Friday, July 25, 2014

Burger Friday: Beer Market Co. in Montrose

A few months back I'd heard it mentioned somewhere that a new craft beer bar had opened in Montrose in the spot that used to be held by a Texadelphia.  After checking around and reading a few good comments about Beer Market Co. over on Montrose, I was motivated to make my way inside the loop to give them a try.  I'd heard they had  pretty good burgers, which peaked my interest.  Furthermore, their list of bottled beer was outstanding, and though their tap list was shorter than I'd like, there were some brands I've yet to try in 2 plates at the Flying Saucer, more than enough motivation for this craft beer drinker.

From their website:
Beer Market Company is the newest neighborhood spot for the Studemont & Memorial area. We’re a relaxed, “come as you are” kind of place. After work…or after your jog at Buffalo Bayou Park – either way, you will feel as if you were in your own living room. But better, because of the beer. Over 365 different kinds actually, that we rotate on a regular basis so you won’t get bored. Did you know there are over 80 different beer styles around the world? You should probably come and try them all. We won’t judge. And if you get hungry, we have an extensive and delicious menu to complement all your beer choices. I you want to catch the game, we have 30 flat screen TVs. So come grab a bite and a drink, kick back and watch the game with your friends.
512 White IPA
Ok, y'all had me at Craft Beer.  On a Friday afternoon I headed there for a late lunch and took a good look at them.  The interior was a mix of Industrial and Reclaimed Wood mixed with a Sports Bar and a touch of NOLA meets Vegas.  The Staff uniforms were a mix of Sports Bar (ladies wearing high tech weave golf shirts and Khaki shorts with a short apron) and Craft Beer Bar (Guys wearing faux Gas Station/Mechanic shirts and long dark cargo shorts with multi-tools hanging off a belt loop similar to Craft Beer Bar Backs).  I started with a 512 White IPA and asked the young woman who greeted me what menu items were good. She suggested a sampler of their 3 tacos (Gulden Drak Chicken, Short Rib meat and Chicken Street Tacos) or their Mac N Cheese burger.  I went with the latter, but will likely be back for that taco sampler soon.  The server suggested I get it with grilled red onions, and I agreed, ordering the patty cooked medium.    FYI:  the 512 White IPA is like a Belgian Witbier mated with Saint Arnold's Elissa IPA.  It has the yeasty, citrus notes of Belgian Witbier, a nice cloudy golden pallor, but finishes with the slightly sour bitter hoppiness of an IPA, smoothed out by the yeast.  I've stated before IPAs aren't my favourite style of beer, but have grown to appreciate them over the past few years.  I've also found that Belgian style beers are very refreshing in the Houston heat, as are IPAs.  And this one works well with my palate.

Mac N Cheese Burger with Grilled Red Onion
I studied their beer list and meditated on recent life events while I waited for my food.  One of the male servers came by, asked how I liked the beer and shared my thoughts.  "You know your beer, dude!"  I mentioned my two plates at Flying Saucer Sugar Land, prompting a fist bump from him.  Can't fault a server trying to connect with a customer, eh?  When the burger finally arrived, it was a beauty. It's 1/2 lb. certified angus beef patty topped with a mac ‘n cheese "patty" plus 2 strips of bacon on a brioche bun, topped with a dill pickle spear skewered into the bun. Their burgers are served with your choice of: shoestring fries, sweet potato fries or a side salad.  I went with the shoestring fries.  The patty was cooked to a proper medium with a hot, slightly pink center and was juicy.  It was nicely seasoned and grilled, no blandness, no dryness, just a good patty.  The chewy macaroni and cheese plus the sweet, crispy smoky bacon and the sweet and sour grilled red onions made for a nice mix of flavours and textures.  The brioche bun was a little heavier than many I've had, but it kept the burger together (kind of annoying when the bun fragments and a burger gets messy 2/3 the way through).  The shoestring fries were fine and crispy, though I prefer a thicker, natural cut fry.  The burger and fries were served with a special sauce on the side which was like a mix of In-N-Out's special sauce and Freddy's Frozen Custard's zesty dipping sauce.  I dipped the burger and fries in it and it put some zing into the palate.  Good burger, very satisfying.

About midway through the burger, I ordered a second beer:  Indian Wells's Lobotomy Bock.  This California based brewing company brews a number of brain-injury themed beers apparently, though this one is brewed according to the German beer purity law aka Reinheitsgebot.  This beer pours dark, has a coffee malt nose, a smooth front note transitioning into a malty, wood-barrel middle and a slightly hoppy finish.  A VERY SMOOTH DRINKING Bock beer, and a little potent too.  Summer is not considered a good time for drinking dark beer, yet I love a good Stout, Porter or Bock anytime of the year.  It's also nice to find yet another good place to eat that has a good selection of beers from all over, yet also stocks the larger brands if you're hanging with friends who prefer the mass-produced beers.

Report Card for Beer Market Co.:
Food & Beverage:
     512 White IPA: A-
     Indian Wells Lobotomy Bock: A++
     Mac n Cheese Burger: A
     Friendliness: A
     Speed: B (kitchen was slow, not servers)
     Dining area: A
     Bar area: A
     Men's Room: Incomplete
Atmosphere (Sports meets Craft Beer Bar): A-

Overall Grade: A-

Beer Market Co. is located at:
920 Studemont St #900
Houston, TX 77007
713) 426-9035

Sun-Thu: 11 AM til 12 Midnight
Fri-Sat: 11 AM til 2 AM

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Preview: New Frozen Custard Waffle Cone Sundaes from Petite Sweets!

In previous blog posts, I've already enumerated the reasons why I love frozen custard and prefer it over ice cream at times.  And as we are finally feeling the REAL HOUSTON SUMMER HEAT, Frozen Custard would hit the spot right now as far as helping one feel cooler.  Very recently the folks over at Petite Sweets got in touch with me and let me know that they have now created several special waffle Cone Sundaes which include such flavours as lemon ice box, chocolate covered pretzel, The Turtle, Makers Chocolate Covered Cherries and Balsamic Strawberry.  Yes, I know that last one might make someone screech "SAY WHAAAAAAT?!?!?" but truly, if you've enjoyed the treats from Petite Sweets, and many of y'all have, you know it's going to be absolutely delicious!

My Favourites
These four that were my faves really hit the spot with me.  These included (clockwise from upper left) Strawberry Balsamic, Chocolate Pretzel, Lemon Ice Box and Makers Chocolate Cherry.  The flavour profiles were wonderful, they hit the proverbial spots on my palate that made me happy and had great visual appeal.  The Strawberry Balsamic featured chocolate or vanilla custard (I chose chocolate) with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce and whipped cream in an in-house made Belgian style chocolate dipped waffle cone.  Everything is made in house--sauce, whipped cream, custard, chocolate and cone.  And the quality shows.  Somehow the vinegary strawberry balsamic sauce is offset by the cocoa and sweetness SO VERY WELL.  Unique, delicious, decadent.  Grade A+.    The Chocolate Pretzel has crushed pretzel, chocolate fudge and whipped cream topping on your choice of custard in a chocolate dipped cone.  This one is a chocolate, salty, crunchy sweet delight.  I very much enjoyed this one, and really like the Belgian style chocolate the cone is dipped in.  Smooth, not too sweet.  Grade: A++  My Great Aunt Willie made some of the best lemon ice box pie.  This vanilla custard with slightly sour lemon curd, crushed graham cracker and whipped cream gave my taste buds a flashback to one of those pies and for some reason sour lemon pie or lemonade on a hot day seems more refreshing.  Grade: A++  The Makers Chocolate Covered Cherry has dark cherries in a cherry Bourbon sauce in a chocolate dipped cone.  Nothing like Bourbon and cherries to really make you get a sweet and whiskey buzz going and this works so well with the chocolate too.  Grade: A+

The Pretty Goods
These included (left to right in the photo) the Funfetti, the Turtle and the Big Island.  All of these were pretty good and on any given day, I'd be happy with them too.  They just might not be my first choice off the list.  If these flavour profiles hit your taste buds right, you will love them!  The Funfetti has your choice of frozen custard topped with a crushed iced sugar cookie, funfetti sprinkles (aka Jimmies) and whipped cream.  This one is like a Confetti Cupcake or birthday cake cone.  Sweet, colourful, fun for the kiddos especially.  Grade: A  The Turtle had your choice of custard topped with chopped pecans, caramel, hot fudge and whipped cream.  This one was like eating a sweet, chocolate turtle candy, with crunch.  I liked it but wasn't in the mood for pecans on this day.  It was still quite good.  Grade: A  The Big Island has vanilla custard topped with pineapple puree, whipped cream, crushed graham cracker and toasted coconut.  It definitely hit the tropical profile and was refreshing.  If you like tropical cocktails and ice cream, this one is for you.  Grade: A 

I was hanging out with Dominique McGee while trying these sundaes and we joked about how this was a great step up from the usual ice cream parlour most folks would hit.  It was also nice to have the choice of other treats like Macarons of so many flavours as well handy, as well as coffee to offset the sweetness of the treats.  As we caught up on other things, folks were coming in and out buying up Macarons and Frozen custard like it was going to be gone tomorrow.  If you've not yet been to Petite Sweets, these Frozen Custard Waffle Cone Sundaes are just one more reason on top of so many others you need to pay them a visit!  I want to thank the folks there for having me and Dom over on this particular afternoon to preview these wonderful sundaes!

Petite Sweets is located at:
2700 W. Alabama,
Houston, TX 77098

Phone: 713-520-7007

Open 7 Days A Week:
Sunday 11am-7pm
Monday-Thursday 10am-10pm
Friday-Saturday 10am-11pm

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Valley Ranch Grill & BBQ off of 249 & Spring Cypress

Houston has no shortage of fair, good and great BBQ.  I make no secret that my favourite BBQ joint in the Houston area is Killen's.  I'm in the process of compiling a number of Top Lists by category to roll out later this year and they're #1, with no close contender to them.  However, numbers 2 through 9 are a much tougher call.  Not to mention you have all these subcategories--large vs. limited chain, local with a few spots versus local only, style such as Texas (Brisket, Ribs and Sausage) vs. Carolina (Pulled Pork) and other (KC sweet, Memphis Dry, etc.)  I know JC Reid is probably tired of my using his "embarrassment of riches" tagline, but hey, if it's not broke, don' fix it!

While I live in Westchase, I work off of 249 & Louetta.  I've been able to use this as a means to explore restaurants outside of my usual stomping grounds of West Houston, Inside the Loop and Sugar Land.  Many of my coworkers and students live out between that way and Tomball/The Woodlands/Huntsville, and my policy is always "If you know a good local place you love, share it.  If I've not tried them, I'll give them a shot.  If they're good to great, they'll be blogworthy."  Thanks to this I've tried places like Peli Peli, Mario's Taco & Burger House and Anothai.  My good friend and colleague Allen Margoitta recently mentioned that he was very fond of Valley Ranch Grill & BBQ off of 249 and Spring Cypress.  They'd undergone a remodeling recently and four of us guys decided to pre-party for the 4th by getting some Texas Smoked meats.  This turned out to be quite a treat!

As you can see, like other BBQ places, they work the cheesy, Texas, country themed kitsch for all it's worth.  Boots, special washing sink, electric train circulating the restaurant on a shelf along the upper walls, big tub full of ice and beer.  Yep, this is some true Texas kitsch, all right!  My coworker, Allen Margoitta, is very fond of them.  He'd mentioned their recent remodeling and how it was in his regular rotation, so I was willing to give them a shot.  Their menu features the usual suspects for Texas:  pork and beef ribs, brisket and sausage link, as well as the more general items too (ham, turkey, chopped BBQ beef) and some Tex-Mex (Beef, Chicken or Shrimp fajitas).    For me, the Texas Trinity of brisket, ribs and sausage links tells the tale on whether or not the BBQ is worth eating.  So I went with a two meat plate of pork sausage links and ribs, with their smashed potatoes and green beans, and for good measure, their banana cream be, in order to see what they were all about.

The ordering process reminds me of many BBQ joints where you order and pay up front, then you're seated and enjoy your meal along with fixings off of a bar.  I'm not expecting a fancy steakhouse in a BBQ joint, but I'm hoping for tender, smoked meat, that's moist and satisfying.  If the meat is properly prepared (rubbed, seasoned, smoked) it'll be totally delicious without any sauce, though I always like a sauce that's sweet and spicy.  As you can see from the picture on the right, the ribs have a nice pink smoke ring in the outer layers, the sausage has a nice shine to it and is pink with smoke.  The rib meat was fall off the bone tender, as it should have been.  The sausage was juicy, had nice red pepper and other seasoning, and both had that semi-sweet pork essence you expect from such BBQ.  My compatriots were enjoying some of the same, some of the other meat selection.  One of them let me have a sample of his moist brisket--it was as advertised, very tender, very juicy, and had a nice smoke ring.  I'm also happy to report there were no incidents involving acid reflux from liquid smoke here--it was the real deal.

I found the sides were at the proper temperature--the green beans had some snap and tenderness to them, were bright green and not soft or falling apart.  The smashed potatoes had some skins and potato chunks in them, and were nice and hot.  I'm not a fan of cream gravy, but it was a nice, black-peppery cream gravy and that was ok.  In retrospect I should have ordered the BBQ baked beans or the potato salad instead as I'm more of a brown gravy than a cream gravy person.  That's on me, not on Valley Ranch however.  I very much enjoyed the Banana Pudding.  It was creamy, had slices of fresh banana, was topped with whipped cream and Vanilla Wafers and was a nice, hearty, satisfying, rich pudding.

Report Card for Valley Ranch Grill & BBQ:
     Pork Ribs: A- 
     Pork Sausage: A-
     Green Beans: A
     Smashed Potatoes: B+
     Banana Pudding: A
     Friendliness: A
     Speed: A-
     Dining Area: A
     Kitchen: A-
     Men's Room: Incomplete
Atmosphere (Kitschy TX BBQ): A

Overall Grade: A- 
BBQ Professors!  

Valley Ranch BBQ is located at:
22548 State Highway 249 Northbound
(at Spring Cypress)
Houston, TX  77070
Mon - Sun: 11 AM - 9 PM

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!