I have trouble seeing how anyone could not want to embrace breading and deep-frying a stick of cheese (especially in Texas), yet strangely I've found my all-time favorite appetizer is not as popular in Houston as I would expect. I know we have our loyalties to chips and queso, but there's room in our hearts and bellies for additional forms of fatty fromage. Visit these five restaurants if you haven't yet learned to love that ooey-gooey cylinder of goodness so often simply known as the Cheese Stick.
5. Fried Mozzarella Sticks (Little Napoli Ristorante). With a thinner, lighter bread coating, the cheese sticks at Little Napoli can be a bit flimsier than other restaurants' versions. Then again, who the hell cares about being neat while you're eating fried cheese? Bust out a fork and chow down on those suckers. Slightly soggy but delicious.
4. Cheese Sticks (Lucky Burger). Skip the fries at Lucky Burger and pair that double mushroom swiss burger with a side of "cheese stick," medium logs of mozzarella coated in seasoned bread crumbs. Lucky Burger may cook its patties medium, but its cheese sticks are well done, resulting in a crunchy exterior that contrasts pleasantly with the soft inside.
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3. Store Brand Frozen Mozzarella Sticks (H-E-B). I bought these on a whim one Friday night when I had promised myself I would "cook" instead of ordering takeout. Needless to say, I had rock-bottom expectations for generic frozen cheese sticks that cost just over a buck. Though smaller in length than most restaurant varieties, H-E-B's version is decent, containing rich but not greasy mozzarella and ample breading. Plus, if you oven-toast rather than deep-fry, you produce a more tender stick...and reduce your chances of getting a third-degree burn in the process.
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2. Mozzarella Fritti (Papa Mio Italian Cafe). Despite some shaky beginnings, Papa Mio Italian Cafe has evolved to become a bustling island on otherwise sleepy Lexington Street. This success can at least in part be due to its reliable red sauce cuisine, including the mozzarella fritti (that's fried cheese, boys). A generous serving and a side of tomato gravy is just $5 -- the perfect antipasto for a bowl of tortellini.
1. Mozzarella Sticks with Marinara (Gotham Pizza). It may be sacrilege to go to a joint that serves great pizza and just order a large Greek salad and mozzarella sticks, but that's what I'm inclined to do at Gotham Pizza. The side of sweet basil tomato sauce combined with the insanely rich mini-logs of cheese and bread coating represents all the basic taste notes of cheese pizza taken to the nth power. Which is probably why no matter how much I'm craving a slice, I so often yield to the siren call of these sticks.