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 her 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.
Look, I don't go to 13 Celsius to eat, though, as one of my friends who's a regular tells me, I probably should start.
I go to 13 Celsius for 50 percent off open bottles on Sunday and to chat with my friends and occasionally run into local industry people who may be slightly under the influence. And to drink a glass of "suicide," a mixture of the last few drops from a number of open bottles combined in one very large pour. It's better than it sounds.
But if you do go to 13, as it's affectionately called by the regulars, get your fine self a mortadella sandwich on a soft pretzel. Not a pretzel bun like the kind all the kids are imitating lately. An actual soft pretzel, just sliced in half and topped with grilled mortadella, a fried egg, tomato slices and gloriously melty provolone.
It's a deceptively simple sandwich, but the bright pop of acidic mustard and the little bits of creamy fat in the thinly sliced mortadella add new dimensions to what's arguably a glorified meat, cheese and tomato sandwich. And unlike many foodies, I'm so not over the fried-egg-on-top-of-everything practice, because when that golden yolk breaks and oozes all over the rest of the sandwich, the ensuing flavor combination -- meaty and buttery, salty and tart -- is a thing of beauty. I don't think I'll ever tire of a good fried egg.
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Mortadella, for those who may not know, can be considered a fancy word for bologna. Like bologna, it's pork that has been ground up and mashed into a sort of paste, and then packed into a loaf and heat-cured for a great smoky flavor. In Italy, where mortadella originates, it's composed of 15 percent pork fat and sliced paper-thin like prosciutto or German speck. Here in the U.S., we like to mutate this thing of beauty into strange-looking olive loaves, but true Italian mortadella is definitely the superior sausage.
Then there's the soft pretzel, which is appropriately smooth and hard on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The pretzel serves not only as a conduit to get meat and cheese neatly to mouth, but also as a catch-all for the combined juices from the tomatoes and the egg (and a tiny bit of what appeared to be pepper relish). They soak into the pretzel, and by the time the sandwich falls apart -- which it will -- it doesn't matter, because each element is so saturated with the flavors of everything else.
And, of course, the whole sandwich serves to sop up some of the half-priced wine that's already been consumed, which is never a bad thing come Monday morning. So next Sunday, before the weekend comes to a close, head over to 13 and stuff yourself full of mortadella. It's just the sort of sustenance you'll need to start a new week.
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