Bring 'Em Back
We've been lamenting the discontinued food items that were sadistically ripped from our lives and our stomachs by the soulless monster that is corporate America. It's a cruel, cruel world out there, even for that staple on every fast-food joint menu: the side.
So grab a box of tissues, pour yourself a glass of Scotch and get ready to wallow in misery as we take a look at the top five sides we want back.
5. The Original Domino's Cheesy Bread
Once upon a time, Domino's Cheesy Bread was the perfect start to a mediocre meal: a chewy, moist blob of dough topped with a mixture of greasy, tangy cheddar and gooey yet crisp mozzarella served alongside thick, sugary marinara. It lived a charitable life, bringing joy and happiness to millions of drunk people across the world.
But then one day, Gluttony knocked on Domino's door and was all like, "Hey, I don't think there's enough cheese on there, bro. Let's stuff the shit that we just topped with a ton of cheese with more cheese and make it so that you can't even tell it's bread anymore. Right? It'll be awesome. It'll be like, you just got stuffed! While we're at it, let's start serving pasta stuffed inside bread, too, brah. Let's just stuff everything."
Look at us, Domino's. Does it look to you like we need more cheese? Does it!?
4. McDonald's Salad Shakers
It was a salad...in a cup! Just drizzle on your dressing, shake and eat. All of the lettuce leaves were coated, the salad was tossed well and pretty much everything was right with the world.
And how easy was that, really? So easy...
...almost too easy, though, right, Ronald?
It was just sooo incredibly friggin' simple and convenient that you had to pry it away from our greedy little fingers and force us to use forks again. You guys just poured the salad straight from the cup into your mouths, too, right? No?
3. Wendy's Super Bar
In case you wanted a side salad, beef tacos and spaghetti alfredo with your Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger (and who'd wouldn't?), Wendy's offered its guests the super-classy Superbar for only $2.99.
The ultra-swank buffet bar came with three sections:
The Garden Spot: Where one could get their fill of (fresh?) lettuce, carrots, croutons and cherry tomatoes to complete the world's most standard side salad.
The Mexican Fiesta: Where one could then top said side salad with ground beef, sour cream and cheese or make a soft taco with all of the above, plus refried beans.
And finally, the ingeniously named...
Pasta Pasta station: Where one would then top a beef taco and refried bean salad with marinara, dunk a breadstick in cream sauce and toss it all together with some spaghetti (just kidding...or am I?).
Sound good? Hell, no — it just sounds wrong! But there was just something about the Super Bar that was so, so right.
2. Burger King's Cheesy Tots
This one's a killer. It's heart-wrenching, really. The Cheesy Tot was a cheery young lad, a tater tot mixed with gooey cheese and deep-fried until crisp and golden-brown. It lived a peaceful life, harmoniously coexisting with both the regular and the breakfast menu.
And then (duhn, duhn, duhn), out of nowhere, the tot was taken.
Hysteria ensued, and the people immediately took to the message boards, with posts ranging from utter devastation, anger and confusion to a full-on U.S. government conspiracy theory.
We'll let the boards speak for themselves:
"This is a travesty...PLEASE bring them back!!" — Totlover112
"Man when i found out that bk had discontinued the cheesy tots i was so blah, it was like a slap on the face..." — Damian.
"It's the end of the world as we know it!" — cheesy sadness
"The day I went thru the drive thru and was told they were no longer being offered, I literally cried." — shi5782
"They make me feel better when im blue. You can put them in your sandwiches and its delicious. Im sooo sad. — Bryan_
"I don't understand why. " — RIPcheesytots
"I refuse too eat at burger king untill they bring back the tots of delicious cheesiness ...IM ON STRIKE U HEAR ME KING????" — blueeyez
"this is only the first step on the path. Soon, the government will control everything we are allowed to eat, drink, smoke, etc. We are all too 'dumb' to think for ourselves, hence the government feels it must do it for us! It WILL get worse." — MsChef
Now that paranoia has kicked in, it's time to move on to our No. 1 Please God Bring This To Us Again Side Item...
1. McDonald's Fried Apple Pies
Revamped Happy Meals, saying goodbye to the Super Size, trans fat-free fries — great! We appreciate the effort for "healthier" options, McDonald's, we really do.
But our pies? Our beloved Deep Fried Pies? Why, McDonald's? Why?
The baked pie is just a sadder version of its former self, its crisp, flaky, greasy crust now transformed into a dry, crumbly dough, making a mockery of the chain's signature thick and gooey apple cinnamon filling.
Even the Cherry Pie, which had no discernible cherries inside, was delicious once deep-fried.
Luckily, fried-pie fanatics like Serious Eats have come up with at-home solutions (e.g., sticking the baked apple pie into a vat of oil), while others set out to discover locations that still sell the full-fat version (mainly Walmart, which makes sense).
How to spot a genuine Tex-Mex restaurant.
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. The book contains — as you would guess — many nifty how-to lists. Among those in "From Chuck Wagon to Cocina," the food section of the handbook, are lists on how to spot genuine barbecue joints, Tex-Mex restaurants and chicken-fried steak spots.
All of those how-to guides include "fly swatters" on the lists of things to look for in a legit establishment. But that's not all...
According to Kent, these are the necessary items you should find inside any Tex-Mex joint worth its fajitas:
• One or two serapes draped on chairs
• Paintings on velvet of bullfighters, sequined sombreros, on the walls
• Hot sauce and fresh tortilla chips brought to the table with the menu
• Dishes named "Combination," "Regular," "Fiesta" or for a city or state in Mexico: "Saltillo," for instance
• Mexican beers on the menu
• Inexpensive prices
• Cactus collection
• Pralines wrapped in wax paper at the end of the meal
• Shell no-pest strip
• Red plastic roses and red plaster bulls
• Fly swatter
While it's tough to argue with most of the items on the list (especially the dishes named after a city or state in Mexico), you could definitely argue that these definitive items are among the reasons most Texans — and certainly Houstonians — are so tough-minded in their rigid definitions of what Tex-Mex (and, by our curious logic, Mexican food on the whole) should be now and forever.
The book is 30 years old, and almost all of these items — sans the no-pest strips and fly swatters, thanks to rampant a/c — hold true, although you generally have to pay for your pralines at the end of the meal now. We fear change when it comes to our Tex-Mex food.
In fact, the only things I'd add to the list today would be:
• Murals of Aztec scenes or cityscapes from places like Monterrey (if the mural is of Monterrey, it must include at least one soccer stadium)
• Margaritas on the menu
• Sizzling comals of meat and/or shrimp on at least half the occupied tables
• Tiny abuelitas making tortillas (whether visible from the dining room or not)
• Strolling mariachis playing "Guantanamera" for the 12th time that night even though it's a Cuban song
• Bottles of Tapatio and/or Valentina hot sauce on the table
Do these things always have to define a good Tex-Mex restaurant? Absolutely not, nor should you judge a place by how many serapes it has hanging from the walls. But that doesn't mean most of us aren't doing it anyway. By Katharine Shilcutt
The Day After
Hubcap Grill's Hangover Burger vs. Jus' Mac's Hangover Mac & Cheese.
The much-touted, often dubious "Hangover Cure" has existed for almost as long as the hangover itself. In fact, the first hangover cure is said to date to the mid-17th century, when two frat boys at The Sorbonne tried eating salted honey, plum rinds and tree bark to get rid of a vicious Natty Bo hangover. From medicines to old wives' tales, for as long as man has been overdoing it, he has sought a way to mitigate the effects of the dreaded hangover.
In Houston, at least two local eateries feature a "Hangover" menu item: Jus' Mac with its "Hangover Mac and Cheese" and Hubcap Grill's 19th Street location with its "Hangover Burger."
Both are fat-filled items aimed at sating that rolling stomach and calming the pounding skull. I decided to pack up my road-weary liver and poor life choices and set out to put both "cures" to the test.
The Hangover Burger from Hubcap Grill
I hope you are at least starting to sober up at this point, because even fitting this giant burger in your face is a task. You probably still have last night's 3 a.m. Taco Bell on your shirt; let's not make it worse.
The burger itself is a study in excess brought to you by a burger place that takes self-indulgence to Tarantino-esque levels. Since adding just one pork product to a hamburger is at this point passé, Hubcap offers up a thick beef patty covered in crispy, blackened bacon that is itself topped with a palm-size hunk of grilled ham. Topping that monstrosity of meat is a good quarter order of Hubcap's fries and cream gravy. You might as well add a fried egg on top for an extra buck.
Suffice to say the burger is excellent. I would have liked some heat from, say, Sriracha, but being subjective, I am an advocate of the use of Sriracha in everything from baked goods to foreplay, so my bias here is clear. Some acidity, like tomatoes or pickles, in the monster burger couldn't have hurt, either, but adding veggies to this beast borders on heresy so I'll let that slide as well.
Now for the real science: How does it hold up as a hangover cure? I've broken it down to a score based on a patented formula using fat content, comfort food factor and shear ludicrousnessitude of ingredients, along with several other undisclosed but highly scientific measures. Also factored in: bonus points I made up because I felt like it.
Hangover dissipation quotient: 8.1
The Hangover Burger has all four major drunken food groups: beef, bacon, gravy and self-loathing. A hangover food champion for sure.
Bonus jaw damage points : 1.2
Unless you have a background in porn or have a jaw like those vampires in Blade II (shout-out to the three people reading this who've seen Blade II), the pain in your jaw after you finish is going to make you forget all about the jackhammer going on in your head.
Soundtrack points: -.5
I love Hubcap's very well-curated jukebox, I really do, but Mötley Crüe and The Cult aren't doing anything for my pounding head. And stop looking at me so loud while you're at it. Fuck.
Overall score: 8.8
A strong score, to be sure. The Hangover Burger is enough to cure the hangover you earned while drinking to forget you saw The Hangover 2. But is it enough to top...
Hangover Mac and Cheese from Jus' Mac
This order of Mac and Cheese poses a dilemma. It's ugly. If your morning delirium tremens is making you particularly queasy, the Hangover Mac and Cheese may be a no-go for you. Once you get over the fact that it looks a bit like dog-food casserole, it's an awesome meal. Not all of Jus' Mac's specialty menu items are winners; some are just abominations to the holy name of Mac and Cheese.
The Hangover, however, is Jus' Mac's crown jewel. It starts with the standard mac and cheese interspersed with bacon and served in a small, personal-size cast-iron skillet. Throw in some hash browns with sautéed onions and tomatoes for a diced and smothered nod to Waffle House. Then, keeping with the theme of really overdoing things, it's topped with a fried egg, jalapeños and a house-made green habanero salsa. The habanero salsa is completely uncalled for here, and it's pitch-perfect.
On to the scorers' table:
Hangover Cure Quotient: 8.4
This cream and carbohydrate train-wreck has a high shovelability factor, an importance I cannot overemphasize. You'll have inhaled it before the skillet stops sizzling.
Parking Lot Bumper Car Probability Factor: -.6
Let's face it, you may still be drunk. Making it out of this Lilliputian parking lot unscathed is going to be a miracle.
Mac and Cheese Bonus Points: 1
Macaroni and cheese always receives one bonus point. It's a physical law.
Overall Score: 8.8
A dead-heat tie at the scoreboard. Tiebreaker round goes to...
Oh, come on...look at that beer list. You thought an article about hangovers wasn't gonna come down to booze? And let's be honest, we all know the only real hangover cure is more alcohol.
Winner: Hubcap Grill's Hangover Burger
*No, I don't condone irresponsible drinking (ahem).
*Yes, I know tomatoes aren't vegetables.
*Yes, I made these additional notes by trying to troll my own article.
By Joshua Justice
Openings & Closings
A good, old-fashioned burger and a good Old Fashioned.
It's been quiet around the city as the summer wears on and few restaurants are opening their doors. At least two braved the heat to do so this past week, though.
After a lengthy construction and renovation process, The Refinery Burgers & Whiskey finally opened at 702 West Dallas. The tongue-in-cheek name refers to our city's rich history with oil and gas, and the logo features the word "Refinery" made from a collage of various gas station signs, both old and new.
The Refinery is both an icehouse and a whiskey bar, where you can get a good, old-fashioned burger and a good Old Fashioned at the same time, as well as craft beer on tap and appetizers like wings and cheese fries. It plans to keep late-night hours — until midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on the weekends — and will soon have a full patio as well, which was being built when I visited last week.
Way out west, another spot serving good beer and grub has opened in an old car wash at 5320 Westheimer. The West End opened after an extensive renovation that added a 4,000-square-foot patio to the space. Billing itself as a gastropub, the bar also features an impressive wall of taps that promise to hold plenty of craft beer.
In case you missed the recent news, a third pub is on its way soon: an OKRA-run charity bar in the old Red Cat Jazz space downtown. When it opens this fall, the bar plans to donate 100 percent of its proceeds to a different local charity each month.
Last but not least, Moon Tower Inn is finally getting closer to its big reopening day. On its Facebook page last week, the team posted an excited message: "CHECK OUT THIS HOLE. SOON IT WILL BE A BAR FOR YOU TO STAND AT AND DRINK DELICIOUS DAMN BEER!!!!!" A drive past Moon Tower on Wednesday night revealed a crew hard at work transforming shipping containers into a new restaurant/bar space for the East End hot dog and beer joint.
Fall needs to hurry up and get here already. By Katharine Shilcutt
IN THE TRENCHES
Dining Out Near Closing Time: How Late Is Too Late?
How late is too late to order food at a restaurant? That was the thought that plagued me as I sped toward Jeannine's Bistro recently, determined to get in a necessary lunch of moules-frites for a post. The bistro closes for lunch at 2 p.m.; at best, I was going to make it in the door at 1:40 p.m. I recalled my days as a hostess and waitress and felt chagrined.
The latest I like to enter a restaurant prior to its closing is 30 minutes. I feel that this is a reasonable buffer of time for the kitchen to take final orders before breaking down and cleaning up and for your average diner to get through a meal. I would never dream of walking into a restaurant a few minutes before closing — not just because of the icy glares I'd surely get from the waiters, but also because I remember how tired I was at the end of a long shift, how eager I was to get off my feet and out of clothes that constantly smelled of refried beans.
I felt bad enough entering Jeannine's Bistro at 1:40 p.m. that day, even though the waitstaff was utterly gracious and accommodating the entire time, never once indicating that I was cutting it close or that they wanted to rush me out the door. But that hasn't always been the case at other restaurants.
In an article for Creative Loafing last year, LA Weekly food critic Besha Rodell told a tale of being rushed rudely through her meal after arriving at 10:25 p.m. — even though the restaurant didn't close until 11 p.m. We've all experienced the same phenomenon: Waiters staring holes through your head while wiping down tables and stacking chairs all around you, eventually slamming the door behind you as you leave.
So how late is too late to darken a restaurant's door?
"If they're not willing to take orders up until closing time (and I agree this is an ambiguous concept, closing time, that is)," says Robert Sietsema, food critic for The Village Voice, "they should do what my laundromat does when it posts a sign that says, 'Last Wash at 7:30.'"
Chimes in fellow food critic Scott Reitz at the Dallas Observer: "Robert's right. Customers shouldn't be expected to guess an arbitrary time that's acceptable for ordering. A customer should be able to walk in and place an order any time within the posted hours. If that's not acceptable, it's on the restaurant to make their expectations clear."
Food writers who've worked in restaurants can't help seeing things from the waitstaff's point of view, including Hanna Raskin at the Seattle Weekly: "As an eater," she says, "I have a very different opinion on this matter than I did as a working waitress. Since I have to plan my meals in advance, I rarely run up against a closing time, but agree with our colleagues that a restaurant is obligated to honor whatever's on the door. If a restaurant is open to 9 p.m., someone who shows up at 8:59 p.m. should get the same treatment as the diner who arrived at 5:59 p.m."
However, Raskin contends: "The problem is, diners do a notoriously bad job of handling their restaurant freedoms, such as determining a tip. Same goes for behaving considerately at the tail end of service." And often, it's these same stragglers who leave a completely unacceptable tip for keeping the restaurant open past its posted business hours.
If a restaurant closes for lunch at, say, 2 p.m., sommelier Evan Turner says, the latest he'd expect a customer in the door would be "1:45 p.m., but you had better tip big time." Tipping considerately for keeping the kitchen open is a good rule of thumb, as is calling ahead.
"In my own experience," says Riverfront Times food critic Ian Froeb, "I've found a friendly phone call on the way to a restaurant — 'Hey, we were thinking of swinging by in x minutes. Could we still order?' — can improve your odds, especially if you give a definite time frame and specify if you're looking for just appetizers, a meal, the tasting menu (good luck with that) or whatever."
Even if you don't call ahead, however, a good restaurant will serve you anyway.
Says Amanda McGraw, executive chef at River Oaks hot spot Brasserie 19: "I believe you should serve up to 15 minutes past the time posted. Our lunch ends at 3 p.m., but we still serve lunch until 4 p.m. sometimes. Our dinner ends at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, but we still serve 30 minutes past closing time often."
She adds: "A pet peeve of mine is walking into a restaurant 20 minutes before closing and the host acts like they are doing me a favor by seating me, so we do the opposite here! We are here to serve. Guests pay our paychecks. I would never want to rush a guest or make anyone feel unwelcome."
Carlos Rodriguez, the executive chef at swanky downtown steakhouse Vic & Anthony's, agrees: "We will keep seating and taking orders after close, basically until there is nobody left to serve. The cutoff only occurs when there are no more orders working in the kitchen. In other words, if a table sits at 10:05 p.m. and orders at 10:15 p.m., and another table shows up while we're still cooking that order, we will seat the new table. We won't turn anyone away, basically, unless we have already shut down the equipment and begun to clean."
"I will say," Rodriguez concedes, "the staff hates it, but I really believe that it breeds goodwill with our guests to know that they are always welcome to come in." By Katharine Shilcutt
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.