Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Preview of New Fall Desserts at Mr. Peeples

As the Fall makes its slow advance into Houston, Mr. Peeples on Bagby near downtown takes a shift towards the traditional as they roll out some new desserts for the fall and Chefs Pedro Silva and Angel Rios have been working away to give desserts that catch they eye and leave the diner satisfied with their last bite, ensuring a happy return visit!  This is just as Mr. Peeples has passed its 1 year anniversary and has had a few changes in the front of the house.  Still Chefs Silva and Rios are the constants that keep Mr. Peeples working like the creatively well oiled machine it is, and I for one am happy to report some of these new desserts are quite fabulous.

Chef Rios was most proud to report on his traditional Creme Brulee.  Here you have the thick, vanilla egg custard with a nice, crispy topping made from blowtorched raw sugar and garnished with fresh berries.  A blind man could dip a spoon in it, hear the crunch, catch that vanilla egg smell and immediately know it was Creme Brulee.  Whether up close or at a distance, there is no mistaking this wonderful dessert that has been a steakhouse staple for years and this version here, with a slight essence of cinnamon and other fresh and fine ingredients is one worth having after dinner or just for a dessert and coffee date.  Highly recommended!  Grade: A+

The next dessert is a Godiva Chocolate Cake garnished with fresh berries, homemade vanilla ice cream and a chocolate twist garish that catches your eye like a flag as it passes by on the way to a happy diner's table.  The way it catches your eye, especially if you are a fiend for fine chocolate, will probably lead to more than a few other diners ordering the same thing.  The cake is rich and moist, slightly sweet, and the fresh house-made ice cream is rich with vanilla bean and eggs.  Recommended for the chocolate lover for sure.  Grade: A

This is Texas, dang it!  Many of us have pecan trees in our yards and Mr. Peeples has a pecan tree on their property.  Now that Fall is here, Pecan Pie is a must for any Texas restaurant or household to serve and if you can use your own locally sourced pecans as Mr. Peeples does, then it's even better.  This is an individual pecan pie baked in a tart pan using raw sugar, real cinnamon and other dessert spices and is garnished with a dulce de leche cinnamon caramel house-made ice cream, and garnished with more house-made caramel.  This is a Texas Pecan pie with some Tex-Mex influence and is ALL GOOD, folks!  Grade: A+

It's October and it's pumpkin season all over.  Mr Peeples has a light, fluffy yet rich and creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with a crunchy caramelized raw sugar topping and a house made caramel sauce all over it, served with a fresh berry garnish.    This dessert was one that Chefs Rios & Silva were really happy about and personally, I like cheesecake of all varieties.  This one had a nice hint of pumpkin flavouring, but it wasn't overpowering.  Some Pumpkin cheesecakes taste like someone poured artificial pumpkin spice flavour syrup into a cheesecake mix.  This had the texture of that lovely orange gourd, but no overpowering sweetness or plastic flavour.  Nothing but the real thing--everything you want, nothing you don't!  Grade: A

Last but by no means least, I tried the Pretzel Bread Pudding.  Bread Pudding done right is an art form--a delicious, chewy, spiced, sweet treat for the mouth and palate.  When done wrong.... I just won't go there.  No need to.  The Pretzel Bread Pudding is awesome.  You have a thin layer of nicely toasted slices of pretzel bread, soaked in a soft, warm, smooth vanilla egg type custard, dusted with powdered sugar, garnished with house made vanilla bean ice cream and berries, and includes a raspberry sauce to pour over the bread pudding.  This dessert was DA BOMB.  This had the textures, the crunch, the softness, the cool creaminess of the ice cream, the warm custard egg sweet goodness and the slight tartness of the berries all working to satisfy that sweet craving I had.  If you've not had this iteration of Bread Pudding, you are missing out, Dear Readers!  Grade: A+++

Besides great new Desserts, Mr. Peeples will have a special Halloween Party--they will change their name from Mr. Peeples to Mr. CREETURES  in their 2nd Annual Halloween Party! On Friday October 31, from 9 PM to 2 AM, featuring ghouls, goblins, tricks, treats and the unexpected. The Duffle Bag Diva’s – TWIN sisters that are the resident DJ’s at Roxbury Hollywood garden on Saturday nights & headlined the 2012 MAXIM Magazine Super Bowl party in Ft. Lauderdale will be spinning tunes for guests. Opening act DJ Tiffany Kristensen will also peform.  The Dufflebag DJs are by far the hottest and most talented TWIN DJ’s in the world. The party is sponsored by Belvedere Vodka – The world’s original luxury vodka. For Information click the previous link or phone 713-652-0711.  Tickets are $25.00 in advance, $35.00 at the door.  Definitely a Halloween party worth checking out, folks!

Mr. Peeples is located at:
1911 Bagby Street
Houston, TX 77002

Eat Happy, Y'all!!! 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A visit with Ms. Myrtle Jackson of Not Jus' Donuts in the Third Ward

A friend of mine recently mentioned that there was a great place in the Third Ward that, like Drew's Pastry Place, had been the recipient of some needed guidance from Bakery Boss Buddy Valastro.  This friend raved especially about their Sweet Potato Pie and other wonderful baked goods, and on top of all of it, it is a multi-generational local business ran by three generations of strong, capable Houston women.  After being told all of this, he asked if I'd like to check them out and do a post on them.  Resoundingly yes for all of the reasons above and then some.  As a note on Houston History:  the city was originally set up in the 1800s on a Ward System somewhat like New York with it's five boroughs.  Although the system was pretty much neutralized and abolished by the early 20th century.  However, due to the history of Houston being steeped in the various wards, neighborhoods in the central part of the city near the downtown core are identified by one of those 6 Historic Wards.  The Third Ward is Southeast of Downtown just past where Pierce Elevated crosses 59.
Ms. Myrtle Jackson
She doesn't mess around
when she's baking!

Like many of the older parts of Houston, the Third Ward is a neighborhood in flux where many older homes are being gutted and rebuilt while many lofts and newer style homes are being constructed in that area.  Not Jus' Donuts is a long-term (since November of 2000) local bakery that is staying the course and staying in the neighborhood, riding the wave of change while doing what they do best in delicious fashion.  Their team is a group of strong, friendly southern women with a long history of baking in their veins.  Ms. Myrtle Jackson is the Matriarch of the family and she was more than kind enough to speak with me for a little while as I enjoyed a few of their offerings, especially their Sweet Potato Pie.  Ms. Jackson and her daughers Andrea Spears, Rosharon Jackson Cotton, and grandaughter Jasmine "Jazz" Jackson run the place like a tight ship and a well-oiled machine.  Suffice it to say, Ms. Myrtle is a total delight to speak with and their desserts are true heaven for those with a taste for from scratch Southern Sweets.

Cliff Huxtable portrayed by Bill Cosby once said in the infamous run to the store episode of The Cosby Show "Most folks can't tell the difference between Sweet Potato Pie and Pumpkin Pie anyway!" when his mother, mother-in-law and wife insisted he had to go back and buy more ingredients.  When they are done right, I would strongly disagree with that statement.  And the Sweet potato pie made by the Jackson's & Spears at their Royal Purple, Lousiana Jazz-ish location is delicious, has essences of cloves and cinnamon, and has a distinct texture to it that pumpkin usually doesn't have.  This is a genuine Southern Sweet Potato Pie that would be an exemplar for Mr. Cosby on how they are, in fact different.

Ms. Jackson and I remarked on this very subject as she talked about the way she had to go about reproducing her Grandmother's family recipes--A LOT of tasting, trial and error because many great Southern Cooks did not write down their recipes and worked from memory, often to avoid others duplicating their efforts.  Ms. Jackson assured me when they got the flavour right, the recipe has been documented thoroughly, but is for and her daughters' eyes only.  Recalling my Great Aunt Willie's methods and recipes, I have nothing but respect for this.  Ms. Jackson remarked about the roles of the Matriarchs within various churches in the South and the pecking order for who gets to host the visiting Preacher or regular pastoral staff for Sunday Dinner.  This is very much a cultural touchstone for Southern folks both old school and new school.  And that pie was excellent.  Get it while it's in season!  Grade: A++

Back last year, TLC was scouting for Bakeries that were struggling to be featured on Bakery Boss.  TLC contacted the folks at Not Jus' Donuts looking for local bakeries to participate in the show.  They filled out a very lengthy application to go through the process.  interviews were conducted over Skype and later on in person, initially with 2 people and later on with an entire crew of 25.  Ms. Jackson indicated that the Bakery had been doing well, was holding its own until Hurricane Ike blew through and knocked them on their backs.  The family was determined to not give in, to keep things going.  However, they were having to be very shrewd about it.  Eventually things were working okay and then the A/C blew out due to a lightning strike and it would have been too expensive to replace.  The crew from Bakery Boss experienced some summer heat, in a bakery, in Houston, during their final interview.  Suffice it to say, that's some rough stuff. Buddy did A LOT for Ms. Jackson and crew--much needed new equipment, much needed facelift for their interior, an AC, another oven, awnings with their name and logo on it, you name it.  Buddy also worked with Ms. Jackson and Ms. Spears to come up with other, newer recipes to expand their base.  All of these improvements were a huge success.  On the day I visited with Ms. Jackson, the rest of the team was working on a layer Cake with fondant that was going to be served at a Top 30 Influential Women of Houston function that included some Bedazzling and disco elements.  Ms. Jackson and her team, by that alone, prove themselves to be among those Top Women in Houston in my book.

Ms. Jackson indicated that between their specialty Wedding Cakes and the Appearance on Buddy's show, it helped A LOT of folks in Houston know who they are and business has been great ever since.  Andrea Spears reached out to my pal Drew Rogers who was also helped by Buddy Valastro came over.  Drew was very helpful giving them tips on how to  prep up for the show over the phone.  Later on Drew came over with his family to the watching party as support.  That's just the Great Houston Community Spirit, if you ask me.

I had the opportunity to try a couple of other representations of their desserts as we talked Houston food and chefs.  This included a special pound cake they make called a Billionaire's cake, which has a light lemon essence and a buttery sweet frosting that isn't too sweet.  Apparently slices of this are very popular after the doughnuts run out in the mornings or for a nice dessert after lunch.  Ms. Jackson did mention one of her family's trade secrets is to use sweet cream butter and pure vanilla, among other things.  Only the finest ingredients available will do for Jackson, Spears and Company.  This practice gets my ringing endorsement as when a Master Baker uses these ingredients, only good things will result.    And the cake was excellent!  Grade: A 

As we continued to converse, I picked a couple of desserts to bring home to my kiddos who were recently doing 9 weeks exams in their middle school and needed a treat as a reward for their hard work.  For jason I chose their banana cream cake dessert and for Helena their crispy iced
Strudel.  Though Jason isn't always a fan of whipped cream, he liked Ms. Jackson's, noting it was more like a custard and not too sweet.  He really enjoyed the banana filling, said it was like a Banana pudding he'd had at a church covered dish dinner that he enjoyed, and when I took a taste, I had to agree it evoked those memories.  Given how much experience Ms. Jackson has on a personal level as well as on a professional level (she worked for a local bakery for many years before she started Not Jus' Donuts), it's no surprise at all.  Buddy felt none of the cakes she made needed any make overs, but rather that she needed to add to her base.  This is one that she already did.  Grade: A+

The iced strudel was crunchy, with that nice, thick white layer of crispy icing.  Helena said it was like a cross between a Cronut and a mini-Bundt Cake.  Helena is fond of what she considers to be fancy desserts, though she does limit her induldgences to once a week since in her words "I can't play volleyball or run cross-country on just the sweet stuff!" She said after going through the stress of 9 weeks' exams and all the studying she put in, it was a mini-vacation in a small baked goods box.  I liked it quite well too with my one bite!  Grade: A

As I packed up to go I thanked Ms. Jackson and Ms. Spears for their time and for a chance to revisit certain desserts that I recollect from my youth growing up in Texas and the Deep South.  It's amazing to me how much common experiences many of us all have whether we've been here for many generations or if we've transplanted here from elsewhere.  I'm also amazed at how many local entrepreneurs will sacrifice from themselves to stay open despite many obstacles due to how they contribute to their local communities.  Ms. Jackson and the women who run Not Jus' Donuts are a tremendous asset to the Third Ward, the City of Houston and the local business community, and they make a mighty fine product too!

Ms. Jackson, Ms. Spears and some of the crew will be featured TOMORROW MORNING on Fox 26 Sunday Morning News in the 7;00 AM hour, along with many of their wares.  If you want to see some of those beautiful desserts and catch an interview with these great women, be sure to tune in.  It'll be well worth it!

Not Jus' Donuts is proudly located in the Third Ward at:
2020 Dowling Street
Houston, TX  77003

Tue: 10 AM to 5 PM
Wed-Fri: 10 AM to 6 PM
Sat: 10 AM to 4 PM
Sun-Mon: Closed

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: ēT Craft Burgers and Beer on 290

This blog began primarily about burgers and beer and grew to include all kinds of great foot and beverage.  However, when a great new burger joint comes around, I do feel a bit of a moral imperative to check it out and if they're really good, to share them with y'all.  This is one of those great burger places that make a fresh, delicious, messy burger and have a nice concept that works very well for those of us who like many great choices of toppings and cheeses.  Oh, and they have a REALLY GOOD selection of Craft Beer as well, so how can this place not be a winner?  This place, known as ēT Craft Burgers and Beer is nothing but a winner in every sense of what I like in a burger and beer joint in that they have choice ingredients that stand above many fast food and fast casual places and have good service as well.

Per their website:
We knew we wanted to craft the best burger experience in Houston. Fresh, homemade, interesting, and modern American ingredients were a must. We also knew guests would enjoy creating their own custom burgers in a fun, fast-casual setting. The more we talked about the idea, the more we knew we wanted to experiment with it. The concept of eT was born.On July 5, 2010, eT opened its first location in an 800-square-foot space in the downtown Houston tunnel below the JPMorgan Chase Tower. We quickly found that people loved the concept and the food! They even expressed the desire for more locations. Their enthusiasm encouraged us to expand the eT concept outside the small store and into neighborhoods. Our first flagship street location opened September 2014 and reflects the same craftsmanship, inventiveness, and social environment that made our tunnel location a success. Our new menu also includes craft beer and seasonal offerings using only the freshest ingredients. 
Stop.  You had me at Burgers and Craft Beer, though the fresh ingredients also helped as well!

When I came to the location off of 290 and 1960, near Russo's Coal Fired Pizza, I was a bit reminded of one of my favourite Burrito Places--Freeb!rd's specifically.  You go up to the counter, you order your beverage, then you go down the line and tell them kind of buns and topping, and they will assemble it for you and cook the meat, fresh at hot as you make your way down to the cash register.  The grill is actually visible past a class partition that gets VERY HOT, but still, quite cool to see.  Nothing to hide here folks!  The kitchen is nice and clean too, I might add.  There are 12 rotating craft beer selections which include locals as well as those from other regions of the country.  They also have the usual iced teas and other soda selections as well.  Their menu is straightforward--choose your meat, choose your spreads, choose your bun and your toppings.  There are several pre-created styles such as the Diablo, the Malibu Bird, and the BBQ Jack.  You also can build it yourself.  They also have fries--regular, pesto and hot chili fries too.  I went with a Craftsman Combo--build your own burger, have a craft beer and some fries for $12.00.  Not too shabby!

I went with a beef patties, sriracha mayo on the top, jalapeño mayo on the bottom, pepper jack cheese, bacon, avocado, arugula, roasted red peppers, tomato confit, grilled mushrooms and caramelized onions.  FYI: an adult standard burger has two patties with cheese in between.  A kid's burger has just one patty.  This was a beauty of a burger---just look at it.  Juicy, messy, meaty, savoury, spicy... you drooling yet?  Suffice it to say, the burger tastes as good as it looks.  The beef has a buttery, smooth, juicy texture to it.  The toppings are fresh as advertised--the right stuff crunched or squeaked as I ate this beauty of a burger.  It was messy, but oh what a yummy mess it was!  I'd been teaching for six hours straight and grading papers, and I was in need of the fuel, but the fact that it was so well prepared and well crafted did not hurt one iota either.  Well done, ēT Craft Burgers and Beer!

And for my readers who love great craft #BEEEEEERRRRRRRRR, I had a good one all right!  I had a Cedar Creek Spinning Mule Robust Porter, which was so thick it was more like a stout to me! This thick, smooth, creamy porter had hints of vanilla and cacao in the nose, had a strong, malty burst that was like cold pressed iced coffee and espresso and finished with a slight acidic hint.  This is a satisfying beer and goes well with beef.  If you go spicy on your burger, this will cool off the heat in between bites and will sit well in your belly as you contemplate a siesta in your recliner while listening to smooth jazz.  Okay, maybe that last part was a bit over the top, but I'm only saying that if you're a dark beer lover who likes thick, malty, smooth craft beer, this is a great one and I'm glad that ēT Craft Burgers and Beer had it.  (For those who will ask: Uncle Tex was mad he missed out on it, but I can't order bacon when he's tagging along!)

Report Card for ēT Craft Burgers and Beer:
Food & Beverage:
     Build it Yourself Burger: A+ 
     Fries: A
     Cedar Creek Spinning Mule Porter: A+++
     Speed: A+
     Friendliness: A+
     Dining area: A
     Kitchen: A
     Men's Room: A
Atmosphere (Reclaimed industrial craft bar): A

Overall Grade: A

ēT Craft Burgers and Beer has two Houston area locations.
I went to the one at:

19841 Northwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77065
(281) 807-0200

Hours of Operation:
7 Days a Week
11 AM – 10 PM

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!