Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tejano Salsa and Tamale Company

10421 S. Post Road

I was headed up South Post Oak one day recently when I caught sight out of the corner of my eye of a large banner proclaiming 'hand made hot tamales, now open.' It took a couple of turns and a couple of Uies before I was able to get into the parking lot (you have to be headed north on Post Oak just south of West Bellfort) only to find they actually weren't open, but I did see the bales of corn shucks stacked in the windows and knew I had to come back.

This is a new store-front and tamale factory for Houston-based Tejano Salsa and Tamale Company, offering about a dozen varieties of hand-made tamales. I had never even heard of them before and they aren't in my neighborhood grocery store but here they are with a full line of salsas, cheese dips and more.

When I was able to catch them open they were still in a very rudimentary operating mode. They have frozen tamales and hot tamales, by the half dozen or dozen. I got a half dozen of the pork with salsa verde in a cry-o-vac pack, steaming hot, for $6. They were large, about 4 oz each, tasty, with shredded pork. The masa itself was dry for my taste - I like very moist tamales - but good, nonetheless.

Besides tamales they have the complete line of their salsas and dips and some sodas. There are no tables but I was told they hope to add plate lunches in the future to their offerings.

I see from their website their tamales have previously been available at Spec's.

Tejano Salsa and Tamales

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cooper's Po-Boy Express

S. Gessner @ W. Airport - MOVED

The latest mobile unit to roll to a stop on the southwest side is a streetcar - a New Orleans po-boy cart. Clang, clang, ding ding, woot, woot -I have no idea what sound a New Orleans streetcar makes but what a great visual tip-off to the goodies that await at the window. When I first saw this I couldn't believe my eyes and was sure they must just be parked here because the owner lived nearby. But no, they're here to stay, although hours are somewhat limited. We have places to get tortas galore, banh mi shops too numerous to count, but when it comes to other types of sandwiches we've been severely lacking here on the southwest side for anything other than chains. Could it really be that now we have a purveyor of some of the best sandwiches on the planet, New Orleans po-boys, and just 5 minutes from my driveway?

I couldn't wait to try it out but I had to. There are no hours (or menu) posted on the cart and the website is not much help but at last I caught them open. They just got their permit the end of March and started operations around the middle of April but some equipment problems have arisen, notably that I know of an inadequate ventilation fan to handle the smoke generated by using the grill. Roy Cooper supervises the frying and grilling, an ever-beaming Patricia Harris greets the customers and keeps an eye on the whole operation. I think these people are as excited and happy to be offering their foods as I am to have them.

The menu is small, 8 types of po-boys, hot sausage or smoked sausage, hamburger, roast beef, turkey or ham ranging from $5.99 to $7.99 for a half sandwich and from $9.99 to $11.99 for a whole, a choice of toppings, fries, chips, beverages. The hot sausage is Danton's, the smoked sausage is D & D's, both products from Bogalusa now carried by Fiesta stores. I tried the Danton's hot sausage first, an all-beef pan sausage liberally laced with cayenne. The sandwich, a half is 8 inches, contained 3 patties, grilled, with shredded lettuce, tomato, pickle and gobs of mayonnaise, the latter an essential part of a New Orleans po-boy to me, and was really good. The bread is a really important factor, of course; many places here in Houston that claim to offer New Orleans po-boys get the bread all wrong but this one is pretty close, very similar to the bread used by Antone's, although it could benefit from a little more crustiness.

When I was called to the window to pick mine up I got a big face full of the exhaust fan problem - I was hit in the face with a blast of smoke that knocked me back; inside it was smokier than the pit room at City Market in Luling and I didn't see how they were going to cope with that for several hours. I think this problem has been taken care of; for the sake of the crew, hopefully so.

I wouldn't be surprised if most people name a catfish, shrimp or oyster po-boy as their favorite but my favorite New Orleans po-boys are the roast beef with gravy and debris and the hamburger po-boy and I went with the roast beef on my second visit although I had second thoughts while standing around smelling the fish frying. This wasn't quite as good as the hot sausage; as I suspected, there wasn't much gravy on this po-boy. Per city of Houston regulations, a mobile vendor cannot provide an eating area nearby so almost all business is grab and go and too much gravy would turn that bun into a soggy mess very quickly. I could accept that limitation but I was disappointed in the lack of any debris - the meat had not cooked enough to begin to fall apart. Still, the flavors were all there. Also there was a slice of cheese, a surprise to me since I didn't even realize that was available. I prefer no cheese on a roast beef po-boy with gravy and I'll have them leave that off next time.

I look forward to trying all the other varieties here. They're open only Thursday, Friday and Saturday from around 11am to 8pm.

Cooper's Po-Boy Express

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Downhome Bar-b-que and Grill

S. Gessner @ W. Airport

This intersection has come alive with food trucks of late. On a recent Saturday, there were four units in operation - Taqueria Zihuatenejo, Roy’s Mobile Barbecue, a po-boy trolley and this unit. The po-boy trolley has been having technical difficulties apparently and has been missing some days when it’s supposed to be open but I’ll be reporting on that soon. There was also a guy selling cocos frios and melons out of his pickup and a transient flower vendor had set up a large tent on another service station driveway making for a very colorful and festive scene. The intersection is like a food court on wheels. (UPDATE: All of these units have disappeared from this intersection. So much for our mobile food court. It was probably a violation of some city ordinance).

Downhome Bar-b-que is one of the more recent arrivals. I’ve been seeing it for a couple of months but never open when I pass that way. Recently when the craving struck me I made a special trip and luckily caught it open.

I was offered a generous gimme piece of the brisket. It was tender and juicy as it should be with maybe a 1/4" smoke ring; mesquite is the wood used but the smokiness was not so intense that a disagreeable tarry taste was noticeable so I went for a sliced beef sandwich. There was about 6 oz of brisket, both fatty and lean, on a big thick bun with onions and pickles on the side. The sandwich was a little dry - it actually could have used a little more sauce just because of all the bread - but it was good and quite filling. Eating my way through it I encountered a few bites with some of the charred pieces of the bark on the brisket, a welcome note. The tomato based sauce is medium thickness, a little tart, a little sweet, and with a little heat which builds. I thought it was nicely balanced.

The large smoker cage on the back of the trailer bears the insignia of Rocky Mountain Smokers but I don’t know if the current operator has any connection to that, which I assume to be a competition team.

I never use a sandwich as a way of evaluating great Texas barbecue so on another visit I inquired about the sausage offered. It is made for the pitmaster locally and is a fine ground, all beef sausage with a little cayenne. I was again offered a generous gimme piece and liked it enough to go for a plate of links and ribs since I already knew the pitmaster turned out some decent brisket. The ribs are trimmed St. Louis style and were extraordinarily tender but there isn't much meat on these types of ribs. The juicy sausage reminded me of one of my favorite unsung sausages of Central Texas from the late Eurestes Grocery in Waelder; with the addition of a little pork and a natural casing, it would have been very much the same but I liked it as is, too.

The sandwich was $7, the combo plate $10; a one meat plate is $9. There are no prices listed for meats by the pound. The brief menu also includes chicken and a choice of potato salad, slaw or baked beans as sides. Both the sides I got I would judge to have been store bought products.

They are open from around 11 or 11:30 am to about 8pm, if there’s still cue to sell, Wednesday thru Saturday.