Tag Archives: southern

Haven

Its Christmas in Houston! Other people know it as Restaurant Week, now Restaurant WeekS, IMG_1334considering the event runs  from August 1 through Labour Day weekend. Every city has them  and for me its always a good way to try some new venues or to revisit some past favourites.

Today we did some revisiting. Haven was the IT restaurant a few years back and we were curious if the new-Southern localvore favourite had retained their across-board excellence previously making it one of the most popular dining destinations in Houston. Short answer – yes.

Atmosphere
Haven is one big open area; glass-steel-hardwood modern but with a softer, more in-home feeling. Soundproofing is good, which is critical for maintaining conversation in what could be an acoustical nightmare and the chairs are likely more comfortable that the ones about your dining room table. At lunch the crowd here is almost exclusively Greenway Plaza white collar discussing business. Except for the guy in Wranglers and boots who valet parked his big-ass black-out doolie; it is Houston after all.

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Food
All wins.

Chef takes classic Southern dishes and spins them around until they become dizzy and fall down. Once they regain consciousness they are something new made with local ingredients and arguably, better.

Shrimp Corn Dogs: I don’t have the capacity to remember much about previous dining experiences, hence the blog, however I did remember the one item I consistently order at Haven – Shrimp Corn Dogs. Its exactly what it sounds like – shrimp, butterflied, batter-dipped then fried. Three sticks are served with a Tabasco remoulade and a shot of homemade lemonade. The savory then spicy then sweet taste waves are worth the trip here.

Blackened Catfish on Cheese Grits: Not K-Paul hot but the blackening spices are still warm enough to shine through the creamy base of grits topped with lemon-tinged cheese sauce. Catfish does not have a subtle flavor so despite the other bold flavors in this dish it is still present in the taste spectrum. My favourite at Haven is still the Wild Boar Chili but this is a solid runner up.

Service
Service here is can be spotty in the evening, as the groups become larger and the demands higher, however at lunch it is consistently excellent. Homemade rolls appear instantly on seating. Orders are taken quickly and they seem to appear at lulls in the conversation, just when you want them. I noticed the some of the same servers from my last visit and I believe this set is very good at timing business lunches.

Price
For Restaurant WeekS its $20 for a 2-course lunch and this is a fair deal considering its about a 10-20% discount from the usual lunch prices. Not surprisingly, lunch is a better deal even out of Restaurant WeekS; entrees at dinner are in the $20-$35 range.

Parking
A special note about parking. Algerian Way is now all No Parking. While you could churn butter about Upper Kirby looking for street parking, its probably better just to valet and move on.

Lunch: 13 August 2013

Haven | 2502 Algerian Way | HTX 77098

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Drag Queen Jambalaya

I was late getting to Boheme for drinks with some lesbian friends. I tried to play the “parking was awful” card but it was a half-baked attempt. Truth is, I became obsessed with finding a kitchen gadget on the internet and while my iPhone was frantically beeping to tell me I had something to do, I ignored it. In retrospect, I’m glad, since when I arrived two of the four lesbians were in an awkward argument. It ebbed and flowed for an hour but it never stopped. I gulped down my second Manhattan and pulled out a believable exit line. I don’t know about you but I try to stay clear of arguing lesbians.

On the walk back to my car, parked a zillion miles away since it was Saturday night in the heart of Houston’s gay community on Gay Pride Weekend, I tripped and fell over a bit of uneven sidewalk. Yes, I was looking at my phone and yes, it was my first instinct to protect the phone as I fell, not so much worrying about a sprain or bone breakage. Neither occurred and two drag queens en route did a 1-2 stop to make sure I was OK. As I looked up at the pair, I realized I had never seen powder blue eyelashes with sparkle-tips and blonde hair about 3 feet tall done up B-52’s beehive.

Convinced I was OK, they restarted the arduous process of walking in 10-inch stilettos and pencil skirts. One drag queen stopped under the street light, turned to the other, backed up with hands on hips and said – “You know what, your gonna need some foundation, your face is lookin’ like Jambalaya”.

I completely forgot about the road rash on my forearm.

I suppose all roads lead to food, since the experience reminded me that I haven’t had Jambalaya since Parents lived in New Orleans. Thanks to Breakup Guy, my new slow-cooker focus is still in play so here is my rendition of Jambalaya. It is not the traditional rice-in Creole version, I like rice on the side.

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Meats

  •  1 lb each Andouille Sausage, Chicken Thighs and Shrimp; sausage and chicken sliced, shrimp peeled and deveined.

Vegetables

  • I C each Celery, Onion, Green Bell Pepper; chopped
  • 3 Tins Chopped Tomatoes; drained
  • 5 Fresh Cayenne Peppers; chopped (optional depending on heat tolerance)
  • 1/4 C Parsley; chopped

Spices

  • 1-3 T Cajun Seasoning, like Tony Chachere’s (again, heat tolerance depending)
  • 1 T Dried Oregano
  • 1 t Dried Thyme
  • 1 t Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 C Chicken Stock

Put everything into the slow-cooker except the shrimp and parsley. Set it up for 8 hours on low then get on with other more important things. At hour 7 put in the shrimp and parsley, give it a good stir then come back in an hour when its done.

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Its done! I have a friend raised in New Orleans and he cries “Heresy!” every time I make Jambalaya with rice on the side. Now that I’ve added the Drag Queen descriptor, I’m sure he will be well on his way to an aneurysm.

The Waffle Bus

Food trucks seem to be the new black of trendy cuisine in just about every city I’ve visited recently. Here in Houston there is a food truck festival, where if you are a really hungry average person or just a mildly peckish Texas bubba, you can try 20 or so food trucks in one afternoon. I find food trucks parked at museum and gallery openings; they even show up in swanky neighborhoods as catering service to oil executive’s house parties.

Its completely out of control and I love it.

A dish popped onto my radar last week in conversation with a friend about The Waffle Bus. A dish so Southern it almost begs to be spoken aloud with a exaggerated drawl – Fried Chicken &  Waffles. Go ahead and practice holding the “i” in Fried Chicken until you run out of breath, then you will have the pronunciation down pat.

If everyone would please pull your seats forward, place your tray tables in their upright and locked positions,  prepare the crash cart and call in your Lipitor prescriptions, we will now make our final descent into completely ignoring FDA guidelines for daily intake of saturated fat.

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Atmosphere

Its a food truck so just make your own atmosphere. Today they were parked at Inversion Coffee in the Montrose. At Inversion there is plenty of outdoor seating set back from the main drag and since its in the heart of Montrose, there will always be a good crowd for people watching.

Food

Fantastic. I had the Chicken & Waffle Fryders which is exactly what is sounds like – sliders made IMG_1184from fried chicken and mini waffles. They asked which sauce I wanted and I asked for all of them. The chicken is pounded thin before frying but it was incredibly juicy. And spicy, very spicy, so be careful not to dip into the spicy mayo without testing your heat tolerance first. Of all the sauces (Spicy Mayo, Ancho Honey, Buffalo Ranch and something else I forgot to write down but it tasted like Tobasco), my favourite was the Buffalo Ranch; still flavorful but it worked to balance the heat in the chicken. The waffles are dense; crispy on the out, fluffy on the in. I’m definitely coming back to Waffle Bus again, next time for the Salmon, Cream Cheese and Caper Waffle.

Service

10-15 minute wait for me although I have heard when they park at Rice University it can be upwards of 45 minutes. Happy and efficient staff.

Price

Everything is less than $10; my sliders, which quite frankly were enough on own were $6. I think they prefer cash but there is a iPad on board for credit purchases.

Sure, it doesn’t rank high on the health meter but I had a vegetarian lunch yesterday so the FDA limits on saturated fat can just bugger off today.

Lunch: 30 June 2013

Waffle Bus @ Inversion Coffee | 1953 Montrose Blvd | Houston, TX 77006

Modified Breakup Pork

Breakup Guy is still in no-girl mode and hes on a roll with the slow cooker, this time a dish very clearly showing his Southern roots, Pulled Pork. In between a new self-awareness which included a monlogue-ish questioning of whether or not a relationship was good for him right now, I got the complicated instructions from him on a walk about downtown: 2 pounds pork tenderloin, one bottle of root beer, one bottle of Liquid Smoke, 1 T salt then into the slow cooker on low for 8 hours.

Breakup Guy is entering into what I often see in the 20’s – identity refinement;  separating out the parental upbringing from what he wants to be, taking the bits he wants, leaving the rest behind. Parents have been married for 30 years, all the brothers are married, he was brought up Southern Baptist in Southern Alabama. There is heavy expectation  to “fall in line”, however its a contradiction for him and hes creating his own path to reconcile the discrepancy.

I did the same, I hope it works as well for him.

I attempted Breakup Pork at home last night, assembling the pot at 11p, expecting my pulled pork to be done at 7a. Apparently, my slow cooker and I are going to have a sitdown about working together as a team. This means the slow cooker cannot go off on its own agenda, which, last night,  included turning itself off waay before the end of the 8 hour cook cycle. Pork poisoning was not on my to-do list this weekend, so that lot was chucked into the bin.

Round 2, with the slow cooker brooding in a time-out, I went with an oven method using a quicker-than-normal marinade.

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One adjustment I made was swapping out the Liquid Smoke, it tastes metalish to me so I use a strong brew of Lapsang Souchong Tea. If you don’t know Lapsang, its just a smoked black tea, a strong one. I brew about 8 tea bags to one cup of hot water – poof, Liquid Smoke.

Put the pork tenderloin in a Ziploc with the root beer, tea and salt. Into fridge for 4 hours, drain, then oven-roast at 400 for one hour, flipping once midway.

My oven is gas and I speculate that it cooks a little higher than normal, so the pork had a really good flavor but it was Death Valley dry. I’ll probably need an actual meat thermometer before the next attempt.IMG_1169

I turned them into pork tacos, in memory of my visit to Carnitas Snack Shack in San Diego. A little homemade BBQ sauce, Fontina cheese, some avocado and some itsy-bitsy Turkish peppers. A pretty good overall taste experience!

Ellen’s

Th-upFor years, attempts to revitalize downtown Dallas had failed. Not for lack of trying, rather lack of perspective. The replicazzi mentality copied and pasted successful efforts from the inner city to the suburbs; the results were hit and miss for the suburbs but it completely undermined the success of downtown.

It seems Dallas woke up from its decades-long stupor to realize if it wants to be taken seriously as a major city, it will have to develop its inner city with transportation infrastructure, culture and activities. Poof!, light rail has exploded in all directions out to the massive collection of wonder bread suburbs. Poof!, cultural venues have been erected all over the narrow corridor loosely separating downtown from uptown. Poof!,  now there is a beautiful park over a stretch of downtown freeway, a welcoming transition to downtown.

When good friends told me they had become the principal investors in Ellen’s, a southern kitchen restaurant in downtown’s West End, I had a visceral reaction, not a good one. West End has seen many ups and downs but my previous trip to the area was forgettable; no people, no activity, a bleak wasteland of lovely, historic brick buildings that were wallflowers to the party going on in shiny, happy Uptown. But after a recent trip to support their new business venture, I’m happy to report the West End is in an upswing. It shouldn’t surprise with Dallas’ center of gravity shift toward downtown, it is clearly a destination now.

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Ellen’s offers Southern classics per Chef’s mom, Ellen. Also, they offer breakfast as dinner, which is something I truly enjoy but rarely find in the inner city. They are not participating in the elitist one-up-ism frenzy that has out-priced and killed many a venue in Dallas. They have a niche and they want to stay true to form while being responsive to the wishes of their customers.

Atmosphere

Ellen’s is small, perhaps eight 4-tops inside, a few table outside and space for 6 at the bar. As such its cozy and comfortable, however with a L bank of large windows looking over the hustle of West End, it simultaneously feels lively; a place for leisurely conversation without losing connection with the crowd. Dressed mostly in black and white, it feels more like a sophisticated diner; a diner without the truckers, the smell of grease and the post-meal indigestion.

Service

No matter how good your food is, if your service sucks, you aren’t going to last. Service here is seasoned. Our “culinary care” expert, Judge Tracey, had what I consider an innate ability to set expectations, treat people as they want to be treated and juggle the many conflicting requirements one faces when dealing with the general public. Since Ellen’s does not pre-make anything, the wait time for table delivery might be a little longer than a conventional diner. Judge Tracey was very good at managing the wait time.  I called her Judge Tracey since she is also studying to be a paralegal. Personally, I think  she will consume that career rapidly and then she’ll be looking for more. I’ll be checking up on her.

Food

All wins

  • Fried Red Tomatoes: Red vs. green tomatoes, not sure why the red but these were delicious. The secret here is the cornmeal crust, which I find infuriating to make. The wrong ingredient proportions or fry time and you’re looking at a hockey puck. Chef knows the secret balance since the crust was grease-less, flavorful and crunchy. A reduced balsamic drizzle enhanced greatly.
  • Stuffed Jalapenos: Same flawless cornmeal crust, different target. These are shrimp stuffed but you get to customize how you want the shrimp prepared – blackened, fried or sauteed. We went for blackened but that might have been too much hot. Quite good otherwise. Layers of texture; crunchy crust, toothy pepper and shrimp, soft melted cheese. You’ll need a side of ranch to cool down the pepper.
  • Omelet : Customized. I ordered mine with Chorizo, Tomato and Avocado. Massive and delicious. They forgot the avocado but quickly corrected by bringing an entire avocado, sliced thin.
  • Manhattan : I wanted a Makers Mark Manhattan – dry, up, no fruit. Chef came to table apologizing for Bartender since the last of Makers Mark had just been consumed. As a fellow Manhattan consumer he recommended a substitute and it was excellent.

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Price

Very reasonable;  mains average about $10.

I’m thrilled for my friends and I believe they are acting with the smart money mentality, getting in before the sheeple figure out the trend. Good on them.

Ellen’s | 1718 N. Market | Dallas, TX 75202