Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for May, 2009

Best sandwiches in Houston

Posted by beer_chris on 28-May-2009

A few weeks ago, The Houston Press published a review of Manenas, an Argentine deli/bakery on the west side of Houston. Included in this review was a bold statement – that the milanesa sandwich was “easily the best sandwich in Houston”

Those are strong words, especially to a sandwich lover like me. I had a number of conversations with friends and family about this, and to be honest, I doubted the conclusion. In doing so, I started building my own personal list of the best sandwiches in Houston – while I can’t come down to just one, I did come up with a bit of criteria:

  1. Hamburgers don’t count – that’s a special category all its own
  2. The best sandwich had to be something I was willing (and in most cases, have) driven long distances just to eat – where the primary purpose of the trip was specifically to eat the sandwich. This narrowed the list significantly.
  3. Price, style, nothing really counts – some of these sandwiches are simple and basic (and cheap) some are complex and expensive. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, and those need to be documented.

So, without further ado – the list:

Original Antone’s Super Original Note – this has to come from the Original Antone’s, of which there is only one remaining: on Holcombe in West University.

This sandwich has the perfect balance of really nice italian deli meats and sharp provolone cheese. There’s real chow chow on it, unlike at the chain Antones restaurants. Lastly, the bread. It’s crusty and really tasty, but soft enough to keep from cutting your mouth up. One of these with a bag of Cheetos, a Dr. Pepper in a can and some grape leaves is just heaven, and one of the best lunches I can think of.

Rueben with extra Russian dressing – Kahn’s Deli

Some say this isn’t a sandwich as much as a couple slices of toast with a pound of pastrami corned beef. Not everyone is a big fan – however, ordering this on a Saturday afternoon – just a bit late, so you’re really hungry – with the extra russian dressing for dipping along with some Guldens mustard really is awesome. The pastrami corned beef is heated just enough, the kraut is not too sour, and eating the second half as leftovers the next morning is really one of the best parts of this sandwich. Definitely worth a special trip to the Village.

Club Sandwich, Market Square Bar and Grill

I don’t know what it is about this place – who am I kidding, of course I do. It’s the great beer selection and the amazing horseradish mayo served with everything your order here. There’s not a whole lot that the magic flat top at Market Square can do wrong, but the club sandwich is one thing that never touches it – but tastes really great. A good club sandwich mixes all the great taste of a BLT (mayonnaise-y, bacon-y goodness) with a great ham and cheese and heavily buttereed toast – all some of my favorite flavors. This, folks, is a good club sandwich. Add a nice dollop of the aforementioned horseradish mayo and you’re approaching perfection. A regular stop for me almost any day of the week (save for Sunday, they’re closed).

Roast Beef Po-boy, BB’s

A recent addition to my list – this thing is amazing. The roast beef on the sandwich is cooked to that perfect place where it can still be sliced but is also falling apart. This way each bite has great bits of fat, meat and juice that makes good roast beef grand. The extra fluffy buns soak up a fantastic melange of mayo, gravy and meat juices that I think should be jarred and sold as a condiment. The sandwich itself is imposing – served on what appears to be a 12 inch roll. When you’re finished you are aware you have eaten something large – but you don’t regret a single bite. Dipping this into the ‘pepper cream’ sauce that comes with the ‘Pollo bullets’ improves something that on its own is nearly perfect. This sandwich is worthy of being a king.

Honorable mention – mixing this po-boy with the sriracha mayo from Little Bigs across the street is another genius idea I plan on trying soon.

Softshell crab sandwich, Texas Crab Festival

I struggled with including this one, because it’s not really available but one weekend a year – but this is the definition of a ‘special trip’ sandwich. For the first few years I went to the crab festival on Bolivar I went seeking one thing – softshell crab sandwich. This one is basically a softshell crab deep fried (whole), but on a sesame seed hamburger bun, smeared in mayo and tartar sauce and served. It’s esoteric to eat this standing in the sun on the peninsula, and is something I look forward to every May.

Cheesesteak Hoagie, Rockys Subs

I’ll never forget walking into Rocky’s Subs on Greens Rd and I-45 for the first time – I had been working on this side of town for about a month, and was exploring the local delis and sandwich shops around my office. I walked through this door in a storefront, nestled between a ratty Kroger and a check cashing place, and found a little hole in the wall decorated in Philly memorabilia and serving that Philadelphia classic, the cheesesteak. Now, this cheesesteak isn’t especially authentic – no cheez whiz, former owner had sold out to an Asian family – but this family took his recipes to heart and faithfully got all their ingredients from the same suppliers. Each sandwich, served on a really tasty po-boy roll, is stuffed with more chopped sirloin than you would expect for the price and smothered in tasty white cheese.  Topped off with sliced-just-right onions, it’s really a great sandwich.  Adding in the fun of introducing people to Greenspoint vis-a-vis this random little spot for a surprisingly good cheesesteak, and you have one the great sandwiches in Houston.

Torta de Pastor, Taqueria Huetamo

Another Greenspoint find, this is easily one of the best places for pork cooked in the ‘pastor’ style in town. That and getting a giant torta made with it for less than $3 is simply amazing. Dipping this sandwich in the mouth puckeringly hot green sauce that comes gratis with each order is another memory for me of working on the north side of Houston.

Small po-boy, Colonial House of Sandwiches (Baytown)

Part of the allure of this place is, without a doubt, the name. It just sounds like some kind of southern small town hangout, and I’m sure it may well have been back in the day. Now, it has 2 locations in Baytown and is absolutely packed for lunch. The sandwiches are generally meh – cheap meat, American cheese,, plastic bread – but the po-boy is a little different. It’s just a darn good sandwich, made with decent ingredients and done carefully. It’s also cheap – less than $3.

Honorable mention:

  • Softshell crab po-boy, Jazzie’s Cafe
  • Oyster po-boy, Calliope
  • Muffaleta, Mandola’s Italian Deli
  • Steakburger, Steak and Shake

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Pork + milk = yum!

Posted by beer_chris on 17-May-2009

There are some simple equations that come in handy with food and cooking. 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon. 2 cups in a pint, 2 pints in a quart, 4 quarts in a gallon. 2 tablespoons of butter is always better than 1, etc. Last night at our ~monthly dinner  club I discovered ths new one – that pork + milk = yum. The theme for our club is typically something pretty simple, however Jaime and I have a bit of a reputation for picking something a little esoteric. Last time we hosted the theme was ‘Lawrys’ – every dish had to have a Lawrys spice product included. This made for some challenges, especially with dessert, but we all had a good time with it.

With this dinner club coming right on the heels of our Ireland trip, I was a little stressed. Jaime had chosen the theme – fresh – nominally inspired by our Napa trip. Her plan was to pull together a flight of Napa-ish wines and my job was to figure out how to incorporate the theme into the main course – always the responsibility of the hosts. Given that our house was a disaster coming off of our trip and that I had no clue what I was going to cook, my stress levels really began to build as the week progressed. On about Wednesday, I determined that I would make my marinara sauce – since tomatoes are just now coming into season. However – what I was going to serve it with was a total mystery. I picked out my Marcella Hazan cookbook and looked for inspiration on Thursday night, and I found nothing. I needed a meat, and I didn’t want to just make chicken breasts or something pedestrian like that – I was really trying to come up with something that fulfilled a number of objectives:

  1. Stayed reasonably true to the theme of ‘fresh’
  2. Was something unique that I had never really made before (I like to make it a personal goal too cook something new for this dinner club)
  3. Was Italian and pairs well with my marinara without being forced

By Friday I realized I needed to get to business, so I went to Canino’s market to get my tomatoes and try and get some inspiration. I ended up buying 15 lbs of tomatoes as well as some really nice 1015 onions, and determined while I was in the store that I needed to at least pick a meat – so I chose pork. The menu started to come together in my head – smothered pork or some kind, with my marinara sauce over the slices/chops and some nice carmelized 1015 onions underneath. I also picked up 4 pints of ‘homegrown’ blackberries, just ’cause.

Friday night I pulled out my trusty Hazan cookbook once more – and on page 1 of the section on pork read these words:

“If among the tens of thousands of dishes that constitute the recorded repertoire of Italian regional cooking, one were to choose just a handful that most clearly express the genius of the cuisine, this would be among them. Aside from a minimal amount of fat to brown the meat, it has only two components, a loin of pork and milk. As they slowly cook together, they are transformed: The pork acquires a delicacy of texture and flavor that lead some to mistake it for veal, and the milk disappears to be replaced by clusters of delicious, nut-brown sauce.”

-Marcella Hazan, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”, p.417

Um, let’s see, I was looking for inspiration – I think I found it! Needless to say I headed over to my local meat market on Saturday (Bay Area Meat Market in Pasadena) and picked up a lovely tied boneless pork roast. I started cooking at 4 PM – a short three hours later I had exactly what Ms. Hazan described, and it tasted just as lovely.

The only ingredients that went into the pot were a few tablespoons of butter and about 4 cups of milk. In my opinion the dish was the definition of fresh, simple and tasty.

In addition, the couple assigned to dessert had something come up and couldn’t make it, so I was also able to use the blackberries and pull a cobbler together – again, very fresh, very tasty. I opened a bottle of Vin Santo I happened to have, and we had a nice end to the meal.

All of this and I still have my 1015s to use for something today!

No more freaking out for inspiration – a quick visit to Canino’s is all it should take to bring a true sense of freshness to the table, along with a good collection of lovely cookbooks like ‘Essentials of Classic  Italian Cooking’

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Bourbon? In County Kilkenny?

Posted by beer_chris on 3-May-2009

I’ve really been enjoying the local brew here in Kilkenny – a cream ale called ‘Kilkenny Draught’, interestingly enough.  I’ve had my share of Guinness and even an excellent  cider called Bulmers. However, my mini pub crawl yesterday has convinced me of something – something rather interesting and funny. My buddy and I were sitting at a rather large pub right across from Kilkenny castle called ”Left Bank’. This buddy of  mine was on a bit of a personal mission to drink double Irish whiskeys all day – and had made it clear to our bartender that he wanted something special. The bartender was a young man – likey in hisearly twenties – and was struggling a bit to keep my friend satisfied – every bottle he brought over was something my bud already knew of or had tasted. finally, he looked at him, a bit puzzled, and said ‘Im definitely gonna’ look after yah’ and disappeared for a moment. Clearly he was headed to the bcak to get something extra rare – something really special (and expensive) for the crazy American. He came back and set two bottles in front of us:

Jim Beam single distilled

Woodford Reserve

My friend and I chuckled – here were two Americans, looking for something really special, and what do we get in an Irish bar? Bourbon. We explained how funny we thought this was to our bartender, who was a little disappointed we didn’t buy a dram of the Woodford – I think it was going for 15 euros a pop (!).

Of everything he tasted that night, I sipped on a few of them. The Bushmills 10 year old was probably my favorite ‘new to me’ Irish whiskey. Midleton remains my fave, but I’ve had that at home. The Bushmills 10 was very citrusy – it had notes of grapefruit and citron in it.

However, I was thinking more about the bourbon this morning, and I had an epiphany. Ireland is one of the few countries in the world with a really famous beer/whiskey culture – but there are really very few varieties to choose. Every pub I’ve walked into, whether a brand new one like ‘Left Bank’ or the oldest operating pub in Kilkenny just down the road from our B&B has the same selection of beer and whiskey. Special in Ireland is foreign – and so when you want specia lwhiskey you’re going to drink small batch bourbon from the states or Wild Turkey.

After a couple days of crawling pubs, I’m ready for some real ale. The culture is the same as in england/scotland in the pubs, and the beer is really good – there’s just not all that much variety, at least so far as I’ve seen.

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