Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Event: Saint Arnold Beer Pairing Dinner at Omni Houston's Noe Grill

Well Dear Readers, y'all do know how much I love Saint Arnold's local Houston Craft Beer, and you also know I am fond of the Noe Grill at the Houston Omni Hotel.  Very recently Brock Wagner came to the Noe Grill for a wonderful beer and food pairing dinner that was not only delicious, but informative and entertaining.  Brock himself was there along with a bunch of the staff from the Brewery, and he proved to be quite a showman as he commented on the different beers and dishes that he, his staff and the culinary staff at the Noe Grill had taken much time to put together.  It turned out to be a wonderful Friday event that I am going to share with y'all now.

This meal in 5 courses included the whole spectrum of Saint Arnold's Beers.  We started with an interesting Amuse Bouche (appetizer).  This was a braised pork belly & enoki mushroom summer roll pinwheel in a miso emulsion.  This was paired with whatever drink you had when you first arrived, which in my case was the original Amber Ale from Saint Arnold's.  This was a sweet pork belly (bacony) filled roll with crunchy cabbage and smooth, umami from the mushroom.  The grain and slight hops of the Amber Ale were a nice contrast and I kind of wished they'd given us about 3 more.  Grade: A

The 1st official course were some small Beignets filled with Ricotta cheese and Spanish Chorizio, garnished with charred fresh green onions and ghost-piquillo pepper aioli.  These weren't the usual square beignets dusted with powdered sugar.  Savoury, a little cheesy, a little herbal essence within there and a nice spicy yet creamy kick from the Aioli.  This was paired with the Santo Ale--a Kolsch beer brewed with Black Malt, that has a nice bold maltiness to it which quenched some of the heat from the ghost pepper.  Spanish chorizio is more like a fancy Andouille sausage unlike the Tex-Mex Chorizio and is less greasy as well.  Another excellent pairing overall! Grade: A+

The 2nd course was a Green Papaya salad with lemon ginger seasoned Jumbo Shrimp and crushed salted peanuts.  This was a bit of a small salad and at first blush looked like cole slaw.  Although the pic isn't a close-up, the shrimp were in fact substantial.  (Click on the pic to see it full size--it was served in a HUGE elliptical bowl).  The papaya had a slight coolness to it and some veggie crunch, while the shrimp burst with citrus and ginger essence, but weren't overpowered by the ginger.  This salad was very well paired with the Weedwacker--a hybrid of a Bavarian Hefeweizen and a Kolsch.  Weedwacker is a favourite summer beer of mine, due to the citrus essence that comes from the hefeweizen yeast (some folks say they get a banana essence from it, I don't catch it myself).  This beer is a great complement to a salad that has fruit and lemon essences.
Grade: A-

The third course was a Coriander Crusted Bandera Quail with green curried grits and pork belly lardons.  Quail is one of those small game or domesticated birds that are great as hors d'oerves because it's just enough meat to satisfy, but not so much as to be a full plate.  This quail was beautifully splayed and garnished over the green curried grits with the Pork Belly Lardons (thick chunks of bacon used to season savoury dishes) scattered about.  A couple of folks at my table hesitated because of the curry.  However, the staff at Noe Grill used just enough curry and coconut milk to give it flavour and a little spice, but not so much as to overpower the dish.  Sometimes Quail turns out dry, but this was juicy and had a lovely coriander essence to it.  The lardons were a nice juicy porky touch to boot.  This course was paired with the Elissa IPA from Saint Arnold's--an India Pale Ale with bitter hoppy notes that is still quaffable.  It's always fun to pair an IPA with spicy food because it brings out the heat more.  Those grits weren't too spicy, but you still felt the effect when you took a sip of the Elissa after eating a bite of the grits.  Brock Wagner told us how the beer was named after the Elissa ship at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston and how sales from it help maintain and restore the ship.  Brilliant pairing, great food!  Grade: A

 The fourth course was the big one:  Texas Antelope Loin (Antelope have been transported from Africa and raised in parts of Texas to help repopulate the species.  Periodically the herd gets thinned) served on a Saint Arnold's Root Beer-Rhubard compote with black garlic buttered tri-colour potato hash.  This was a beautiful dish.  I've had game before and sometimes it's a little tough.  The Noe Grill made this antelope VERY TENDER AND JUICY.  The compote was slightly sweet, slightly tart and worked very well with the meat.  There was a nice sour essence from the garlic and very colourful, filling potatoes on the side.  A fancy meat and potatoes course any diner would love.  This was paired with Saint Arnold's 20th Anniversary Ale--a unique, complex barleywine.  Many barleywines are sweet, some a little burnt, 20th is neither of the two.  It is potent as most barleywines are and it's subtle hoppiness and grainy barley essences contrasted well with the sweet spiciness of the compote and the juiciness of the Antelope.  Brock Wagner told us the story of how this beer came to be and once again had the crowd laughing with his puns.  Grade: A+

Finally we had our dessert course, and oooohhhh it was sooo gooood.  This was a dark rum poached raisin bread pudding topped with a vanilla meringue, foster caramel sauce and some vanilla ice cream quenelle.  this was very well plated and had a lovely cinnamon caramel aroma wafting off the plate.  The bread pudding was soft, a little wiggly and had a great hint of rum in each bite.  The Vanilla ice cream was nice as a cooling agent and was very smooth.  This was paired with one of my favourite Bishop's Barrels:  Number 6 aka the Rumpkinator.  This is an imperial pumpkin stout aged in rum barrels.  This is also one of the rarer bottles of the series and Brock Wagner finally helped me understand why:  apparently when they bought the rum barrels for aging, 25 to 30% were unusable, which led to a smaller batch.  This pumpkin stout is the total bomb and it paired very very well with this dessert.  Grade: A+

Suffice it to say, if you've not gone to any Saint Arnold's Beer Pairing events, you really need to go to one.  This one was awesome in every sense of the word.  I want to thank the Noe Grill, Brock Wagner and Saint Arnold's for a great dining and drinking experience overall and I look forward to going to another one of these events in the future.

The Noe Grill is located inside the Houston Omni Hotel at:
4 Riverway
Houston, TX  77056

Hours of Operation

Dining Room:
Monday - Sunday: 5:00 – 10:00 p.m.

NOÉ Bar:
Monday – Friday: 2:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.
Saturday: 1:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.
Sunday: 1:00 p.m. – Midnight

Eat Happy & Drink Craft Beer, Y'all!!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: Bubba's Texas Burger Shack's Vegas Burger

Every now and again I have been reminded that I can be an Absent-Minded Professor, with many of those reminders coming from myself as I see something and realize I needed to do something/take care of something and had let things fall by the wayside.  I started this blog with a bit of a burger focus and pre-blog I had done videos reviewing some of our local burgers.  Unfortunately my video-editing skills consume a lot of time and I found writing worked better with my schedule.  To that end, I did written reviews of several local burger joints for which I had originally done video reviews.  I did not take care of one of them, which is a Classic Houston Burger joint that holds many memories for me.  They were recently reviewed by The Texas Bucket List as their burger of the week, and that's when I realized I owed them a write up.  I am talking about Bubba's Texas Burger Shack.

I ate there back when there was a railroad track running where the Westpark and I was a much skinnier graduate student at Rice University.  I remember when a train would pass by and the whole shack would shimmy, everyone would get a free beer.  They also were one of the main Houston Burger joints offering Buffalo meat, and their prices weren't out of my budget range.  I go to them a few times a year and though the place is kitschy and now the cars on 59 and the Westpark Tollway buzz next to and over it, it still has that homey feeling that attracts Blue Collar and White Collar Houstonians alike, along with those awesome burgers and jalapeño potato salad.  They still have the sign out front with the pithy sayings and they still sell mass produced domestics as well as Saint Arnold Beer.  And yes, their burgers are still great!

Per their website:
Bubba’s Texas Burger Shack is Houston’s original Home of the Buffalo Burger, and we’ve been serving Houston’s finest Buffalo Burgers for over 25 years. Located at the corner of Westpark Dr and S Rice Ave, we truly are just a little shack, but we serve a Buffalo Burger with a big Texas flavor. Buffalo meat has grown in popularity in recent years as the American public has become increasingly aware of its nutritional benefits. We aren’t the only place in Houston to serve Buffalo Burgers anymore, but with over 25 years of experience, we feel that we definitely serve the best tasting ones. We have found the best quality source for our meat, and we have developed the best methods for cooking our Buffalo Burgers to ensure that they come out juicy and delicious every time. We also offer many different cuts of frozen Buffalo meat including patties, hot dogs, steaks, ribs and roasts. So c’mon in and try a delicious Buffalo Burger and some jalapeno potato salad the next time you drive by, or if you don’t live in Houston, order some frozen Buffalo for your next cookout and see what all of the fuss is about. Either way, you won’t be disappointed!
Stop, you had me at Burgers!

My standard when I go to Bubba's are usually a Buffalo Burger with cheese, grilled onions, bacon, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato pickle and mayo. However, their menu has a couple of great specialty burgers and my fave from that bunch is the Vegas Burger.  You get a patty (beef or buffalo) with Jack Cheese, Bacon, a fried egg, Avocado, BJ's Habanero sauce, Lettuce, tomato and pickle.  This is a loaded, messy burger that is full of spice and flavour.  All burgers are served with an American Flag toothpick in the top--proud Americans they are!  You can have it with a wheat or white bun, I prefer wheat.  One bite of this and you get a messy, juicy, spicy, crunchy delicious hit of the meat, egg yolk, avocado and bacon.  If you like a burger with meaty, umami, sweet heat (and I really, really do like that kind of burger), then this one was made for you.  The jalapeño potato salad is creamy and has a spicy dill essence that makes it stand out among potato salads.  If you're a fan of Potato Salad and spicy food, you will like it too!

I was really pleased that Texas Bucket List chose to visit Bubba's.  I know they go all over the state, but they need to keep Houston in their rotations because there are many, many great burger joints with so many good burgers here.  Bubba's is in the long-term pantheon of Houston Burger Joints with great burgers and longevity.  Part of it is because the folks who run it don't skip on quality and they are in a highly visible location that draws folks in.  If you've passed it by for years on Westpark, you need to finally stop in and taste what you've been missing.

Report Card for Bubba's Texas Burger Shack
     Vegas Burger: A+
     Jalapeño Potato Salad: A+
    Kitchen: A-
    Dining Area: A-
Atmosphere (think B-52's Love Shack meets a Burger Joint): A

Overall Grade: Solid A

While I know a lot of folks who wish they would franchise or put together a couple of other Burger Shacks, I'm glad Bubba's has managed to stay on Westpark for over 20 years despite all the construction and changes.  It's a great piece of Houstonia that keeps on keeping on despite all the constant change around here.  I also want to apologize for not hitting Bubba's up with a write-up--it's long overdue.   It's always in my personal top 10 Burger joints for a good reason and again, I'm glad the Texas Bucket List recognized their greatness!!!

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Event: CARE Benefit at Underbelly with Spike Mendelsohn & Asha Gomez

On Thursday Sept. 18th, Chris Shepherd held a benefit for C.A.R.E. (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) at his Underbelly Establishment which featured an appearance and contribution by Celebrity Chefs Asha Gomez of Atlanta  and Spike Mendelsohn of Benaise and Top Chef Fame which focused on a recent trip to Peru and Food Insecurity issues.  Such issues relating to hunger have become a natural fit for many Chefs--indeed great local Chefs like Chris Shepherd have done so much for local food banks in Houston through their efforts and events--but this was such a great event because not only was their great food, there was much to be learned.  And the event was attended by professors, PR folks, Politicians (someone from the US State Dept. was there, folks from both sides of the political aisle) and even a writer like yours truly.  I've studied Peru before and have been interested in traveling there in the past (beyond Cebiché), yet I learned a few things before it was all over with.

Asha Gomez and Spike Mendelsohn went there partly as ambassadors, partly to see how some bottom up approaches to assisting farmers have helped feed the hungry and give them a fresh perspective on food. Chef Spike Mendelsohn spent a day with a CARE beneficiary named Edilberto. Edilberto owns a native potato farm high in the Andes around the city of Ayacucho. In Peru, potatoes, the third most important food crop in the world, are a big deal – it’s home to more than 3,800 different kinds. Edilberto told the chefs how CARE helped him form a partnership between native potato farmers and more than 80 restaurateurs in Lima. After receiving seeds and agricultural training from CARE, he and other farmers banded together to provide a steady supply of the long-ignored native potatoes to the Peru’s finest restaurants. The result: incomes have soared and malnutrition has waned in a region.  Not to mention the benefits of native species reclamation.

Hearing the stories about how various issues have affected this country combined with how these grass roots efforts have helped spur on economic development (C.A.R.E. especially works with women and girls in these areas) and improve quality of life for folks in developing countries.  I've been given a new perspective and given how a couple of other great food writers I know (Katherine Whaley and Mijune Pak) have both recently visited Peru, I am beginning to think I have something to add to my bucket list right away.  After this fresh perspective and good food for thought, we then enjoyed a sumptuous meal prepared by Chef Shepherd and company, while we watched presentations on C.A.R.E.'s activities in Peru and elsewhere.  Food for thought indeed.

The menu featured great choices of starters, entrees and desserts.  These featured some of Chris Shepherd's standards, plus other items that are rotating in and out based upon availability and Chris's dedication to Local Great Food for all.  Although I chose the Duck Confit for a starter, I got to try some of the Korean Goat and Dumplings--in fact the folks I got to share the table with decided we ought to eat family style where everyone shared a bit of the different dishes so we all got a taste of everything.  This was a good deal of fun and again, Chef Shepherd did as well as always!  Plus much of the vegetables were supplied by Plant it Forward, an organization that provides Houston with fresh, local produce grown by refugees in their own urban farm businesses. (FYI: Each farmer is trained to farm using organic methods and sell their produce through farmers markets, farm stands, restaurants, and farm shares.)

Starter: Duck Confit with Arugula, Fig, & Honey Vinaigrette, Garnished with Granola. This was a beautiful  colourful salad that featured fresh cherry tomatoes and a very sweet, slightly crispy and juicy strips of duck confit.  No ordinary salad for sure, just one of those great  dishes that you might take for granted at Underbelly!  Grade: A  The Korean braised goat with dumplings was served in a bright orange red sauce.  One bite was a nice hit of spice to say the least.  It felt a little hotter since I was drinking a Saint Arnold's Elissa IPA.  The dumplings were a little chewy, but overall this was a starter folks raved about.  Grade: A+

For the entree, the choices were many, and I went with my Texas gut when I chose the Wagyu Ranch Steak with peppers, squash, P.I.F. okra, Tomato and Sweet Pepper jam.  I forgot to indicate I wanted it medium, got medium rare, but still enjoyed it anyway.  This was a beautiful steak with nice charring, good seasoning and was juicy.  The veggies were fresh and had some snap to them and the Sweet Pepper jam added some zing.  Underbelly knows what they are doing with good meat and fixings.  This is a no brainer.  Grade: A

For dessert, I had to go with the chocolate Tres Leches cake (though I did get a sample of their Vinegar Pie--like a Key Lime pie with a Vinegar Aftertaste!  Better than I thought it would be!)  This delicious cake baked in a jar with toasted barley and pecan was rich, milky, creamy and had a nice toasted malt essence to it.  Total decadence and a real treat.  Sometimes, I am really fond of desserts or even main dishes baked in a Jar because of how the heat distributes within it and the homey feel it gives.  It's something one of my great Aunts would have done, but this was Chris Shepherd's genius at work and boy was it sweetly delicious!  Despite the crazy Houston weather we had, this was a nice sweet finish to the evening and well worth the trip out to Montrose.  Grade: A 

Chris Shepherd Presses the Flesh!  
I want to thank Stephanie Chen and Philippe Nassif for inviting me to the dinner.  It was an educational experience as well as a great dining experience as well.  I firmly support grass roots efforts to improve folks' lives--whether it's what C.A.R.E. is doing in places like Peru or what WHAM is doing in West Houston.  If you want to  learn  more, please click the link at the top of the article for more information on what C.A.R.E. is doing and if you feel so move, donate money, time and resources to this worthy organization.

Eat Happy, Y'all!