Last November, local food truck favorite Pi Pizza wanted to celebrate its one-year anniversary with something memorable. Anthony Calleo, owner and head honcho of Pi Pizza, came up with the idea of offering anyone who got a Pi Pizza tattoo during that month free pizza for life.
Not some pizza for a couple of months, not free pizza until he gets tired of seeing your face. Nope, free pizza for as long as you're alive. The deal would even extend into Pi Pizza's future brick-and-mortar plans. One slice a day was the only catch. But considering their slices are one-fourth the size of a whole pizza, one slice is easily a meal. Calleo partnered with Scorpion Studio's Gabriel Massey, who designed the flash sheet of tattoos that were various designs all revolving around Pi Pizza. A total of 22 people got tattooed throughout the month to express their pizza love.
As both a tattoo lover and a pizza lover, I thought this deal was nothing short of perfect. I made my appointment and soon had my new tattoo. The next evening I was at Pi Pizza Truck showing them my new ink, ready to receive my slice. It was pretty straightforward, and it wasn't soon after that when they started remembering me.
I frequented it often, and for some weeks (more than I'd like to admit) I tried going every day they were open to get the best mileage out of my tattoo. Was this all part of an evil plan to feed me for free until I keeled over and died due to excessive amounts of pizza? Death by pizza doesn't sound half bad, actually, but no, Calleo wasn't plotting to ruin my life with his offer. I recently caught up with Calleo to ask him how this idea started and what he might have planned down the road.
"I just thought it would be something cool to do, honestly, and I was curious to see if people would do it. I have a lot of tattoos, and tattoos have always been something I've been interested in. I love tattoos; I love tattoo culture. The back of my truck says, 'pizza tattoos whiskey rock and roll.' I thought it would be something neat to do," Calleo said.
"Making it that first year, managing to stay open, was a big deal to me personally. It wasn't easy. I wanted to do a cool thing to kind of give back to customers. I thought something that was in line with the style and feel of the brand, and, you know, we kind of have a ride-or-die attitude. I want to see who is with me. I honestly expected three to four people. When 22 people did it, I couldn't believe it. That blew my mind."
I can vouch for myself when I say I bring new customers to them. It's kind of unavoidable when I usually go with a group of friends to Catbirds, where the truck is stationed every night it's open. Almost every single time, they order something from Pi Pizza when they see me chomping down on my slice. I asked Calleo how some of his other tattooed free-pizza-for-lifers treated the deal.
"It comes and goes. I maybe see somebody once a week. There is a couple that lives in Katy that each have one. But when they come, they order the whole menu. Almost all the people with tattoos tend to bring someone with them who doesn't have one. The theory behind it that I had going into it that I was hoping would work is working. How do I complain about that? The fact that I have customers that do that blows my mind. I'm just a dude with a truck and an oven; I'm nobody. People like that are what lets me do this. If people aren't feeling what we're doing, then we are just spinning our wheels."
Apparently Gabriel Massey also retained some customers from their pizza tattoos, making this offer a beneficial endeavor for both parties.
"He did all our branding and logo on our truck. It worked out well for him. Having him draw up that flash was super cool. He did such a great job. It was kind of a way to give him some respect, business and exposure, which is great."
When asked if he would do this same promotion next year, Calleo said yes, but with an important adjustment.
"I am definitely doing it again if we make it to year two. We will do some of the same tattoos and add some new ones. I'm happy it didn't put us out of business. I'm prepared for next year. I feel like after round one, year two might be busted down to a week. No month!"
Calleo also said he's planning to add lunch to his schedule by the second week of May. He is currently looking at some potential places to set up and is in the process of securing a site for his brick-and-mortar location.
Cheese-Making at Home
So what if it's easier to buy it from a store?
My husband has never been one to shy away from making foodstuffs at home that can be easily (and cheaply) purchased elsewhere. In addition to regularly brewing beer, he has also tried his hand at making yogurt, bagels and kimchi. I admire his culinary ambition and certainly relish the fruits of his labors.
However, when he first mentioned plans to start making his own cheeses, I was doubtful. I knew from others' experiences that even the most seasoned home cook can have trouble wrangling curds and whey successfully into the fully actualized cheeses. Humidity, fungus, faulty rennet as well as human error can easily throw a wrench in the process such that after six hours of stirring and three gallons of expensive milk, you find yourself with one measly soggy ball of tasteless mash.
To educate himself on the ins and outs of home cheese-making, Wyatt watched an impressive number of YouTube instructional videos, many of which featured an hirsute albeit extremely fastidious amateur cheese-monger from New Zealand.
Then his parents gifted him with a cheese press for Christmas. Next he found a hookup for some raw (unpasteurized) milk, whose natural flora encourage stronger curd formation and cultivate deeper flavors.
With these supplies in hand and a head brimming with tips and directions, Wyatt marched into the kitchen to attempt his first cheese, a farmhouse cheddar. I withdrew to the study to work on my dissertation and play online mahjong (trust me, each activity really enhances the other).
If the words "delayed gratification" make you shudder, then home cheese-making or living with a home cheese-maker is not for you. Turning several gallons of milk into a dry solid dairy mound requires many, many hours. Then comes coating the cheese in multiple layers of wax (a process hampered, admittedly, when your wife keeps sticking her fingers in the hot wax just for shits and giggles) and finally, the aging period, which lasts, at minimum, weeks, and often a year or more.
Was this cheese worth the wait? No, to be honest, not the first one. It was a bit dry and bland. But the second and third cheeses my beloved cheesemaker produced were absolutely terrific. Both were consumed almost all in one sitting along with several bottles of wine, fig jelly, mustard and crackers.
Cheese No. 4, a red chile, is waxed and waiting in a special minifridge I've dubbed the fromage cooler. The release date is TBD, but rumors suggest an unveiling may occur around the first of next month. We certainly can't wait too much longer; there's scant room in the fromage cooler and Wyatt already has plans for a Romano.
DIY Popcorn Bar
Summer entertaining for movie night and beyond.
Summer entertaining doesn't have to be limited to the grill. Escape the heat with a movie marathon complete with a DIY Popcorn Bar.
All you'll need is freshly popped corn, paper bags or popcorn buckets, and a few fun toppings. Use chalkboards or cardboard to make your own signs, and let guests top as they please.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Spritzes: Fill plastic spray bottles with sweet
and savory butters, oils and simple syrups
• Clarified butter
• Garlic, herb and chile-infused oils
• Lemon, almond and vanilla simple syrups
Drizzles: Warm bowls of sauce for drizzling
• Chocolate Syrup
• Peanut butter sauce
Sprinkles: Fill saltshakers with a variety of
salts and spices
• Homemade ranch seasoning
• Chile flakes
• Parmesan cheese
• Cinnamon, sugar and brown sugar
• Fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, basil
• Seasoned salts: garlic, lime and chile
Crunch: Set out bowls of sweet and savory
• Gummy bears
• Sliced apples
• Candied nuts
• Dried cranberries, apricots and raisins
• Reese's Pieces
• Chocolate and peanut butter chips
• Sliced jalapeños
• Crumbled bacon
• Pistachios, peanuts, almonds
• Pretzel bites
• Cheddar cheese
• Pumpkin and sunflower seeds
Assembling the (almost) perfect version of this drink.
Last Christmas, my ever-thoughtful sister Jackie-O presented me with a set of six Moscow Mule mugs to aid and abet my cocktail adventures. Jackie-O, usually devoted to other varieties of vodka highballs, had herself recently developed a liking for the spicy, slightly citrusy spirit of the Moscow Mule. While she was content to sip her Moscow Mules in any old glass, she thought I probably was more fussy about the barware.
Oh, what a generous assumption. Considering I have been known on more than one occasion to drink wine out of a mug and martinis out of wine glasses, I can hardly claim to be a stickler for matching beverages with their proper containers. But now that I had the copper mugs, I would, by God, use them exclusively for Moscow Mules. And also perhaps juice when I was too lazy to run the dishwasher.
Ted Haigh calls the Moscow Mule "a good example of the cocktail creep," because it's served with ice and therefore is technically a highball (a category of drinks once separate from but now conflated with the cocktail). Highball, cocktail, vodka buck — this drink by any name would taste as refreshing at the end of a languid summer afternoon. Traditional recipes usually resemble something like this:
• 2 ounces vodka
• 4 ounces ginger beer
• juice of half a lime
Squeeze lime juice into Mule mug. Add ice, vodka and ginger beer. Drop in lime peel.
Any spicy ginger beer works well with a Moscow Mule, but for the sake of authenticity (I mean, I already have the mugs, so why hold back?), I like to use Cock 'n Bull ginger beer, named for the tavern where the Moscow Mule was supposedly first invented. John Martin, who had recently acquired Smirnoff vodka, was visiting the bar and learned that its owner, Jack Morgan, had an excess of ginger beer on his hands. Morgan's willingness to get rid of the ginger beer plus Martin's eagerness to promote vodka as a suitable spirit for mixed drinks led to some experimentation...thus the Moscow Mule was born. And the copper mug? For that we can thank Morgan's savvy lady friend, who had inherited a flagging copper products business and was looking for an in on the deal.
Now, this particular Moscow Mule is just "almost" perfect. While I had the proper glass and ginger beer, I lacked the Smirnoff because, as you know, you can't buy hard alcohol on a Sunday. Because it's the Lord's Day. Remember, there's no separation of church and state in this country. Wait a minute...
ANYWAY, non-Smirnoff vodka worked just fine. I had just one, in pious moderation.
Openings and Closings
More gains than losses with openings of Seasons 52, Taquerias Arandas and Chopping Block Gourmet Burgers.
The month of May has seen many restaurants and bars come and go, including a few surprises and an earlier good-bye from a well-loved establishment, but last week fortunately brought more openings than closings.
As Mai Pham reported, Seasons 52 opened May 23 offering a menu filled with items under 475 calories. You can eat a tasty meal without having to loosen the belt on your pants.
The north Houston and Katy areas got a new place to grab some tacos and authentic Mexican food with the opening of two Taquerias Arandas. Although two sushi restaurants closed their doors a couple weeks ago, B4-U-Eat reports that another one quietly opened in Sugar Land. Aki Steak and Sushi offers typical udon noodle dishes, hibachi grilled entrées and a bountiful number of sashimi and sushi rolls, including a pink soy paper-wrapped crab-and-avocado roll named the Katy Perry.
If you're thinking about traveling to Galveston, you have a few more choices. The Galvez Bar & Grill took the place of the bar and restaurant in the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Galveston May 24 after hotel renovations were complete. The new bar and restaurant offers double bar capacity with enough seating for relaxing, socializing and dining and new menu selections, with a focus on local Gulf seafood, burgers and salads.
Another choice on Seawall Boulevard is Redfish Pool Bar — noted by the Houston Chronicle — which sits in front of Casey's Kitchen & Beach Bar, which just so happens to have been renamed Nick's Kitchen & Beach Bar.
To the surprise of many, Eater reports, Hawthorn shut its doors two weeks ago. According to partner Jeff Gainsborough, "For legal reasons, we cannot go into details, but we did not want to close."
In other closings, Baklava Café in Sugar Land shut its doors last week, along with Juan and Lefty's Mexican Cantina on Louetta Road in Spring, as reported by B4-U-Eat.
Taco Milagro closed on May 26, reportedly due to an inability to pay the rent in the upscale area of Kirby and Westheimer, as noted by the Chronicle. There's a possibility that Taco Milagro will reopen in a different location, though.
Fitting for the end of Burger Month, the Heights received another burger restaurant, Chopping Block Gourmet Burgers. From the one review on Yelp, it seems as though Chopping Block could be a cool place to hang out at lunch, dinner and later in the evening at the full-service bar.
Last Thursday, Hurricane Grill & Wings held its grand opening in the Champions area on FM 1960 West, offering more than 30 flavors of sauces and rubs for wings. From 3 to 7 p.m. each weekday, enjoy happy hour with $2 domestic 16-ounce beers, $5 margaritas and half-priced appetizers. The franchise has plans to add four more locations in Houston.
Keep an eye out for several restaurants to appear in coming months. The Houston Chronicle lets us know that Jus' Mac's third location will be taking the space previously occupied by the recently closed Jeannine's Bistro.
Last year's MasterChef champion, Christine Ha, also has plans to open a restaurant in Houston, with the assistance of MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich. Eater reports that information about when the restaurant will open, where it will be and what Ha will serve is still up in the air, but we can't wait.
Swamplot let us know that the Hungry's in Rice Village is being demolished, only to create a new Hungry's in the same location that will be a two-story building.
The Woodlands Waterway will also soon receive a Morton's, The Steakhouse in the previous location of Stir Crazy. Although this spot has held several restaurants over the years, maybe this well-known steakhouse will stick around for a while.
For the entire month of openings and closings:
Aki Steak & Sushi, 510 Hwy. 6 Ste. 180, 281-565-1110
Camerata, 1834 Westheimer, Coming Soon
Chopping Block Gourmet Burgers, 5317 Washington Ste. B, 832-804-9969
Churrasco's, Coming Soon
Cloud 10 Creamery, 5216 Morningside, 281-310-1662
Coppa Osteria, 5210 Morningside, Coming Soon
Crawdaddy's Cajun Cafe, 9311 FM 1488 Rd., Ste. 10, 281-789-7568
D&T Drive-Inn, 1307 Enid, 713-868-6165
Diablo Loco Wings & Mas Sports Bar, 6025 Richmond, 713-266-4244
Dunkin Donuts, 10705 Westheimer, 713-266-2000
El Gran Malo, 419 Travis, Coming Soon
Eleven XI, 607 W. Gray, 713-529-5881
Floyd's on the Water,1301 Harbor Walk Blvd., Hitchcock, 409-935-8060
Galvez Bar & Grill, 2024 Seawall Blvd., 409-765-7721
Hungry's in Rice Village, 2536 Rice Blvd., 713-523-8652
Hurricane Grill & Wings, 4505 FM 1960 West, 281-580-1386
Jus' Mac, 106 Westheimer, Coming Soon
Katch-22, 700 Durham Dr., 281-482-5100
Kuu, 820 Gessner, Coming Soon
Little Woodrow's, 720 Shepherd, 832-804-9941
Morton's — The Steakhouse, 25 Waterway Ave., The Woodlands, Coming Soon
Osteria Mazzantini, 2200 Post Oak Blvd., 713-533-0200
Pistolero's, 1517 Westheimer, 281-974-3860
Porch Swing Desserts, 801 Louisiana, Ste. T-100, 713-429-1338
Redfish Pool Bar, 3823 Seawall Blvd., 409-762-9625
Ruggles Green, 748 E. 11th St., 713-714-8460
Seasons 52, 4410 Westheimer, 713-621-5452
Taqueria Arandas, 223 S. Mason Rd., 281-829-9939, and 10739 North Fwy., 281-272-1556
The Pastry War, 310 Main, 713-555-1111
Trigger Happy, 308 Main, 713-555-1111
Vallone's, Coming Soon
Azteca's, 2207 Richmond
Baklava Cafe, 1531 Texas 6 #100
Cafe Adobe, 2111 Westheimer
Feast, 219 Westheimer
Hawthorn, 3200 Kirby
Juan and Lefty's Mexican Cantina, 1440 Louetta Rd.
Jeannine's Bistro, 106 Westheimer
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Sugarbaby's Cupcake Boutique, 3310 S. Shepherd
Sushi Raku, 3201 Louisiana
Taco Milagro, 2555 Kirby
Zushi Japanese Cuisine, 5900 Memorial