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First Look at Espresso Rescue

Get ready for froyo on-the-go!
Courtesy Menchie's

Caffeine

With the influx of food trucks to the Houston mobile dining scene, we seem to be missing one type of truck. The city is blessed with numerous wagons that will satisfy the late-night munchies, the sugar cravings in the afternoon and everything else in between, but we don't have enough trucks to jump-start our mornings. I'm talking coffee trucks.

A little more than a month ago, Houston's first coffee truck, Espresso Rescue, rolled into the area, and since then it has been offering up caffeinated drinks throughout the day at various food parks. We decided to check out this espresso ambulance and see if its drinks and snacks were up to par with those at other local coffee establishments. Hint: It surpasses all expectations.

Espresso Rescue, a.k.a. ER, is a camper-van turned into an ambulance coffee truck complete with emergency lights and sirens. From a distance, one would mistake it for a real ambulance, especially when the truck is at Houston Food Park, which is near St. ­Joseph Medical Center. But at closer glance, the graphic on the side of the truck of a giant cup with coffee spilling out of its top reveals that this is no medical ambulance; instead, it's a coffee ambulance, but the servers do wear scrubs and surgical hats.

The truck's owner, James Weaver, provides Houstonians with a selection of drinks made with Katz Coffee. Do you enjoy a creamy latte in the morning? What about a simple drip coffee to pick you up in the afternoon? Or do you prefer an Americano with two shots of espresso? Whatever your coffee preferences, the coffee truck will hook you up. Inside the ambulance, Weaver has several espresso machines, milk frothers and coffeemakers set up to create just about anything you can find at a local shop. Add a pump (or two) of peppermint, hazelnut or vanilla syrup to your coffee for a hint of sweetness, or keep it plain Jane with milk and sugar.

Espresso Rescue not only serves a variety of coffee drinks, but also sells those giant cinnamon rolls from Sinfull Bakery. We recommend you ask for your cinnamon roll to be heated in the microwave. There seriously isn't anything better than a warm, sticky cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee in the morning. There really isn't.

Oh, yeah, and a cinnamon roll and small cappuccino is just $7. Not too bad.

Most mornings you'll find Espresso Rescue at Houston Food Park, either by itself or with another morning food truck favorite, such as Katmania Crepes. The coffee truck then heads to Mangum Food Park or My Food Park HTX for the afternoons and evenings.

With a little bit more than a month of experience under its belt, Espresso Rescue is proving to be an excellent addition to the Houston food truck scene.
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Food Trucks

Menchie's to Open Frozen-Yogurt Truck
Houston's first self-serve froyo wagon is on the way.

Kaitlin Steinberg

If you could picture the perfect food truck festival fare for a hot summer day in Houston, what would it be? My ideal warm-weather food is frozen yogurt, but that's not an option at any food truck in town...yet.

The owners of Houston Menchie's Frozen Yogurt franchises, Andrew Martin and Andy Brantner, also noticed the lack of a froyo food truck and decided to do something about it. Toward the end of this month, Houston will welcome its first self-serve frozen yogurt truck, which will also be one of the few of its kind in the country.

"We opened our first location a few years ago, and the No. 1 question we get asked is, 'Do you have a food truck?'" Brantner says. "We've always wanted to, but we've been busy building our operation."

The time is right now, though, and the build-out of the Menchie's food truck is well under way near the Menchie's storefront in the Heights.

The food truck will function pretty much the same way as the Menchie's stores do — self-serve machines and all. According to Brantner, there will be three self-serve yogurt machines built into the truck. Each machine will have two flavors, so the truck will carry six flavors in total.

The machines will be behind panels on the side of the truck that open up to allow visitors to dispense their own yogurt. There will also be a stand for cups and a section with eight toppings, which will rotate on a regular basis, built into the truck.

Unlike the store, which weighs the yogurt and toppings and charges by weight, the truck will have a $5 flat price per bowl of yogurt, no matter how much you dispense and pile on.

"It's the same thing we do on Monday nights at the store," Brantner says. "Recently, we had someone get a 40-ounce cup for $5. It's kind of our way of giving back to our customers."

 

Brantner says the flavors and toppings will change frequently in order to give diners the most variety, but there will always be a sorbet for people who are lactose-intolerant, and he suspects there will always be a sugar-free flavor for diabetics as well.

Look for the plum-colored truck to be hitting the streets toward the end of the month, and follow the new mobile froyo unit on Twitter to find out where it'll be stationed for the grand opening.
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Best of Houston

Rest of the Best 2014
Top 10 milkshakes in Houston.

Kaitlin Steinberg

Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in many 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're rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!

I won't even tell you how many milkshake jokes I heard while taste-testing shakes around town the past few weeks.

Thankfully, most of the shakes were good enough to make me overlook the lewd (though apropos) commentary from servers and other diners. Even during our (mild) Houston winters, there's something undeniably comforting about a good chocolate milkshake that makes you forget all your troubles for a while. Milkshakes remind you of your childhood, when time moved more slowly and the world was much more innocent. This list will tell you where to go to recapture some of that magic.

Of course, now that we're adults and we're stressed and the world is a crazy/terrifying place and you can't even get a damn milkshake without listening to a sexual joke, regular milkshakes often just don't cut it. And that's why there are boozy milkshakes. Those are represented in abundance on this list as well.

You're welcome.

10. Becks Prime

Yes, it's essentially a fast-food restaurant, and yes, I'm pretty sure the chocolate milkshake is made with vanilla soft serve and Hershey's chocolate syrup (rather than chocolate ice cream), but no matter. The Becks Prime shake is smooth, creamy and almost impossibly thick, straddling the line between ice cream and milkshake. Initially, you have to eat it with a spoon, because it's too dense to suck up through a straw. Of course, it's so delicious, you might eat the whole thing before it melts enough to drink, anyway.

9. Katz's

Katz's is great not only because it's open around the clock and makes some fine Jewish deli fare, but also because the place knows how to do a milkshake. Rather than the traditional blending of ice cream and milk, Katz's ups the ante by sticking an entire slice of cheesecake into the blender as well. The cheesecake milkshake (say that five times fast) has an extra-tangy bite to it that normal milkshakes don't, and the graham cracker crust gives it just a hint of that hearty graham flavor.

8. Little Bigs

Ladies and gents, I give you the first of the boozy shakes on the list. Little Bigs makes two incredible milkshakes, The Dude — a nod to the White Russians in The Big Lebowski — and a simple, pure white butterscotch shake that tastes just like those Werther's Originals your grandpa carries around in his pockets. It's The Dude that I prefer, though, with its coffee liqueur and icy texture reminiscent of a frappuccino. One isn't strong enough to get you good and buzzed, but the nice patio at Little Bigs invites you to kick back and stay all afternoon. How many The Dudes can you put back over the course of a few hours?

7. Alamo Drafthouse

I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: This movie theater makes good food. It's not one of those places where the movies come first and the food is an afterthought. At Alamo Drafthouse, both the eatables and drinkables are prepared with care. And as of January 17, the already tasty milkshakes can have liquor blended right in. The Mexican Chocolate is particularly decadent, with vanilla ice cream, reposado tequila, chocolate sauce and cinnamon. The combination of the tequila and cinnamon gives it an extra bite that virgin chocolate shakes definitely don't have.

6. The Chocolate Bar

Any flavor of ice cream at The Chocolate Bar can be turned into a milkshake, which means that at any time, there are at least 20 varieties of ­milkshake to be had (more if you mix flavors). The kind folks behind the counter will recommend something without nuts, since nuts tend to stay chunky and clog up the straw, but I say go for it and eat the darn thing with a spoon instead! At The Chocolate Bar, milkshakes are made precisely the way they should be — with ice cream and milk and nothing else except a dollop of whipped cream on top.

 

5. Jerry Built Homegrown Burgers

Milkshakes with a conscience? Sign me up! At Jerry Built Homegrown Burgers, many of the ingredients are either organic or locally produced, from the buns baked daily by Three Brothers Bakery, to Niman Ranch beef patties, to shakes made with Blue Bell ice cream and local fruit. The shakes are particularly great because they're made with real ingredients — no sugary syrups allowed. The strawberry shake is appropriately tart and features whole strawberries blended in with the ice cream. The best shake on the menu, though, is the Ginger Bull, made with Three Brothers Bakery ginger bull cookies thrown right into the blender. Thick, spicy, ­sinfully good and all local.

4. Grub Burger Bar

This College Station import does several things very well. Gourmet burgers. Fresh salads. Over-the-top french fries. Milkshakes. Both the $4.25 hand-spun shakes and the spiked milkshakes for $6.50 are near-perfect versions of the classic treats, thanks to the creamy texture and the nuanced flavors that come through in the alcoholic and nonalcoholic versions. A Nutella shake tastes like the addictive spread was somehow thinned to slurping density without losing any of its rich, nutty flavor. The "Texaz," a chocolate shake with tequila and coffee liqueur, packs a mighty punch and will convince even hardcore non-tequila drinkers that the agave liquor pairs incredibly well with chocolate.

3. 59 Diner

If ever there were the perfect setting for a milkshake, this is it. It's the definition of a classic 1950s soda fountain, and the milkshake, served in a tall glass with the leftovers in the metal mixing container, is proof of that. Keep it classic with a chocolate shake, rich with cocoa flavor and none of that sometimes unpleasant butterfat that can coat your mouth and leave a funky aftertaste. Best to tackle the shake in the mixing container first before it melts, then move on to the light-as-air whipped cream on top of the remaining chocolate-y goodness. This milkshake isn't so thick you could eat it with a spoon, but who cares? Straws are a much faster means of moving shake to mouth.

2. Liberty Kitchen and Oyster Bar/

Petite Sweets

These two spots from restaurateurs Lee Ellis and Lance Fegen have one awesome thing in common: custard. Petite Sweets makes it in-house, and Liberty Kitchen uses that, as well as pies and cakes (also from Petite Sweets), to make some of the most outrageous milkshakes around. You want a pecan pie shake? Done. How 'bout carrot cake with vanilla custard. YES. The selection depends on what flavors of cake and pie Liberty Kitchen has on a particular day, but the kind cooks will blend any of them into a shake for you. Over at Petite Sweets, there aren't any cakes going into milkshakes, but that luscious custard alone (and maybe with a few toppings) makes one sweet shake.

1. Lola

Lola. Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo-Looooola. Sorry, the milkshakes there are so good, they make us want to sing. While the options aren't as plentiful as The Chocolate Bar's or as boozy as the ones at Grub Burger Bar, Lola sticks with an unfailingly simple recipe for both malts and shakes (only chocolate, though!). Served up in a chic diner atmosphere in a repurposed building in the Heights — think greasy spoon meets urban farm — the milkshakes at Lola are as honest and overflowing as you're apt to find. Not too hefty, not too whipped, with a perfect cap of cream and chocolate drizzle to finish you off. And the best part? There's always enough left for seconds.
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Restaurant News

Openings & Closings
A Bennigan's bites the dust...again.

Molly Dunn

Last week welcomed pizza, pasta and a whole lot of comfort food. But as we welcome these new establishments, we say good-bye to a couple of others.

A little birdie told us that on either Monday or Tuesday of last week, a "For Lease" sign appeared at Chopping Block Gourmet Burgers on Washington Avenue. After seeing four signs hanging on and around the building, we can confirm that Chopping Block's location is definitely for lease. While no formal closing announcements have been made, it's likely that the less-than-a-year-old restaurant is no more.

In "shocking" news, Bennigan's on Westheimer has closed, and according to B4-U-Eat, a 59 Diner will take its place. This makes one wonder what will happen to the second revived Bennigan's location, in Shenandoah?

Spike TV's Bar Rescue lent a helping hand to The End Zone Sports Bar & Grill on West­heimer this past week. The bar has been completely renovated and renamed Houston Sports Hub.

Another restaurant rescue show, Food Network's Restaurant Impossible, renovated Gratifi Kitchen + Bar this past week. Gratifi reopened on January 23 after two days of renovations by Robert Irvine and his crew.

 

While crawfish season isn't here just yet, LA Crawfish opened its second location on January 15 in the previous home of Kobecue on Richmond at Weslayan. Eater's Darla Guillen explains that this location is much larger than the original spot, inside the food court at Spring Branch's 99 Ranch Market. We can only imagine how packed it will be once crawfish season begins.

If you love the food doled out by Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera of Revival Market, then you're going to love their new casual Italian restaurant, Coltivare, which just opened in the Heights on White Oak. Christina Uticone took a first look at the new establishment, which opened on January 22. She explains that Coltivare offers a comfortable and relaxing dining experience accompanied by simple and approachable dishes — not to mention that it's affordable. You'll find a variety of pasta and pizza selections at this restaurant — and BYOB is encouraged. Uticone's favorite dishes were the Cacio e Pepe and the sweetbreads.

Houston fans of Luigi's Ristorante Italiano in Galveston, rejoice! The Italian restaurant, owned by Luigi Ferre, has moved into the city, at 3030 Audley, and was set to open on January 25 according to the Houston Chronicle.

Max's Wine Dive debuted its second Houston location, on Fairview in Montrose, on January 28. The newest Max's Wine Dive is next door to Cuchara. Now there are two places to get the RVP (Red Velvet Pancake), Southern fried chicken and Max 'n' Cheese in Houston.

Back in September, a fire broke out inside the kitchen of MF Sushi. Since then, our Best New Restaurant of 2013 has been closed and undergoing renovations. According to the Atlanta Business Journal, the owners, brothers Chris and Alex Kinjo, have plans to open an MF Sushi in Atlanta by 2015. The Chronicle's Alison Cook asked the brothers what their plans were for the Houston MF Sushi reopening and what their plans were for Atlanta. They assured Cook that they "will be staying mainly in Houston" and that construction on the restaurant has been delayed, so they're shooting for a February opening. Fingers crossed; we want MF Sushi back.


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