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Good Deeds: Volunteer Time and Food

Show you care this holiday season.

Edible Events

Most of the year we use this blog to tell you about all the great food in Houston. We tell you what gifts to buy for the food lovers on your list, where to eat a nice meal out and which hot restaurants are opening.

But this time of year, we want to remind you that for many, these words are meaningless. Thousands of Houstonians don't have the money to go out for a fancy dinner or the means to care about which new restaurant we're excited about.

Donate wet or dry pet food to needy animals this season.
HSPCA
Donate wet or dry pet food to needy animals this season.
Fill your metal tray with a variety of sweet and savory pastries and breads at El Bolillo.
Geri Maria Harris
Fill your metal tray with a variety of sweet and savory pastries and breads at El Bolillo.

So if you have time this holiday season, consider thinking about one of the following organizations. You can volunteer time, money or food to make sure that your fellow Houstonians have enough to eat in this season of plenty. Spread the love, you guys.

Here are some ways to show you care:

Host a food drive for the Houston Food Bank

If you've been trying to figure out ways to get your office more involved with the community, set up a food drive and invite your coworkers to help. The Houston Food Bank provides plenty of information about how to get a food drive started. Here's what they suggest, and it's not too late:

1. Choose a person to lead your efforts.

2. Decide on a time and place to collect food.

3. Register your food drive at houstonfoodbank.org/fooddrive.aspx

4. Pick up food drive supplies — boxes, posters, money canisters (after you register).

5. Start collecting.

You can check online for the items that the Food Bank needs most, and contact Yolanda Alexander, community events and engagement coordinator, at 713-547-8670 for more information.

Volunteer for City Wide Club's Annual Christmas Eve Big Feast

For the past 35 years, City Wide Club has hosted thousands of people for the Christmas Eve Big Feast on December 24. At the event, held at the George R. Brown Convention Center, people will receive not only hot, nutritious meals, but also, according to the organization's Web site, "clothing, household items, shoes, blankets, coats, jackets, flu shots, medical examinations, food baskets and more." City Wide Club needs volunteers for two shifts on Christmas Eve — a 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. shift and a 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. shift. The organization also needs nonperishable food items and household goods. To find out how to help by donating items or time, call 713-752-2582.

Serve a meal for Star of Hope

Because Houstonians are so generous and awesome, Star of Hope already has all the volunteers it needs to serve meals on Christmas Day. However, the Christian organization for homeless men, women and children serves three meals a day, 365 days a year. They may not need your help on Christmas, but they sure could use it on any other day of the year. Why not volunteer to cook and serve meals (and clean up afterward) on the day after Christmas, when many people are over the holiday spirit of giving and return to the daily grind? Check out the list of volunteer and service opportunities on Star of Hope's Web site to see how you can help.

Help out Houston's hungry pets

We tend to think a lot about our hungry neighbors during the holiday season, but what about the millions of animals in the city? The Houston SPCA wants to make sure that the pets of Meals on Wheels seniors aren't forgotten, so they're collecting wet and dry dog and cat food for the aniMeals on Wheels program. The HSPCA hopes to collect 48,000 pounds of pet food to feed the animals for the first six months of 2014. Every month, volunteers deliver more than 8,000 pounds of dog and cat food to more than 1,100 pets and their homebound owners, and all of that food is acquired through donations. Go to www.houstonspca.org for the drop-off locations and to find out how you can volunteer to bring food to seniors throughout the year.
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Best of Houston

Rest of the Best 2013
The top 5 Mexican bakeries in Houston.

Molly Dunn

Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, and in most cases picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we'll be rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!

The second you walk into any Mexican bakery, you're overwhelmed by the wide selection of breads, pastries and desserts. Every day, Mexican bakeries in Houston churn out an incredible number of bolillosconchasempanadas and cuernos, to name but a few. And that's not all. The bakers are also creating cakes, puddings, pies and other traditional Mexican desserts.

Whether you enjoy a fresh-baked bolillo or love diving into a slice of tres leches cake, Houston is home to some great Mexican bakeries that will satisfy your culinary needs.

So without further ado, here are the top five Mexican bakeries in Houston. ¡Buen provecho!

5. Panaderia Tierra Caliente

Over by the Sam Houston Parkway and Beechnut, you'll find Panaderia Tierra Caliente. This unassuming bakery is home to some of the best bolillos in Houston. In fact, customers will wait for the freshly baked bread loaves to come out of the kitchen if there aren't any available. As at other Mexican bakeries, you're handed a metal tray and tongs upon entering, allowing you to pick and choose which pastries and breads you want to take home. At first this can seem overwhelming, but don't worry if you grab too much, because the prices are incredibly cheap. Each bolillo is firm and crunchy on the outside, but soft and delicate on the inside, lending itself to being the perfect loaf of bread to use as a sandwich. While the bolillos are the best bet at the bakery, you can't go wrong with a simple slice of moist sweet vanilla cake with white frosting, or a cuerno, a croissant-shaped savory loaf of bread topped with sesame seeds.

4. Arandas Bakery

There are several Arandas Bakery locations throughout Houston, and each offers a multitude of classic Mexican cakes, pastries, cookies and savory baked goods. Arandas hands you a metal tray and tongs to select from the wide variety of pastries and breads; the only downside is the lack of labels, but that's what makes shopping at a Mexican bakery so much fun! While anything you choose is bound to be tasty, the best savory options are the pan de anis (bread with sesame seeds) and, of course, the bolillos (especially when they're fresh from the oven). Sweet-tooth cravings can easily be fixed with a guava-filled empanada, a delicate and soft concha, or a single serving of luscious, creamy flan.

3. La Guadalupana Bakery and Cafe

La Guadalupana is a tucked-away gem on the residential portion of Dunlavy. The quaint cafe and bakery is an excellent breakfast stop or a perfect place to sit and relax with a pastry and cup of coffee after lunch. La Guadalupana serves a variety of classic Mexican sweets and breads but also offers a few traditional French baked goods, such as croissants and palmiers (owner Trancito Diaz worked as a baker at the Houston Country Club, where he made French pastries and breads). Your best bet for an excellent Mexican pastry for breakfast or a snack is an ojo de buey or marranitos (little pigs). The pig-shaped molasses cookies are soft and slightly sweet and pair wonderfully with a fresh cup of coffee.

2. Viva Itacate

Just off I-45 North on Sawdust, you will find Viva Itacate, a family-owned Mexican bakery. On nice days the owners will open the bakery doors, allowing a breeze to drift through the cafe as patrons enjoy pastries, breads, desserts and even lunch. Sit down with a torta de tinga de pollo (roasted chicken sandwich with beans, tomato, cheese and pickled red onions stuffed in a fresh bolillo) or a torta de cochinita (slow-roasted pork with tomato, cheese and pickled red onions with beans inside a bolillo). Pair a piece of pan de elote (cornbread) with carrot soup to warm up on a cold winter day. Sweeter options include the horn-shaped pastries (cuernitos) and coronita cajeta, which is basically a Mexican doughnut with dulce de leche. If you're unsure as to what you should order, just ask the manager, and he'll be more than happy to help you make a decision.

1. El Bolillo

You can't make a trip to El Bolillo without getting a bolillo (or two...or a dozen). But if you're interested in getting something sweet at this Mexican bakery on Airline Drive, then order a slice of tres leches cake — you won't regret it. The moist cake comes in a variety of flavors, including pineapple, chocolate and strawberry, all of which add an extra-sweet component to the popular dessert. But if you're more a fan of traditional Mexican pastries, there's an endless array of options for your metal tray. El Bolillo has everything from conchas and cuernos to pastries filled with fruit jams and others topped with sweet icing. Either way, if you don't walk out of the bakery with a bolillo and a slice of tres leches cake, you're shorting yourself on the best possible experience El Bolillo has to offer.
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Top 10

Lawsuits, Rude Restaurant Staff and Rats
The top 10 Houston culinary scandals of 2013.

Kaitlin Steinberg

As the year comes to a close, we're taking some time to look back fondly on some of our favorite memories from the past 12 months. There were wonderful meals, exciting openings and heartwarming stories from some of our best chefs.

And then there were all the scandals, the shocking revelations, the feet in mouths. Without these folks keeping things interesting, 2013 would have been all about good food and good fun. And who wants that, really? We're a culture that savors schadenfreude, wrong though it may be.

So here, to sate your appetite for awkwardness, is a list of 2013's best culinary scandals in Houston, in chronological order. Sit back, relax and revel in other people's pickles.

February 12, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake: Chef Bruce Molzan Sends Out Pizza to Protesters

Oh, Bruce. You give us such fodder for articles like these. Back in February, Molzan seemingly tried to help a situation, but ultimately made it worse when he had waiters for Corner Table take two pizzas outside to former waitstaff of another of Molzan's businesses who were protesting because they said he owed them back wages. The chants quickly changed from various expressions of outrage to "No food; pay me!" A representative for Corner Table said simply, "We sent out pizzas. We don't want to be ugly. There's no need to be ugly."

April 4, 2013

Restaurants Behaving Badly: Maggie Rita's Calls Houston Woman "Fat" on Facebook

We've seen things like this before. Someone in the restaurant biz forgets it's a service industry and, for better or for worse, gives a customer a piece of his or her mind. I mean, we certainly can't expect chefs, waiters and restaurateurs to be docile drones all the time, but they probably shouldn't say stuff like this, either. When Amanda Newman wrote on restaurant Maggie Rita's Facebook wall that she was happy they closed, someone behind the Maggie Rita's computer came back with some choice words about Newman's weight. Our commenters got in on the conversation, too, proving that old adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

April 14, 2013

Roots Bistro Makes Tasteless Domestic Violence Joke on Marquee to Sell Beer

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in four women (24.3 percent) and one in seven men (13.8 percent) 18 and over in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Hilarious, at least according to the now-closed Roots Bistro. In April, the vegetarian-friendly supporter of local farmers changed the marquee outside the restaurant to read "Beer should be like violence: domestic." Immediately, customers and passersby called out Roots on the incredibly offensive sign, which was promptly taken down and replaced with "Sorry a million times over, Houston." But not before it had already been seen on SalonJezebel, The Daily Mail and MSN. Roots Bistro closed in June.

April 16, 2013

PSA: This Rat Fetus Was Not Found in Timmy Chan's Fried Rice

In sort of the opposite of a scandal, we discovered that the nasty photo of a rat fetus that had been circulating on the Internet and was being credited to restaurants across the country was...(drumroll, please)...not from Houston, either. Houston Hip Hop News reported on its Facebook page that the rat fetus was found in some fried rice at Timmy Chan's. The world may never know where the rat fetus originated, but Timmy Chan's is making sure that those who accused them of making the gross grub pay. The restaurant filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Go Daddy and Houston Hip Hop News in late April.

August 7, 2013

La Fisheria Bans Kids After 7 p.m. and Everyone on the Internet Has an Opinion

La Fisheria made national news after an announcement that the owner, celebrity chef Aquiles Chavez, had decided to ban kids under nine years of age after 7 p.m. out of respect for other patrons. Chavez told the Houston Chronicle that the decision came after customers complained about children running around the restaurant while adults were trying to have a romantic or low-key evening away from children — their own or otherwise. The decision made national news and sparked debate about whether it's okay for a restaurant to ask unruly children to leave or for a "family-friendly" restaurant to ban children after a certain hour. Generally, folks seemed to be ­behind La Fisheria's decision.

August 16, 2013

Corner Table Restaurant Valet Driver Accidentally Kills Motorcyclist

So 2013 wasn't a great year for Corner Table or Bruce Molzan (aside from the fact that we gave them a pretty good review). Molzan had nothing to do with the news that in August one of his valet drivers made a right turn from a left lane, striking and killing a motorcyclist on Westheimer. We weren't able to get many more details on the incident from the police or from Corner Table, but folks on Facebook were quick to criticize the valet business in general and its overwhelming presence in parking-strapped Houston.

September 11, 2013

Local Chef Arrested, Suspected of Attempted Sexual Assault

Zackery Ray Alolabi, the chef/owner of the Original Napoli Italian Restaurant Chain, was accused of attempted sexual assault on July 19 by a female employee. The police report states that the woman, who had been working for Alolabi for the past two years, claimed the chef, who is affectionately known as "Papa Zack," had been trying to kiss her and had been making "unwanted advances" all day. She stated in the report that he was highly intoxicated and eventually approached her, "placing his exposed penis in her face," before attempting to lie on top of her. In addition, Alolabi didn't realize everything he was doing could be heard — seems the accuser's ex-husband was listening in via a cellphone that had not been hung up. Whoops. Alolabi was scheduled to be arraigned on December 12.

September 16, 2013

Paula Deen Makes a Loopy Return at Metro Cooking Houston

Paula Deen's return to the spotlight after months in hiding was alternately emotional and confusing for both Deen and the audience who came to watch her demonstration at the Metro Cooking Houston show. She walked on the stage and commenced sobbing for approximately two minutes, seemingly overwhelmed by the show of support after her months out of the limelight stemming from allegations of racism. We reported that Deen's return was "weird," and many readers thought that was a bit harsh, immediately leaping to Deen's defense in the comments. We stand by the fact that we thought she was weird, but we appreciate your concern for a fallen TV star.

October 23, 2013

Torchy's Tacos' Suit Against Texas Taco Co. Alleges Theft of Food-Prep Bible

As soon as the first Texas Taco Co. opened, in Baytown, diners started sending messages to Torchy's asking, essentially, 'What's up with your new restaurant?' People assumed, because of similarities between the two menus, that Texas Taco Co. was somehow affiliated with Torchy's. Turns out the two restaurants are entirely different entities, and it does sort of seem like Texas Taco Co.'s menu is eerily similar to that of Torchy's, perhaps because a former Torchy's employee allegedly stole the "Taco Bible" and brought it to Texas Taco Co. That's right, there's a Taco Bible.

November 27, 2013

Woman Files Lawsuit Against Underbelly and The Pass & Provisions

In November, news broke of a lawsuit filed against Underbelly and The Pass & Provisions by a former Underbelly staff member who alleges wrongful termination, discrimination and "intentional infliction of emotional distress." The former staff member, Rachel Johnston, claims that she was out dining with friends at The Pass & Provisions when her party was asked to leave their table to make room for other patrons, causing one of her friends to become belligerent. The incident was reported back to the staff at Underbelly, who allegedly threatened to fire her, but realized her out-of-work behavior was probably not something they could fire her for. Johnston was later fired for being intoxicated at work, though she claims she wasn't. The case is ongoing, and it's stirred up some commentary on what it's like for a woman to work in a male-dominated kitchen.
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Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Campioni open through holidays and Fat Cat Creamery finds a home.

Molly Dunn

This past week, Eater posted that Prohibition in the Galleria area would be closing; however, in an updated post, Darla Guillen reported that Prohibition is actually moving to a building downtown. The new location will be at the McCrory Building on Prairie. The bar is holding a Closing Party on Saturday, December 21. The night will include a prix fixe dinner and a show by The Moonlight Dolls, as well as bottles of Champagne and a social-hour menu.

B4-U-Eat's weekly newsletter explains that the last day for Campioni on FM 1960 will be New Year's Eve. The Italian restaurant will open at 13850 Cutten Road at the beginning of January.

Commenter Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah informed us in last week's openings and closings report that Taste of Lebanon has closed. After calling the restaurant (no answer) and visiting it (no furniture inside), we can confirm that Taste of Lebanon has officially closed.

That's it for the closings announcements for this week. Let's take a look at openings.

Ramen Jin opened softly on December 12. Eater's Guillen reports that the restaurant is focusing on ramen bowls, serving six different types, including tonkotsu, miso, cold sesame, curry, veggie and tonkotsu shoyu. While the stars on the menu are the ramen bowls, Ramen Jin also offers edamame, tempura fish cake, seaweed salad and other snacks, as well as mini rice bowls.

Fat Cat Creamery opened its Heights store on December 14, according to a tweet. Now fans of Fat Cat Creamery don't have to frequent Revival Market, Black Hole, or other coffee shops and restaurants to satisfy their sweet tooth. The permanent location at 1901 Shepherd will serve ice cream, old-fashioned sodas and coffee, in addition to other items.

Bar Lei Low, the cocktail bar from Elizabeth and Russell Theode of Down House, is inching closer to its opening date. Eater reports that the owner is hoping to open its doors before we ring in the New Year.

Bradley Ogden's Funky Chicken held its grand-opening celebration on December 18. The comfort-food restaurant already seems to have grabbed the hearts (and stomachs) of Houstonians with its fried chicken, chicken pot pie and chicken sandwiches.

Max's Wine Dive will open its Fairview location in January. Eater notes that the "branch" is already seeking employees. The comfort-food restaurant is also expanding outside of Texas and will set up shop in Atlanta, Chicago and Denver next year.

After the recent grand opening of El Big Bad, its sister restaurant, El Gran Malo, has announced that it will move to a new location in the Heights this coming March, according to Eater. The owners of El Gran Malo, Lea McKinney and Steve Sharma, are currently looking for the restaurant's new home.

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