Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Visit to Coffee Icon Superstore off Bunker HIll

Dear Readers, as you know last Christmas, I received a Keurig Mini Plus Personal Brewing System and I reviewed it favourably.  It is one of the main tools I use for my morning cup of coffee, though I also will use my Phin (Vietnamese drip coffee tool), my Pour Over method and my stovetop espresso pot as well.  However, to brew a single 6 oz cup of coffee, it is hard to beat the simplicity and convenience of a Keurig, I must admit.  Besides buying my favourite brands like Dunkin Donuts, Tim Horton's, Starbucks, Peet's and Gevalia, I've tried more than a few other brands in it.  I discovered HEB's Cafe Ole has got some really good flavours--I'm especially fond of their Christmas in a Cup flavoured coffee right now.  I'e also found that some K-cups brew up better than others.  Additionally, I bought a refillable K-cup filter for use with my own grounds, though I found it did not work as well as the pour-over method--had to use less water to get the level of strength I like.  Regardless, I'm always looking for more brands to try, and at times would really like to do a brand mix.  One of my colleages at Lone Star College, Prof. Alan Gandy told me about a place called Coffee Icon earlier this year.  At that time they were located in Tomball and it was too much of a drive to me at that point.  More recently, the opened a new location off of Bunker Hill & I-10, right in front of the HEB over there and I knew I needed to make the trip!

One of the first things  you notice when you walk in are floor to ceiling high shelves of boxes of K-cups of all kinds of brands.  All of these K-cup boxes tend to be boxes of 24 for about 15 dollars--which is less than 50 cents per cup of coffee, compared to a higher price per K-cup when you're buying boxes of 12 at many local grocery stores or a little more when you're buying from a higher end coffee shop.  Coffee Icon is buying in bulk and passing the savings on to the consumer.  They also have some brands that are not always easy to find--i.e. Tim Horton's K-cups for my Canadian friends.  Yes, I know you can get the regular Tim Horton's coffee K-Cups at HEB or Bed, Bath and Beyond, but they are more expensive per K-cup and they don't have the French Vanilla or Dark Roast versions.  Coffee Icon has them both!  Similarly, they have the larger boxes of Brooklyn Roasters, Peet's, Red Rose Teas and Community Coffee (for my Louisiana friends!).  Additionally, they have several coffee packs where they coffee has the essence of classic candies like Junior Mints, Sugar Babies and Charleston Chews, if you're into that sort of thing.  And they have their own in-house Brand which includes flavours like French Kiss, Vanilla Cappuccino and  Hot Cocoa.

If there's a brand you're having a hard time finding that you love, this is definitely the place to go.  If you are wanting to try some new brands, you can make a mix of 15 different K-cups for about $18.00 so you don't have to  make the commitment to a box of 24 that it turns out you don't like.  Just like those pick 6 craft beer sets you can put together at  HEB and Kroger, THIS is simply a great thing for consumers looking for more choices for their K-Cup Brewers with less risk.  Besides K-Cups, they also sell whole bean/ground coffee and coffee makers as well.  The staff is friendly and they love coffee and tea, and they know their product line well.  As I perused the aisles, we talked a bit about the K-cups and brewers, along with patent issues.  Which brings me to a recent issue that is a somewhat sensitive subject for many:  The Keurig 2.0 Brewer.

I've seen all the ads--how it can do a pot of 4 cups with their special larger K-cup pack or a single cup with a traditional K-cup, and I thought this might be worth an upgrade at some point.  However, I am so glad I KPRC-Local 2's Consumer Reporter, Amy Davis, did a report on some issues that have come up with the 2.0 that are not in the consumer's best interest.  The new model of this brewer has received scathing reviews because of the modification to the system that includes a camera and a white rim around the edges of each K-cup, which prevents "unauthorized" K-cups from being used in the new system.  Apparently the original K-cups had a series of several patents to the K-cup design expire in September 2012.  As a result, many companies began making their own K-cup packets and selling them much more cheaply than Keurig Green Mountain.  This business model uses the machine as a loss leader and they make their profits on selling Licensed K-Cups from Coffee Companies they partner with, like Starbucks.  This is similar to how printer companies sell the printers at a loss but charge huge coin for the ink refills.  It's a valid business model and works well, provided you can control the available complementary good. The bottom line:  if you buy a Keurig 2.0 and try to use an old-model pod, one without a new ink marker/white rim on the foil top, the brewer won't run. "Oops!" reads a message on the touchscreen display, explaining that the machine only works with specially designed pods and directing the user to a Keurig website and helpline.

Personally I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, Keurig has a right to associate with whichever coffee companies it wants and if it doesn't want you brewing certain companies, they can do things like this.  On the other hand, many people who buy Keurig brewers want to brew whatever coffee they want in that brewer.  Setting up this kind of restriction amounts to playing dirty pool in the customer's eyes and it will likely cause them to lose ground with the more casual Keurig user.  Keurig is planning to pull their older models that do not have the camera/reader in January of 2015.

The folks at Coffee Icon have actually recommended that folks who want to use any type of K-cup they want, buy a Cuisinart SS-700 which will brew any kind of K-cups you want.  The staff there says it brews very well and is easy to use.  I know folks who swear by the Hamilton Beach Scoop (which uses grounds to brew a single cup in a mesh scoop that doubles as the coffee pod rather than K-cups) and Mr. Coffee has it's own K-Cup brewer as well. Having these available substitutes in consumption is good for the consumer.  Plus, Rogers Family Coffee has made a hack called the Freedom Clip so that buyers of the Keurig 2.0 can use whatever K-cups they want.

Knowing that many customers are returning the Keurig 2.0 makers in droves is a little disheartening.  Keurig produced the most revolutionary device related to coffee since the Mr. Coffee Automatic Drip coffee maker, and it is a good product.    As a consumer who likes his Keurig Mini Plus, I would like to remind the folks at Keurig Green Mountain that Mr. Coffee didn't stop folks from brewing whatever coffee they wanted in their machines or using whatever coffee filters they wanted to use.  Keurig makes a good  product and it might mean they need to restructure their pricce schedule to make the machines profitable and let the consumer use whatever coffee they want in it.  Customer good will is something that should not be lost over this.  Alienating existing and potential customers is not a path to profit.

Coffee Icon has 4 locations and a 5th location is coming to Katy soon!
I visited the location at:
9738 Katy Freeway #200
Houston, TX 77055

(281) 378-5484

Hours of Operation:
Mon - Sat : 9 am - 8 pm
Sunday : 12 pm - 6 pm

Enjoy a good cup of coffee, y'all!!! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: D'Marco's Pizzeria in Sugar Land

It's been a busy time in Houston for pizza.  Besides all the great Neapolitan style places that have opened over the past couple of years, Chicago style pizzas are showing up as well.  Back in June of this year, one opened by a former Chicago native, D'Marco Jenkins, set up shop on Highway 6 and has quietly been making a name for itself from folks in Sugar Land and SW Houston.  A couple of readers made comments about how good D'Marco's Pizzeria is and after seeing a Tweet of a Deep Dish pizza he was making, I was convinced I needed to check them out.  So on a nice Sunday afternoon, my son and I headed out towards Highway 6 and learned that Chicago style doesn't just mean Deep Dish and that folks with a passion for food and a strong drive can make their way in Houston quite well.  But first, a little background on Demrco Jenkins:
As a Licensed Professional Engineer with a Masters in Infrastructure Engineering & Management, Demarco [Jenkins] relocated to Houston in 2012 for a better quality of life for his family. A pizza enthusiast, he immediately went out searching to find a pizza spot reminscent of his all-time favorite place in Chicago, a mom and pop pizzeria called Mama Rigettas. Not finding anything close to his beloved Mama Rigettas, Demarco got serious about and idea he had toyed with for a long time, opening his own pizza place. As destiny would have it, the owners of Mama Rigetta, closed their doors in Chicago. After months of searching, Demarco caught up with them and discussed his plans to open a pizzeria. The owners graciously gifted him their secret recipes that had been passed down through several generations; including the unique pizza sauce, marinara sauce, Homemade Italian Sausage and a flakey, buttery crust that melts in your mouth. Mama’s only request was to make them proud. That, D’Marcos pizzeria certainly intends to do with every order. As owner of D’Marcos pizzeria, Demarco [Jenkins] has traded in his title as a Licensed Professional Engineer for a new one: Licensed Pizza Engineer. He couldn’t be happier and D’Marcos Pizzeria wants to make all of Houston just as happy…and stuffed.
Now this sounds like a man after this pizza lover's heart.  We originally came by with the notion of trying D'Marco's Deep Dish Chicago style pizza.  However, we were on a clock and couldn't wait 50 minutes for it to bake properly.  Demarco himself told me that it's better on Sunday through Wednesday to order Deep Dish in advance by phone and then eat in when you get there.  The turn-around is much faster on Thurs-Sat due to the higher volume and the work they do to handle it.  Demarco told me more specifically that unlike New York Pizza dough, Chicago style pizza dough has less protein which means it bakes differently, forms layers--something you notice in the texture.  Demarco also mentioned he was VERY PICKY about the cheese, meats and veggies he uses to make his pizza.  He didn't want to be serving any Frankenfoods or Cheese food product that included a bunch of chemicals and additives that fouled the taste or the dining experience.  His beef and chicken he uses in his recipes are Halal, though his restaurant also does have pork as well.  He said he was going organic, natural, healthily sourced meats and foods as much as possible, and even his sodas meet this standard as he serves Maine Root Fair Trade Certified organic sodas with natural cane sugar sweetening.  I really dig those sodas, so that scores a few more points with me.

We ended up ordering a 12" thin crust with Back... ERR... Canadian Bacon and side (aka regular) Bacon.  We hung out and drank some Blueberry Maine Root while the pizza cooked.  When it came out, it was served on an Empty Italian Crushed tomato can.  And man was this a fine looking pizza.  This pizza has an aroma of sweet, crushed tomatoes and fresh oregano and other herbs.  The cheese is piping hot, steam wafting off of it.  We let it sit for a minute so as not to take too quick a bite and burn the roofs of our mouths.  When it came time for that first bit, I heard a light squeak as my teeth broke into the layer of fresh mozzarella cheese.  That's not only a sign of real cheese, it also is a sign of a nice topping of it.  There was a robust blast of crushed tomatoes and marinara sauce following the cheese.  The sweet smokey salty pork and herbs also kicked in as well.  My son was doing the thumbs up sign as we gobbled up about half of this beauty of a pie, And yes, there was some layering in the crust.  The overall bold and fresh taste stood out and this pie is a clear winner.

Report Card for D'Marco's Pizzeria: 

Food & Beverage:
     Double Bacon Chicago Thin Crust Pizza: A++
     Maine Root Sodas: A+
     Speed: A
     Friendliness: A++
     Dining Area: A
     Kitchen: A
     Men's Room: A
Atmosphere (Small yet Growing Pizza Spot): A

Overall Grade: A+

I would like to thank Demarco Jenkins for taking the time to talk with me and Jason, giving us his story and the low down on Chicago Style pizza, beyond Deep Dish. Mr. Jenkins is a friendly, likable fellow, with a strong personality and a a Can-Do attitude.  He's really trying to contribute to the local neighborhood and I saw many locals and other Chicago transplants coming in and out of there, talking about Pizza, the heat in Houston and other stuff.  He also gave us a sample of his Chicken Italian sausage, slathered in Marinara sauce.  That sausage was DA BOMB and it is something I definitely want on the next pizza I order from them!

D'Marcos Pizzeria is located at
11102 S. Highway 6, Suite 106
Sugar Land, TX 77498

Hours of Operation:
Sun 12:00 am - 7:00 pm
Tue 11:00 am - 8:00 pm
Wed - Sat 11:00 am - 9:00 pm

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Daily Greens Demo and Chat with Shauna Martin

Dear Readers:  While I'm a true omnivore who loves all the major food groups and flavour profiles, who doesn't shrink back from a burger or pork ribs, a good potent beer or a loaded baked potato, I do, in fact, like vegetables as well.  There are all kinds of great green salads I like, though I tend to lean towards a traditional Cobb or classic Caesar as two of my favourites.  I also like cold pressed juice blends of fruit and vegetable juice (recall my Snap Kitchen preview and my visit to Flow Juice Bar this year, and how much I enjoyed their offerings.  I'm no vegetarian or Vegan though--Human Beings have the right kind of teeth and digestive enzymes to consume animal protein, and though I respect those who make those dietary choices, they are not choices I'm ever going to be making willingly in the long term.  However, in the short term I do believe that there is value in cleaning out the digestive tract and the blood through making a temporary change in the diet.  There's all kinds of juice cleanses and diet cleanses out there though.  Also, some folks go wayyyy overboard and actually harm themselves by restricting too many calories or not having the needed glycogen, protein and fatty acids within said diet.  Still, fellow foodbloggers Urban Swank, and my friend Lily Jang have done cleanses in the past year, reporting some good health benefits.  So with that, I am planning to do a cleanse of sorts myself in mid-January of 2015.  It will be a four day cleanse following a recommended diet from Daily Greens--a cold press juicing company based in Austin (Hook 'em Horns!) and partnered with Austin-based Whole Foods.

Shauna Martin (on the left) and her team at WhFSL
I recently had the opportunity to sample some of Daily Greens' wares at Whole Foods Sugar Land and meet founder Shauna Martin.  We took the time to talk about juicing, eating, and the how and they why of Daily Greens.  Though I am often skeptical of diets and fads, consuming fruit and vegetable juices that come from organic, locally sourced seasonal fruits and veggies clearly are a good addition to a nutritious diet and though I was hesitant to consider it at first, after thinking about the examples set by others, I am taking the plunge in Mid-January.  Ms. Martin was very convincing I might also add.  Considering all she has been through in creating this company, she is the picture of health and her first hand experience is a great convincer.

Per the Daily Greens Website:
At the age of 33, our founder, Shauna Martin, was diagnosed with breast cancer. With a young family to care for, Shauna struggled to recover from the trauma of multiple surgeries and the toxic effects of chemotherapy. Nine years clear, Shauna attributes her complete recovery from breast cancer in part, to her current healthy lifestyle, which includes her regimen of drinking a green juice every day. Shauna decided that she wanted to share this life-enriching habit and spread the good word about drinking your vegetables.

The original Daily Greens™ crowd-pleasing flavor, Vitality, was inspired by local Austin BBQ. Shauna hit on the idea that if she could give her drink the same sweet, spicy, salty flavor of BBQ, she could win over her meat-eating friends. After experimenting with multiple ingredients and handing out dozens of samples to friends and strangers, she came up with a magical recipe that every red-blooded, meat-loving American can’t get enough of. 

As someone who witnessed first-hand the debilitating effects of Cancer and Chemotherapy on my grandmother, and seeing as how Shauna has been cancer free for 9 years, this intrigued me.  We are always hearing dietitians, pundits and Dr. Oz saying we don't eat enough veggies, our food supply has too many chemicals in eat, we eat too much meat, etc.  At the same time, the biggest gripe from many folks is that often the way vegetables are prepared is usually not delicious.  Some folks boil them until they turn into mush and aren't identifiable, or they're served raw and not properly cleaned.  Personally, I'm always a fan of steaming just enough to make them a little chewy but still crisp inside, and nicely seasoned or LIGHTLY sauced or stir fried.  When they have enough crunch and snap but aren't so hard they'll break your teeth, that's usually a great thing, yes?  Cold pressed juices are, in many ways, much better though.  Shauna explained  how the process preserves much of the flavour, vitamins and fibre that we need from vegetables for proper digestion and nourishment.  Many juices that are sold in stores are heat pasteurized so they lose their nutritional value or even have chemical additives that do harm to the consumer.

On this particular day, Martin & Co. had several different juice products available to sample, and I tried them all.  Many of them were refreshing, a couple were more herbal, while one was a little spicy.  There were even two flavours of Hemp Milk that had a nice Umami to them and were very drinkable.  All of them tasted good, none of them produced any negative reactions from my taste buds, my palate, my mind or my digestive tract.  And trust me that is saying A LOT as I ponder on this.  Two flavours that really appealed to me were Harmony and the Chocolate Hemp Milk.  The Harmony contains Kale, Celery, Fennel, Lemon, Apple, Pear and Ginger.  The Fennel caught my eye because it is commonly used in sausages and has a bit of a peppery twang to it.  The apples and pears give it a hint of sweetness while the fennel and ginger make it feel a little spicy in the mouth.  I liked it quite well, to say the least!  The chocolate Hemp Milk is made from Hemp Seeds (the non-TCH relative to Cannabis), Wheatgrass, Cocoa, Madagascar Vanilla, Coconut Nectar and Camu Camu.  Although the product separates when it sits, a quick shake gets everything all homogenized nicely.  This product has a bit of umami thanks to the protein and vegetable fats from the seeds, a nice sweetness that is not overly sweet and a bit of a tropical essence as well.  It's very tasty and is rich in calcium.

I very much appreciate that Shauna Martin took the time to speak with me and tell her story, as well as help me overcome my skepticism.  After a bit of a discussion with my family, I decided to mark my calendar for the middle of January to take some time to do this cleanse and to share about it with you, dear readers.  The plan is listed on their website.  If it produces good results, which I believe it will, I may not do it often, but as a yearly ritual, it may be valuable for me.

Daily Greens is available at all Texas Whole Foods stores and is in the process of rolling out to broader regions.  As a proud Texas company, I invite you all to give them a try. Even if you don't want to do a cleanse, adding a couple of bottles of their wonderful juices to your weekly meals or snacks will help you get your veggies.

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!