Monday, December 1, 2008

Paisanos in Georgetown

A few months ago my wife and me went to Paisanos Restaurant on Leander Road in Georgetown, and to date I have refrained from commenting on our experience. My reason for not posting regards to our experience is that I had little positive to say, and quite frankly it made me uncomfortable.

Nonetheless here goes:

The salad was large, mostly lettuce, and overpriced. My order of spaghetti and meatballs (the plural was theirs not mine) had a single unmemorable meatball plus overcooked pasta covered with a very forgettable marinara. The pizza my wife ordered was as unremarkable as the meatball.

In Georgetown I will continue to order from the Brooklyn Pie Company for pizza, and for spaghetti Romeos, on the square, is the place to go.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Corned Beef on Rye and Other Stuff

Schlotzskys give me a break, McAlisters, don’t even think about it, and Jasons, oh please. It’s not that these places don’t make a decent sandwich it’s just they are chains, and its impossible for them to provide an authentic deli experience. Sadly, these and other so called “delis” have become ubiquitous on the American landscape, and unless you are in a family owned, one of a kind delicatessen you will not have an authentic deli experience.

If its family owned, sells groceries, has a bakery, and makes sandwiches - its a deli. If it uses recipes handed down from the previous generation, its a deli. Fortunately, in and around Austin there are, to name just a few, Jewish, Italian, Mexican, and Thai delis.

Being a sandwich person, it's my opinion that there is no better sandwich then a corned beef on rye from a Jewish deli. Two slices of crusty seeded rye bread, piled high with thinly sliced corned beef is the true deli experience. I prefer my corned beef lean, with yellow mustard, but if you insist you may of course order the fattier meat, and use that fancy brown mustard. However, corned beef on white bread, never ever, and corned beef with mayo, don't even think about it.

Pastrami is another favorite delicatessen meat, just not mine. Interestingly, for many years I assumed that the word “pastrami” was an Italian word, and only relatively recently discovered that pastrami is not Italian at all, but a Yiddish word. Go figure.

There are, at last count, two Jewish delis in Austin. The one downtown where the action is, is Katz’s on 6th Street, and if you happen to go there on Christmas Eve the wait can be hours. The other option is MannyHatten’s on Resource Blvd, in the Gateway shopping center. When I need a fix of almost real deli food these places do the job quite nicely. Their food is good, and at MannyHatten’s they "import" their cheesecake from New York’s Carnegie Deli. How cool is that?

The best deli that I have had the pleasure of eating at lately is the Famous 4th Street Delicatessen in Philadelphia, and the only good that comes from me being in Austin and the 4th Street being in Philly is the weight I haven’t gained.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Original Porky's of Fredericksburg Texas

I like Porky’s. I really do.

The folks running the place (apparently the owners) do an outstanding job of getting your order to you quickly - in fact they do it so fast that biting into an onion ring will sear the skin right off the roof of your mouth.

And, by the way those onion rings are absolutely outstanding. Coated with a perfectly seasoned batter, and cooked to a golden brown they alone make the visit to Porky’s worthwhile.

Unfortunately, the same over the top quality does not extend to the burgers.

It’s not that my burger, a "Porky’s Special", was bad it’s just that it could have been so much better. The fresh bun, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and slices of thick cut bacon are not to be faulted. However, the patty sadly was sorely lacking. A dull gray in color the thing had been compressed so firm it reminded of a hockey puck, and was woefully deficient in juiciness.

In fact, but for the patty the burgers at The Original Porky’s would be great. OK, I am well aware that’s that is a mighty large but, but really Porky’s has so much going for it that I will certainly return. Maybe I will even speak to the owner about those patties.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Nearly Upscale Restaurant in Georgetown

Tony & Luigi's Italian Restaurant

Last night my wife and I went to Tony & Luigi’s moderately priced mostly Italian restaurant.

The restaurant was busy when we arrived about 6:00 PM, but not so much that we had to wait for a table. The service could not have been better. Our server showed up right after we sat down, and two very large rolls, obviously baked at the restaurant, were brought to our table soon after. The menu was concise, presenting a very reasonable list of choices.

I ordered spaghetti and meat balls with the chunky marinara. Hey, remember I’m a road food guy, so give me a break. My wife selected the not very Italian goulash. We also ordered side salads and a tiramisu, to be shared, for dessert.

My wife’s goulash, consisting of chunks of tender beef served on a bed of flat noodles - sort of a narrow version of tagliatelle, was nicely seasoned, and very nice.

Sadly, my spaghetti was more over cooked then aldenti. The chunky marinara was more pieces of tomato then a sauce, and had chunks of carrot large enough to be eaten with my fingers. At first the pasta was easy to eat, and I could twirl a nice amount on my fork, but after about five minutes the pasta nearly congealed into a single chunk.

Ah, but the meat balls were absolutely delicious, and there were three of them. Each, with an impossibly thin crust around a light and fluffy center, was perfectly cooked, wonderfully seasoned with oregano, sage and Parmesan cheese. They were a delight.

The tiramisu served at Tony and Luigi’s was a dessert worth the calories. It was light, sweet, with a flavor of mascarpone and coffee. I might have preferred it to have more cake (or lady fingers), but the lack of same made this particular tiramisu somewhat unique and it did not disappoint.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mimi's Cafe

At my last count greater Austin now has two Mimi’s; on MoPac near 183, and on I-35 in Round Rock, at the outlet mall.

Having previously lived in Scottsdale and Tucson, where there were several Mimi's, I knew that they served a very good breakfast, had great sandwiches, and offered many options for dinner:

The pot roast sandwich consisting of chunks of tender beef on a crusty baguette was a wonderful choice for lunch or dinner. A rich, thick corn chowder available in cup or bowl is very good, and also offered for lunch or dinner. Fresh turkey salad with walnuts, served on their own raisin bread - great. Dinners always included a basket of bread and rolls, with their own carrot bread and fresh baked crusty baguettes. Their bread pudding with hot whiskey sauce dessert - fantastic.

I looked forward to the small chain showing up in Austin, and soon after the MoPac Mimi’s opened I was pleased to experience that breakfast at Mimi’s is still delicious.

However, when with great expectation, I invite family members to try the Mimi’s on MoPac for dinner sadly not a single dish we order is acceptable. Everything tastes like it has been prepared and cooked in a distant commissary, trucked to Austin, and warmed improperly. Also, no more crusty baguettes (or pot roast sandwich) - what's that all about?

Nonetheless, I have since enjoyed breakfast at both locations several times, and will continue to return. Their menu offers a huge number of delightful choices, and the biggest problem is not to get in a rut. A favorite of mine is their corned beef hash . Of course, I also enjoy pancakes with two eggs fried over easy, served with really fat link sausage. Mimi’s offers a choice of fresh baked muffins in lieu of toast. Try the raisin nut.

Still offered are the corn chowder, and bread pudding, and I understand that they will soon start serving their wonderful crusty baguettes. Why they stopped, I have no idea.

Interesting, that for about two weeks after the Round Rock restaurant opened it had a double shift of servers with experienced trainers everywhere. Service was quick, attentive, and the food served hot. They opened with little fanfare, and as a consequence never overloaded an inexperienced crew. What a good idea.

I recommend Mimi’s Café for breakfast. In fact it rivals Hoover's and beats about anything else available

If you go (or have gone) for dinner please let me know what you think?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Also In Houston

Cheeburger, Cheeburger

Recently, when I was in Philadelphia visiting our 11 month old grandson and his family our daughter, who is well aware of my fondness for burgers, suggested that we do a little shopping for the baby in Cherry Hill, NJ and then have lunch at a place named Cheeburger Cheeburger*.

Upon entering the restaurant my immediate inclination is to leave because the décor is such a poor imitation of a 1950’s cafe. There are white painted walls with a weird blue accent, glass block partitions, stainless steel cladding, black and white tile, and a wall paper trim at the ceiling that looks like it came out of a kid’s bedroom.

We sit down at one of the chrome trimmed tables with white plastic laminate tops, and are promptly handed a menu. The menu seems poorly organized, and cluttered with what seem to be unlimited choices. There are five sizes of all beef patties (the smallest being 5.5 oz and the largest 20 oz), five cheeses and 28 different “free” toppings plus five specialty toppings at additional cost. There are also seventy-five or so flavors of shakes that may be combined in a zillion different combinations. OK, I exaggerate on the number of combinations, but believe me the menu is truly overwhelming.

As you might expect I order my 5.5 oz burger with mayo, lettuce, tomato and a slice of raw onion. I also ordered a 50/50 order of fries and onion rings to share with my daughter who for some inexplicable reason orders a birthday cake shake.

The burger is very good.

The lettuce is shredded not leaf which I personally prefer, but there is a huge slice of raw onion and several slices of bright red tomato. The bun is good, sort of Kaiser like, but way too large for my 5.5 oz patty since it must be one size fits all with the 20 oz patty forcing the large size. The juicy patty is cooked medium, as I requested, and has a solid fresh beef flavor.

The fries have great potato flavor and are tasty indeed. The onion rings are likewise terrific, light, and with a wonderful crunch.

Sadly, the shake is all wrong. Too foamy, little evidence of ice cream and a horrid flavor of what - birthday cake, I don’t think so.

All in all it would be nice to have a Cheeburger Cheeburger in Austin.

*During a 1970’s skit on SNL during a famous skit parodying Chicago’s famous Billy goat Tavern, Don Akroyd yelled, “Cheezborger, cheezborger”. A coincidence, I think not.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Pleasent Surprise

A restaurant, “The Cotton Patch Café, the grill next door”, recently opened its doors in Georgetown, Texas. One of several restaurants that have opened for business over the last few months our Cotton Patch is, as far as I know, one of 30 or so identical eateries (or at least as identical as the franchisee can make them) spread out across Texas.

The wife thought it was the country restaurant that threw rolls at you while you were trying to eat – what’s funny about that I don’t know, and that we should go.

We walked through the door about 5:00 PM on a weekday afternoon and having our choice of tables, because the place was nearly empty, we selected one with a lovely view of the dark green trees on each side of the San Gabriel River. A server showed up in seconds, that was good because an empty new restaurant often means bad new restaurant, and we now expected the worse.

The menu offered a wide choice of “traditional favorites” from meat loaf and pork chops to pot roast along with fish, burgers and salads. The wife ordered the meat loaf and I chose the “Shiner Bock Fish and Chips” basket.

The meat loaf, covered with a flavorful tomato based sauce, was served with sides of broccoli with rice and a squash casserole. A large portion, it was the nearest to tasting of homemade meat loaf that we have enjoyed in a long time. The sides, selected from a large list were nicely seasoned and comfortably complemented the delicious meat loaf.

The fish in my “Shiner Bock” fish and chips basket consisted of five large pieces of a flaky tender white fish deep fried to perfection in a batter, which in spite of its special ingredient had no hint of malt or hops. Nonetheless, together with the crispy French fries, the dinner of fish and chips did not disappoint, in fact it was delicious, and I look forward to enjoying it again.

For dessert we shared a rather small slice of coconut cream pie, which while not made locally, was very enjoyable. (By the way - it reminded of that very tasty pie from the Pie in the Sky Pie Company not long ago, I wonder?)

We have since been back on two additional occasions and on each the food served quickly, was of good quality and did not fail our now rather high expectations. The pot roast, chicken fried steak, and harvest salad all are worth having again.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mighty Fine

The wife and I just ate at Mighty Fine Burgers and Shakes, a new burger joint in Austin that is similar to restaurants of the “In and Out" burger chain.

The first decision that you must make, upon being asked for your order, is what size patty you desire, half pound or quarter pound? Next, how do you want your burger dressed? The "Yellow" burger is dressed with mustard, the "Red" with ketchup and the "White" with mayonnaise, and of course any combination of the three is possible. Now, do you want cheese, bacon or jalapeños, or all three? Your not done yet. You have a choice of the usual trimmings - onion, pickle, tomato and lettuce.

The lettuce is not whole leaf (as at In and Out) but shredded, which I believe to be a mistake, but more on that later.

Bottled soda, fountain drinks and handmade shakes are also offered.

I stepped up to the counter and ordered the half pound burger dressed in white, with all the trimmings, fries and lemonade. My wife ordered the quarter pound burger dressed with all colors and trimmings and a vanilla shake. Each order was written on a small white paper bag, along with our names. I was handed my lemonade before I left the counter.

We found two seats in the very busy (it was lunch time) large dining room at one of the many long community tables all with folding metal chairs. My wife’s name was called quickly and she was handed her shake. In about five minutes we were handed our orders in the white bags with our names still on the outside.

The sandwich was tightly wrapped, something that is important to a quality burger because it helps retain heat. The bun of my burger was very ordinary and instead of adding flavor and texture to the overall product, it contributed little.

The patty, large as expected, had little flavor as a result of the low fat content of the beef and a general lack of seasoning. The low fat content also resulted in a crumbly texture in the mouth, and a lack of chewiness; problems shared with the patties served at Fuddruckers and In and Out. The lack of seasoning was no doubt deliberate since there was seasoning salt on the table for the diner to apply as may be desired and a liberal dose of seasoning made much improvement. Next time I will know to season before taking a bite.

The tomato, pickle and onion did their job adding flavor, texture and bite while the shredded lettuce added nothing. A single whole leaf of iceberg lettuce would have added the contrast of cold to the patty’s heat and crunch to the softness of the bun.

The shake was rich and creamy, had a wonderful vanilla flavor and was absolutely spectacular.

The burgers served at Mighty Fine are certainly as good as those served at In and Out.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My wife and I just returned from spending two weeks in south central Louisiana. The 22 parishes of south central Louisiana make up Acadiana and are home to those folks calling themselves Cajun. Speaking French and English, and living in an area of swamp, prairie, and bayou Cajun’s have developed a culture unique in the United States, if not the world.

The Atchafalaya basin, with its river, swamp and bayou is the most distinguishing feature of Acadiana, and we took a boat ride on its river, a very short walk on a path into its swamp seeing contented alligators sunning themselves on fallen trees, and being bitten by unseen silent mosquitoes.

We visited Avery Island, home of Tabasco and its beautiful bird sanctuary with hundreds of gorgeously bright white great egrets and pink spoonbills. We climbed on the ladders and decks of a once proud oil platform, now mostly rusted and used for training. We toured the old capitol building in Baton Rouge, where former governor Huey Long once held sway, and now used for introducing school children into the world of Louisiana politics, and the new capitol building (the tallest in the country) built by Long and ironically where he was murdered.

Of the several very nice museums we visited the New Louisiana Museum in Baton Rouge was the most interesting and well worth a return trip.

Of the grand antebellum houses we saw Shadows-on-the-Teche was the most memorable. A property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and furnished with mostly period pieces it provided a glimpse into what life for the wealthy was like prior to the War Between the States.

We enjoyed some of the best food we have had the privilege of eating including perfectly seasoned boiled crawfish, rich creamy crab chowder, red beans and rice, thick gumbo with hunks of spicy sausage, smoky jambalaya, boudin balls and of course the ubiquitous beignet.

We went to Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, at 9:30 in the morning to drink a beer (a first for me at that hour) and hear Cajun music played with abandon, and broadcast on a local AM radio station.

We went to the Savoy Music Center Eunice to listen to Cajun music at a jam session and to meet Marc Savoy. Marc is not only crafts beautiful Cajun accordions; he is a musician of the instrument playing in his family band, and a keeper of Cajun heritage. Marc took the time to not only answer my many questions but to speak with me regarding his music and passion for Cajun culture.

We went to the Liberty Theater, in Eunice where I was fortunate to meet and speak with song writer, singer and guitar player, and national treasure DL Menard. Wow, did we pick the right night to be at the Liberty. It was a celebration of Menard’s 76th birthday and the entire audience was treated to an evening of great music, delicious jambalaya and birthday cake. Since the performance, broadcast on radio, was mostly in French it was fortunate that the lady sitting next to me generously translated. Sort of like the Prairie Home Companion, the show was warm folksy and very entertaining.

Not all of the restaurants we ate at were good, in fact at least one was terrible and I certainly do not recommend the Harbor Seafood Restaurant in Morgan City to anyone.

In my opinion DI’s Restaurant just southwest of Eunice was the best, but Shuck’s in Abbeville was very good as was Mulate's in Breaux Bridge with a ceiling of business cards, and Don’s Seafood in Lafayette. Every restaurant we had dinner at had live Cajun music and I defy anyone not to want to get up and dance, which the wife and I did. Of course it helped that we had about 45 minutes of lessons and that the Cajun waltz and two-step are incredibly easy to get the hang of. Don’t misunderstand, I not saying that we danced like Cajuns, but boy did we have fun.

Surprisingly, the best gumbo was served at Frenchman’s Wilderness Campground. It was thick, rich and prepared by a family member of the staff at the campground. Also, the best red beans and rice was served to us at the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge.

After nearly two weeks of fish; fried, boiled, broiled and baked, the ribeye steak I ate at Don’s Seafood in Lafayette was tasty indeed.

If you are wondering how you can participate in a similar experience just get yourself an Airstream trailer and join Wally Byam Caravan Club International.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Hullabaloo

If you want to enjoy one of the best Italian sausage sandwiches on either side of the Passaic River* go to the Hullabaloo Diner in Wellborn, Texas (about four miles east of College Station). Of course the Hullabaloo’s menu has lots of choices but speaking from experience if you choose the Italian sausage sandwich you will not be disappointed.

The folks at the Hullabaloo import their Italian sausage from Chicago and well seasoned with spices such as fennel, oregano, garlic, crushed anise seeds, red pepper flakes and sugar it is terrific.

The sausage in my sandwich is grilled to perfection, sliced lengthwise and nestled on a toasted roll, covered with slices of melted provolone cheese, grilled caramelized onion and roasted green bell pepper. I had to force myself to take a moment to enjoy the mouth-watering aroma before taking a bite.

The crunch of the toasted roll, together with the sweetness of the sausage with its collection of Italian spices, followed by the heat of crushed red pepper is delightfully delicious.

So flavorful is the combination of the sausage, cheese, onions and bell pepper that no mustard or other condiments are required; although, a small cup of marinara sauce is thoughtfully provided for dipping.

Go to to check out the complete menu. You can also watch the video of Guy Fieri's visit to the Hullabaloo.

* The Passaic River is located in lovely New Jersey and has the second largest water fall, by volume, in the United States. Didn't know that did you?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Texas Roadhouse

Last Saturday the wife, I and good friends went to a Texas Roadhouse restaurant on I-35 in Pflugerville, just north of Austin. It was just after 7:00 PM when we arrived, the place was packed, and our wait was about 40 minutes. We amused ourselves by talking and eating the peanuts we took from a huge barrel conveniently located by the front door.

Immediately upon being seated we were served a basket of freshly baked dinner rolls accompanied with whipped sweetened butter seasoned with cinnamon. Yummy.

Since the wife and I had just got back from a trip to Harlingen, Texas where we stayed in the Airstream, and I enjoyed way too many margaritas, tonight I drank lemonade. We ordered two of the country fried sirloin dinners, a pulled pork dinner, and a fried catfish dinner. Each dinner came with two sides, and ours included mashed potatoes, green beans, a side salad, and baked sweet potatoes.

Clearly the country fried sirloin is the Roadhouse’s take on a Texas favorite, chicken fried steak, and although nicely cooked, mine was over seasoned. It was also too thin making it more like a wiener schnitzel than chicken fried steak.

My wife’s pulled pork was cooked just right, tender, but not overly so, and the BBQ sauce was tangy without being too sweet. A baked potato that mistakenly showed up was cheerfully replaced with a sweet potato. The well breaded catfish filets were happily enjoyed. With the exception of a rather meager looking side salad all of the sides were very good. The mashed potatoes were nicely seasoned; the sweet potatoes baked perfectly, and the green beans cooked with bits of bacon.

The orders as served were attractive, and large; we all left with portion of our meal in a Styrofoam takeout box.

This was not our first time eating at a Texas Roadhouse. On a previous visit we enjoyed a “Cactus Blossom”. This attractive appetizer is a whole, lightly battered, deep fried onion sliced to resemble a flower, and very tasty indeed. Unfortunately, the New York strip steak that I ordered medium rare on that visit was on the tough side and over cooked.

On both occasions the service was fast, once seated, and very pleasant.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Just the Facts

A few facts about bagels that you may or may not know:

  • A bagel should never have a soft cakey texture.

  • A bagel is born chewy.

  • A bagel with a thin crusty top is not stale – it was born that way.

  • If you can’t eat the bagel on the day it was born then freeze it.

  • Bring your fresh bagels home in a paper bag, and only put them in a plastic bag immediately before you put them into the freezer, assuming you want to save some for later.

  • A bagel frozen on the day it was born will be born again on thawing day.

  • A classic bagel contains flour, water and yeast.

  • A classic bagel does not contain egg, onions, sesame seed, cinnamon, poppy seed, chocolate chip, raisin, cranberries, garlic, rosemary, jalapeño, or blueberry.

  • A bagel does not have to be toasted to be enjoyed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Vintage Rally and Pie

The north Houston KOA in Montgomery, Texas was this year’s location for the Texas State Vintage Airstream Rally. Hosted by the Texas Highland Lakes Unit of WBCCI, turnout for the event was terrific with 83 Airstreams in attendance including about 26 vintage trailers. I was there in my not so vintage Airstream for the five day event, and had a great time.

Fortunately, the rally’s schedule allowed time to explore, and I was delighted to discover the Pie in the Sky Company. Pie in the Sky is located on Loop 360, just south of SR 105, in Montgomery, Texas, and serves both breakfast and lunch. When I got there it was too early for lunch, and since I had just enjoyed a good breakfast in our Airstream, there was only one alternative; I had to buy a whole coconut crème pie.

No I didn’t eat it all at once, and I even shared it with my wife and friends – OK, not friends as in plural, but I did give one slice to a neighbor.

Pie in the Sky makes and distributes pies, and as reflected by the ingredient list for their coconut crème pie, (incorrect spelling and all): Cocnut, eggs, milk, Vanilla, Sugar, Vegetable Shorening, (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Monoglycerides, Soybean Lecithin, Artificial Butter Flavor), Potassium Sorbate, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil Sodium Caseinate, Soy Protein Concentrate, Polysorbate 60, Carbohydrate gum, Soy Lecithin, Xanthan, Gum, their pies are in no way “homemade”.

For the most part the chemicals listed, with the exception of the partially hydrogenated fats, function as preservatives or emulsifiers intended to extend shelf life, are commonly used in the food industry, and have been qualified safe for us to eat by our USDA. Trans-fats, as you are no doubt aware, should be eliminated from our diet (along with high fructose corn syrup).

In my experience most restaurants that take the time to make their own pies do not use preservatives. Apparently, they don’t have to since the things disappear so quickly. Although, every now and then, when I am served a slice of crème pie that’s custard has just started to separate, I don’t get uptight because the proof that the dessert is mostly preservative free is in plain sight.

However, restaurants that take the time to make their own “preservative free” crème pies, and then cover them with an artificial whipped topping in lieu of whipped cream are oxymoronic. I mean how dumb is that, who do they think they are fooling?

Pie in the Sky Company obviously knows how to make a good crème pie, so I wonder why they can’t make one pie, preservative free, to be served in their restaurant, and another necessarily loaded with chemicals, to be shipped wherever. Until they do I won’t be returning, and that’s sad because their hamburgers look darn good, and that pie was indeed delicious.