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.
At the risk of uttering food-writer blasphemy, I'm just going to come out and say it: There was a time when I did not eat meat. I wasn't ever a vegetarian, per se, I just went through a phase where I genuinely didn't like the taste of meat. I'd eat chicken if someone served it to me, and I'd grudgingly take a few bites of steak to be polite. But I never sought out meat because I just thought it tasted bad.
Of all the offenders, though -- chicken, beef, pork, lamb, duck, etc. -- lamb was by far my least favorite. I remember eating it as a child in Morocco and swearing that I'd never eat something that tasted so much like an animal again. In my mind there was a difference between tasting like food and tasting like pet. Lamb tasted like pet.
At some point in my twenties, my taste buds changed, and I grew to love a good hamburger and crave things like tandoori chicken or pulled pork sandwiches. But until very recently, I remained convinced that I would never like lamb.
I can't pinpoint exactly when I came around to the animal, but when I was served lamb lollipops on a recent visit to Américas, I dug into those babies with gusto. And I've been thinking about them ever since.
On the happy hour, or as Américas calls it, "Social Hour" menu, two lamb lollipops with yuca fries are yours for $5. Add another $5 Social Hour special to that, and you've got a meal!
The lollipops are so named because of the way the meat is cut. They're not ground like a meatball and stuck on top of a skewer, as one might imagine. Instead, they're whole lamb chops still on the rib bone. The end of the bone is then "frenched," meaning the extra meat is cut away, revealing a lollipop stick-like bone that you can use as a handle to get the meat from plate to mouth.
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It's not the serving style of the lamb that's so enticing to me, though. It's the marinade. The lamb chops are first grilled, then smoked and covered in a spicy marinade of ahi panca chiles, commonly grown in Peru. Panca peppers have a smoky sweet taste with a bit of heat, but they are more flavorful than they are tongue-numbingly hot.
At Américas, they get lamb just right. The marinade helps keep the meat juicy and tender while adding an extra dimension to a sometimes gamey meat. It's grilled so it's nice and charred on the outside, but still soft and pink in the center. During the smoking process, the fat melts away into the meat, leaving a lollipop with a smooth texture and gently spicy bite.
And, just so we're clear, let me reiterate that it's $5 during social hour every Monday through Saturday until 7 p.m. Five bucks!
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