This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.
"Am I supposed to cut this in half?" I asked the bartender at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop after he served me a walnut-sized, bacon-wrapped date. "Or do you eat it all in one bite?"
"Some people cut it," he said. "Or you could just eat it. Either way."
Clearly this was up to me. I went to cut the petite nugget, but found that it started to flatten under the weight of my knife. I gave up and shoved the whole thing into my mouth, chewed it and swallowed it. And I immediately regretted my decision.
By eating the bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed date all in one bite, I wasn't able to savor it. And as soon as those flavors began to mingle on my tongue, I wished I'd had the patience to cut it or bite it in half to make it last longer. Why hadn't I ordered a whole bowl of these things? And how did so many interesting, complementary flavors come to be in a single bite?
As I was pondering this diminutive delicacy, Monica Pope walked through the dining room, so I flagged her down to ask about the inspiration behind it.
She explained that bacon-wrapped dates (often stuffed with some sort of cheese) were a favorite dinner-party offering of housewives in the 1950s and '60s. In fact, Betty Draper on Mad Men serves the Polynesian-inspired version called rumaki at a dinner party on the show.
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According to Pope, several years ago a couple came into the restaurant when it was still t'afia and regaled Pope with a story about the wonderful bacon-wrapped dates they'd had at another eatery. Always eager to try out recipe advice, Pope instructed her sous chefs to take some dates, stuff them with something and wrap them in bacon. The chefs found chorizo in the back (Pope says she has no idea why there was chorizo in her kitchen at that time), and the "Date With a Pig" was born.
Today it's served by the single date on the bar menu, and it's drizzled with homemade north African chermoula sauce, which Pope says is great on everything from fish to chicken to veggies. The date is slightly sweet, the chorizo is creamy and slightly spicy, the bacon is fatty and crisp, and the drizzle of chermoula adds a hint of cumin and garlic to the mix.
It might be heavily influenced by north African cuisine, but the addition of applewood-smoked bacon and locally produced chorizo makes this dish totally Houston. And totally addictive.
The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi