Sometimes, I find myself drawn to a restaurant not for what's on the menu, but for what is placed on the table in front of me before I even open the menu. You know what I'm talking about. It's sometimes even the best part of the dining experience: the pre-meal freebies.
Plenty of restaurants are well-known for their free offerings, like Outback's Honey Wheat Bushman Bread served with a giant steak knife and whipped sweet butter or The Olive Garden's infamous breadsticks. I tend to avoid loading myself up on bread or chips to the point where I can't enjoy the meal I've ordered, but in some instances, it's totally worth it.
Since Houston has no shortage of restaurants serving up complimentary chips, breads and dips, I'm rounding up a list of the best of them. Here are my Top 5 favorite restaurant freebies around town:
5. La Griglia's Bread Basket I've been to La Griglia over on West Gray a few times. The menu is pretty decent and the atmosphere can be quite pleasant. I enjoy sitting outside on a nice, crisp night, glass of wine in hand as the white lights sparkle down the palm-tree-lined street and the fountain drips harmoniously in the background. I enjoy it even more as soon as the server brings over the bread basket.
It's filled with all kinds of goodies; different kinds of bread, garlic twists, and...wait what's that? Is that...pizza? Yep, that's definitely pizza. Why? How? Where am I? I have to remind myself to stop questioning and start eating, because I'm not talking about some lame bread baked with tomato sauce here - it's a straight-up slice of cheesy, saucy pizza cut into tiny little heavenly strips. I can't lie, it's not the best pizza in the world, but just the fact that it's pizza...sitting there, peering out from the other breads in the basket...calling out at me to eat it...for free. That alone warrants it a spot on my top 5.
4. El Tiempo Cantina's Chips & Salsas There are plenty of awesome chips and salsas around town, but there is just something about El Tiempo's take on the classic that really gets me. It could definitely be the three frozen margaritas (which I've confirmed are stronger than their non-frozen counterparts) that I never fail to down while waiting for a table at the always-packed Montrose location, but that's beside the point.
Crisp, hot and slightly salty, El Tiempo's freshly baked chips are accompanied by not one, but two salsas. The red roasted-tomato salsa is sweet with just a hint of heat, the perfect way to ease into the meal. The green dip is creamy without being too thick, a cool and mild touch to the warm, salty chip. Both salsas are good in their own right, but combine the two and I've reached salsa nirvana. Be careful not to fill up on margaritas and chips alone because the portions here are HUGE. Try to order fajitas for two, and you'll be faced with a mountain of shrimp, chicken or beef and veggies, served with fresh tortillas, all the fixings, beans and a delicious veggie spiked rice (which for some reason also has bow-tie pasta in it - the Italian in me really digs that).
3. Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits I didn't want to include any massive chain restaurants in this list, but I have a weakness for Red Lobster's biscuits. A serious, serious weakness. One that even forced me to partake in the restaurant's Endless Shrimp promotion a few weeks ago. After much deliberation, I just couldn't leave these delicious, fluffy, cheesy biscuits behind.
Luckily, the miracles of modern technology have allowed for the recipe to be immortalized on the interweb, so these little guys can be made without having to actually step foot in a Red Lobster. Despite that, being the old-school bitch that I am, I still prefer them from the chain itself, piping-hot and fresh from the oven, served alongside some mediocre seafood and a Shirley Temple.
2. Branch Water Tavern's Biscuits, Butter, & Red Pepper Jelly As you know, I love me a good biscuit, and BWT makes a damn good one. Again, I have a serious weakness; I eat one and immediately need more of its buttery, flaky deliciousness. The biscuits here are truly good enough to eat by themselves, but they come served with creamy, fluffy whipped butter and a killer red pepper jelly. Sweet and spicy, these delightful spreads bring the biscuit to a whole new level.
1. Benjy's "Bread Basket" This is really less of a bread basket and more of what I can only call a goody box. The restaurant serves up three pre-meal treats. THREE! I start off with the candied nuts, sweet and crunchy, with a light sugary punch and slightly salty undertone. Then, I take a bite of a thin, incredibly crisp sesame wafer, blander but a nice change of pace from the sweet nuts.
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After another round of both, it's time to fight till the death for my favorite of the three offerings: their insanely delicious cheddar cheese and parmesan shortbread cracker things. Seriously, try to fight me for these, you'll lose. They are perfectly buttery and soft, with a sharp bite from the cheddar and a nutty hint from the parmesan. I could eat an entire basket of these if I were given the option. (Thankfully, for the sake of my health and well-being, that hasn't happened.)
What are some of your favorite restaurant freebies around town?