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.