Many small brewing companies love any excuse to come out with a special beer to stir up excitement among fans. The idea is that if it's available for only a short period of time each year, people will want it that much more. In my case, it totally works.
Every year I look forward to fall beers because: 1) It's the perfect time to switch over from refreshing summer brews to something with a little more body, and 2) PUMPKIN. If ever there were a perfect pairing, I'm convinced it's hoppy wheat and pumpkin.
It's still a little early in the season for fall beers to make their debut (I'm counting down the days until October 15, Saint Arnold), but there are some pretty stellar Oktoberfests and lagers available now.
And the best part? You don't even need to look past our bountiful home state to find some great bottles (or cans). We've got some of the best made right here in Texas, baby.
Note: The following beers were all found at either The Hay Merchant, Spec's or D&Q Mini Mart. Except for Saint Arnold Pumpkinator, which, for the time being, is found only in my dreams.
8. Buffalo Bayou Figaro
Buffalo Bayou's fall seasonal is a Belgian-style quadrupel. Thick, dark and malty, the Figaro is much sweeter than I was expecting for a beer with such a high ABV (11 percent). It's got a strong flavor of raisins and figs, which can be a little cloying if you're not accustomed to sweet beers. It doesn't taste like something packed with alcohol, so beware!
7. Real Ale Oktoberfest
This is a safe beer but a highly drinkable one, which is exactly what you want when downing pint after pint with your lederhosen-clad brethren. Though it's made in Blanco, Texas, the Oktoberfest is brewed with German malt, hops and yeast to keep it as authentic as possible. It's a lovely shade of orangey amber and slightly sweet and slightly malty, with just a hint of caramel. The actual Oktoberfest in Munich would be proud.
6. Southern Star Le Mort Vivant
Southern Star's fall offering is a French-style bière de garde whose name translates to "the living dead." It's an awesome shade of bright orange with a subtle fruitiness. It's not the most complex beer and, as with an Oktoberfest, you can put back quite a bit of it without feeling like you just drank a fruitcake (coughFigarocough). Slight flavors of apples and anise come through after a few good sips.
5. Fort Bend Brewing Co. Oktoberfest
Fort Bend, a newish brewery out of Missouri City, describes this beer as bready and biscuity, and it does indeed have a slight baked-goods flavor. It's a little more complex than some other Oktoberfests, with a touch of malt and the tiniest bit of bitterness. Right now, it's available mainly at Fort Bend Brewing Co., but I snagged some from one of the Fort Bend crew members at The Hay Merchant, where it may soon be tapped. Shhhh!
4. No Label Black Wit-O
The label notes, "Be careful, it'll bite," and indeed it does, but only just a little. No Label's fall offering is a dark beer with hints of licorice, thanks to the use of star anise at the end of the brewing process. I got hints of tobacco from it, but a buddy of mine tasted chocolate. Either way, it's a rich, mysterious dark beer that's not too heavy to drink all night long.
3. Rahr & Sons Oktoberfest
This is a malty, amber lager that's not quite as light and easy as some other Oktoberfests in the lineup — which I like. This ain't no boring Oktoberfest brew out of Fort Worth. It's toasty and smooth with just a hint of sweetness that makes it the perfect partner to schnitzel and pretzels. If you're going to drink a traditional Oktoberfest beer, make it this one.
2. Karbach Krunkin Pumpkin
It's a dark, almost ruby beer that smells like spicy pumpkin pie and tastes like bitter gingerbread, combined with some legit pumpkin flavor. It's great for sipping in front of an open fire (I mean, I imagine it is, since I've only enjoyed it straight from the keg), and it definitely feels like fall in a glass. After sipping, you're left with a delicate cinnamon and nutmeg flavor lingering in your mouth and visions of jack-o-lanterns and Thanksgiving dinner dancing in your head.
1. Saint Arnold Pumpkinator
Holy imperial stout pumpkin ale, Batman! Saint Arnold's Web site states, "With the amount of pumpkin used to make Pumpkinator, we could have baked 437 pumpkin pies," and I believe it. This dark beer is wonderfully spicy and pumpkin-y, like pumpkin pie in a bottle drizzled with malty, molasses-flavored beer. Saint Arnold releases only a single batch every year, sometime around October 15, which means this isn't available just yet. But if you've never had it, I suggest you write that down on your calendar and camp outside of your neighborhood beer emporium starting today. Just to be safe. Trust me, it's worth it.
Throw the Perfect Halloween Party
Make these seven recipes for your festivities.
If your first reaction to this post is, "Whoa! It is way too early to be thinking of Halloween," then: 1) You are not my friend, 2) Stop reading and 3) Be grateful my editor at the Houston Press prevented me from publishing it in August, which is approximately when I started planning my Halloween festivities. Yes, indeed, I do love Halloween that much. It's my favorite holiday for a number of reasons, but mostly because it centers on chocolate, ghosts, pumpkins and the color orange. This October, I'm happy to guide you in planning your own All Hallow's Eve celebrations. Here, seven spooky foodstuffs I recommend for your spooky bash:
7. Ghostly Pretzel Sticks.There are many recipes for this treat on the interwebs, but all exploit that delicious medley of salt, starch and cocoa that is the chocolate-covered pretzel. Ghostly pretzel sticks are not only amusing treats for kids' parties, but they also can serve as stirrers for Halloween highballs at adult fêtes.
6. Candy Corn Cupcakes.Visually impressive yet shockingly easy to make, candy corn cupcakes double as decoration and dessert. Plus, the garnish provides a great opportunity to get rid of some extra candy corn (turns out you didn't devour those three bags you bought at CVS).
5. Mummy Meatloaf.One of the most inventive Halloween dishes I've seen in a long time, Mummy Meatloaf solves the problem of what to serve that's more "substantial" at an evening Halloween party by combining ground hamburger, thick pasta noodles, cheese and cream of mushroom soup. Like some ketchup with your meatloaf? Perfect: Now you have a bloody Mummy Loaf.
4. Jack-o-Lantern Cheese Ball.Take a picture of this snack early in the party, because the cheese pumpkin quickly loses face as guests arrive. If you enjoy mild Midwestern-style Cheddar cheese balls, go with the standard recipes; those in search of more kick should add cayenne pepper or hot sauce and try jalapeño-flavored cream cheese.
3. Mummy Dogs.A perennial favorite since Pillsbury first introduced them a few years ago, Mummy Dogs are essentially larger versions of pigs in a blanket dressed up for Hallow's Eve. Hot dogs are the most popular filler, but if you're in the mood for a classier, less processed Halloween, I suggest using organic pork or chicken sausages.
2. Brownie Pumpkin Patch/Graveyard Cake.Having made this cake every year for the past decade or so, I can say it is not for people who don't like sweets. Okay, it's rather cloying, but if there's one time of the year people are in the mood to eat a dense brownie covered in icing covered in candy, well, it's Halloween. The newest "pumpkin patch" version of the cake is fine and dandy, but I prefer the retro "cemetery" version because it cleverly uses dyed coconut for the "grass" surrounding the tombstones.
1. A Dip-Barfing Pumpkin.Many nauseated pumpkins seem prone to spewing guacamole, a popular choice, no doubt, for its color and ability to pair well with purple corn dips. Don't underestimate the deliciousness/grossness factor of a squash spewing veggie dip (gotta love those chunks!).
On the Menu
Cheap Eats in Chinatown at Xiong's Cafe
A family-friendly hole-in-the-wall with simple Chinese food.
If you're looking for cheap eats in the form of dumplings, noodles and rice plates, look no further than Xiong's Cafe, located on Bellaire Boulevard in a strip mall behind the more popular Sinh Sinh Restaurant. The modest hole-in-the-wall, composed of two small rooms, offers no-frills, simple Chinese food via counter service in a family-friendly environment.
I stopped by on a random midweek evening around 6 p.m. to try their pan-fried dumplings. Chef Benjy Mason of Down House, who lived in China when he was younger, had cited it as his go-to place for traditional jiaozi, or dumplings, and I had been meaning to try it ever since. Xiong's was also awarded Best Dumplings by the Houston Press in 2008.
The main dining room was brightly lit with fluorescents, its wooden tables and chairs reminiscent of those in a typical neighborhood restaurant you'd find in China. For decor, the wall was adorned with simply framed, faded portraits of pretty Asian women, presumably old-time Chinese movie stars or models.
A young woman stood behind a small stand topped with a cash register and a sheaf of laminated menus. I grabbed one to read, thankful that it was in English, because the entire wall behind her was a menu in Chinese characters only.
The menu was composed of appetizers and simple day-to-day fare, including dumplings, noodle soups and rice plates. I ordered the pan-fried dumplings (eight dumplings for $5.95), and because they were so inexpensive decided to order a bowl of spicy wontons, too. After paying about $11 and change (cash only), I was given a number and left the counter to find a small table.
Walking into the second room, I saw another, larger counter with another cash register. Part of the same ownership, this second counter was dedicated to drinks such as boba tea and desserts like shaved ice.
I found my table, put my number down and went over to the condiment stand to pick up utensils and make my dumpling sauce. There was a nice spread of premixed dumpling sauce, garlic, vinegar, ginger and other spices for you to concoct a sauce of your own. There was also a big pot of hot millet porridge to self-serve, so I poured myself a small bowl and settled down with my sauces, waiting for my dishes to arrive.
The millet porridge was hot and bland. I saw another woman adding spice to it, but I just scooped it up as is, enjoying the textured, watered-down flavor of lightly salted millet as I observed the tables of small families with toddlers and young children, some of whom openly stared at me, the only solo female in the place.
The spicy wontons arrived first, delivered to me by a senior gentleman with weathered hands and a slight limp. I thanked him as I eyed the dumplings with satisfaction. They looked fresh and plump, nestled in a bed of spicy Szechuan-type oil and sprinkled with crushed peanuts. And boy, were they tasty. I tried them dunked in the spicy red sauce they came with, which had heat but didn't burn, and then tried them with my vinegary dumpling sauce that I'd mixed with garlic and ginger. I liked them both ways and easily finished the dish.
By the time the pan-fried dumplings arrived, I'd polished off the bowl of wontons, and it's a good thing I did. Though they were massive in size, I was much less impressed with the dumplings, finding the wrapper too thick and doughy for my taste. I ate one or two, but left the rest, and made a mental note to come back for the wontons, for the plate of rice with pork belly and for the fried chicken wings (I'd seen them delivered to another table, and they looked pretty darn good). I hear the beef noodle soup is worth a try as well.
Caesar Salad at Provisions
Remade to be extraordinary.
Most of the time, remaking a classic can feel gimmicky and overcomplicated. There are times, though, when each twist and tweak can feel revolutionary.
And this is the case with Provisions' take on the classic Caesar salad; not only is it revolutionary, it's extraordinary.
Served as a wedge, an entire heart of ultra-crisp romaine sits plumply in the center of the white plate. On it lies a blanket of textures of flavors, each different element peeking out through the wedge's nooks and crannies.
First, the sprinkling of crisp, dehydrated bread crumbs and garlic add a buttery, spicy and peppery crunch. Next, wisps of freshly grated Parmesan bring a bite of nuttiness and saltiness, while the slivers of white anchovy practically melt in your mouth, each forkful dancing with the mild flavors of the sea. You won't find a more surprising dish in all of Houston.
It's definitely rich, but if there's one thing the chefs at Provisions know, it's balance; ultra-thin slices of pickled lemon and caper berries are scattered throughout, brightening the dish and providing just the right touch of acid.
Light, fresh, salty, lemony, garlicky and cheesy, the dish has all the classic flavors of a Caesar salad, but each and every one of them is elevated into something much better, resulting in a salad "experience" that you'll be thinking about long after the plate is empty. Large enough to share, it's the ideal way to start what is sure to be an incredible meal.
Openings and Closings
A pair of fire closures, Refuge in The Woodlands & more.
The past week or so began with a couple of fires; one forced a renowned sushi restaurant to close its doors, and the other took a brand-new creperie food truck off the road. Let's start with the bad news before taking a look at all the new restaurants that opened last week.
On September 29 around 1 a.m., a fire broke out inside MF Sushi, causing the popular spot to close. Chef and owner Chris Kinjo told CultureMap that he was in shock but confirmed that no one was injured in the fire. The Houston Fire Department told Kinjo that they believe a soup warmer was the cause of the fire. MF Sushi will reopen, but Kinjo says he doesn't know when that will happen.
That wasn't the only closure caused by fire last week. Food truck Lulu Blues: A Creperie was put out of business after the truck's engine caught on fire during its first official day of service, September 28. CultureMap's Eric Sandler reports that Laura Duffey and her husband realized the truck's engine was smoking and immediately pulled over to the shoulder of 610. Duffey says flames consumed the truck shortly thereafter. The engine was reportedly brand-new, and the cause of the fire is unknown. The couple are trying to determine the cause of the fire.
Sweet Lola Yogurt Bar officially closed two weekends ago. After selling its frozen yogurt for half the original price during its final week of service, the Midtown yogurt bar has shut its doors. We will just have to wait to see what Lola's next plans will be.
Now let's take a look at which restaurants opened their doors last week and which ones you can expect to begin service in the coming weeks. The list is large.
The Dosa Factory, an Indian creperie, opened at 5959 Richmond last week. Eater reports that the restaurant serves traditional Indian dishes, American meals and the namesake dosas, which are fermented crepes made from black lentils and rice batter.
The Refuge Bar and Bistro opened along The Woodlands Waterway on October 2. The new Woodlands bar serves handcrafted cocktails; microbrewed beers; wine; and a variety of flatbreads, sliders, charcuterie and other shareable appetizers, such as curry-spiced mix nuts, blue crab cakes, and blue cheese and smoked-chicken artichoke dip.
Both Fellini Caffè and Cloud 10 Creamery have finished their soft openings and are open for regular business hours. Fellini Caffè held its grand opening on September 30; the cafe serves espresso, cocktails and small dishes — it also has a custom bar imported from Italy to enhance the authentic Italian lifestyle the owners want to showcase.
Cloud 10 Creamery opened for regular business hours on October 2; the Rice Village creamery has finally unveiled the complete menu of frozen treats and ice cream flavors. Even though it is technically the fall season, we know it won't be cold anytime soon, so a scoop (or two) of ice cream is perfectly acceptable.
In coming-soon news, the Hughes Hangar team announced that they're working on a new concept, The de Gaulle. The new restaurant will pay homage to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. CultureMap reports that The de Gaulle will be next door to Hughes Hangar and will make guests feel as though they've stepped into a Parisian restaurant from yesteryear. It will be a cafe and bistro during the day and a bar at night; the owners are hoping for a Halloween grand opening with a VIP soft opening the week before.
MAM'S House of Ice Snoballs is going brick-and-mortar. The snoball stand announced on Facebook that they have signed a lease and will begin construction on the new storefront as soon as possible. The new Heights location should open in about four to six weeks. Expect new winter menu items and longer hours, too. MAM's House of Ice Snoballs will be open year-round.
Swamplot reports that Big Eyed Fish will join the bar and club scene of Washington Avenue soon. The restaurant posted pictures on Facebook the weekend of September 29 showing the amount of construction that is going on at the location. The upscale Southern restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, as well as brunch on Sundays.
D'Amico's Italian Market Café opened on October 1 in Katy. Work on the new location had been going on for months.
Thanks to commenter Chic_Chick-Eats in the Openings & Closings report two weeks ago, we know that the original China-based Chuan's Chinese Restaurant opened three weeks ago. This is the first U.S. location for the restaurant. American Deli on Bissonnet and Pho LN Sushi Bar & Grill, located off of the Katy Freeway, joined the Houston restaurant scene two weeks ago as well.
In ramen news, Carl Rosa of the Sushi Club of Houston and the only ramen group in Houston, Ramen in Common, gave us insight into the first ramen-only restaurant in Houston, Ramen Jin. The restaurant is located at 18111 Westheimer and according to owner Brian Chen will serve five ramens: tonkotsu, shoyu, shio, curry-flavor and vegetarian. Chen tells CultureMap that he will not treat ramen merely as a side dish, as other area restaurants do; ramen will be the main focus, and he will make stock for it every day.
Conroe Coffee, 206 N. Main, Conroe, 932-266-7632
Coppa Osteria, 5210 Morningside, 713-522-3535
Cork Cafe Wine & Beer, 12810 Telge, Cypress, 281-746-3005
Chuan's Chinese Restaurant, 5901 Westheimer, 713-953-9999
Cloud 10 Creamery, 5216 Morningside, 713-434-6129
D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe, 2643 Commercial Center Blvd., Katy, 713-468-1787
Fellini Caffè, 5211 Kelvin, 281-888-6654
Fielding's Wood Grill, 1699 Research Forest, Suite 130, The Woodlands, 832-616-3275
Jollibee Chicken & Burgers, 8001 S. Main, 650-296-9398
Jus' Mac, 106 Westheimer, 713-622-8646
Lagniappe Seafood Sports Lounge, 2395 Highway 6 S.
Mercantile, 5407 Morningside, 832-740-4494
Morton's Grille, 25 Waterway, The Woodlands, 281-362-2860
Noodles & Company, 1555 Lake Woodlands, 281-298-5642
Osteria Mazzantini, 2200 Post Oak Blvd., 713-993-9898
Pho LN Sushi Bar & Grill, 8408 Katy Fwy., 713-973-2003
Ramen Jin, 11181 Westheimer, COMING SOON
SnowBlock Shavery, 2518 Rice, 713-528-2063
The Dosa Factory, 5959 Richmond, 713-781-3672
The Refuge Bar and Bistro, 24 Waterway, The Woodlands, 713-389-5674
Torchy's Tacos, 350 W. 19th, 713-595-8229
Voodoo Queen, 322 Milby, 713-223-0545
Worhals Midtown, 2016 Main 832-804-6110
Candelari's Pizza, 14545 Memorial
CHA Champagne & Wine Bar, 810 Waugh
Hollister Grill, 5555 Washington
Landry's Seafood House, 8816 Westheimer
Lulu Blues: A Creperie, 8121 Castleford
MF Sushi, temporarily closed, 5887 Westheimer
Nosh Bistro, temporarily closed, 3983 Kirby
Pesca World Seafood, 2015 W. Gray
Scott Gertner's Sports Bar Live, 3100 Fountainview
Skeeter's Mesquite Grill, 700 Town & Country
Solea, 1500 Shepherd
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Sweet Lola Yogurt Bar, 304 Gray
Tasti D-Lite, 3974 Westheimer
The Burger Guys, 706 Main
The Chili Shak, 9600 Fondren