Assistant Music Editor Craig Hlavaty recently purchased a 1981 edition of The Genuine Texas Handbook, a guide to all things Texan. It's an often-tongue-in-cheek look at the people, places, outfits, songs, foods and more that made someone Texan 31 years ago.
At the beginning of Handbook's food section, author Rosemary Kent points out that there are only three truly Texan food groups — barbecue, Tex-Mex and chicken-fried steak — to which the majority of the coverage in "Love & Lard" is dedicated. "The Big Food Three," as she calls them, "are Texas's most distinguished contributions to American cuisine.
"All are basic, unpretentious, genuine and cheap," Kent writes, attributes that we, as Texans, still admire to this day.
However, in an opening sidebar, Kent admits a preference for what she calls the 12 Texas Junk Foods:
1. Peanuts in Dr Pepper
2. Beef jerky
3. Frozen Snickers
4. Moon Pies
5. Corn dogs
6. Cream gravy poured over white bread, dotted with catsup and cut into pieces
7. Frito pie
8. Pickled pigs' feet
9. Corn bread crumbled into a glass of buttermilk and eaten with an iced-tea spoon
10. Jalapeño-stuffed olives
11. Hot dip made with Ro-tel tomatoes and Velveeta cheese
12. Hot okra pickles
Although it wasn't called queso at the time, we can all recognize the 11th entry on the list, which would remain on a current list of favorite Texas junk foods. (Probably in the very first spot, at that.) But others haven't stood the test of time as gracefully.
My grandparents were the last people I knew to crumble corn bread into buttermilk, and my father is the only person I know who fetishizes Moon Pies anymore (he sneak-buys them at the grocery store and eats them in his office where my mother can't see him). Ditto the pickled pigs' feet and the cream gravy poured over white bread.
What would be on the 2012 list of Top 12 Texas Junk Foods? Along with some carryovers from 1981, here's our crack at it:
3. Pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread
4. Corn dogs
5. Biscuits and cream gravy
6. Dairy Queen Blizzard
7. Onion rings
9. Breakfast tacos
10. Dr Pepper (with or without the peanuts)
11. Frito pie
12. Texas sheet cake
Wild Game Burger Friday at Rainbow Lodge.
What goes into an eight-ounce burger? At the Rainbow Lodge, every Friday yields a new mix. One week it may be antelope, venison, wild boar and pork belly. Another week it may be nilgai, lamb, venison and lamb belly. Forrest Gump's mama would say that it's like a box of chocolates: "You never know what you're gonna get." And that's the beauty of it — you could literally get a different burger every week.
Not only do the mixes change based on what's available at the end of the week, but the toppings do as well. If you follow @TheRainbowLodge on Twitter, they announce their burger Friday mix around 10:30 a.m. the day of. They make only 12 burgers each Friday, and when they're gone, they're gone.
I'd been dying to try one of these burgers ever since I heard about them, and after almost a year of thinking about it, I finally got my hands on one this past Friday. And wow. No, make that W-O-W. As in, this is one of the best darn burgers I've ever had the pleasure of laying my hands on.
On this particular Friday, the mix was buffalo, lamb, venison and pork belly topped with queso fresco and avocado pico de gallo. The large, tall, impressive burger was served on a Slow Dough challah bun with the queso fresco and avocado pico de gallo already heaped on top. Sitting beside it were fresh heirloom tomato slices, butter lettuce, pickles and red onion. A healthy dose of lightly salted, golden, housemade potato chips completed the dish, which included a side plate condiment trio of whole-seed mustard, ketchup and mayo.
I don't particularly care for the gaminess of lamb in general, and I was worried that it would overpower the burger, but I had nothing to be concerned about. The patty's flavor was just a bit smoky, with the barest hint of minerality and gaminess. The seasoning was just right, not overly salty as some burgers tend to be, and it complemented the creamy tanginess of the avocado pico de gallo.
The juicy, decadent plumpness of the patty rated high in terms of ooze factor, which I attribute to the pork belly, and the at least inch-thick patty was remarkable. It looked so thick, in fact, that my dining companion thought it could be a one-pound patty, when in fact it was only eight ounces.
"Is the patty so thick because it doesn't reduce?" I asked chef Mario Valdez. "That's exactly it," he replied. "We don't do anything to the patty — we don't press it down on the grill, and because the meat is so lean, it doesn't shrink very much."
At $14, the wild game burger is not inexpensive, but it's so good that it more than merits the price tag. Add to that a beautiful view of verdant foliage and tree branches swaying to the slight breeze on a hot summer day, and I can't think of a better way to spend a Friday afternoon. BY MAI PHAM
The top 5 wines for summer.
One of the things I love the most about summers in Texas is pool parties. When the heat is on, we tend to congregate with our friends around the pool, the grill and our favorite wines. There's no better time — in my experience — to break out all those under-$25, easy-drinking, low-alcohol wines to share with friends. (And of course, Tracie P and I get invited to all the best pool parties because we're the ones who bring the wine!)
The title of this post is deceptive: I just couldn't resist adding a sixth "bonus" wine at the end. Every year, it seems, more and more great wines make it to our market, and there are so many great values out there, especially during this time of year, when wine sellers are focusing on reasonably priced quaffers.
Just keep in mind that during summer, we tend to eat saltier foods and we tend to drink more to quench our thirst: Low-alcohol wines are the key to food-friendly pairings that we can enjoy more liberally.
One last note: When shopping for these fresh, bright, youthful wines, be sure that your wine seller gives you the most recent vintage (and not a bottle that's been sitting on the shelf since last year). Wine-Searcher.com is a great resource for checking availability of current releases and pricing (it's what I use).
Happy summer, everyone!
5. Scilio Etna Rosso: There is perhaps no greater value in fine wine today than southern Italy. I've been loving the earthiness and dark red fruit of this superb Etna Rosso (Sicily) made on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna — an active volcano. Don't be afraid to chill this red wine, my top pick for summer burger pairing. (Under $25 at the Houston Wine Merchant.)
4. Darting Pfalz Scheurebe Spätlese Dürkheimer Spielberg: The only thing I regret about opening a wine like this is that it would have only continued to get better as it aged in my cellar. Wonderful acidity, focused and fresh white stone fruit, and just enough residual sugar (and low enough alcohol at around 10.5 percent) that my mother-in-law will definitely ask for a second glass with her Chex Mix. This wine, by the way, will keep well after opening, a perfect weekday wine to enjoy over the course of two, three or even four days. (Under $25 at the Houston Wine Merchant.)
3. Terlano Lagrein Rosé: Together with Mourvèdre (Bandol, France) and Negroamaro (Puglia, Italy), Lagrein from German-speaking Italy is — in my opinion — one of the greatest rosé grapes. This wine is all about freshness and bright fruit, but it also delivers just enough tannin to make it pair superbly with, say, herbed and grilled salmon, whose beautiful color is rivaled only by the gorgeous pink hue of this wine. (Under $20 at the Houston Wine Merchant.)
2. Scarpetta Spumante Brut Rosé Timido: This wine from Friuli, Italy, by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey (of La Frasca fame) is currently our favorite pizza wine. Gorgeous cherry and berry fruit flavors, gentle bubbles and balanced alcohol. (Under $25 at Spec's.)
1. Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon La Cueille: Don't worry about pronouncing the name of this wine — my number one wine for summer 2012. Just drink it. Made mostly from Gamay, with smaller amounts of Poulsard, this light, bright sparkler pops with bright red fruit and weighs in at around 8 percent alcohol. I cannot think of a better and more versatile wine to pair poolside. (Under $30 at the Houston Wine Merchant.)
BONUS WINE: Groth Sauvignon Blanc: Two weeks ago, I tasted this California wine at a wedding reception at the famous restaurant Brix in Napa. It was bright and fresh, varietally correct (it also has a little bit of Sémillon in it) and it had that zing (read acidity) that I crave, especially during summer. (Under $20 at Spec's.) BY JEREMY PARZEN
Do It for Science
Try the hot-dog-and-Frito-stuffed burrito.
For the low, low sum of $5.95, you can consume what is — by far — the most over-the-top concoction I've seen come out of a Houston restaurant outside of rodeo season. And that's not meant in the pejorative. I'm fairly in awe of the burrito, which is on the menu right now at Gordon Street Tavern in Alvin.
Says the restaurant on its Facebook page:
Ready for a mouth watering HOT DOG BURRITO? 2 beef hot dogs, chilli, colby jack, sour cream, fritos and grilled onions all stuffed into a 12" tortilla and rolled up for only $5.95. WOW that really is a mouth full.
I'm not going to lie. I want to eat this. I want to have it inside of me. But the combination of a rough weekend and a full week ahead means that I likely won't be able to make it down to Alvin anytime soon. So I'm depending on you, readers.
I ate the Belgian waffle topped with whipped cream, bacon and two Shipley's glazed donuts at Shepherd Park Draught House for you. Eating one of these majestic burritos and reporting back is the least you can do for me.
(And don't forget the Santo beer.) BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT
Coke Isn't It
Top 5 sodas that aren't Coke or Pepsi.
John Belushi's classic SNL skit is actually an homage to The Billy Goat Tavern, a dingy burger place in Chicago where you will be yelled at for your order, where they really do only serve Pepsi and there are no fries, only chips.
I've checked the place out and eaten a burger there — it's a pretty crappy burger, admittedly, but you can share in the experience that's so well known in our popular culture.
I rarely drink sodas, but sometimes, even when we know they are terrible for us, we just want a damn soda. Choices can be limited due to corporate sponsorship. It's too bad, because there is a whole world of carbonated, high-sugar-content drinks out there.
Though many smaller-market brands have been bought out by Coke and Pepsi, they still qualify simply because they aren't the big two.
5. RC Cola
When's the last time you had an RC Cola? It's probably been awhile.
RC is certainly sweet, but it also has a unique caramel flavor that makes it stand out. RC Cola is the bastard offspring of Pepsi and Coke: sweet like Pepsi, slightly tart like Coke.
If you are wanting a little change of pace — or maybe just want to feel a little more Royal — grab an RC Cola.
4. Cane Sugar Dr Pepper
What sort of Texan would I be if the good Dr didn't make the list? Granted, Dr Pepper is owned by Snapple, but it makes the list due to A) Texan roots and B) unique taste. Twenty-three flavors, man. That's nothing to scoff at.
When Dr Pepper is flavored with pure cane sugar instead of nasty high-fructose corn syrup, the taste is that much better. Forget the Gene Simmons-freakshow flavor Cherry, or any of the other flavor additives, for that matter. Stick with the original 23 flavors. Hard to beat when the sweet tooth is upon you.
3. Blue Sky Soda
Blue Sky is one of those all-natural, organic brands that you can find in Whole Foods or whatever, but it really is a good soda. I'm a sucker for any black cherry-flavored soda, and theirs is pretty good.
Again, an example of pure cane sugar trumping high-fructose corn syrup.
2. Jones Soda
Jones Soda has grown fairly popular. More likely than not, it's well known for the same reason your mom knows about Damien Rice or Ray LaMontagne: It's sold at Starbucks.
Jones produces a whole line of sodas and even does funky, limited-edition varieties for holidays, like a Turkey and Gravy flavor for Thanksgiving and Candy Corn for Halloween.
With some tasty flavors and, again, no high-fructose corn badness, Jones Sodas are a good — if still unhealthy — option.
1. Dr. Brown's
No, this isn't a last-name bias. Dr. Brown's sodas are my favorite.
Dr. Brown's makes a great cream soda and a decent root beer, but the black cherry flavor is my all-time personal favorite soda.
You can usually find Dr. Brown's only in delis, but I've noticed it carried in certain grocery stores, too. If you've never tried one, give it a shot. You won't be disappointed.
Or, most likely, you will be disappointed. Either way, it'll give you something to talk about in the comments section. BY SAM BROWN
Openings & Closings
Nightmares and dreamscapes.
Correspondence this week from the "It Was Only a Matter of Time" department confirmed that The Moghul's has closed. After one disastrous visit to the place, I was never inclined to go back — and it appears the restaurant left other guests with the same impression.
Moving into the spot, however, is another restaurant which I'm already wary of: Harvest Live Grille & Bar, whose move into the former Moghul's (and former Champps) space will mark its second location in Houston. I've only had one meal so far at its Fountain View location and came away terribly unimpressed, but — unlike The Moghul's — not so blatantly offended that I won't return to try its all-organic menu at some point in the future.
In other vaguely disappointing news, Bennigan's is reopening in Houston. And just after I finished beaming with pride over the fact that virtually none of Consumer Reports' top nine U.S. chains are located here. Just terrific. More Bennigan's. It's like waking up from a pleasant dream only to find that you haven't actually woken up and are actually now in the midst of a nightmare because...Bennigan's.
However! There is good news on the horizon...
For one, The Petrol Station has finally reopened its kitchen after some renovations. Patrons who missed the signature burgers had their appetites slaked by a cadre of food trucks that were in near-constant rotation and that will certainly be missed. On the other hand, it's good to have Petrol's kitchen back and intact once again.
Long-awaited Austin import J. Black's Feel Good Lounge finally opened this past week after months of construction/renovation in the former Phil's Texas Barbecue spot along Washington Avenue. According to its Twitter account, the restaurant had been keeping busy prior to the opening by supplying free sliders to residents at the neighboring Archstone Memorial Heights apartment complex. That's one way to ensure local loyalty...
And another import — this one from Dallas — has finally opened in Midtown, in the space formerly occupied by here-and-gone Tex-Mex joint Ruby Tequila's. Gloria's Restaurant offers a fairly straightforward Tex-Mex menu of its own with a few twists, such as its signature "Salvatex Combinations" section. There you'll find dishes such as asado de puerco Salvatex with ancho chiles and black beans. There's also an entire Comida Salvadoreña section with classics like lechón asado and carne adobada.
Finally, according to B4-U-Eat, brand-new bakery JavaCakes in La Porte had just opened on June 4 — and then tragedy struck: The restaurant was hit by burglars and had to close. JavaCakes regrouped, however, and reopened on Saturday, June 30. BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT
Like That Wine? Try This One
A guide to Texas wine varietals.
In our cover story a few weeks ago, we discussed the fact that Texas vineyards still stubbornly grow varietals that aren't suited to the Texas weather or soil — well-known grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay. But they're doing it for a reason: Too many wine drinkers don't want to stray from the varietals they know and love.
So here's a suggestions, Texas wine drinkers: Try a wine that's similar to your preferred grape but that actually thrives here. You just might discover a new favorite, and you'll encourage Texas grape growers to diversify their offerings as a result. It's a win-win all around.
Listed below are the top five grape varietals currently grown in Texas and our suggestions for wines you might like just as much — or even more! — that are actually suited to our rough Texan climate.
If you like: Cabernet
Try: Syrah or Grenache
Both are — like Cabernet — very hearty, rich wines that pair excellently with meat, especially game meat. And we all know how much Texans enjoy their meat. You'll often find the two blended together, as Syrah and Grenache bring out the best in each other: The Syrah brings spicy notes to the jammy, fruit-forward Grenache.
If you like: Chardonnay
Try: Blanc du Bois
The creaminess present in many Chardonnays isn't as pronounced in a Blanc du Bois wine unless you purchase a sweeter variety, which is found at wineries such as Haak Winery. But even in a semisweet Blanc du Bois you'll find oak and bright citrus as well as perhaps even pear and pineapple. Unlike Chardonnay, Blanc du Bois is a varietal perfectly suited to Texas. But like Chardonnay, it pairs very well with seafood, cheese and anything with a creamy sauce.
If you like: Sauvignon Blanc
Crisp and dry, this white wine grape prefers a warmer climate (like our own), a long growing season and as little time spent in the cellar as possible. Viognier is meant to be consumed while still young, when you can best taste the same floral and mineral notes that people enjoy in a good Sauvignon Blanc.
If you like: Merlot
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People like Merlot because it's full-bodied but drinkable. You'll find those same attributes in a Tempranillo, since both grapes ripen early. You'll even find some of the very same flavor notes in a Tempranillo as you would in a Merlot: dark fruits like plums and berries as well as leather and the supple softness of vanilla. Even better, you can already find plenty of excellent Texas-made Tempranillos from Pedernales Cellars.
If you like: Pinot Noir
People tend to enjoy Pinot Noirs because of their musty, funky qualities. Mourvèdres can offer the same notes — rustic, earthy and with some odd herbal flavors — especially when blended with Syrah or Grenache. BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT