Wednesday, December 26, 2007

National Dish of the Lone Star State

The first time I remember eating chicken fried steak was in Houston, in the early 70’s. Covering over half the dinner plate it looked like a flattened piece of fried chicken. I didn’t know exactly what I was eating, but it was very good.

Since then I have enjoyed chicken fried steak in more than a few Texas restaurants. Tenderized beef, dredged in flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper and maybe something else, then pan fried in lard in a heavy skillet, not deep fried. Served with a side of green beans, mashed potatoes covered with cream gravy and a small cup of cream gravy on the side just in case you need more.

Goodson’s Café in Tomball was our go to place for chicken fried steak. In the 1970’s smoking was still permitted, and there was always a thin layer of smoke hanging over Goodson’s small dining room from cigarettes and the chicken fried steaks frying in cast iron skillets. Also, it wasn’t unusual for a waitress to have an inch of cigarette ash cantilevered over the tray of plates she was carrying to your table.

Now days for outstanding chicken fried steak I go to the original Hoover’s Cooking restaurant on Manor Road in Austin. In fact, in my opinion, Hoover’s is the all around winner when it comes to Texas style southern cooking. Also, I have not yet found a better slice of coconut cream pie in Texas than that served at Hoover’s.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Frozen Custard Rules

Milwaukee is the center of the frozen custard world, who knew, and Kopps Frozen Custard is among the best. There are even custard stands around the country selling “Milwaukee” custard, and if you ever have a chance to try one go for it, because you will not be disappointed, in fact frozen custard is made with more butterfat, and eggs than most hard ice creams.

In Texas we have Shake’s Frozen Custard, and their Big Bopper sundae, with hot caramel and hot fudge sauce poured over vanilla custard, topped with pecans, is not to be missed.

Try a frozen custard, and you will never go back to Dairy Queen. By the way the soft serve sold at IKEA is yellow because it has less air than say a DQ. No matter, I don’t like the stuff.

A Shake's Big Bopper Sundae.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Pizza: "Have You Had a Piece Lately"

To me pizza is an American comfort food, and as with all comfort foods if it doesn’t taste like what you grew up with it just isn’t any good. Maybe an exaggeration, but it’s not far off the mark.

On the west side of Los Angeles, where I grew up, a popular place for pizza was named Piece of Pizza, and their slogan was “Have You Had A Piece Lately”. A small local restaurant chain, it had inside seating, red and white checkerboard plastic table cloths; all in all not too impressive. None the less, I remember that in the 1950’s and 60’s they made a good hand thrown pizza pie with a chewy crust, covered with Italian sausage, and mozzarella cheese. Sadly, when I returned a few years ago the pizza was just plain terrible. Too much success, loss of focus, I don’t know, but it’s rather sad.

Some may argue, but I think the best pizza pie in the Austin area is served at Frank & Angie’s, although the Brooklyn Pie Company in Georgetown makes a darn good pie. Frank & Angie’s is small, cozy with inside seating, and fast service. They serve a quality pizza pie with a rather thick tasty crust, loaded with most any combination of toppings you might want. There spaghetti, and meatballs, another American comfort food, is likewise very good.

Where is the best pizza in the country? That’s a question that may never be answered, but a guy named Ed Levine, who is from New York City, says in his book, Pizza, A Slice of Heaven, that the best is in Phoenix, Arizona at Chris Bianco’s Pizzeria Bianco, and that from a guy from NYC; it must be true. Levine’s book is good, and if you’re into pizza it will become a valuable resource.

Other restaurants serving good pizzas, and that I recommend include Bertucci's Italian Restaurant in Framingham, Massachusetts, Mac Kenzie River Pizza Company in Billings, Montana, and Nello’s Pizza in Scottsdale, Arizona. Interestingly, each of these is part of a small chain, local to their area, and in the case of Bertucci’s, and Nello’s, I was disappointed when I ate at a location other than the one listed.

Chicago style deep dish pizza is OK, but certainly not my favorite. What can I say; it’s not what I grew up with, and as somebody said, “Deep dish, that’s a casserole, not a pizza”.

When we were living in The Netherlands, our 12 year old son told my wife and I about a pizza place he had found, and insisted we go there that evening. When we went there he said he knew the best pie to order, so he ordered, and we ate the Hawaiian. The crazy thing was covered with ham, pineapple, and pizza sauce, and I was shaken by the thought that by taking our son to a foreign country, he would never know what made a proper pizza. Five years later, when we returned to the USA, nearly every pizza place was making a Hawaiian pizza, and much later our son introduced us to Frank & Angie’s.

The Hawaiian Pizza Pie

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bavarian Beer: Ah

In 1981/1982, I worked on a manufacturing plant for an American company in Pleinfeld, West Germany, and sometimes traveled there on business. In the fall of 1982, the president of my parent company called from Cleveland, Ohio to say that he wanted to visit the recently completed facility.

So in early November I flew to Munich from Amsterdam to meet him, planning to drive together with him to the plant, and have dinner with the plant manager, and another staff member. The moment he got into the car at the airport, the chief started to complain; the car, a 500 series BMW was too small, it was too cold, where was everyone?

Although, a light snow was falling the divided highway north from Munich was clear. It continued snowing the entire trip, and there was snow on the two lane road to Pleinfeld. We seemed to be the only car on the road, and it was quiet except for the soft thumping of the widow wipers, and the crunch of Bimmer's tires on the snow.

Off season the small hotel I had booked, with help from our German customer, looked closed, and its front door was locked. Answering my knock the proprietor opened the door, and we entered a cold foyer. Signing the register I glanced into the restaurant and it was likewise cold, and also dark. I wasn’t the only one who noticed, and the complaining continued.

As we walked to our rooms the hallway lights went on and off automatically. I put my bag in my room, and went to the restaurant. The owner had turned on the lights, and as I sat down the boss arrived. We each ordered a beer, nothing special just something they had on tap, and while we waited for our beer, the boss made use of the time to remind me that the hallway was dark when he left his room, and his room was near freezing.

Fortunately the beer arrived, served in tall beer glasses, and I took a long drink. Cool not cold, slightly bitter and effervescent, the flavor of hops unmistakable.

We sat quietly, and as we each enjoyed two glasses of wonderful Bavarian beer the boss started to smile. The proprietor started to do things in a now lighted kitchen, and our guests arrived. We talked through several more glasses of beer until our food arrived. Another glass of beer with our dinner, whatever it was, I can’t remember, but I do remember that it was good, very good. All, in all it was a really nice evening; great beer, good food, interesting people, and a smiling, pleasant boss; it had to be the beer.

I discovered later that the hotel was indeed closed, including the kitchen, and had been opened just for our visit.

During ski season I flew to this project via Nuremberg, not Munich, and drove south to Pleinfeld. The aircraft was nearly full of Dutch skiers in brightly colored winter sweaters, laughing, and looking forward to days on the Bavarian slopes. On the return flight to Amsterdam the plane’s seats were now arranged to hold litters, each with an injured skier, still in bright sweaters, now trying to look nonchalant, but still smiling.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Candy or Confection

On a shopping trip to Brussels I spotted a small sweet shop that said "Leonidas". It was fall, 1979, and at the time, to me reasonably good chocolate candy came in a box, bought at the drug store. Or maybe a See’s or Fannie Mays store where you selected from their showcase of assorted pieces.

After I stepped inside the Leonidas shop the sales person said to me in perfect English, “May I help you? “ I replied that I wanted to buy a piece of chocolate candy, and pointed to a small Airstream shaped chocolate, one among many, in a refrigerated case. She opened the case, picked up my selection, and with her white gloved hand, placed it a little box then handed it to me. I opened the box, and took a bite.

I bit through the chocolate shell into a center of sweet cool whipped cream, to discover a pecan nestled in the center. I knew that I was in the process of eating something very special. The combination of texture, the smooth silky shell, fresh whipped cream, and crisp pecan was unbelievably yummy. Hey, yummy does it for me.

I talked with the sales person, and she told me that I had selected a praline, a bon bon. Now I knew what a praline was, and even a bon bon, at least I knew what these words represented in the States, and what I had just savored had nothing at all in common with them. She used the word “confection” as she told me about the other pralines in the case, not “candy”, and from then on whenever I was in Brussels I nearly always stopped in to buy a few bon bons.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

McDonalds: A Quality Burger

For years my lunch consisted of two McDonalds’ cheese burgers, order of fries, and a large coke. When fried apple pies were added to their menu they were added to mine. I figure that I am personally responsible for eating at least a 1000 of the gazillion McDonalds has sold over the years.

McDonalds does not make the best burger. We no doubt agree on that. But, McDonalds makes a quality burger, a 100% quality burger. Are we still in agreement? No, maybe I can persuade you, just a little. Quality does not have to be expensive. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Every time I bite into a McDonalds’ cheese burger it is exactly as I expect, exactly. It meets my expectations every time, and that’s quality.

I mean, how many things can you say that about? Not many.

When I worked in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I enjoyed eating the terrific food offered in street stalls, restaurants, and hotels. However, every now and then when I needed a food fix of home I went to the nearby McDonalds. In Malaysia, a Muslim country, they were not called hamburgers, simply burgers, and except for the buns they were exact copies of what you would be served if you had ordered them in the States. The texture of the buns were slightly different, softer maybe, I’m not sure, but all in all for a reminder of home very satisfying.

These days I don’t eat many McDonalds, but I still eat a few.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Texas Bar-b-que: Its the Meat

In Texas, bar-b-que always means beef brisket slow cooked over a wood fire, some sausage, and pork or beef ribs. Sauce is secondary, and bread is only provided to mop up the sauce. Usually the sauce is served on the side, in a squeeze bottle or a small paper cup, not poured directly over the meat, and at least one of the most respected bar-b-que places in Texas serve their sliced brisket on paper, without sauce.

Let me explain it this way: For a biker it’s the ride, for a Texan it’s the meat, and in Texas meat means beef brisket, not pork. You may be able to get pork ribs in Texas, but almost never sliced or pulled pork.

Since I am not a Texan (I only live here) I simply don’t have the genetic make-up to enjoy my bar-b-que without sauce. Further, I like my sauce to be tangy with the vinegar sweetness I have savored in the Carolinas. My favorite bar-b-que sandwich is pulled pork on a fresh bun, with a pile of slaw on top, and covered with Carolina tangy sauce.

I haven’t mentioned the pickles because I am trying my best to ignore them, and you will be better off if you do likewise. The pickles served with bar-b-que in Texas are worse than the bread. If you are served some don’t eat them, if you aren’t served any don’t ask. You will be happier. I have eaten bread and butter pickles, homemade by Texans, and they were terrific; sweet, tangy, and crisp, so what the heck is going on? The only thing I can think of is that nothing should detract from the flavor of the bar-b-que, but if thats not that the case then whoever started serving those limp, tasteless slices of dull green is still laughing.

I have already said what the bread is for, but I still don’t understand. It’s white “wonderbread” for goodness sake. What’s that all about? Why couldn’t it be a nice baguette with a soft center and crispy crust? Now, mop up the gravy with that, and you would have something.

My most favorite bar-b-que place in all of Texas is the Salt Lick, located in Driftwood south of Austin. Their family style serving of “heaping helpings of beef, sausage, and pork ribs, served with potato salad, cole slaw, beans, bread, pickles, and onions” is not to be missed. I took the stuff between the quotes right from their menu. If you go there don't forget to try their peach cobbler with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The photo, by the way is absolutely authentic Salt Lick.

OK, I will admit that my father was born in San Antonio, and I have a sister born in Fort Worth, so maybe I do have a tiny bit of Texan genetic material.

The Salt Lick’s web site is at:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hot Dogs

The best hot dog must have an all beef wiener, and a natural casing; the beef for flavor, the natural casing for snap when you take a bite. Not much else is important. OK, a few things more; a fresh bun, lots of mustard (yellow, never the brown stuff) and diced onions, but nothing else, I promise. OK, OK, maybe a kosher beef wiener for even more flavor, but no more, I swear.

The reality is there are hundreds of places in the States that serve the best hot dog, just ask their customers, and that’s my point; it’s kind of what your use to.

James Coney Island in Houston, Gene and Jude’s in River Grove outside of Chicago, the Varsity in Atlanta are only a few places loyal fans swear are the very best. (Interesting, because James’ are served with chili and the Varsity does not claim to serve an all beef wiener.)

Some think that a James Coney Island is better than a Varsity. Some believe the hot dogs served at the Superdawg, in Chicago are hands down better than those at Gene & Jude's in River Grove. If for no other reason than a Gene & Jude's are not covered with the traditional Chicago salad that includes a jalapeño. Personally I like the "salad" dog. Its not what I grew up, but what the hey, even an old dog can learn new tricks. Sorry, I had to say that.

A Traditional Style Chicago Dog

If you have ever worked or lived in Rhode Island your hot dog is called a Hot Wiener, and because they are small side, one is never enough. A steamed wiener, nestled in a freshly steamed bun, covered with slow cooked chili (no beans, ever) with a hint of all spice, finished with chopped onions, yellow mustard, and a sprinkling of celery salt, that's a dog. Rhode Islander's think there the best, and we (me and my coworkers at Marshall Construction in Rumford, RI) sure ate enough of them.

I love them all. What else did you expect?

When I worked in Detroit’s New Center I walked into a hot dog place humming with lunch time business, waited in line to order, and when it was my turn, ordered a Coney Island with chili. The guy behind the counter yelled, “You want a bowl of chili?” I stammered a bit and said, “No, I want a Coney Island with chili”. The guy behind the counter, now a little redder, repeated in a heavy Greek accent, “You want a bowl of chili or not?”

Fortunately, things got sorted out, and I enjoyed a delicious hot dog in a steamed bun covered with chili, and finely chopped onions.

But I ask you; how was I supposed to know that a Coney Island meant by definition a hot dog with chili? Give me a break, I was from Seattle.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pancakes in The Netherlands

A pancake in The Netherlands is a pannekoeken, and is about the same thickness as an American pancake, but in comparison the texture is chewy, not cakey. They are tougher, and thicker than a traditional crepe, but similar in taste.

In The Netherlands there are restaurants that specialize in pannekoeken, and they will have many different varieties on their menu. They are often eaten for what we call brunch, a late morning or early afternoon meal. There are savory pannekoeken with bacon, ham or another protein mixed into the batter. There are sweet pannekoeken with bananas, apples or pineapple. Savory or sweet nearly all are served sprinkled with a light layer of powdered sugar, and usually syrup, or “stroop” is applied liberally by the lucky person about to enjoy one.

Dutch syrup, or stroop, is a molasses based syrup, substantially less sweet then our pure maple syrup and much more viscous. The thickness of the syrup helps make it stick to the pannekoeken.

Also, pannekoeken are huge, a single one can easily cover an entire over sized plate, and are delicious any time of the day.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Airstream: The Better Way

What better way to be able to enjoy road food then to stay on the road for longer periods. Well, with my 28' Airstream I certainly can.

My most recent trip was to Fredericksberg, Texas about 120 miles from Georgetown.

Fredericksberg is a lovely place to visit, several restaurants serving German/American food, and at least one darn good bakery. But my favorite place is a small burger shack named Porky's located on the far West side of town. Their burgers are large, served hot, fully dressed including sliced tomatoes, several leafs of crisp iceberg lettuce, and thick slices of onion. To me a burger covered diced tomatoes, pieces of chopped onion and lettuce taste like Chinese food.

Hey, calm down, I love Chinese food, just not when I expect a burger.

Fredericksberg is also the home of the Museum of the Pacific War. It is a privately owned museum, with over 1000 exhibits, and well worth visiting. Going there gave me an opportunity to remember friends and relatives that participated in some of the horrendous battles that took place in the Pacific during WWII.

Check out their web site at:

By the way, I tow the 3.5 ton Airstream with a 5.7L, 381 HP, 2007, Crew Max Limited, Toyota Tundra.

Trailer Trash, I Don't Think So

What better way to be able to enjoy road food then to stay on the road for longer periods. Well, with my 28' Airstream I certainly can.

My most recent trip was to Fredericksberg, Texas about 120 miles from Georgetown.

Fredericksberg is a lovely place to visit, several restaurants serving German/American food, and at least one darn good bakery. But my favorite place is a small burger shack named Porky's located on the far West side of town. Their burgers are large, served hot, fully dressed including sliced tomatoes, several leafs of crisp iceberg lettuce, and thick slices of onion. To me a burger covered diced tomatoes, pieces of chopped onion and lettuce taste like Chinese food.

Hey, calm down, I love Chinese food, just not on my burger.

Fredericksberg is also the home of the Museum of the Pacific War. It is a privately owned museum, with over 1000 exhibits, and well worth visiting. Going there gave me an opportunity to remember friends and relatives that participated in some of the horrendous battles that took place in the Pacific during WWII.

Check out their web site at:

By the way, I tow the 3.5 ton Airstream with a 5.7L, 381 HP, 2007, Crew Max Limited Toyota Tundra.

Donuts: "Rocks", The Best Glazed Donut in the Universe

In The Netherlands Oliebollen, the parent of our American donut, are served mostly in the winter, from a sort of mobile bakery wagon. Bakery wagons show up at street markets, fairs and carnivals, and usually serve their hot Oliebollen dusted with granulated sugar. Delicious, they were, but American they were not..

In fact, in my five years (from 1979 to 1984) of living in The Netherlands I never saw an American style glazed donut.

Then, just six months before leaving the country glazed donuts appeared in our local Ahold grocery store. They were called Atomic Donuts, and of course I bought a boxed dozen. Unfortunately, they were stale, and nearly uneatable.

Determined to share my understanding of what makes a good donut, I went to the bakery where they were made (which wasn't easy to find), and explained the importance of freshness with respect to glazed donuts to the bakery’s owner. Although, he politely listened, he just never got it. He did, however, give me several dozen donuts from a stack of just filled boxes in the bakery. Fresh, his donuts were not bad.

In the 1980’s an expat American women (I think her husband was in the USAF) ran a small donut shop in Waterloo, Belgium, where she sold the most wonderful cake donuts. They were not just American style donuts, they were made with imported durum wheat, which is hard wheat, and they were American donuts,

Whenever I was visiting Brussels which is very close to Waterloo, which was about once a month, I stopped in the donut shop to order donuts. Starting with a dozen or so, I was soon ordering as much as 6 to 10 dozen donuts on each visit. This went on for a couple of years before I was asked for the name of the school I represented. I didn’t understand the question, but when they explained that buying so many donuts; surely I must work at a school, I had to fess up and admit that I just liked donuts. That was certainly true, but not the whole story. I always shared them with American friends near Amsterdam who had come to expect their monthly deliveries of fresh American donuts.

Arguably, the world’s best glazed donuts are from the Round Rock Bakery (formerly Lone Star Bakery) in Round Rock, Texas. Their glazed donuts called "Rocks" have an incredibly thin, sugary shell with a melt-in-your-mouth light yellow center. "Rocks" are large (about twice the size of a Krispy Kreme), and a not to be missed confection. On many days the fast moving line snakes out of the bakery's front door and around the building, the theater style ropes helping to keep everyone in an orderly line. To ensure freshness the folks at Round Rock Bakery make their "Rocks" continually through out the day.

The Round Rock bakery's website is:

By the way, pasta is also made from hard wheat, and Barrilla of Parma, Italy imports much of the durum wheat they use in their pasta from Arizona?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Best Burgers in Georgetown, Texas

The burgers at the Monument Café in Georgetown, Texas are always good. They use Kobe beef (probably frozen) patties served on a fresh bun. I dress mine with only mayo, and usually order a 50/50 side – half fries and half onion rings. Their onion rings are fine cut, with a light coating of batter, fried to perfection.

However, the best burgers in Georgetown are at BB’s on Williamson. BB’s is a very small place that serves mostly burgers, fries and onion rings. The patties are large, about 8 ounces, and heavily seasoned with black pepper. The buns are made locally from slightly sweetened dough. The sandwich is wrapped for serving. The combination of the sweet bun and peppered patty is terrific. Again, I limit the dressing to mayonnaise saving ketchup for the fries. Sadly BB’s recently closed, but rumor is they will reopen soon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

King of Road Food

Hamburgers represent the king of road food, and the moments spent eating good burgers are to be reverently remembered.

A patty of fresh ground beef, cooked on a well seasoned griddle until the outside has color and crust. Placing the patty in a sliced bun, toasted on the same griddle, and wrapping the assembled sandwich in waxed paper, is a hamburger in its most basic and fundamental form.

Fold back the wrapping, savor the aroma, and bite through the soft bun with its thin crunch of toast, into the beef, likewise both crunch and soft.

If desired, thin slices of onion, and smears of mayonnaise on both of the bun’s toasted surfaces, may be the condiments.

All washed down with hot black coffee. Nothing else is necessary.

Eat a burger like this and you may never go back to using ketchup and mustard.