Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: Gray's Public House in Midtown

Nothing like a great Gastropub in Houston!  A place with good gourmet grub, good bar food and a great selection of Craft Beer for us aficionados.  Houston has more than a few of these, and one of the better, newer ones is Gray's Public House in Midtown.  Gray's specializes in quality craft cocktail, craft beer in cans (more on why in a little bit), all in a cool yet casual and relaxing atmosphere.  They even have great lunch specials starting at $5.99 and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  So I hauled myself over to Midtown about a week ago and tried them out.  But first some info straight from them:

50 Shades of Gray
Gray’s Public House, Midtown’s newest gastropub specializing in canned craft beer, flavorful cocktails and delicious bar fare using local ingredients. The Jalapeno Bacon Roasted Peanuts and Buffalo Siracha, Mango Habanero and Honey Glazed Chipotle Wings as well as growing drink list, are welcome additions to the innovative hotspot that has Houstonians crazy about cans and cocktails. While creating the concept and menu, co-owners Ashish Seth, Donny Padda and Dennis Wen drew inspiration from an underserved niche market in Houston’s thriving bar and restaurant scene. “We noticed an increasing demand for these unique cans and their ability to relay the source and story of a craft beer,” says Gray’s Public House Co-owner Ashish Seth. “We take great pride in our beer selection and that’s why we chose to serve it in cans. It actually keeps beer colder longer, prevents light and oxygen from getting in, and is easier on the environment. In the end, the beer just tastes better. It was the perfect time to tap into the canned craft beer market in Houston.” The handcrafted cocktails are prepared with house-made syrups and high-quality ingredients, delivering a much more satisfying experience. The shared plates/snacks, salads, sandwiches and desserts are designed to complement the flavors in the extensive drink selection. Guests will delight in everything from Gray’s famous Pub Burger, EXBLT, Buff Sandwich and Veggie Burger. For those with an inevitable sweet tooth, Gray’s serves up warm donut holes with honey, cheesecake topped with Amaretto and delectably deep-fried brownie bites. Bartenders are on hand to advise customers on the best craft beer or cocktail pairings with the food menu. 
As someone who loves good craft beer and great gastropub food, this was a win all the way around.  When I first stopped by, I perused the shared plates and one item jumped out at me immediately:  the Everything Fries.  These are fries topped with their spicy/cumin loaded Madras Chili, sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream, bacon, chives and the coup de grace: A sunny side up fried egg that just begs to be popped to let the yolk run all over.  These fries were DA BOMB--a great big delicious mess, full of spice, meaty-cheesy goodness and completely satisfying.  Nice job Gray's!

I stopped by a second time about a week later and had their lunch special, which on that particular day was their house burger.  This is a half pound of grilled black angus chuck steak, topped with your choice of cheese (I went with cheddar), lettuce & tomato, and your choice of sauce.  Personally I went with their roasted jalapeño ranch sauce--something that hit the creamy, spicy part of the ol' palate--all served on a sweet Hawaiian roll style bun.  This burger is a juicy, beefy, cheesy, satisfying pile on your plate.  A real treat for any burger lover!

Now I know that some folks balk at cans and craft beer.  However, it has been stated more than a few times in many circles that cans protect beer from being broken down by light, and Karbach brewing primarily uses cans for this reason.  I managed to find two different very good craft beers in cans at Gray's Public House during my visits:  one was San Tan's Sex Panther Double Chocolate Porter, the other was Maui Brewing's Coconut Porter.  Both of these rich, dark, malty, slightly sweet porters packed a bold flavour and a nice, pleasant punch as well.  Excellent beers that I am glad were in stock and available to try during my visits on these different days.  Great Selections, Gray's!

For you cocktail lovers who like things a little on the sweet side, I present to you the Fifty Shades of GRAY (note the spelling)  Here we have a chocolate swirled wine glass, served with a nice mix of Grey Goose Vanilla Vodka, Chocolate Liqueur, Bailey's Irish Creme and Kahlua.  This nice dessert of a cocktail warms the heart, the face and other parts of the anatomy.  My compliments to the mixologist who crafted this libation.  Excellent job!

Report Card for Gray's Public House:
Food & Beverage:
     Everything Fries: A++
     House Burger: A
     Sex Panther Porter: A++
     Coconut Porter: A
     Fifty Shades of Gray Cocktail: A++
     Friendliness: A
     Speed: A
     Bar: A
     Dining Area: A
     Men's Room: Incomplete
Atmosphere (Art Deco Pub): A

Overall Grade: A+

Gray's Public House is located in Midtown at:
510 Gray St, Suite D
Houston, TX  77002
Hours of Operation:
7 days a Week
11 AM to 2 AM

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!
吃得开心!!! Hank

Monday, March 2, 2015

March 2015 Odds and Ends

Well Dear Readers, it's time to beware the Ides of March.  Spring is supposed to be around the corner, though with our roller coaster weather, it feels like we experience all 4 seasons in a single month!  As we go into this transition, there is always more food and lifestyle (yes, you heard that right) stories for me to tell and I intend to keep up with this as best I can.  Yes, there is a backlog I am clearing out.  I am picking up some of that slack via my Tastemade channel (please follow me there if you are on Tastemade!), but I still like writing and photography the best.  So let's get to it!!!

Texas Independence Day (since 1836...)
Yeppers!  Remember the Alamo!  Remember Goliad!  COME AND TAKE IT!!! Though I sometimes daydream about the idea of a disjointed nation called the Free Republic of Texas and Quebec--with the best beer, smoked meats and french fries in the world, we are a part of These United States of America, but our special status should not be forgotten, including some of our special food.  And on that note, here are some specials for this month:

Texas Land & Cattle:  From March 2nd through 31st, try their Texas Stuffed Quail, their Bison Burger or Pecos Pecan Trout, available on their lunch or dinner menus! TXLC will also feature its Border Gimlet, an expertly crafted blend of Absolut Texas vodka, fresh lime, agave nectar, cucumber and a kick of jalapeño. Craft beer drinkers never fear. Every TXLC offers an array of local Texas craft beers, so ask your server for details.

“Our Texas heritage will always be at the core of who we are and the experiences we offer to our Guests,” said Tim Dungan, President of Texas Land & Cattle. “Texas Independence Day is one of our favorite holidays and we are going to celebrate all month long. There are layers of greatness in this state and this year we are focused on the wilder side of Texas. Come toast Texas with us and enjoy our Wild, Wild Texas limited time offerings.”

Saint Arnold now in Cans!
Responding to strong customer demand, Saint Arnold Brewing Co., the oldest craft brewery in Texas, today (March 2nd) started rolling out cans for the first time. Cans of the brewery's two top-selling year-round beers – Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower Beer and Santo – will begin showing up this week wherever Saint Arnold is sold.

Saint Arnold recently completed installing its canning line that features a 20-head filler and can package up to 160 cans per minute. Starting in April, Saint Arnold Summer Pils will become the first of the brewery's popular seasonal offerings to be offered in cans. "We are excited about commissioning our state-of-the-art canning line which we have successfully shoehorned in between our kegging and bottling lines," said Saint Arnold Founder/Brewer Brock Wagner. "I'm personally looking forward to being able to enjoy cans of our beer on the beach, while floating the river – where legal, of course – or by the pool."

To celebrate its new beer can era, Saint Arnold will invite the craft beer community to visit Houston's iconic Beer Can House on Saturday, March 14th. More than 50,000 beer cans adorn the house at 222 Malone Street in Houston, which has become a folk art monument. The event, which runs from noon to 5:00 p.m., will support the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art's restoration activities

As someone who has had to forego Saint Arnold's in areas where glass is restricted, this is VERY GOOD NEWS!!!  Kudos to Brock Wagner and Saint Arnold's for taking this step!

JerryBuilt Burgers Rolls out the Outlaw Burger!!!
It's officially Rodeo season in Houston, and if the traffic nightmare or mass crowds surrounding NRG Park are too much for you this time of the year, have no fear, because ​JerryBuilt is bringing the Rodeo flavor to it's guests with its new Outlaw Burger! The Outlaw ​features in-house prepared pulled pork, batter-fried bacon, ghost pepper cheese and BBQ ​sauce on top of an angus beef patty​.  I do not know what is better about this burger: 3 meats or simply the country fried bacon... OOOOOHHHHHH... (in a Homer Simpson Voice).  This burger is available for what Ken Hoffman calls the "Dreaded Limited Time Only" and I say no time like the present.  I will be sampling this burger and posting a Tastemade video of it this week!

Peli Peli in the Galleria Opens This Month
My good friends Chef Paul Friedmann and GM Thomas Nguyen have been working for months to get their new Galleria location ready and it will be open to the public on MONDAY MARCH 30TH.  For those of you who  don't care to venture far from the Inner loop yet have had a craving for the Bobotie or South African Grill can now stay close to home and just get through the traffic on Post Oak and Westheimer instead.  This is one of the most anticipated openings of 2015 thus far and a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears have gone into making this a reality.  I personally am of the opinion that their Galleria location will be a huge success and will be another great jewel in Houston fine dining in that part of town.  Be sure to come on out this month and show your support for one of our great Chefs!

Crave Cupcakes Opens new Concept CRAVE in The Woodlands
Six years ago, Houston-based Cave cupcakes owners Elizabeth Harrison, Peter Cooper and Brad Dorsey catered to Houstonian’s cupcake cravings by opening one of the city’s first cupcake shops. Two years later they captured the hearts of West University residents when it debuted a second location. Next week the trio hope to do the same with The Woodlands community by introducing an equally tantalizing concept that opened today at 2501 Research Forest Drive.. A new concept for The Woodlands, CRAVE represents a multifaceted dining venue with both fast casual and dining options BEYOND CUPCAKES. Envisioned to serve as a gathering place that would appeal to the various needs and tastes of businesses, hotel guests and residents in and around the Woodlands, CRAVE will offer continuous food and coffee service from morning to evening in a comfortable and stylish space that encompasses indoor and alfresco seating.

The Bakeshop will offer a full range of pastries baked fresh on-premises and an extensive coffee program, including freshly ground CRAVE craft coffee. In addition to freshly-baked breakfast items, such as breakfast cupcakes, Texas Kolaches, Egg and Sundried Tomoto on brioche bread and Croque Monsieur—as an added commuter-convenience patrons will be able to place orders in advance online for easy pick up, as well as limited-radius delivery. Located at 2501 Research Blvd., CRAVE will be open Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.’ Saturday and Sunday from, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.  This just goes to show you that you don't have to go into the inner loop to satisfy your gourmet cravings!

Lenten Specials at Jonathan's The Rub 
Yikes!  For those of you who observe it, it's time for meatless Fridays until Easter! Jonathan’s The Rub will be offering that are anything other than your ordinary fish dishes. I hope that you will all please keep these in mind if you’re planning to do a round up of where people can dine during Lent without sacrificing flavor!
 - Mango Salmon served in a mango nectar sesame ginger sauce with craisins & mango slices
 - The Red Snapper Fresca is pan-seared in Jonathan’s signature spicy rub and served with tomatillo salsa
 - Antarctic, wild Chilean Sea Bass served broiled, blacked, pan-seared and poached over a bed of fresh spinach.

I've had that Chilean Sea Bass before and it is fan-freaking-tastic, and I'd order it any old day of the week, not just on Fridays during Lent!

Jonathan's The Rub is located at 9061 Gaylord Street; Houston, TX   77024 in the Memorial Villages near I-10 and Campbell Road.

Boxing it Up To Go
Whew!  I haven't even started going on about the Rodeo yet!  March comes in like a Lion and keeps on roaring for this food writer!  Thanks again for reading and my creedo is as always:

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Event: Meeting Jeff Bagwell and José Altuve at Facón Brazilian Steakhouse

Well Dear Readers, I can honestly say this website has opened up a few doors and brought me to some great experiences I might not have had otherwise.  On a recent Tuesday night, that brought me to Facón Brazilian Steakhouse, which would have happened anyway---gotta get a good, high quality, all you can eat meat dinner when possible after all.  But when that also included a chance to sit down with Astros Legendary 1st Baseman Jeff Bagwell, 15 year veteran of one of the great teams that were so much fun to watch in the late 1990s to the mid-2000s and also meet one of the current young guns who is the face of the current Astros, hear the sage advice of this veteran as well as the humble, focused take of this young player, all while enjoying that meat, well this is a bucket-list item if there ever was one!

It didn't hurt that the dinner table was also shared with esteemed food writers Eric Sandler of CultureMap Houston and Albert Nurick of HTown Chowdown as well.  Eric is a very well versed baseball fan who knows the sport well, and Albert, like me, is a frustrated Astros fan who is just glad we can catch them on TV sometimes again.  As the meal went on, Jeff Bagwell was very much advocating from the fan position, though he is a fan who is able to go to Kissimmee to training camp, will be able to be down on the field and will have his words heard and respected more than any of us casual fans could hope, with good reason.  Being here in the presence of these great sportsmen was a dream come true for this lifelong Astros fan (don't get me started on how I loved Billy Doran and how mad I was when we lost Ryan back in the day...)  But first some much needed background on the restaurant and our two Astros past and present:

Facón fuses a Brazilian atmosphere with a modern setting. Patrons will enjoy the lounge, where waiting isn’t necessary for cocktails or tapas, a conference and banquet room for private events and the VIP treatment at Facón's Chef's Table. The name of the restaurant comes from the Facón fighting knife Gauchos used in South America. Gauchos are cowboys in South America, who flourished in the 19th century, and still remain folk heroes in the region. Deprived of their ability to wear a sword by various edicts, Spanish caballeros in South America adopted the facón as a defensive weapon. Today, the facón knife is mainly used for meat carving, but many Gauchos still wear them. Facón is not only a premier fine dining restaurant in Houston, but also one of the best choices for guest seeking an elevated dining experience. At approximately 10,000 square feet, Facón exceeds expectations for a full Brazilian experience. The elements of wood, fire and exotic textures heavily inspired the interior of the restaurant. Customers are surrounded by earth tones and the color red to stimulate their appetites. The restaurant also features a separate wine room, which was custom built to hold over 500 wines, while the furniture is made from imported woods and reupholstered vintage pieces.

Jeffrey Robert Bagwell was born in Boston.  He played high school baseball at Xavier in Middletown, CT, played college baseball at the University of Hartford, in Hartford, CT.  He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 1989, later traded to the Houston Astros in 1990.  He made is professional debut for the Houston Astros April 8, 1991.  That first season he had a batting average of 0.294 and won National League Rookie of the Year.  He was later National League MVP in 1994. His entire pro career spanning 15 years was as a Houston Astro, very much the face of the team for that era.  He retired in 2005 with an overall batting average of 0.297, 449 regular Season Home Runs and 1529 RBIs.  Bagwell was part of the famous Killer B's era that include recent Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio, as well as my fellow Rice Alum, Lance Berkman, and later on pitching Ace Roy Oswalt.  #5 is a legend to most Astros fans of one of the great eras it was to be a baseball fan in Houston.  His jersey was retired in 2007 and he served for one season (2010) as the Astros hitting coach.  He and his wife Rachel are currently raising 5 kids between the two of them--4 daughters and one son.

José Carlos Altuve is a Venezuelan professional baseball second baseman for the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball. Altuve made his major league debut in July 2011. As of 2014, he is the shortest active MLB player at 5 feet 5 inches.  While some sports broadcasters have used his stature as a unit of measure for how far a ball is hit, Altuve packs a huge punch with a 0.302 batting average with the Astros in 4 career years as a Major Leaguer.  Many consider him the current face of the Astros, a young gun who is still developing and is very focused, proving himself on the field. As far as his height being used as a unit of measure, Altuve himself has been receptive of the idea, saying "It's funny, man," he said. "When they told me how many 'Altuves' was a home run, I just laughed."

José Altuve, a quiet man of passion
We toured the restaurant a bit first and met José Altuve early on.  Altuve came across to me as a very quiet man with great focus and passion for the game.  I asked him about how he liked Houston, what he liked to eat, if there were any foods he missed from Venezuela, and not wasting any words, he indicated that Houston is a great city in which to live, that he enjoyed playing baseball for the Astros very much and that, thanks to Houston's International markets, he was able to find all of his native foods he enjoyed without much difficulty.  "In Houston, I have everything I need." was how he summed it all up.  I had to respect that and it's a great way to feel about Htown.

Jeff and his wife Rachel were running a little late, so we all went to their Salad bar to have a little something to eat early on.  However, when they did show up, the lights went on and the meet & greet was on.  Mark Berman of Fox 26 Sports was there to witness the exchange, and the pair of Astros past and present did walk the room and spoke with some of the customers.  I personally noticed a couple had brought memorabilia for the players to sign, and the 3 food writers all slightly regretted not bringing a piece of our own memorabilia.  Clearly Bagwell is impressed with Altuve, and as we settled in to enjoy our meal, he reiterated many times how proud he was of "this kid."  Altuve took it all in stride, quietly expressing gratitude and listening intently to what Bagwell had to say.  And all this happened while we enjoyed Facón's wonderful Brazilian style grilled meats, delivered to our table with grace and aplomb!

First up I would be remiss if I did not mention the wine that General Manager/Executive Chef Sean Skala had chosen for us to enjoy with the meal.  Both of them were fantastic Bordeaux wines--one was a 2010 La Gravette de Certain Pomerol, which had a very rich body and nice floral notes that would offset the peppery nature of some of the beef rubs nicely.  The other was a 2007 Chateau Pavie Macquin Saint-Emilion, which was a little more acidic and earthy compared to the La Gravette.  This one more echoed elements of the beef juices in my palate.  Both were unique, satisfying, and clearly well picked by Skala and their Sommelier for a great dinner.

On this particular evening the full fare was rotating around with the Gauchos carrying their Facóns loaded with great cuts of beef cooked between medium rare and well done.  Additionally, there were cuts of lamb (and I had more than a few of them), their grilled seasoned pineapple (sweet, a nice break between meat courses and containing an enzyme that acts as a digestive aid, naturally) and and one point, some spicy sausage.  The staff was well paced, very observant as to when our markers were red for stop and not for serve it up.  They had some great dry rubbed beef ribeye (my favourite cut) that was nice and hot throughout, slightly pink in the middle, and quite juicy.  Though I normally don't go medium rare, I did enjoy some filet cuts that were medium rare, along with a special cut from the tip of the cap of beef that many Brazilian steakhouses serve as their most prized cut of meat called the House Special Picana.  Other great cuts we enjoyed included Rosemary Garlic Chicken Legs, Sea Salt Crusted Filet Mignon, Slow Roasted Beef Top Sirloin, Mesquite Roasted Beef Tri-Tip and Rosemary Lamb Chops

Jeff Bagwell and his lovely wife Rachel
While we enjoyed our cuts of meat, we talked baseball, listened to Jeff Bagwell give effusive praise and sage advice to José Altuve, which Altuve received with much respect.  Jeff was very humble when we talked about his accomplishments during that great era of the Houston Astros, at times minimizing his achievements of that era.  At the same time he shared some insights on how baseball is different from other sports like basketball.  He talked about how Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players ever, had issues with being able to hit the ball:  in basketball, his had was always on the ball and he could control it;  in baseball, the hitter has absolutely no control of the ball whatsoever and is trying to hit it when it's thrown by a pitcher who is doing everything he can to make you swing and miss.  Bagwell also expressed the same frustration with the Astros that many fans have expressed--how they weren't on TV on a channel that most fans could watch until last season; how them being in the American League is hard for long term fans to deal with, especially with them playing on West Coast time a lot and so forth.  He also expressed hope that with moves they've made such as the contract extension for Altuve, that they can be great again.

José Altuve had to head home a little early as he was packing for Kissimmee and like many players, was heading there early in order to get in some workouts.  However, he thanked the staff for the meal, thanked Bagwell for the advice and the praise and made his way out.  The rest of us continued to enjoy the meal and chatted a bit more about baseball and about life.

Rachel Bagwell with Eric Sandler and Albert Nurick
One other spot that hit home for me and for Albert Nurick was Jeff's commentary on being a father, dealing with teenagers in the house.  As my daughter (who loved Bagwell during that era and who watched baseball with me all during that time) is turning 13 this week, I asked him and Albert if they ever felt that their older kids only take them seriously if you sound angry as all get-out, raising your voice.  "Oh yeah. All the time." he said quickly and succinctly.  That made me feel a little better, not as crazy as I thought I might be.  He also talked about how he takes his job as a father, as a protector of his 16 year old daughter quite seriously.  Teenage boys in Houston who want to court her be warned:  respect Mr. Bagwell, especially respect his daughter, OR ELSE.  I won't elaborate beyond that!

At the end of the meal, I had a slice of Key Lime Pie (One of my fave desserts, up there with frozen custard and bread pudding).  Their Key Lime Pie was thick and had a cheesecake like consistency, but had that nice sour tang and a hint of sweetness.  It was very nicely plated and was a great finish to a once in a lifetime meal based on the company that was present.  However, the meat, the wine, the dessert, the environment and the service can be experienced most evenings over at Vintage Park, plus lunch on Friday and Brunch on the weekend as well.  Suffice it to say, Facón is yet another culinary jewel that has become embedded in the ever growing gourmet nexus off of Louetta and 249.

Jeff Bagwell and this guy.... who is he again?  
I want to thank Facón and General Manager Sean Skala for inviting me, Eric and Albert to this wonderful dinner.  The meal alone would be more than enough to write about.  The fact that we all got to meet an Astros Legend and an Astros Young Gun on the rise made it an over the top event, something for your bucket list, a once in a lifetime experience.  I also want to thank Jeff Bagwell for being such a good guy, putting up with this fan for a couple of hours as well as being candid with us, speaking his mind and being utterly relatable as a father.  I know Jeff Bagwell could be anywhere--a coach with the Detroit Tigers or San Diego Padres, but yet he has firmly planted his feet here in Houston and is continuing to be a part of our fair city's story.  Last but not least I want to thank Jeff's wife Rachel for injecting some interesting perspective as a non-baseball fan who clearly loves her husband and knows how to keep him in line.  Jeff's found a good wife in her, I will say.

For you fine diners out in Far Northwest Houston, in Norchester, Tomball and Willowbrook, if you are looking for a high end, authentic Brazilian Steakhouse that serves a great dinner, with great cuts of meat, wonderful service and has an excellent selection of wine, you need to visit Facón in Vintage Park.  Be sure to tell them Hank on Food sent you by!

Facon is located in the Vintage Park Complex at
126 Vintage Park Blvd Ste H
Houston, TX 77070
(281) 257-6100

Steakhouse Hours
Mon - Thur: 5 PM-10 PM (Dinner Only)
Friday: 11 AM -10 PM (Lunch AND Dinner)
Saturday: 6 PM-10 PM (Dinner)
Sunday: 11 AM-3 PM (Brunch)
Sunday: 5 PM-9 PM (Dinner)

Walk-ins are also welcome!

Please note that lunch is NOT available Mondays through Thursdays.
The speciality "Sunday Brunch" features an exclusive menu selection.

Lounge Hours
Mon - Thur: 11 AM - 11 PM
Fridays: 11 AM - 2 AM
Saturdays: 6 PM - 2 AM
Sundays: 11 AM - 10 PM

Please note that all Tapas items served in the Lounge area are ONLY available during the normal Steakhouse Hours of Operation.

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!