100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 56, Eggplant Fries at Batanga

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.

The thing that surprised me most during my first meal at Batanga wasn't the great patio or the fancy seafood tapas or the festive live music.

It was the eggplant fries.

If you read my review of Batanga back in September, you already know how I swooned over those eggplant fries, and you might have been curious as to why. They're so simple. Fried eggplant? Um, that's been done. Why not obsess over something more complicated like the Castilian-style pork ribs or the duck confit on arepas? Those questions would be completely fair.

All I can say is that it's the simplicity of the eggplant fries that keeps me going back to Batanga for that one dish.

From what I can tell, Batanga takes an eggplant, skins it and slices it into logs about the size of Jenga blocks. These are no spindly, one-bite fries. Next, the eggplant is coated in a thin, crispy, light-as-air batter and fried until it looks like the glorious love child of an aubergine and a funnel cake. It even tastes a little like funnel cake, which sounds like it would be too sweet when paired with eggplant, but the truth is quite the opposite.

The savory, hearty acidity in the eggplant begs for either sugar or spice, and in this case, it gets both. The fried chunks of eggplant are drizzled with sweet honey, sprinkled with a bit of cumin and topped with bright green strips of chopped mint. Finally, for just a little more flavor variety, the cooks throw a bit of crumbled queso fresco on the delectable mound, which adds a much-needed creaminess to the simple dish.

And that's it. They're so straightforward, yet so addictive. I could make them at home, but I don't. And so I keep going back to Batanga and ordering my favorite (semi-) guilty pleasure.

I've had plenty of other good meals at Batanga that branched out into seafood, poultry, pork and other variations on veggies, but it's the exotic yet uncomplicated eggplant fries I crave, with their mix of flavors from South America, the Middle East and a good old fashioned Texas state fair. Queso fresco, mint and cumin and funnel cake. Now, that's fusion.

The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar