind of a mini-obsession with me and they’re very rare on Houston menus. The place does serve sliders, although they claim that’s not why it’s called the Little Bitty Burger Barn; there are lots of other items on the menu and actually sliders are kind of hidden. The buns for their sliders (mini-hamburgers) are buttered and grilled rather than steamed and the onions are grilled. They’re not the best I’ve ever had but the best in a long time though I’d much prefer some raw onions on there.


Another speciality on the menu that is very rare in Houston is a pork tenderloin sandwich which is a chicken fried section of pork tenderloin. They do a pretty good job with this one too and now that Heights Camphouse BBQ is closed, it may be the only one in town. I’m a native Texan but I think the Hoosier-style chicken fried pork tenderloin sandwich is far better than a chicken fried steak sandwich and I’m glad to have this place to replace the other one. As do many places in the mid-west where this sandwich is very popular they actually use a section of pork sirloin rather than tenderloin and it wasn’t pounded thin as it should be, but it’s still a very satisfying sandwich.


I put off until recently trying their regular burgers but couldn’t help but notice many other reviewers have raved about them so when I got a craving for a burger, I made the trip and I’m glad I did. The LBBB double meat, bacon cheeseburger is very satisfying. It comes with 2 pieces of cheese, one between the patties, one on top; the bacon rashers are also split, a nice touch. It started out looking very neat but became wonderfully messy and I barely managed the last bite before it would have disintegrated completely – the way I like a burger. Unlike some places, I could taste all the ingredients - the cheese, bacon, meat, onions, mustard. Some places use such insipid cheese and so little onion or mustard, etc., you have to look to make sure they remembered to put it on there.

The place looks suspiciously like a double-wide trailer and is very neat although very tiny. Kudos to the place also for their very friendly staff. My only gripe has been because I’ve preferred to eat on the ‘deck’ outside since it’s so cramped inside and on my last visit, the fumes from a nearby business were very unpleasant. I should have been more cognizant of that when I first got out of the car and stayed inside. They could use a fan on that deck.

Little Bitty Burger Barn

Poffenberger's Bellville Meat Market


Note: This review was published previously elsewhere and I'm merely copying it here to bring it together with my other sausage maker reviews. I've still only been to this place once and haven't purchased any other Poffenberger sausages so I can't add to the review.


This is just a quick review as I’ve only been to this place once. I first became acquainted with Poffenberger’s several years ago when I came across some of their sausages at Hinze’s BBQ in Wharton. I particularly remember the black pepper encrusted summer sausage that was very good but that is apparently no longer made. Their summer sausages now are 22 oz chubs in either plain or with cheese and jalapeno.

I picked up some dry sausages, beef sticks and two of their smoked sausages, the pork with green onion and pork with garlic. Both the latter were excellent. In fact I liked them so much I included them in my Christmas spread. The garlic is apparently their oldest and best selling product. Both had a good smoky flavor and the casing crisped up very nicely but they are not ‘wet,’ i.e., fat doesn’t squirt out when you bite into them. I found their beef sticks and dried sausages to be a little too dry and tough, however. Their cheese and jalapeno summer sausage won a Grand Champion award from the Texas Meat Producers Association for 2007 but I like the one from Maeker’s in Shiner better than Poffenberger’s and I like the dried sausages from both Maeker’s and Patek’s in Shiner better. I liked the beef sticks from Vincek’s in East Bernard better than these, too.

There is a large assortment of other products including bacon, home-made jellies, and canned vegetables. I picked up some pickled okra that is quite good although I wish they would use cold brining. I noted chipotle olives, too, but got distracted looking at all the other goodies and neglected to pick some up; they also have home-made pies, pastries and bread.

There also is barbecue, although perhaps only for lunch? I didn’t smell any or see anybody having any and I didn’t try any.

The place is impossible to miss as you go through Bellville on Texas 36; you’ll come to it on the left before you get to the downtown section if you’re going out from Houston. Poffenberger’s summer sausages are available at Spec’s Liquor warehouse in downtown Houston and some of their products are reportedly carried at Hebert’s Specialty Meats on Richmond.

Poffenberger's sausage is served at 3P's Barbecue on S. Gessner in Houston.

Bellville Meat Market

Golden Grain

5406 Birdwood Dr., n. of N. Braeswood, w. of Chimney Rock

This is a former location of The Russian General Store. It’s a larger store physically but there’s a smaller selection of meats and cheeses, some pre-sliced and in vacu-paks and many products that are made in the USA though the labels are in Russian. There is very little English signage so you’re stuck asking lots of questions.

On my first visit some time ago I got some potato salad in the prepared foods department - a very good version of Russian potato salad/Salade Olivier with diced potatoes, carrot, peas, egg, mayonnaise and I believe diced ham. This is a little creamier than the Olivier salad at the Russian General Store which has bologna in it. There were some very good looking breads and I picked up a Russian rye. Given the name of the store I was surprised when the lady told me they didn’t bake them on premises but got them from a local bakery but I couldn’t understand the name of the bakery.

I had some very good lemon meringues, a sugar-free Kvass, and some smoked herring (tinned) on my first visit. On subsequent visits I’ve gotten more of the potato salad and I definitely like this version a little better than the one at RGS or at Phoenicia Specialty Foods. I’ve also had some shortbread like cookies with chocolate cream filling (she just calls all her baked goods pastries) and tried the home-made pickles. These cucumbers in light brine are excellent, with peppers, garlic, celery, dill, green beans and I think flat-leaf parsley. I’ve also come across a very tough stalk that appears to be a small bamboo stalk. I’ve also tried the tomatoes in light brine which also includes red bell peppers, garlic, celery, parsley and peppers, mushrooms in light brine, and seaweed salad.. The pickles and tomatoes are very reasonably priced but the mushrooms and seaweed are kind of pricey, $5.99 and $6.99 a pound, respectively. All are very good - better than the like products at The Russian General Store - and I’ve become a regular here for the pickles and the potato salad.

The store is on a side-street that does not go through to the major thoroughfare (Chimney Rock) and you’d never find it if you weren’t specifically looking for it. There is a forlorn, tattered folding card table and a couple of folding chairs outside on the sidewalk for al fresco dining but otherwise it’s all to-go. They have a domain name parked at goldengrainhouston.com so maybe someday soon there’ll be a website to peruse and find out more about what they have to offer.

After I had made my purchase on my first trip including the bread and was driving away it hit me what the name of the bakery was that I was hearing as Haulfuhd!

Gimme them old-time burger stands - Uvalde Malt N Burger



1046 Uvalde Rd., just north of I-10 East

Just a word about this place which I have only visited once. I had heard raves for years, claims that this place was better than Someburger in the Heights, had awesome burgers, onion rings, malts, etc., and finally had a chance to check it out, but my visit was not very satisfactory. Still, it fits in this category of old-time burger stands and I’ll include it because I’m willing to concede my visit may not have been typical. It’s way across town from me, in a direction I seldom have reason to go, so I probably won’t be back to check it out again any time soon.

I arrived on a very chilly day. As has been noted by others on-line, it can be easy to miss. Perhaps this is due in part to the fact I was expecting something like an old drug store fountain type place instead of a drive-in. It’s kind of hidden right next to a Sonic but I think if you first approached it on Uvalde from the north, it’d be easy to spot.

The place seems to do mostly take-out; at least it did when I was there. I placed my order and sat outside at a concrete picnic table, shivering, while watching others come and go and waiting what seemed like an unreasonably long time. I had already had a lunch a couple of hours before with a relative in the Crosby-Highlands area and wasn’t very hungry but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity while in that part of the county and had ordered just a single meat cheeseburger with onion rings and fries. At this sort of place, I find I usually need to go for a double meat burger.

Finally I was waved to the window and went to pick up my order and returned to the table to eat. The burger was room temperature, the onion rings and fries likewise. It was not an impressive meal at all and I left very disappointed and confused - why all the raves?

I came to the conclusion later that my order had been held back for someone to pick up and they had forgotten there was a customer sitting right outside waiting. That’s the only explanation I can think of for my very disappointing experience vs. the raves by others, so I include it here as a caveat.

Not only that, I forgot to order a malt, which is supposed to be something else the place does well.

It just wasn’t a good day, burger-wise, for me.

Louisiana Foods Deli

4410 W. 12th Street, in a warehouse district

UNFORTUNATELY THE DELI HAS CLOSED (SOMETIME IN THE PAST COUPLE OF MONTHS).

Just a word about this place - a seafood wholesaler with a hot foods deli that’s open only on weekdays from 11am until they run out. Louisiana Foods was the kitchen for the original group of Landry’s restaurants, before they were sold to the present Landry’s, Inc., and still is a seafood wholesaler supplying lots of markets and restaurants in the area.

About a half dozen menu items are available each day, including daily specials. It’s counter service only and there’s no place to eat on premises so if you don’t live in the area, as I don’t, it’s a problem. I usually head over to Memorial Park, about a mile and a half away, and lunch under the trees.

The crawfish etouffee plate is available everyday and is always good, much better than you’re going to find at any other counter-service place for a similar price. They use Louisiana crawfish, not the stringy, tasteless, imported Chinese variety. It comes with French bread and a side, which varies. Surprisingly I found the Shrimp Gumbo, also available every day by the pint or larger sizes, to be very disappointing, very thin and with frozen cocktail shrimp only. Likewise the Tuesday special of meat loaf was a disappointment so I have since stuck to the etouffee.

They are also the franchisor for this area for Krispy Krunchy Cajun Recipe Chicken and Seafood. This is one of those franchises for convenience stores and gas stations and it’s the best one I’ve tried, though I’ve only had it here. It can be quite good, but it does sit under the heat lamps so can get dried out and tough.

They also have some very good boudin balls and the chicken and boudin balls are available everyday.

This is accessible only from North Post Oak; W. 12th does not go through under Loop 610.

Louisiana Foods


Krispy Krunchy

Gimme them old-time burger stands - Sparkle's Hamburger Spot





Dowling @ Leeland, just East of 59.

A new contender for ‘best burger’ in Houston???? Well, not if you have to have fu-fu ingredients, white table cloth service (or service at all) and a see-and-be-seen clientele. Ever since I first saw this place I noticed it seemed to stay pretty busy and I had to check it out. I went expecting something like the burgers at Someburger on 11th street in the Heights or Jaime’s Dairy Treat in Richmond - thin, 50s style meat patties - but I was in for a big surprise.

The food took forever. I didn’t check the time when I ordered but I’m sure it was close to 30 minutes before I got my burger and I was getting quite frustrated. A few people had stopped in to pick up phone-in orders, on bicycle or on foot or by car, but only one of the other people in line in front of me had gotten their food in that time either. I wondered what in the world could be taking so long, and then I got the burger and beheld the patty and understood. The ‘patty’ was at least an inch thick and probably weighed 10 or 12 oz (I’ve since taken one home and weighed it at 10 oz). It was cooked too well done for my taste but was not too dry. There weren’t many condiments on the burger, a small amount of iceberg lettuce, onion strips, pickles, a slice of tomato, a generous amount (but not too much) of mayo and a small smear of mustard, about all that could be put on the burger and still leave it manageable. The bun was appropriately greasy and well toasted, probably necessary to keep this monster together until finished. The cheese was thoroughly melted across the top of the hand-formed patty. It was a sight to behold and it was very good.

The hand-cut, irregular fries weren’t very good, undercooked, a very pale golden color, but I didn’t care. This place is about the burger. I’ve tried the fries on another occasion and they were mediocre again. Unfortunately I’ve also gotten a burger to go one time that had been way overcooked and developed about a 1/4" crust on the bottom.

You can choose from bacon, cheese, chili, jalapenos, and hickory smoked barbecue sauce or various combinations of these as additional fixings but there is no bleu cheese or feta cheese, shitake mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, raspberry vinaigrette, Brussel sprouts, radicchio or tender young salad greens or whatever it is they’re putting on burgers in trendy bistros these days.

There are turkey burgers and grilled or fried chicken burgers and a fried pork chop sandwich on the menu. The breakfast menu includes pork chops, ham, bacon, pan sausage or country links and eggs, tacos and grits. Cajun platters include chicken ‘n waffle or chicken ‘n pancake platters, available also with pork chops or catfish.

On my first visit I came to the conclusion Sparkle’s takes it’s name from the personality of the lady at the window, a delightfully pleasant young woman, but I’ve never seen her again on subsequent visits. It’s open 6a-6p on weekdays, 7a- 5pm on Sat and 8a-3pm on Sun, according to the signs.

Oh yes, the cheeseburger described above was only $3, the fries a buck extra. They also sell large, stuffed baked potatoes and chips and the fries also come w/chili and cheese, curly style, and as tater tots. None of these has proved to be as good as the burgers and the chili is ground meat with taco seasoning.

I picked up a copy of the to-go menu and always call in my orders in advance to avoid the wait. Obviously part of the reason it looks so busy is the long wait for the food. If it’s your first visit you might want to take a book!

Oh yes, on that fried pork chop sandwich. I’ve commented elsewhere on this blog on the pork tenderloin sandwich of the Midwest; the fried pork chop seems to be a soul food or Cajun counterpart and the one here is the best I’ve found. Though it’s just a cut of sirloin (boneless) its tender and very tasty, a real mess of a sandwich from the get-go, though, on plain white bread with just mayo, lettuce and tomato. I’ve thought pickles would be a nice addition but the tartness of the mayo is enough to balance the tastes for me.

Gimme them old-time burger stands - Jaime's Dairy Treat, Richmond


As a fan of old time hamburger stands I was excited to discover Jaime’s on US 90A in Richmond, just east of FM 762. It does not disappoint.

The menu is extensive and includes soft serve ice cream treats, dogs and chili pie. Sides include french fries, onion rings, and tater tots. Special items include tacos, burritos, enchiladas and home-made tamales for $7 per dozen. Given the name of the place and the fact most of the help appears to be Hispanic I had high hopes for the Mexican offerings but was disappointed in the tamales and enchiladas which were nothing special and I haven’t tried the other items. I don’t think the tamales were home-made.

The burgers are hot and fresh off the grill - like the ones from the well known Someburger stand on 11th street in the Heights - so hot and fresh you have to pick them up and bring them to your lips gingerly. The burgers are a little smaller than a Someburger which is fine with me; the double cheeseburger is just the right size for my appetite.

The sign in the window indicates the place is open 7 days until 7pm but it has been closed several times when it should have been open when I’ve made the trip. The burgers have been a little inconsistent but when they’re on I actually prefer the burgers here to the one’s at Someburger.

The place does a good business. People squeeze their cars into the small parking lot anyway they can and eat in the car or at one of 4 picnic tables (2 covered) or take away. With hot, fresh, made to order burgers like these I can’t for the life of me figure why anybody in the Richmond-Rosenberg area would go to one of the chains for a pre-fabricated burger.