For a look at more of Hoggs n' Chicks juicy sandwiches and crispy salads, check out our slideshow.
"I don't care what anyone says," my dining companion spoke thickly through a mouthful of cheesy pasta. "This is exactly how macaroni and cheese should be. Simple. No bullshit."
She was in the midst of polishing off a bowl of macaroni and cheese at Hoggs n' Chicks, the newest restaurant from Fréderic and Michelle Perrier, the husband-and-wife team behind popular French restaurant Aura and European-style butcher shop-cum-deli Meat & Greet. All three of the Perriers' restaurants are in Missouri City, which may be surprising to staid Inner Loopers who refuse to acknowledge the bounty of fine dining outside Houston's city limits.
Perrier, who was one of the first chefs to bring true charcuterie to the city and who once ran the esteemed Grille 5115 in Houston proper, counted on his fans to make the drive out to Missouri City for Aura. And, for the most part, they have. Now he's clearly hoping the same people won't mind the drive out on this long, broad, mostly flat stretch of Highway 6 to get some of the more creative and tasty pork and chicken dishes in town (even if Missouri City isn't technically "in town").
That macaroni and cheese may have been blissfully simple — just elbow macaroni in a thick, cheese-richened béchamel sauce — but my accompanying sandwich certainly wasn't. We had arrived just after 11 a.m. on a sunny Sunday morning and although Hoggs n' Chicks doesn't serve breakfast or brunch, I'd found an item on the menu that fit my craving for bacon-and-eggs: the pig's delight.
The menu description didn't do the thing justice: breaded pork loin, shaved ham, Hatch chile sauce, bacon and a fried egg. On its simple wooden plate, the sandwich towered triumphantly on top of a coyly sweet roll, freshly made and tasting vaguely of King's Hawaiian bread. The pork loin had been split into two monstrous pieces, both coated with a crispy, panko-like breading that clung to it heroically. The shaved ham was sliced cleanly into a festive pile, looking almost like tissue paper. Two strips of bacon lay draped languidly across the top of it all, with the piece de resistance — a beautifully fried egg, over-easy — gleaming up at me with a bright, sunny yolk.
I placed the bun on top of the entire pile and cut into it. Saffron-colored yolk oozed into the pork loin and the crevices of the shaved ham, mingling with the happy drizzle of Hatch chile sauce underneath. I even slapped some of the ruby-colored jalapeño jelly that sits on each table onto the sandwich for some extra pop — the Hatch chile sauce was good, but I wished there was more of it; you could barely taste that Hatch burn — and it was glorious. Pork-filled glory, yes. Artery-hardening glory, yes. But glorious nevertheless.
Meanwhile, my dining companion — having moved on from the mac and cheese — was making fast work of her fried shrimp, which had come with a tangy Tabasco pulp rémoulade that reminded me of the punchy Sriracha sauce at Little Bigs but all grown up. The rémoulade was thick and cut with fresh herbs, and at each swipe of the shrimp through the dark persimmon-colored sauce it clung mightily to the shrimp.
The sauce, like everything else here at Hoggs n' Chicks, is made in-house, from scratch. And it shows. To jaded Houstonians, perhaps, this is nothing new. But it's heartening to see that kind of labor and that kind of devotion shown to food in an area where it isn't often expected. This is only one of the things that make Hoggs n' Chicks special, though.
Despite burning more than a little gas to get to Hoggs n' Chicks on a Monday night, I walked away from placing my order at the counter for two people — and probably more food than either of us should be eating — for $17. While some people might complain about the prices at establishments in the same "grungy gourmet" vein as Hoggs n' Chicks — take Beaver's or the Burger Guys, for example — you'd be hard-pressed to hear that complaint out here.
The low rent and a pretty low overhead keep the food prices extraordinarily reasonable, despite everything being fresh and seasonal. The restaurant itself is small, with about ten tables inside and what looks like hand-painted art on the bright yellow walls, and is staffed mostly by fresh-faced teenagers. Perrier certainly knows where and how to cut costs to keep prices low. That's not to say Hoggs n' Chicks is a cheaply run fast-food establishment. It's quite the opposite, in fact.
Touting itself as a "fine food shack," it definitely gives the impression of a comfortable, laid-back place for families to dine on good food — even extraordinary food, if you order correctly — at a reasonable price. People are friendly here. Service is quick and with a smile.
"It reminds me of Beaver's," said my dining companion one afternoon as she sipped on her iced tea. "Except without a bar."
"And without the pretension," she added with a sheepish grin.
The bar part will come later to Hoggs n' Chicks (sort of), as the place is currently in the process of obtaining a liquor license. On the giant pig-shaped chalkboard that lists its daily specials, the crew has already written out a few wines and local beers that will be offered once the license comes through. With a flat-screen TV in one corner and plenty of comfort food to go around — including ideal bar-snacky treats like pork sliders and pigs-in-a-blanket — I can see relaxed Sunday afternoons watching football here or catching up after work if you live in the area and want something far nicer than your average bar. At the very least, it will be lovely to one day sip a glass of Zinfandel with the smoked pork brisket coated in a kicky apple-jalapeño sauce.
Not everything comes together as well as that pig's delight sandwich or the Tabasco pulp rémoulade on that perfectly breaded and fried shrimp, unfortunately.
For every juicy Saigon pork slider, there's a clunker like the jalapeño-glazed chicken slider that is bland and flavorless. For every piece of buttermilk fried chicken with skin so good you want to eat it alone in a dark corner, there's a pulled pork sandwich lurking, its oddly flavorless meat not at all helped by a hesitant little dab of "secret sauce" on the bun.
Luckily, the good mostly outweighs the bad here and even offers some surprises, like the strikingly wonderful veggie burger served with a black bean salsa and a handful of tortilla chips. I forced my dining companion to order it one evening, despite his recent reconversion to the meat side, because I wanted the benefit of knowing what his palate — trained after years of eating house-made and frozen, preformed veggie patties during his vegetarian decade — would think of it.
"This is amazing," he kept repeating. "It's all vegetables. No beans, no filler. All vegetables." I watched as he took it apart and began dissecting it rather grossly at the table. The veggie burger is even gluten-free, so no grains were holding the patty together. It seemed to be stuck together with sheer willpower and quinoa, lots and lots of quinoa. I was positively stunned.
Not only do you rarely see quinoa on restaurant menus (although it's finally gaining popularity in the States as a complete protein that, happily, also tastes good), I was thrilled to see it in such an ideal application — a veggie burger patty — and in such a strange location. Sorry, Missouri City. I didn't take you for quinoa connoisseurs, and I was wrong.
In addition to the grain-like vegetable (it's a pseudo-cereal that's closely related to beets and spinach), there were plenty of carrots, peas, red and yellow bell peppers, onions and all manner of other veggies in the large patty. It didn't try at all to imitate meat, thank God, and was even more delicious for it.
The best veggie burger in town at a place far off most Houstonians' beaten paths, a place that specializes in heavy, soul-satisfyingly meat-based dishes like cracklin' pork shank with mashed potatoes and collard greens (a special one Sunday afternoon) is just one of the surprises Hoggs n' Chicks has in store for those willing to make the trip. And trust me, it's worth it.
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