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Trip Report (Well Overdue) [moved from UK/Ireland]

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I was in Houston at the beginning of April and never got around to a write-up, but better late than never, right ?

TACOS A GO-GO

Armed with a coupon offering ten tacos for ten bucks, we visited Tacos A Go-Go twice.

The first visit was to the Main Street branch in Midtown for lunch where we had Fish, Carne Guisada, Pork Guisada, Beef Fajita and Picadillo Tacos. All perfectly pleasant, if unspectacular, although their smoky red salsa was memorable.

The second visit a few days later was a breakfast stop at their Heights location, where we ordered various egg-and-two-item tacos. Now, as has been correctly pointed out in a previous thread, I'm from the UK and know jack about tacos. In fact, this was only my third ever experience of breakfast tacos. But we both thought that these were superb. Much, much better than the breakfast tacos we ate at El Rey Taqueria on our previous visit. Unsurprisingly, the breakfast tacos at Tacos A Go-Go are served all day. They must be their most popular menu item.

THE ROYAL OAK

Awarded "Best Bar Food" by the Houston Press last year, so we thought we'd check it out during their happy hour.

It's a nicely done out, comfy bar with lots of dark leather and wood panelling.

Stuffed Jalapenos with Spiced Cream Cheese and Bacon had too much cream cheese and neither enough spice nor enough bacon. They really needed something - a bit of acidity, maybe - to cut through the cloying richness of the cheese.

The Blue Cheese and Mushroom burger was perfectly acceptable. Ordered and served medium rare, it was clearly made from decent beef and served in a tasty bun. A minor complaint - it was one of those patties that looked more like a squashed meatball than a burger and the meat didn't come anywhere near the sides of the bun.

The Parmesan Truffle Fries we subbed with the burger were spectacular. Perfectly cooked hand-cut fries smothered with parmesan and herbs and a hefty slather of truffle oil.

I'd return just for a bowl of those fries, especially as the happy hour prices were very reasonable - two bucks for domestic bottles and four bucks for a martini.

OLDE TOWNE KOLACHES

Arrived at a bar at 5.30 a.m. on Saturday hoping to catch a live Scottish soccer match and waited for an hour before realizing that they weren't going to open. Oh well, I thought, I'll cheer myself up with a bag of kolaches. Olde Towne Kolaches is in a strip just off Westheimer near the beltway.

The place was deserted and they only had three kolaches ready - sausage, jalapeno sausage and cheese, and cheese and bacon.

They were all pretty awful. Cheap, nasty sausages. A tiny smear of cheese and about three tiny chunks of bacon. The dough wasn't up to much either. Avoid.

BEAVERS

A visit for lunch. I'm not sure I understand the praise this place gets. This was our second visit and again, everything was just average. And at the prices they're charging, it should all be better than average.

Ordered Chicken Fried Chicken Livers and Fried Boudin Balls from the happy hour menu. You could tell the livers were going to be overcooked just by looking at the overly browned and too-crispy batter. The boudin balls were fine, I guess - nice and meaty - but two barely-over-an-inch balls for five bucks ? One of them had split apart in the fryer which didn't help.

The Gulf Shrimp Nachos were acceptable enough, but at over a dollar apiece they too were overpriced.

I'll give them this - their cocktails, especially their Bloody Marys with celery-infused tomato juice and wasabi, are excellent. And I had a delicious pint of 512 Porter from their decent beer selection. Next time, drinks only.

SPANKY CRAWFISH AND BAR

Drove around for fifteen minutes trying to find this place on Bissonet, only to find it was closed permanently. Strangely, they'd left all the TVs on. So, back to the hotel with a takeaway from the nearby ...

BROTHERS PIZZERIA

... on Hwy 6. I'm more of a Chicago-style pizza than a New York-style pizza kind of guy, but this was rather good. Thin, floppy and greasy (in a good way). A decent amount of good toppings.

THE CONCERT PUB

On Richmond. Stopped in for a Sunday lunchtime crawfish fix. It had been a few years since my previous visit but the mudbugs were as good as I remembered. They were a decent size and obviously boiled in spiced water, as evidenced by the lemon wedges and bay leaves scattered around the serving tray. My OH doesn't particularly care for crawfish ("too much work") but she managed to put away well over a pound. Buy four pounds and get one free, so they worked out at less than $5 per pound.

Word of warning - a loud and dismal band started playing when we were halfway through eating. If you're going, get there early.

HANK'S CRAWFISH

... on Hwy 6. They serve their crawfish with five levels of heat and on my previous visit, I'd been talked out of the New Orleans Spicy by the barmaid. "If it's too hot for you, you can't return them". Well, I can now report that they are in fact very, very spicy. I polished off two pounds and the sweat was dripping from my forehead. They come in a plastic bag with a full bowlful of thin sauce at the bottom, which I mostly finished off with a spoon. The spiciness isn't all just hot sauce and chili, though - there's a good amount of cumin, garlic and butter in there. Very good indeed.

The crawfish themselves weren't as good as the Concert Pub's - a bit smaller and slightly overcooked. I'd return in an instant for that sauce, though.

Note to James Cristinian - you might want to stop reading at this point. They were a "criminally insane" $6.99 per pound.

The OH had a bowl of Crawfish Bisque, served with a mound of white rice. Tasty enough, but I'll stick to the boiled ones, ta.

DANTON'S SEAFOOD

Popped in for their Monday happy hour at the bar, with half price gulf oysters. Excellent oysters and a bargain at only $5.50 per dozen. A fellow diner was making his way through a few pounds of crawfish which looked very good too.

On a Monday the place is understandably very popular. By the time we left at 6.15 there was a queue of a dozen people waiting for a table.

CHRISTIAN'S TAILGATE

The newish location on White Oak in the Heights. Our first visit to this establishment, to check out their legendary burgers.

What can I say that hasn't already been said about them ? This is quite possibly the finest burger I've ever had. Ordered medium rare and delivered on the medium side, which didn't matter in the slightest as it was still beautifully juicy and tender, served in a bun which managed to be soft yet resilient enough to support the contents all the way through eating. Perfectly judged swipes of mayo and mustard and just the right amount of tomato and crisp lettuce.

We tried both the Bacon Bacon Burger (with bacon in the burger mix and further bacon on the bun) and the standard Cheeseburger with American cheese. Both were excellent, but the basic cheeseburger was particularly outstanding.

Bonus points for some great fries and onion rings, and Monday evening $1.50 domestic pints to wash it all down.

That was the all-too-brief trip just about over and it was off to an IAH hotel for the night. With some time to kill before the late afternoon flight back to London, we headed for Pappadeaux in Terminal E and split three Maryland-style Crabcakes and a Wedge Salad. For an airport restaurant, the quality was very high indeed. Lots of chunky crabmeat in perfectly crisped cakes.

Roll on September and our next visit to your fine city. No crawfish this time, I suppose.

Farley.

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  1. Thanks for the report. First, I was kidding about the tacos. Second, if you fly 4860 miles, according to wiki answers, 6.99 a pound for bugs is not "criminally insane," indeed you have my stamp of approval and 5 bucks is highway robbery. I also love Brother's Pizza. As for the kolaches, I've never had a good one in Houston, but have given up the search. It is my contention that you must drive at least a hundred miles southwest or west to get one.

    5 Replies
    1. re: James Cristinian

      Yes I know you were kidding, James - the "just kidding" bit gave it away !

      Regarding crawfish - I wouldn't mind trying to cook them myself but they're virtually impossible to find live at fishmongers in the UK. So I just did a quick search to see if they're available online and found this place: http://www.finefoodspecialist.co.uk. Including delivery, just under 4.5 pounds is $89.92 at the current exchange rate. It works out at $20.40 per pound. Now *that's* criminally insane !

      At some point we're planning to go on a pilgrimage to the Central Texas barbecue spots, so have you got any suggestions for kolache places along the I-10 corridor ?

      1. re: FarleyFlavors

        Most folks that do the bbq pilgrimage fly into Austin and make a loop that includes Taylor, Elgin (for sausage only), Lockhart and Luling. That can route you close to La Grange, where Weikel's is a strong contender.

        http://www.weikels.com/

        1. re: Jaymes

          Thanks, Jaymes. We'll be driving, but it appears that La Grange isn't too much of a detour.

          1. re: FarleyFlavors

            As long as you're considering adding La Grange to your itinerary, you might be interested in knowing its storied history in Texas legend.

            There was a time when just the mere mention of "La Grange" brought forth an explosion of giggles.

            It was the hometown of the notorious "Chicken Ranch" - you know, the best little whorehouse in Texas.

            It was also the home, for many years, of the Bon Ton Cafe, widely considered to be one of the best roadhouse cafe/diners in the state.

            Alas, both the Chicken Ranch and the Bon Ton are now gone.

            The exact who, how and why of the demise of the Chicken Ranch was the subject of considerable speculation in Texas, but the end of the Bon Ton was a much more common and ordinary story.

            The Weikel Family ran the Bon Ton Cafe for decades, and did an excellent job of it, earning statewide fame. But, in the 1980's, they sold out. And, as so often happens, the new owners began to cut corners, eliminate time-consuming or costly dishes, etc. Wasn't long before it was no longer a "must-stop" for travelers passing through. And eventually that was the end of the storied Bon Ton.

            But the Weikel family had decided to have just a bakery, so they opened one in the back of a gasoline service station right next door to the location of the old Bon Ton.

            Such an interesting lesson in commitment to excellence in the business world. The old Bon Ton is gone, thanks to ineptitude and indifference of the new owners. But the Weikels family's next enterprise, Weikel's Bakery, continues to thrive spectacularly.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_...

            A bit about Kolaches in Texas, including Weikel's Bakery in La Grange: http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s...

            1. re: Jaymes

              Even if you didn't stop for a meal, a stop at the Bon Ton was always warranted for the fresh baked bread.

    2. You hit some of my favs, Farley! Brother's Pizza is a new love. We are to be found at Danton's on Monday nights during oyster season. But not past Easter or before Thanksgiving. They continue the 1/2 price Monday nights all summer, but not for me. Our hot water oysters are not only small, cloudy and not good, but they can also be dangerous to consume. They also shake a mean martini at Danton's.

      I also have never had a better burger than offered at Christian's Tailgate. It's definitely the Gold Standard. I haven't been to the new Heights location, but have dropped into the other two on the rare occasion.

      I don't understand the Olde Towne experience. The one nearest me on Memorial Drive is not at all like that. The bacon and cheese are stuffed with both ingredients and requested by name from offices and other gatherings when we bring goodies. I also order their rolls for holiday dinners - it is made from the kolache dough and I love them. It looks like you are all over town when you are here, but if you happen to be working in the Energy Corridor, it is close to that. And also in that area, The King's Head pub just opened. Limited food for now, but unlimited Scotches and beers, it seems! Same owner as Stag's Head in Houston and my dearly beloved late Ale House. *Pause for respectful moment*.

      We have a tradition of eating at that Pappadeaux in IAH when travelling internationally. it can't be beat. The others you list, I haven't been to. I've not seen or heard any first hand accounts of Beaver's that makes me want to try it.

      Can't wait to hear about your September trip.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Lambowner

        Regarding Olde Towne kolaches, I'd heard good things about them but it seems I was duped.

        The one on Memorial is called Olde Towne Kitchen, which also has a branch on the 290. The one on Westheimer is called Olde Towne Kolaches and Bakery. Different establishments. I guess trademarking "Olde Towne" would be difficult !
        www.oldetownekitchen.com
        http://www.otkbakery.com/

        And regarding The King's Head - do I *really* want to be visiting Houston from the UK and going to a British pub ?!

        1. re: FarleyFlavors

          A-HA!! Crafty kolache shell game. As to King's Head, I would say no! Strangely, when we entertain folks who travel regularly from the UK to Houston, they often want to hang at one of the many pubs. And eat steak. Lots of steak.

          1. re: Lambowner

            I can understand the desire for steak. It's tricky to find a decent steak at a reasonable price over here.

            I got quite excited a few years back when an Outback opened a mile away from my house. But they were 50% more expensive than in the States and soon after opening they dropped the free bread and salad, without dropping the prices. About five years after opening they had closed down. They've now left the UK market altogether.

            1. re: FarleyFlavors

              On a trip to Paris, we had steak at Le Relais de l'Entrecôte which is also found in other parts of Europe and most recently, in NYC. They serve only one thing, steak frites with a mysterious steak sauce. I loved it and still hope they will come to Houston someday.

              http://www.relaisentrecote.fr/

      2. I have had crawfish in September, at the Ragin Cajun. They said they were from California and were described as "very clean." They were terrible, don't waste your time. For your BBQ roadie and kolaches west of here, and a great bacon burger, get off I-10 in Columbus, the US 90 exit, and hit the Dairy Cone on the west end of town. Hand formed burgers with great bacon are sensational. We stay on US 90 to near Luling where it joins I-10, going through small town Texas and a more relaxed drive, adding maybe thirty minutes to the drive. You'll go through Waelder, Shulenberg, and Waelder, also Flatonia. You should be able to find some kolaches in some of these towns, plus antique stores to walk off the burger and build back the appetite for the star, BBQ.

        http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant...

        5 Replies
        1. re: James Cristinian

          If you stay on 90 as James recommends, there's Kountry Bakery in Weimar, Schulenburg and Hallettsville (which would mean going on down to 90-A to finish the trip). Excellent, very comparable to Wiekel's. Both the Schulenburg and Hallettsville locations are breakfast and lunch spots, too. The Schulenburg location is only about a mile south of I-10. Wiekel's kolaches are available at Frank's Restaurant right on i-10 in Schulenberg, but I don't know if they're baked the same day, the day before, or how that is arranged

          1. re: brucesw

            I said Waelder twice, I meant Weimar. Thanks brucesw.

            1. re: James Cristinian

              James what is the kolache place in Waelder?

              1. re: brucesw

                Sorry, don't know the name.

            2. re: brucesw

              Thanks James and brucesw. All recs noted for the road trip.

          2. Farley, at the risk of asking, who is your OH? Speaking of tacos, and from a strictly cultural point of view, I think the two for ninety-nine cent tacos from Jack In The Box should be tried, mystery meat in a quasi crispy shell, a classic late night drunk food for many of my generation. My Highway 90 suggestion also has an added benefit, following the ex-Southern Pacific, now UP Sunset Route tracks, expect a few freight trains and if you're lucky an Amtrak passenger job.