Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monster PBJ

The Monster PBJ truck had not been high on my list of food trucks that I wanted to check out but then I saw the truck parked at the CAM and I couldn't resist.

Well, seriously, who could possibly resist a custom-made peanut butter and jam sandwich from a big purple truck?  Kudos to the owners of the truck for the big picture windows so you can see what the crew is doing, not to mention how spic 'n span and orderly everything is.  Many's the time I've been standing around, waiting for my order from a food truck, and wished I could see what they were doing with my food in there.

I filled out the order blanks on a paper bag and turned it in, then stepped back to await my delights.  A young mother with a child who probably was not yet in kindergarten was also waiting,  When his name was called, the little boy ran to the window and stood on tippy-toes, reaching as high as he could to receive his bounty, then strutted back to his mom, looking like the happiest kid in the world.  Good job, Mommie, for introducing your child at at early age to the pleasures of the Houston food truck movement.

I chose cashew butter.  I was going to try to keep it healthy with sliced bananas but that purple color took hold of my mind again and I went for blueberry jam (blueberries are really purple).  I also added the  Nutella.  When I got my sandwich I hurried off to my car, smiling as grandly as that little boy.

The bright sunlight had made it impossible to get a picture of the truck without some glare and the bright sunlight and dark shadows filtering through the trees overhanging the street in the museum neighborhood made it impossible to get a picture of the sandwich that would be usable without holding it down near the floorboard of the car (my new camera doesn't handle big contrasts in lighting well).  It was rather a messy situation but I managed to avoid getting jam and Nutella all over the upholstery and dug right in, polishing off the sandwich very quickly.  Then I remembered I had intended to drive over to Cherryhurst park, around the corner from where I used to live, and have a little picnic under the trees.  I was so excited I just couldn't wait.

I could have used a little more toasting and I could barely taste the cashew butter for the richness of the jam and Nutella but the sandwich was great nonetheless.  I drove home in a state of bliss, sure of a simple and abiding truth:  the PB & J is one of the greatest culinary inventions of all time.

And Monster PBJ does it justice.

Monster PBJ

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Jeepney Truck

I think we have a pretty impressive array of food trucks serving various national cuisines, not even counting all the 'fusion' food trucks (how many Korean-Mexican trucks do we have now?).  My own list on this blog is woefully outdated and needs some editing but I'm happy to add the Jeepney Truck to the roll call.

I tried the Pancit - noodles, chicken, sweet Chinese sausage and vegetables - plus garlic rice and lumpia and a choice of sauces.  I chose the 'hot' sauce which I think was sriracha or something very similar.  I still don't know much about Filipino cuisine (I've had it a half dozen times at four different places now) but I thought this was very good except for the lumpia which were quite greasy.  The vegetables were not overcooked, the rice fluffy and very garlicky.

I caught up with them outside the Cultural Outreach Center of the Philippine Consulate on Highway 6 and they were very busy with families ordering multiple to-go items.  It took 35 minutes to get my food.

I was disappointed the Jeepney Truck was just a step-van instead of a re-purposed Jeepney and they haven't had many stops so far but I'm looking forward to catching up with them again and trying more of their offerings.

The Jeepney Truck

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Karnays and Zurnas, Samsas, Tripe Soup and Pizza along the Silk Road - Part 3

See Part 1 or Part 2 of this report here.

The last day of the festival brought a big drop in the temperature and a lot smaller crowds.  I was planning on trying the Uzbek palov but when I got a look at the skimpy amount of meat each plate was getting, I decided to pass and went for a plate from the Azerbaijan courtyard with chicken kabobs, beef and lamb meatballs, rice, salad and pita.  I had wanted one of those ribs.

I found a seat in the Kyrgyzstan courtyard to catch a little of the musical group that was performing.  I hadn’t paid any attention to the entertainment schedule in planning my visits and I had extraordinary bad luck in catching only parts of performances.  I finished my meal and took a picture as a number started.  At least one of the performers was playing an instrument that sounded rather like a kazoo but otherwise there wasn’t much going on in this picture.  The woman on the end on the right had been playing a large violin like instrument in the previous number; it’s on the chair next to her in this picture.

After the performance I went back to the Uzbek area to try some soup.  I had been planning on having some and the cooler weather made the timing right.  There were four to choose from including yogurt and lentil soups but the one I wanted was the tripe soup.  It was easily the most adventurous offering from any booth.  I tasted a sample and I was sold so I had them ladle up a bowl for me.  They offered to add a garlic and lemon sauce as an extra; I thought the soup tasted fine as it was but said I’d take a little of the garnish.  They they offered a plate of lemon wedges.  Just to be polite, I took one.  I was a little slow on the uptake - I came to realize shortly that those condiments would have really helped to cut the richness of the soup.  It was very heavy and filling, much more so than I expected.  The sign said it included hooves and tripe and garlic; I think I got maybe one small piece of very tender tripe.  The meat was a relevation; I assumed it was cow's foot and stomach and I’d never had cows foot before.  It was tender, reminding me of cachete or cabeza, and tasted more like lamb that beef. 

I wrote down the name of the soup - kelle paça çorbasi - and when I got home looked it up.  If I got the name right and the Google translations are correct, its a Turkish soup made with sheep’s head and/or trotters, as best I can decipher. Whether it was tripe or heads and feet, ovine or bovine, it still was the most adventurous offering at the festival that I saw and I’d gladly order it again.

 The PA system was heralding an award winning performing group taking the stage in the Turkish courtyard so I headed over that way.  Up until now the Caykur Turkish tea stand had not been very busy but with a nip in the air, at least by Houston standards, there was a steady line of customers and they were passing out the free cups of hot tea right and left, as fast as they could pour them.  

I settled down at another table to sip my tea, almost ready to doze off from the rich soup.  Before I finished the tea and after only two numbers, the performing troupe started filing off the stage.  What the?  But they assembled in front of the stage and the PA announced they would be performing a dance in a circle and inviting members of the audience to join in.  I snapped a picture from back in the crowd and was ready to call it a day.

It was a very successful festival as far as I was concerned.  I had avoided lingering around any of the arts, crafts or travel booths, etc., since I didn’t have any money to spend, but there was a lot more to the festival than I’ve reported on here, including lots more performances.  I understand the organizers were hoping for an attendance of 50,000 as a benchmark, to evaluate whether it would be worth bringing the festival back for another year.  I hope they achieved that.  I wonder how many attended the first year of the Greek Fest?  Given a couple of years to grow, this could easily be one of the premier festivals of the fall season.

The festival has uploaded a number of videos to YouTube and there are also quite a few uploaded by individuals.  I haven’t watched them all but from what I have seen, there’s a lot more of the performances and glimpses of the other vendors and very little about the food, so if you’re interested in more of that aspect of the festival, check them out.  It’s fascinating to see how much media attention the festival attracted in non-English speaking, non-Houston based media.

Silk Road Festival website

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Karnays and Zurnas, Samsas, Tripe Soup and Pizza along the Silk Road - Part 2

See Part 1 of this report here.

I didn’t get to the Festival on Saturday as early as I had planned as something came up at home that had to be dealt with.  I had a small lunch at home to tide me over so I wasn’t very hungry.  Saturday was a much busier day; the parking lot was a lot fuller, the walk to the gate much longer, the lines at the stalls longer, too.  There were a few stalls open that had not be in operation in Friday, among them a Firehouse Pizza stall in the Azerbaijan courtyard, for those who were gastronomically completely at sea along the Silk Road.  There was a little bit of a break in the weather but not much and it was still stifling on the festival grounds.

I headed straight for Turkey and started the day with the manti pictured in part 1 of this report.  The lamahcun I had on Friday had been the equivalent of an 8 or 9" pizza and quite filling; the Manti proved to be quite filling too - that was full fat yogurt and the garlic sauce was very oily as you can see in the picture.  The dried herbs out of a big shaker bottle might just as well have been confetti, unfortunately.

I strolled through all the courtyards again, to refresh my memory of what was available specifically looking for the stall that featured Vegetable Delights.  I had been happy to see the stall specializing in salads in Turkey and also this one, which was in the Uzbek courtyard.  Uzbekistan had a very nice line-up of stalls; besides the vegetable one, there was one featuring Pplov (rice pilaf), which is the signature dish of both Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, where it is known as plov.  There were also samsas, Uzbek meat pies, and a soup stall, offering four soups that looked tempting.

At the vegetable stall, they had stuffed eggplant, stuffed red and yellow bell peppers and stuffed artichoke hearts.  The artichoke was the best of the three, and huge. That was the biggest artichoke heart I think I’ve ever seen.  The choke that came out of must have been the size of a grapefruit, and mine wasn’t the largest one in the tray.

The samsa needs no explanation.  This was a simple ground beef mixture in phyllo dough with sesame seeds.  In Uzbekistan, the filling might have been lamb or horse meat.

I drooled over the palov and resolved that I would stick to snacks on Saturday and devote Sunday to trying some of the full plate offerings, possibly getting several to go.  The meat in this was mutton, I think.  The tray next to it held what was probably a vegetarian version of Palov although the sign identifying it was missing.

 As I was munching on the samsa, a couple of men started blowing on their karnays on the entertainment stage.  These long brass instruments could probably be heard all over the festival grounds as they pointed them off in all directions and moved them around in what I think is somewhat ceremonial fashion.  They were joined by a rhythm section consisting at first of the man on the frame drum called a doyra (think oversized tambourine minus the zils) in the center of the picture and the man on the pot drum at the right rear.  Later another frame drummer entered the picture.

As the number built in intensity, they demonstrated some versatility in the use of the karnay incluiding one of the players keeping one aloft by balancing it on his jaw.  They were joined by the man playing the Zurna, a reeded, clarinet-like instrument.  The ensemble was completed when a woman in a very elaborate costume came onstage and fronted the band as both singer and dancer.  It was a very lively, driving and catchy number, by far the most captivating musical number I saw at the festival.  I hadn’t heard an announcement but if the festival was running on schedule, this should have been the group just identified as ‘Uzbek Local Music Group.’  I didn’t know we had a local Uzbek community but maybe that’s not the way that should be read. 

Throughout the festival there was a crew on hand with professional video equipment including a camera mounted on a crane so they could see over crowds.  They may have been from Ebru-Tv, one of the sponsors of the festival.  Anyway, there were also many other individuals with less sophisticated video cameras and I’m sure some videos are going to show up on YouTube.

I liked this performance so much I wanted to see a re-run so I planned my visit on Sunday when the scheduled said they would be performing again but, alas, they were no where to be seen.

See Part 3 of this report here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Andy's Hawg Wild Bar-B-Que

2826 Dedman, Pasadena

Driving up to Andy’s for the first time invoked a sense of deja vu, reminding me of the first time I went to the old Burn’s BBQ on the north side, driving up a narrow residential street in a working class neighborhood, wondering if I got the directions right - Could this possibly be the right way to a destination barbeque joint?  But then the big red sign loomed up next to a tree and I caught a glimpse of the low-slung building, the parking lot wedging spaces into every corner of the property that must have grown to meet the need, and the feeling changed to one of eager anticipation.

Some of the reviews on Yelp speak highly of the brisket here but when I go to a place with ‘hawg’ in the name, with a beaming pig on the sign and pig statuettes scattered around the dining room with slogans painted on them like ‘Try Me Tennessee Style,’ I’m ordering the pork, specifically the pulled pork.  Even more specifically, the Tennessee Pulled Pork sandwich which comes dressed with cole slaw.  Actually, I thought that was Memphis style but whatever.

There aren’t many places in Houston that even serve pulled pork and there are some that have no idea what it is; there are even fewer that specialize in it but Andy’s does and that’s what I came to try.

Does that sandwich looked over-sauced?  My first thought when it was delivered to my table was to wonder if I dare try to pick it up even once.  The second thing I did was pull the napkin dispenser over to be right at my fingertips.  Much to my surprise I made it almost all the way thru before it became too messy to handle but the sandwich didn’t need that much sauce in addition to the creamy cole slaw.  The sauce was too bold for my taste; I do not like bold barbeque sauces that add more flavor to the sandwich than the meat itself.

There must have been close to 8 ounces of meat on that large bun.  The meat was tender and juicy and just a tad smoky - smokiness does not seem to be that big a factor in Tennessee style barbeque.  The crisp red onions and sturdy bun provided a welcome balance to all the juiciness.

There’s a good selection of sides including red skinned potato salad, baked potato salad, mashed potatoes, fried okra, green beans and turnip greens in addition to, of course, cole slaw (if you want yours on the side, order just the Pulled Pork sandwich instead of the Tennessee Pulled Pork sandwich). 

I tried the beans.  These are more of a pork and beans concoction that the typical pintos you’d get at a Texas barbeque joint but they had a nice peppery bite and were very good.

The main dining room appears to just be an enclosed deck; there is a slightly more refined, smaller dining room also plus several concrete tables well shaded under trees in one corner of the parking lot.  Though you’re only two blocks off busy Spencer Highway and maybe half a mile from the Beltway, it’s a very quiet neighborhood and I imagine al fresco dining would be quite pleasant if the weather’s nice. 

There’s no big screen TV blaring constant news or soaps or sports, no TV at all, in fact.  The sound track was country, appropriately enough, but not the pop/rock/schmaltz country of today, nor alt country nor outlaw country and not honky tonk either.  Well, actually, I couldn’t identify the genre and I’m not sure I recognized a single song or artist that came on, but it sounded like the sounds of life in a small Tennessee town and it suited the setting perfectly.  For ambiance, Andy’s gets an A +.

Andy's Hawg Wild Bar-B-Que

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Karnays and Zurnas, Samsas, Tripe Soup and Pizza along the Silk Road - Part 1

This blog has been in a comatose state for a couple of months now.  Partly that’s because there has been an unusual run of unexpected big expenses involving the maintenance of Villa del Bob and it’s inhabitants this year.  The budget for dining out has been tight and  I have felt less like taking a chance on something unfamiliar than I usually do.  It’s also because I got an induction cooking unit and am once again finding cooking fun.  Just one new toy in the kitchen, and a couple of shiny new pots to use with it, and my whole attitude has changed and I frequently decide to stay in and cook rather than go out

I’ve also been lacking the inspiration to write.  I’m not a professional writer (like you had to be told that) and I don’t have an editor (like you had to be told that) to demand that I produce something and I haven’t been able to get myself motivated to compose something about what few interesting dining out experiences I have had.

But Houston’s first ever Silk Road Festival caught my attention.  It offered the chance to experience the culture, music and cuisine of six countries - Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  Of those only Turkey is represented on Houston’s dining scene   Plus it was being held in my neck of the woods, at the Stafford Centre.

I bought a four day pass and managed to make it out three of the four days.  Thursday and Friday were school days and there were scads of school buses and hordes of middle school students.  I skipped Thursday and went on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Although a couple of vendors told me one of their items was ‘home-made,’ the overwhelming majority of the food served was professionally prepared.  Several Turkish restaurants had a presence, among them the relatively new Nazif Grill and DNR Grill.  Café Pita, our Bosnian restaurant, operated stalls in both the Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan areas but as far as I could tell they were serving dishes from their restaurant menu including the popular cevapi.  But Turkish Kitchen in Sugar Land was omnipresent, operating food stands in all six countries and in the case of Uzbekistan, which was my favorite new cuisine discovery, all the food offered was prepared by Turkish Kitchen.  The restaurant is located on 59 right at Highway 6 and I’ve been to it just once.

I’ve eaten at several of our Turkish restaurants but am by no means an expert on the cuisine.  All I know about the other cuisines is what I’ve read online in the last couple of weeks so this is intended to be mostly a pictorial with minimal explanation or commentary.

The festival was arranged in an arc around a central courtyard accessed through a Grand Entrance.  From there you could pass to each of the countries.  You could also go directly from country to country in an arc but the only signs indicating what country you were in were at the entrance off the main courtyard.  Sometimes none of the stalls had identifying signs either so you had to consult a map.  I got lost often and frequently had to consult the map to figure out which country I was in.

This panorama just outside the Grand Entrance and others like it along the walls of the courtyards within were popular spots for taking pictures.

I started in Turkey, having failed to notice the entrance to Turkmenistan just inside the main entrance.  By far the most popular food at the festival were the skewers or kabobs offered at several stalls.  Lines at those were always long and slow moving - the skewers were being cooked on grills out behind the stalls and they were always running behind, it seems.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the wait surpassed 45 minutes in some cases but I don’t know as I don’t like standing in line waiting for food and so sampled none of the kabobs.

 Another very popular food item was the lahmacun.  This is usually translated as Turkish pizza on restaurant menus as it was here.  It consisted of  spicy meat on a soft, moist and pliable bread (pide), garnished with shredded red cabbage and lettuce.  Given the circumstance and the lack of a knife to cut it, I ate this folded over as an over-sized Turkish taco (or New York style pizza) as did many others.  It was among the best things I was to have all weekend.

Another item from the same stall (operated by Turkish Kitchen) was the Manti, translated as Turkish Raviole but more like tortellini - meat stuffed small dumplings in a yogurt and garlic sauce.  This was apparently so popular that by Saturday, Turkish Kitchen had signs on all their stalls throughout the festival that bags of these, frozen, were available for sale.


One of the other stalls in Turkey (Turkish Kitchen) offered a choice of several salads and there was another booth devoted to sweets. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and though I was tempted I tried no sweets all weekend but on the first day I also had the Salatsie Rus (Russian salad) and, from the Turkish Kitchen booth in Turkenistan, the Kalem Boreki - cheese and parsley wrapped in a flaky dough and deep fried.

While I was making the rounds I walked into the Kazakhstan courtyard just as a performing troupe was winding up their number and milling around on the stage.  I snapped a couple of quick pictures, checked out the food booths so I could plot the rest of the weekend’s eating experiences and moved on.  I looked back to realize the group had assembled in a formation at the front of the stage to pose for all the assembled photographers but I couldn’t get back in time to take a better picture.  There were lots of performances scheduled on the various stages but it wasn’t continuous, at least during the day, and I was never able to catch an entire show.

The biggest negative at the festival was the lack of shade and with the temp at least in the upper 80s on Friday and little wind it was very hot.  There were umbrellas shading all the tables but people of all ages were seeking refuge in the archways separating the various courtyards which were at least twenty feet deep and had alcoves off to the side with some placards with information about the country or the trade route.  Although I hadn’t stayed as long as I had intended I called it a day.

See Part 2 of this report here.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Silk Road Festival

Thursday, October 4, thru Sunday, October 7 @ Stafford Centre, on Cash Road off of FM 1092/Murphy Road.

Art, entertainment and food from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Festival site

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Update on Total Catch Market

The long dormant Total Catch Market at Louisiana Foods on Saturday mornings is no more.  P.J. Stoops has announced he's leaving to start a bycatch market of his own.  Alison Cook has more details on her blog on 29-95.

Hooray!  I can't wait.  Get to sleep in a little longer on Saturday?

Remembering PJ discuss how to fix the fish, seeing his discussions also in his posts each week about how to prepare and serve the fish, I'm hoping this is more than just a market.

(My original report on Total Catch).

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chettinad Indian Cuisine

2127 Hwy 90-A, Missouri City


 I was really excited to spot this restaurant on the eastern outskirts of old downtown Stafford and astounded to discover it’s been in business for 2 years now.  It’s another restaurant offering a regional cuisine; there are dishes from all over India but there is a slight emphasis on dishes from the Spice Coast state of Kerala and the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu; the chef is from Kerala.  Chettinad cuisine is said by the Wikioracle to be among the spiciest and most aromatic of the regional cuisines of India and that was certainly true of the one Chettinad dish I’d encountered before (at Sankalp in Sugar Land).  Chettiars are meat eaters and there are comparatively fewer vegetarian options than on many Indian restaurant menus, perhaps, but Chettiars do not eat beef or pork and there are no offerings of those meats.  Chicken, lamb, mutton (which here always means goat) and fish are the meats.

The restaurant seats only about 30 and while by no means posh is not a dive, either.  Tues thru Sat there is a lunch buffet ($7.99) from 11:30 to 3.  There are also lunch boxes to go for even less.  On Sunday it’s called brunch, the price jumps to $10.99 with about half again as many items from which to choose.  You get fresh butter naan to accompany the meal.  The advantage of the buffet is the ability to choose different items to sample and the availability of dishes not on the a la carte menu.  Plates are slightly over-sized and items are clearly identified so you know what you’re getting.  The disadvantage, particularly if you like spicy food, is that everything is very mildly seasoned.  Some dishes are just fine that way (and meant to be consumed that way).  In the evening (4:30 to 9 pm, Tues-Sun), the kitchen will adjust the heat level to your preference.  Prices are modest and portions are very large; one entree might easily serve 2, but you get only pappad, chutneys and rice or naan with an entree, everything else is extra.

I’ve tried both the buffet and a la carte service and much prefer to go in the evening.  The best dishes I’ve had have included the Chettinad Vegetables, mixed vegetables in a curry with black pepper and roasted coconut and star anise, Chettinad Chicken, listed as ‘HOT’ on the menu but not as hot as the vegetables to my palate, and the Calamari Kochin, calamari rings battered and fried and served in a dry curry with onions, peppers, tomatoes and the occasional red chilli pepper pod.  This appetizer was large enough to be an entree for me. The mint-coriander-chilli pepper chutney is particularly zesty and good; the date-tamarind chutney has little bits of the fruit.

Off the buffets I did enjoy Tandoori Mushrooms (also available on the regular appetizer menu), coconut jamon, egg roast and kappa, both the latter dishes from Kerala.  Dishes I’ve been disappointed with off the buffet included the Mutton Chettinad, Chilly Fish, and Kerala Fish Curry.  I thought surely the mutton was supposed to be served spicy but it’s not listed as a ‘HOT’ dish on the a la carte menu.  If I ordered it off the menu I would ask for more heat.  The Kerala style Fish curry was no where near as sour or spicy as I’ve had it and come to love at other restaurants in Stafford (now 4 of them) catering to the ex-pat community from Kerala but that might just be because it was on the buffet.  Dishes I didn’t have room to sample off the buffet included Mutton Sagwala (goat and spinach), Paneer Korma, and Fried Rice.

The hottest things on the menu are a couple of vindaloos; the manager said the mutton (goat) curries are hottest.

I ventured away from the Chettinad specialties on one visit and tried the Balti Gosh, lamb with mushrooms and other vegetables.  I had read of Balti style dishes but never had one, am not even sure I’ve ever seen any on a menu of a Houston restaurant, and so I wanted to try it.  Balti style either originated in Pakistan or Birmingham, England, among Pakistani expats, it seems.  The dish is not listed as spicy on the menu but I asked for it to be ‘HOT’ and was rewarded for my troubles with bits and pieces of bright green chilli pepper pods throughout the dish and it was the spiciest thing I’ve had.  This is a good thing, of course, but I found myself missing the presence of black pepper which seems to be one of the defining characteristics of Chettinad dishes and the curry was definitely heavier.

As far as the spicy and aromatic nature of Chettinad cuisine proclaimed by Wiki, I’ve found the food here not particularly aromatic and I went looking for more oracular pronouncements online.  I found discussions suggesting that characterization is largely the result of restauranteurs attempting to create a buzz about their restaurants when Chettinad themed restaurants first started appearing across India only about twenty years ago and is not necessarily true.  It seems Chettiars may actually prefer more subtle seasoning and many dishes are not meant to be spicy.  Whatever; the food here is good and this little restaurant has been growing on me with each visit.

Chettinad Indian Cuisine

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Restaurants on the (Southwest Houston) Horizon UPDATED AGAIN

There's a couple of new restaurants opening soon on the SW side that I'm looking forward to, especially since I like my veggies.

Maharaja Bhog, an Indian vegetarian buffet, is going into a space next to Peking Cuisine on the SW Fwy at Gessner.  It's a chain restaurant out of India with only three other locations in the world, two in Mumbai and one in, this one within walking distance of my home.  From my experience with Sankalp in Sugar Land last year, I have high hopes for it even though it's a chain.

UPDATE 7/29/12 - Maharaja Bhog is now open for business.

And Yelp, b-4, and Facebook all have listings for Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar opening soon at 6800 SW Fwy, just south of Hillcroft (although for some reason, currently, Yelp locates the SW Fwy on the SE side, by Gulfgate).  This will bring to five our number of full service Ethiopian restaurants and presumably won't be totally vegetarian.

UPDATE 8/5/12 - CORRECTION!!!!  Lucy is now open for business.  (The For Lease sign I saw is for another space in the building).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bare Bowls Kitchen

Currently at the University of Houston, University Center

I really like Chef James Ashley’s philosophy on his truck: simple, local, farm fresh.  There’s more on the website but what caught my attention was the explanation of simple:  "Simple ingredients, simply prepared, enhanced by natural herbs and spices we make ourselves."  So much of what I encounter these days is overwrought, too much emphasis on the sizzle rather than the steak, for my taste, and I really looked forward to trying the fare on the Bare Bowls truck.

I caught up with them at the MFA,H, a great place to catch some of Houston’s finest food trucks every day for lunch.  I had my taste buds set on The Moroccan listed on the online menu but it wasn’t available that day so I opted for the Texan Vegan because I do love my veggies: mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, spinach, summer squash and zucchini on a bed of plump, golden lentils.   I was not disappointed.  The bowl (biodegradable) was brimming with flavorful veggies, nicely seasoned, perfectly crisp/tender.  My only disappointment was that all the seasoning was toward the top and by the time I got down toward the bottom, it was pretty much unseasoned lentils and nothing else and rather boring.  I’ll have to remember to stir next time before digging in, I guess. 

I’ll be looking forward to more visits but that will be a problem for quite some time to come.  Bare Bowls has signed up to fill in at the University of Houston for lunch service while the University Center is undergoing remodeling.  Some very bright mind at UH arranged for several of Houston’s food trucks to make daily appearances on campus in the interim which is all well and fine for students, of course, but not such good news for the rest of us.  I’ll just have to bide my time I guess.

Bare Bowls Kitchen                  Twitter           Campus Dish @ UH

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


From the owners of Bistro Provence

 When I first moved to Houston I lived just a block and half from Ari’s Grenouille, a French sidewalk café at Westheimer and Mandell.  The aromas wafting out of that kitchen over the intersection and the whole neighborhood at times were irresistible and I became a regular.  Over the years I lived there I consumed mass quantities of snails, frog legs and wine but I eventually moved away (and Ari’s has long since shuttered).

In the years since I have made occasional visits to the French Riviera Bakery on Chimney Rock, French Gourmet Bakery on Westheimer, Le Madeleine, and, in recent years, Melange Creperie, but I have otherwise not ventured into a French restaurant and it was only with modest interest that I saw the news that we were getting a food truck that would serve French food.  An early menu posted online included gazpacho; that got my interest up a bit.  In the summertime, gazpacho is a major food group around my house and I thought that would be a good time to check them out.  Then they tweeted about adding a pulled pork Provencal sandwich to the menu and I decided the time had come.

Though I went just to try the pulled pork, once I saw the menu I wanted ‘one of each’  and this has been a common theme every time I catch up with them.  The smartly attired crew, which includes Bistro Provence owner Jean-Phillippe Guy doing the cooking,  in their green smocks and jaunty Alpine fedoras, worked quickly and turned out the sandwich in no time.  It was simply dressed on an incredible crusty and chewy Slow Dough baguette and was great.  I couldn’t possibly have handled any thing else on the menu that day and that’s a bit of a shame since the menu changes and some of those items have not made another appearance.  Regulars on the menu include the Escargot Poppers and frites; there is usually also a soup and a dessert and at least one sandwich..

I’ve enjoyed one of the Texas Goat Cheese quiches which was wonderfully creamy and savory.  The quiches have come with either salmon or maple smoked bacon.  I also tried Le Poulet a la Estragon, a chicken stew with carrots, rice, white wine and tarragon with a very generous portion of chicken and my only regret each time was that I couldn’t eat more off the menu that day. 

The poppers are dusted with almond flour, deep fried and served with a hot sauce so I understand.  I have a feeling they’re going to be rather addictive.

Initially they were tacking taxes onto the listed prices but they’ve since adopted the practice of all the other food trucks and include taxes in the price, which have crept up correspondingly.  The website lists their appearances for the week and also the updated menu but you also need to follow them on Twitter, of course, to keep up with the inevitable delays or cancellations because of the weather or equipment.  I’m very grateful they’re regularly scheduling stops outside the Loop.

Since I’m not much of a Francophile as I say, it is a bit odd that two of my favorite street food venders are French: this truck and Melange Creperie.

L'es-Car-Go         Twitter       Bistro Provence

Friday, May 18, 2012

Notes on some Texas sausages


EJ’s Meat Company, Shiner

For several years I’ve been hearing about the fried chicken at Brookshire Brothers grocery stores and had a chance to check it out recently, twice, in fact, at the Katy and Columbus stores.  Whenever I visit a new grocery store I like to take a tour to see what they have I’ve never seen before and since Brookshire Brothers in based in Lufkin, I was hoping they’d carry some products from East Texas.  In the meat cases I found a good selection of Texas-made sausages, Holmes from Pleak, Eckermann from New Ulm and Prasek’s from Hillje, and one I’d never heard of before, EJ’s from Shiner.  So it seems there are three sausage makers in Shiner (Patek’s and Maeker’s are the others).

I’ve tried all three of the ones I found, a Smoked Pork with Garlic ring, Pork Smokies (with garlic), and Pork, Beef and Jalapeno links (with garlic).  EJ’s has a thing for garlic, it seems, and this is a good thing.  They use a natural sheep casing and the grind is a medium to fine grind, not the coarse grind usually used by Central Texas sausage makers.  My favorite has been the links, pictured above with the smokies.  The links were very juicy and flavorful with lots of both smoke and garlic.  There is only a modest heat level from the jalapeno, however.  Because of the grind they’re very tender, reminding me of the sausages from V & V in Cistern but without the TVP.  The Smokies were actually less smoky  than either the links or the pork/garlic ring.

I have no idea if EJ’s has a store-front in Shiner or makes other varieties as I can’t find much about them online; I’ve only seen them at the Brookshire Brothers in Katy and Columbus.

Oh, and about the fried chicken: I had very different experiences at the two stores I’ve visited.  At the Katy store, the coating on the chicken was incredibly thick and crunchy, to the point of being hard.  I’m sure that’s the only time I’ve ever been prompted to wonder if I was damaging the enamel on my teeth by eating fried chicken.  Unfortunately the thick batter picked up a lot of grease, too, and I found the leftover pieces from the refrigerator unpalatable without removing the skin.

 I think my sample may have been an aberration, however, because what I got from the Columbus store was much better, not anywhere near as thick a coating nor as hard.  This is very good fried chicken, very, very juicy and flavorful.  The white meat pieces are humongous; one breast from the Katy store must have been at least 7" from end to end.  The dark meat pieces (pictured are 2 thighs and a drumstick) are a more modest size.

Brookshire Brothers is located in small towns throughout East Texas.

Update on Pyburn’s Food Market.

I’m happy to report the Pyburn’s on South Fondren is flourishing.  Every time I go by or stop in they’re doing a good business.  I get their weekly flyer now and I find myself shopping there more often than I anticipated.  Even better news is  the product line has been filling out very interestingly with sausages from some Central Texas sausage makers I did not know had any distribution in Houston.  Near the checkout counters in the front is a rack of jerky from Janak's in Hallettsville, a Czech sausage maker.  In the packaged meat cases besides Holmes and Chappell Hill and Eddy’s from Yoakum there is a small selection of Janak products including summer sausage and dry sausage.  There are also some sausages from Big Easy Foods of Lafayette that I haven’t tried. 

In the fresh meat cases, in addition to all the varieties of sausages and boudin that Pyburn’s makes (my favorite so far is the Cajun variety, an unspicy version of the Creole sausage) there are a few selections of fresh sausages from City Market in Schulenburg; I’ve picked up some of the venison links.  Actually I had to ask to be sure since the hand-lettered sign appeared to read Schwenburg.  There are also some hot links that may or may not be a Pyburn’s product; I haven’t seen nor asked about the famous Schulenburg wieners so I don’t know if they carry those.

In the freezer cases are a few of the frozen entrees from Big Easy Foods, frozen crawfish tails marked as being a product of Louisiana, not China, and frozen rabbit, duck, and quail plus huge baking hens.

The hot foods deli at the front of the store is in operation.  It’s called Kim’s Deli.  I’ve seen fried chicken and fish, sausage on a stick, boudin balls, fried potato and sweet potato wedges, empanadas of some sort and what look like a couple of caldos.  I haven’t tried anything.

See my original report on Pyburn’s here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lunch at The Center

8313 Southwest Freeway

I don’t follow the food trucks as much as I did a year and a half ago.  It was brand new, cutting edge back then but the excitement and newness has worn off for me as it’s become a very trendy thing to do.  The repetitive drive into the Hallowed Heights or Montrose, coupled with the occasional disappointing offering, has made me cut back quite a bit.

Fortunately, someone at this complex of buildings between Beechnut and Gessner on 59 has been arranging to have some of the trucks put in lunch time appearances and I’ve caught up with a couple I’ve been wanting to try just a few blocks from home.  The address given isn’t even visible from the Freeway or frontage road but actually faces a side street called Tybor.  Once you find it there’s plenty of parking and even a few trees to provide some shade.


This is a new Houston unit of a popular Austin truck offering ‘Mexican Cuisine with Korean in the Middle’ and they made some of their very first stops in Houston at The Center.  The Coreanos in Austin was recently named one of the best 10 food trucks in the nation by the Smithsonian.  What?  Really?  The Smithsonian actually sent out tasters to dozens of cities and sampled hundreds of trucks?  Yeah, right.  Okay, not to take anything away from these guys, because the food is good, but they got extra points just because they were in Austin, let’s face it.

 I went for a special on my first visit, Three Wise Fries.  This is pork belly (on the left), marinated chicken (in the center) and beef short rib (on the right), on a bed of fries with cheese, onions, cilantro and their El Scorcho sauce.  I managed to extract a couple of the fries sans any condiments and they were quite satisfactory; the pork belly was a bit overdone but otherwise this was quite a feast.

I went for something simpler the second time I caught up with them since I could do without the fries even though they were quite good - a couple of the regular tacos, one with the marinated beef short rib, which had been my choice for best of the Three Wise Fries combo, with a Korean slaw with a sweet sesame dressing, and a marinated chicken taco with cheese and El Scorcho sauce.  This time it was the short ribs turn to be a little overdone and the chicken really shone.  I remember the Asian Slaw on Fusion Taco’s tacos as better than this but that Houston food truck pioneer has apparently pulled off the road and parked it.  I do recommend the El Scorcho sauce on everything but it isn’t really all that hot.  Are Austininnies a little wimpy when it comes to hot sauces?  Guys, you can turn it up here in Houston.

KurbSide Eatz

This is another one of the very new trucks offering Asian fusion fare I was really happy to have a chance to sample.  I only managed to catch up to them once but will look forward to trying some of their other offerings in the future.

I went for their Philly Cheesesteak egg rolls - couldn’t help myself, had to check it out.  There aren’t any good Phillys on this side of town and it’s been a long time since I’ve had one so a craving instantaneously set in.  Beautiful to behold they were not as impressive taste-wise, unfortunately, and left me wanting to know what these guys could do with a more traditional egg roll and wondering if I’m ever going to find a good Philly on this side of town.

My disappointment over the egg rolls however was more than compensated for by the Braised Pork Belly Bun, served in a lightly fried bun with cilantro, green onions and fried onions.  The lightly fried bun was a very nice finishing touch to a very good slider sized sandwich

There have been other trucks make the harrowing trek outside the Loop without falling off the edge of the earth but I haven’t caught up with any of them yet.  There haven’t been any for a couple of weeks so I hope the program hasn’t ended.  I’ve seen on Twitter recently where some of the trucks have been putting in appearances way out on 290 and I think that’s a very positive development on the food truck scene, letting people outside of just a few neighborhoods experience how good the food can be. 

The crews on both these trucks were super nice and I appreciate not only their coming out but also whoever at The Center has been arranging these appearances.  I’m hoping more food trucks will make the trek out on the southwest side in the future, if not to the Center to some other venue, some of my favorites like Bernie’s, Good Dog, OMPP, HtownStreats?  I guess I’m already too late to get something from Htown before their endearing paint job is destroyed in the name of commercialism but I’d still like to see them.  Let me add to my wish list some of the new ones I’m really wanting to try - Happy Endings and one that only hits the streets this week, the Sirena Seafood Truck (a mermaid roams the streets of Houston). 

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines and come on down.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

M & M Grill

6921 Almeda Rd.

I used to like to brag about the unique TexChick, the little Puertorrican restaurant in Montrose. It was, I would tell out-of-towners, probably the only place in the world where you could get a chicken fried steak, and a very good one, with a side of mofongo, or an order of bacalao with a side of crispy, golden onion rings. The couple who took over the neighborhood hamburger joint in the 1980s wisely kept not only the name but the American food menu to hold on to what customer base they had, just in case their Puertorrican fare did not go over well.

The couple has since retired and the restaurant is in the hands of descendants and I haven’t been in several years and I don’t know if the dual menus are still available but I’ve since learned there are many other examples in our city of restaurants that feature dishes from more than one cuisine and do a good job of them. We’re not talking fusion here, we’re talking distinctive dishes from more than one cuisine. There’s Hoagie’s and More on Bissonnet, a shop offering pho, banh mi and pupusas and many a Mexican or Central American panaderia offering donuts and kolaches along side the churros and pan dulces. And there is M & M where the two Ms stand for Mexican and Mediterranean, where the appetizer menu offers chile con queso, chips and salsa and guacamole plus hummus, falafel and foul. You can have tacos, enchiladas, chimichangas and fajitas or shish kabob, kafta, or shawarma brought to your table by servers several of whom must surely be someone’s Lebanese or perhaps Saudi mothers or grandmothers.

My first visit was on the day the Texans made their debut in post season play. The tiny restaurant (with very tiny parking lot) was jammed with people wearing Texans jerseys plus one guy in a # 34 in Columbia Blue and every customer was getting a complimentary slice of Go Texans cake, a Texas sheet cake decorated with Texan’s colors and logo. This seems to be a very popular place to grab a bite before a game. After scarfing down the freebie, I went with an order of foul.

I didn’t even know this dish existed a couple of years ago and now I seem to see it on menus everywhere and I’ve come to treasure it as comfort food, just like the Pharaohs supposedly did. This version was described as a salad on the menu and I’ve had it presented such that it looked just like refritos or like Texas Caviar with fava beans instead of black-eyed peas but this was really a warm soup and so good. The fava beans, mostly still whole, had been dressed with lots of lemon juice, olive oil and tahini with diced tomatoes, and minced, still crisp bits of onion and parsley, accompanied by a very large, warm, thin and pliable pita. On top of the sugar bomb of the thickly iced cake it was all I could handle though I did look longingly at many of the other dishes being brought out and couldn’t help but notice the most often served items seemed to be burgers.

Yes, they ought to add another letter to the name, A to stand for American (or another M to stand for aMerican?), for besides the burgers - there are twelve listed - there are also wings, fries and onion rings and a Philly.

On my second visit I gave into my curiosity and went for a burger, but not the Swiss Mushroom or Mango Habanero, I chose the Kafta Burger, 2 kafta skewers on a bun with mayo, tahini, just a drizzle of mustard, plus lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion. The two kabobs, about 4 oz. each, were grilled with some nice charring, the minced beef mixed with minced onion and herbs retained a lot of its moistness and the burger was very juicy. I worried that it would fall apart and it did, one of the loosely packed kabobs breaking up after a couple of bites. I also worried that the bun would disintegrate from all the juices and condiments but it didn’t. It was a very sturdy though only store-bought bun and held up through out instead of becoming a soggy mess between my fingers.

The fries, of the frozen, crinkle-cut variety, though looking well-seasoned were in need of salt and were undercooked, lacking any crispness on the exterior and mushy on the inside.

I seem to be regularly reminding readers of some of my tried (or trite) and true conclusions in recent reports so here’s another one: if this was in my neighborhood, I’m sure I’d be a regular. I don’t roam all over the city as much as I used to a couple of years ago but I’m happy to keep finding little neighborhood places like this with good food that I wish were more convenient to me. This is a little far away from where I live to be a regular haunt and isn't destination dining, but if you’re in the Med Center/Reliant Park area, needing a nosh and prone to avoid the Usual Suspects, national and local, and particularly if you like friendly, family run places with good, unpretentious food, you should give this place a try. There are many items on the menu to try and I haven't sampled any of the Mexican items.

Most of the parking is out back and requires negotiating a narrow alley frequently lined with cars. A small mosque next door also has a tiny parking lot and when prayers are underway, the shoulders on both sides of Almeda are lined with vehicles.

Try to remember to check out the specials listed on an erasable board sometimes on the counter, sometimes just inside the door. I’ve missed it a couple of times until after I’ve ordered and am sitting down or I’m leaving. I don't remember the exact name they had but on that first visit it was something like a Whoopass Bengalese Burger while on a recent visit I learned on the way out I could have had Kabsa and Chicken. Kabsa is usually considered a Saudi dish though it is served in several Arab countries and is similar to biryiani.

Edit to add:  Since posting this I have learned there is a community of Gulf immigrants including Kuwaiti, Saudi and Yemeni in the area south of the Medical Center, the neighborhood where M & M is located. I understand on weekends it is common for the restaurant to have a daily special of a Saudi dish.

M & M Grill
on Facebook

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Broussard's Links + Ribs + Bar-B-Q

8420 S. Sam Houston Pkwy W, @ Fondren

I first came across Broussard’s several months ago. It was a Sunday and they were closed but I noted it was a new strip center and there was no wood pile out back - not promising signs for good barbecue. I jotted it down on my list of places to check out but it wasn’t high on the list. Please feel free to insert some weighty thoughts about book covers, etc., here.

When I got around to looking into it, I discovered it’s a brand new Houston outpost of a long-time Beaumont institution, offering a unique take on links apparently known only in the Beaumont area. Their hand-packed links are a variation on what Robb Walsh in his barbecue Legends cookbook called the Southern Black/Urban Black style of sausage, fine ground beef only with simple seasonings such as red and black pepper and salt. But whereas most of those are wrapped in synthetic casings, Broussard’s are wrapped in a very thick natural casing and seem to be lacking in the red pepper element. Because they’re hand stuffed, they’re also much more loosely textured. And they’re just links, not hot links.

On my first visit I had to try the house specialty. The casing is very tough; it was a struggle to cut through it with a plastic knife. You eat these by scraping or squeezing out the meat and spreading it on bread (provided) or crackers or whatever. I found myself unceremoniously picking up the casing and scraping it with my teeth to get the last bits. I’ve only experienced one example of these types of sausages that I liked before, being enough of a barbecue snob to overwhelmingly prefer the Central Texas, coarse ground, natural casing varieties, but I liked these. The uncomplicated sauce is mildly sweet, very mildly hot; it was perhaps essential for the enjoyment of the meat. The potato salad was, I think, homemade with just a hint of mustard. I found the Rice Dressing, however, disappointingly lacking in spice and seasoning.

Intrigued, I just had to try the ribs (note the order their offerings are listed). Now I guess these ribs are not going to win any awards at the barbecue competitions, either, but I will have to admit to the heresy of liking them, too. Tender almost to the point of falling apart - almost - slathered in sauce, characteristics a barbecue snob should detest, There were melt-in-your-mouth fatty bites and some chewy, burnt bits; damning the calorie count and the cholesterol, I gobbled them all up. The potato salad lived up to expectations from my previous experience but the green beans, a soul food style cooked way past the point of crispness or snap, with bits of onion in a thin, very salty broth, could’ve used a more flavoring from some bacon or the like.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Doreck and Sons Packing Co.

4101 FM 646 N, Santa Fe

For several years before I made the decision to do a blog I had been very much into barbecue, burgers, and Texas-made sausages and The Texas Sausage Trail was one of the first categories I established on this blog. But there are unforeseen twists and turns in life and the blog has become more focused on ethnic and neighborhood eats in Houston. I’ve only been up to Austin and Central Texas once in the past 3 years and I didn’t stop at any of the barbecue emporiums or smokehouses or butcher shops along the way on that trip. But it was about 3 years ago that I happened upon this place while researching another project down in the Santa Fe area.

It was a nasty day; the parking lot was full of mud-splattered vehicles of the 4WD and dually variety. Inside, coolers were stacked all over the place, bearing the names of the hunters whose bounty was inside.

When I finally found the meat cases there was only one variety of sausage, a pork and beef jalapeno sausage (they make other varieties I understand) so I grabbed a package and got back to work. Back home, I tossed the package in my freezer in a section devoted to sausages I’d collected on previous trips around the state.

It was only recently that I came across the package again and heated some up. To be honest my expectations weren’t too high for an unheralded sausage maker from Santa Fe. I had looked for something online back then and found nothing (there are a few brief mentions now). I was down to the last of the link before I remembered to take a picture and the little piece I had left is lost in the bun from Three Brothers. The first thing I had noticed was the rather larger pieces of jalapeno, confirmed by a more pronounced taste of jalapeno than one usually finds in jalapeno sausages, but it had only a modest amount of heat. It’s a medium-coarse grind, densely packed sausage; I hardly detected any smokiness; it might benefit from finishing off in a smoker rather than stove top as I did. However I was pleasantly surprised by this sausage and next time I get back down there I intend to check them out for some other varieties.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pollos y Tacos La Bala

S. Post Oak @ Willow

Or is the name of this trailer Gorditas y Tacos La Bala? That's what it says on the sign on the fence.

I’d seen an older truck with the La Bala name on it at this location many times but never stopped. The very new looking wagon, a line of customers, and the fact my first choice for lunch one day was closed, persuaded me to give it a try. I’d wondered if the truck had any connection to Tacos La Bala (Bellaire, Beechnut, Dashwood) and I noted machacado on the breakfast menu and desebrada and cochinita pibil for tacos, gorditas, tortas, etc., items that are not very common on taqueria or lonchera menus, and there is the Torta de la Barda, too. I’ve had the machacado and desebrada at the La Bala taquerias and I was persuaded this must be a mobile unit by the same folks.

One of the phrases I have used repeatedly on the blog is something like ‘I burned out on such and such’ and it applies here. I burned out on loncheras over a year ago and I don’t think I’ve stopped at more than one or two since then. There seem to be a lot fewer of them around my part of town than there were a couple of years ago. This turned out to be an auspicious re-acquaintance opportunity - the food was very good, perhaps the best I’ve ever had from a lonchera on the Southwest side.

I went with desebrada, one of my favorite meats, and pastor. The desebrada was better than I’d had at the taqueria on Bellaire, the pastor better than what I had at the location on Beechnut. It was the juiciest and most flavorful pastor I’ve had since my last visit to Karanchoe’s over a year ago with tender meat and fatty pieces, not a dried up or overcooked morsel among them. I squeezed both of the impressive salsas on the tray rather than on the tacos so I could get a better picture of the taco meats then decided I didn’t need the sauces at all.

I got home and looked up the comments online about the taquerias and was reminded their cochinita pibil is highly acclaimed. Then I realized that for some reason I’d never gotten around to trying the cochinita pibil at the taquerias, a bit strange since I’m sure it’s what first persuaded me to put them on my list of places to try. So I went back the next day and tried that and the nopales. The pibil is fully worthy of all the praise and I’m kicking myself for never having tried it before. For many years, this was my favorite Mexican dish and there are only a couple of other versions around that I like. It's good to know there's a purveyor so close to home. I got this order to go and unfortunately the taco de nopales suffered from being wrapped up in foil for the trip home, the cactus becoming unappealingly limp verging on mushy.

It’s a bit of a sketchy neighborhood; the parking lot/driveway for the convenience store/gas station is frequently packed and parking can be a hassle. Tacos on maiz are $1.50, for flour, $1.75 - have prices at loncheras gone up? Is that the new standard price? If not, this place is a bit more expensive, but worth it. Lengua and tripa are a bit more expensive than the other meat choices but the pollo asado offerings, which I have not tried, are less pricy than other pollo asado wagons.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kerala Kitchen

732 Murphy Rd. (FM 1092), Stafford


Kerala Kitchen has been around for some years I guess. It’s mostly a catering operation but they sell OTC by the pound whatever they have cooking and over the months I’ve been going, the in-house eating area has been spiffed up a bit and I’m more likely to see someone having a meal on premises, typically a thali. Still, dining accommodations are rudimentary.

Like Mahima Indian Bistro down the road a couple of miles, Kerala Kitchen features the unique dishes of Kerala like Steak Fry, Pork Fry, Fish Fry, Kerala style curries and biryanis, aviyal, thoran and others, plus dishes like Chilli Chicken and Chicken 65.

My first visit over a year ago was almost my last and I almost left empty-handed. I was walking out in frustration, never having seen another soul after standing at the counter for 10 minutes, when another customer came in and showed me how it worked - he yelled at the top of his lungs to get the attention of the crew in the back. Since then, a bell has been placed on the counter that you can ring. The menu is limited - there’s an erasable board on the wall listing the dishes but not all of them may be available, about a dozen in toto, some vegetarian, some non-vegetarian, and some biryanis. The menu does change.

On that first visit I walked out with a pound of Chicken Curry for $6 as I recall. I was just relieved to have gotten anything at all for my time but my mood brightened considerably when I tasted it as it was very good. In fact, I was moved to compare it to my first meal at Himalaya or the first time I tried the Beef Nihari at Sabri Nihari. Pretty impressive company and I knew I had to go back to check my impression despite the awkwardness of the ordering routine, but that was about when I was burning out on Indian food and it was a long time before I returned..

I’ve also had the Butter Chicken, taking something of a chance because it’s a dish I haven’t found to be very satisfying the few times I’ve had it before, I’ve found it too rich from the butter for my taste or terribly bland but this version redeemed the dish. It’s the best I’ve had of my limited samples.

One time the Mutton Stew caught my eye on the menu board. They warned me they only had about a half a pound left but I thought that would be enough for me and I wasn’t deterred. When I first opened up the container I thought perhaps my order had been mixed up with another until I looked it up online at found that Mutton Stew in Kerala is made with coconut milk. It also included potatoes, carrots, ginger, curry leaves and other spices. Being the last of the batch, there were only a few small bites of meat but this too was very impressive and I’m hoping to be able to try it again.

I’ve also had the Moru Curry and a pork dish. Moru means buttermilk and online references to this dish refer to it as a buttermilk curry but both here and at Mahima, where it is also offered, it is explained as a yogurt curry. The difference may stem from awareness of the difference between buttermilk as the term is used in India and what we refer to as buttermilk in the USA. In India, buttermilk is the liquid left over after butter is churned from yogurt - yes, I wrote that correctly, butter is churned from yogurt. As I recall being told, it’s a little thinner than whole milk. That differs a lot from the cultured buttermilk that we are familiar with here. Actually, I’m also told few places churn their own butter anymore and buttermilk often is just watered down yogurt. I used it over some rice I heated up at home, as had been suggested by another customer, and then tried to find other uses for it besides just gulping it (I got about a quart for $3). Corn flakes and curry, anyone? I didn’t try it, but I thought about it.

The menu offered either Pork Fry or Curry, I don’t remember which, but the man who waited on me said it was the other dish, not the one listed. By the time I got home, I couldn’t remember which was which so I’m not sure what I got. Curries in Kerala are typically rather dry, like Malaysian curries, and in my experience the Fry dishes are even drier. There is a difference in preparation and some differences in spices used, etc., but I’m not familiar enough with the dishes yet to decipher which one this was. I thought it was the least impressive dish I had gotten until I got around to reheating the leftovers and I liked it a lot more.

As I have experienced at other Indian restaurants and grocery stores, other customers can be very helpful and courteous and I’ve had some very good conversations with others waiting for food. One time there was a guy from the North Shore area who said there is no place offering the foods of the Subcontinent on the far east side and he can only go so long on burgers, pizza, bbq, and Tex Mex before he has to have some of the tastes of his homeland. He is not from Kerala but he drives all the way over, bypassing the Mahatma Gandhi district and the cluster of Indo-Pak restaurants around W. Bellfort, Wilcrest and 59, down to Stafford to this place to load up. He had to make a couple of trips to his car to carry out his haul, several trays of probably about 5 pounds each. I wish I had thought to ask him what he thought was worth driving all that way for.

According to the sign on the door, they’re open seven days a week until 8 pm.

All dishes are shown as plated at home; I've gotten take-out everytime.