Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pyburn's Food Market

12675 Fondren (2 blocks north of S. Main)

My family's route into the big city when I was growing up in Brazoria Co. was right up the old 288 which became Almeda Rd. and would take you right downtown. We must have passed the original Pyburn's in Almeda hundreds if not thousands of times. I seem to remember it was usually busy but we never had any reason to stop. So it was news to me when I read in the Press a year ago that they were noted for their boudin and dirty rice and I made a note to stop in sometime. Perhaps I'd make a nostalgia trip down the old highway some day (now known as FM 521 which actually was the original designation going back to the 1930s, I think).

Now I don't have to. The grocery store has come to me, or, at least, my part of town. This new location of Pyburn's has only been open a short time. I seldom go down that far on Fondren but had seen some work underway recently on the building which previously was a short lived independent meat market. It's not close enough to me to be my regular neighborhood grocery but it's a heckuva lot closer than Almeda Rd.

It has quickly become popular and has been doing a good business when I've been by or stopped in, partly due to the lack of any viable competition for quite some distance no doubt, but it's a nice, clean and well lit facility, more like a small grocery store of decades ago or the Pantry stores that HEB built when it first came to town - there are somewhat narrower aisles and taller shelving. The staff I have encountered is very friendly and helpful. The meat department is a standout section with butchers at the ready and it has a complete line-up of the home store's noteworthy boudin, dirty rice and other sausages. The boudin is predominantly rice but also includes chicken liver and gizzards, yellow and green onion, pork, bell pepper, parsley, garlic and black and red pepper. The natural casing crisps up and has a nice snap to it when roasted or smoked. It's a firm boudin, not one that dissolves into a soup when cooked. I'll be tossing several links of the mild on the smoker in a while; I'm headed to a potluck get-together this evening and I'll be fishing for copious compliments.

There's an in-store hot-foods deli due to be operational in a few weeks. I don't know what kind of foods they'll be offering but I'm looking forward to finding out what else comes out of Pyburn's kitchen.

UPDATE:  See an update on Pyburn's as part of this post.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Arepas y Empanadas Dona Maria

1315 E. 1st Street (aka FM 1960B East), Humble

I first encountered this place just over 5 years ago. While tending to some business in Humble I happened across the trailer in the driveway of a large convenience store/gas station and pulled in. As I recall I wasn't even aware it was Venezuelan until I got within reading distance of the menu.

I was very impressed with the freshly fried, beautifully golden empanadas. It was my first experience with Venezuelan food and it was something of a revelation to encounter these little fried pies made with a corn instead of wheat based dough. I've also come to appreciate the fact they were freshly prepared as most Venezuelan (and Colombian) places prepare these in advance and keep them under heat lamps.

I stopped by a couple of times that week but have never had reason to go back to Humble until last month, when I thought I'd pick up an hallaca for my hallacas report. I wasn't that surprised to find that the cart was no longer there and mentioned in my report that it seemed to have gone out of business. I hadn't been worried because I thought a trip to Humble would be a good scouting trip anyway and I drove around all over downtown Humble hoping to spot it or a brick and mortar replacement, but to no avail.

After I posted that report I received a tip by email that there is a brick and mortar replacement and even a listing on Yelp! and, of all places, b4-u-eat.com. Sometimes I forget to check in the most obvious places. Still hoping to nab an hallaca or two I made a second trip to Humble and discovered I had passed right by the place and missed it, partly because the strip center it's located in doesn't face 1st Street but rather a small side street/driveway that's named Artesian Place, and it's rather far back from 1st Street. If I had been looking for a flag rather than a trailer or restaurant, I might have noticed the Venezuelan flag planted at the corner and flapping in the breeze but I didn't. (BTW, I've also received a tip there's a Puerto Rican place in Humble - there's a Puertorrican flag on the banner - and I spotted a big Indo/Pak grocery store. Who knew Humble was such an international city?)

I arrived too late for this year's supply of hallacas but I tried the other Venezuelan treat that's become a favorite, the Patacone, a sandwich which substitutes mashed, fried plantain slices for bread. This is the version with chicken, Patacon de Pollo, as they were out of the Carne Mechada. I wish they had had the beef so I could make a more direct comparison to all the others I've had but I have to say I really liked this with it's very thin plantain that was as crispy as kettle potato chips and seemed to soak up less grease that the much thicker slices I've encountered everywhere else.

I was presented with four sauces - I think these are all considered variations of guasacaca. What's a poor, non-Venezuelan boy to do? I had no idea which one would be best so I used all four, making for a wonderfully, wonderfully messy and tasty sandwich (the basic ingredients include cheese, ketchup and mayo).

The menu includes the usual arepas, cachapas, tequenos, empanadas and pastelitos plus Pabellon Criollo and Hervido de Res con Arepa (beef soup). Patacones are available with beef, chicken, pernil and queso de mano. There are hamburgers made with beef or chicken available with egg and avocado added plus Pepitos which are Venezuelan versions of po'boys dressed with cabbage, parmesan cheese and potato sticks. There are also tacos, tortas, burritos and pupusas. The restaurant is open Monday thru Saturday, 7a - 7p.

Dona Maria is already at the top of my list for my hallacas roundup next year and I hope to find an excuse to make the trip to Humble again before then to try some of the other items on the menu.