There's a Food Network show called Meat & Potatoes? Apparently so, and I do feel better knowing I'm not the first one to ask that question. (Admittedly, not having cable does put a dent in my pop culture knowledge bank.) It's a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives-style show that visits meat meccas across the United States, while its host -- self-proclaimed "meat nerd" (?) and chef Rahm Fama -- gives carnivorous dishes lusty glances while interviewing their creators.
Meat & Potatoes visited Houston last week and paid a visit to three popular restaurants: Beaver's, Little Bitty Burger Barn and Zelko Bistro. I stopped in to Zelko Bistro on Friday afternoon, where the production crew had been hard at work during the restaurant's lunch service and was now filming Chef Jamie Zelko in the kitchen. Zelko was making her soon-to-be-famous ZB Meatloaf (cooked in its signature can) and her Captin's Fried Chicken while her kitchen crew was whipping mashed potatoes and peeling carrots for B-roll footage.
I can't say being on a live set is all that exciting, nor was I expecting it to be. I watched as Fama did approximately 300 takes of walking up the front steps to Zelko Bistro and opening the door, repeating the same lines over and over as men and women with sound gear and cameras strapped to their upper bodies occasionally wandered about. The main portion of the filming was taking place predominately in the small kitchen; there wasn't much to else see in the dining room.
Instead, I took the opportunity to catch up with Jeb Stuart, Zelko's partner in the restaurant, about wine and the Bistro's guiding principles.
Over a glass of Pinot Noir, Stuart explained how the idea behind the Bistro extended to his wine selection: No bottle here is more than $40.
"We thought long and hard about the concept of a bistro in France," he told me. "It's just simple, honest, straightforward, well-executed food that doesn't cost a lot." And, of course, it's in the neighborhood: Zelko Bistro to a T. It's no wonder a show called Meat & Potatoes would stake out a joint like theirs.
Talking with the production manager later on, she briefly explained how Zelko was, indeed, chosen: The research assistants for the show scoured websites like Urbanspoon and Yelp, local papers and local blogs in major cities to find restaurants that kept popping up -- time and again -- as places to get a good, solid, meat-centric meal. Zelko Bistro, she said, was at the top of their list.
But to make the trip to Houston and only visit one restaurant seemed a waste, so they had their research assistants find two more restaurants that fit their needs.
Beaver's and Little Bitty Burger Barn were both suggested at different points in the research process and both were settled on as the second and third filming locations. (Of course, Beaver's got their turn on camera earlier in the week; their episode will air in a few months.)
This isn't the first time the show has been to Texas, of course. Host Rahm Fama and his crew also visited Cowtown Diner and Bonnell's Fine Texas Cuisine in Fort Worth and Lambert's Downtown Barbecue in Austin. But it's the first time that Houston restaurants have been spotlighted on the show, which normally airs on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. No word yet on when the air date for Zelko's episode will be, however.
Halfway through shooting -- which was scheduled to take at least eight hours on Friday -- Zelko emerged from the kitchen looking sweaty and tired but triumphant.
She clutched a cold can of Bombshell Blonde in one hand and dispensed hugs and handshakes with the other. They still had the dinner service to film and a few more hours of kitchen footage to shoot.
"I'm nervous," she said, "but excited." We talked for a few minutes about the curious, tentative looks diners at the lunch service had given the crew.
"It was really cute," Zelko laughed. And then, her brief break over, she returned to the kitchen for more filming. A chef's work is never done.