|Pondering from the Road|
I'm always in the middle of...
Best New Restaurants
2012 saw the opening of Uchi in the Montrose area, Lucille's in the Museum District, Adair Kitchen and 1252 Tapas Bar in the Galleria area, and also Oxheart, Underbelly, and Pass & Provisions in Houston. Each of these has a great Chef or team of Chefs, location, creativity and concepts. Each of them have had great reviews from the Food community--some more than others. In many ways 2012 was the year of the hot new restaurant opening in Houston. In some ways we've not had as much time to pause and reflect as we would like, but there have been so many great dishes and places to try, we've had as fellow food blogger JC Reid said at the Uchi Opening "an embarrassment of riches" here in Houston.
I've not had the pleasure of trying Oxheart, Underbelly or Pass & Provisions yet--they are on my short list for 1st Quarter 2013, however, Of the great places that have opened this year that I have had the pleasure of trying my top 3 are as follows:
3. Adair Kitchen--creative concept, sustainable operations and good location. Great owners who are 2nd generation Houston restaurateurs.
2. 1252 Tapas Bar--I love Tapas, and 1252 in the Galleria area has the best mix of traditional and modern takes on Spanish small dishes. They also had one of my favourite cocktails of the year, White Sangria.
1. Uchi --without a doubt this blew away everything else I tried that was new this year, and that is a huge statement considering what all came into Houston this year. The combination of a well designed interior using reclaimed material, creatived dishes like Uchiviche and Jar Jar Duck, and wonderful beverages like Matsunoi "Wishing Well" Tokubetzu Hanjozo Sake and desserts like Fried Milk, made it something that stuck out in my mind and made me compare everything else to them the rest of the year. They also set the tone for 2012, and I knew it was going to be a big restaurant year for Houston.
Best Food Trucks
Eatsie Boys, recently transitioned from being a food truck to being a brick and mortar restaurant--a testament to their success with food.
3. Zeapod Cakery
This is a family owned cake business that includes a mobile unit which sells wonderful gourmet cupcakes. I got to try them earlier this year with my daughter and enjoyed a red velvet and stout chocalte cupcakes from them that blew me away. These had butter-cream icing that was neither heavy nor overly sweet. Magnificent, delicious and outstanding!
2. Golden Grill
1. (Tie) Bernie's Burger Bus and Phamily Bites
Bernie's Burger Bus boasts a fleet of 3 of them that are always busy and have become so popular they were recently hired out by Sunny 99.1 to do an event at a Best Buy in Sugar Land. This is big news because very rarely do the better known Food Trucks venture outside the loop, let alone outside of Beltway 8 to the burbs. Everyone who tried the slider versions of the Burger Bus's fare were blown away and many said they'd be chasing them down like kids chase down an ice cream truck in June.
Phamily and Phriends Food Truck Fest which got lots of donations for the Houston Food Bank), and their Vietnamese Banh-mi fusion with some Western Inspiration (the Panda Balls Meatball sub) have been a huge it with the masses, and myself. They've also helped foster a spirit of cooperation and support among the Food Truck Community in Houston, which is great to see in this growing industry.
Best Craft Beer
Rice University's Valhalla and The Gingerman stocked Shiner, Sam Adams and Saint Arnold at the patron's insistence on not wanting to drink wimpy beer with no bite and no taste. Now, Houston has 6 active craft breweries with a 7th along the way. Additionally, I have been making my way around the Ring of Honor at the Flying Saucer Sugar Land and am now within 5 beers of hitting 200 different kinds tried. (I really need to update my tasting notes and photos--it's been a busy Holiday Season!).
It's been a good year for good beer in Houston. My top 3 are as follows:
3. Buffalo Bayou Brewing Chai Porter
Dark porter with a strong Chai Spice flavour. Thick, malty and sweet. What's not to like?
2. Karbach Brewing's Yule Shoot Your Eye Out
Great dark Christmas ale that was malty, spicy and sooooo gooooood.
1. Saint Arnold's Bishop's Barrel One
By far the most superior beer I've had in ages. Russian Imperial Stout aged 10 months in bourbon oak barrels, this beer was thick, malty and had lingering Bourbon Flavour. By far the best of the best. My only complaint was that this run was rare and limited, and I only got to try it once. I hope Saint Arnold will be kind enough to brew some more soon.
The Rest of the Best
Best Outcome of Blogging in 2012
Urban Swank, the thoughtful Albert Nurick of Htown Chowdown, Phaedra of MyTable Magazine, Eric Sandler of Eater Houston (I call him "Chief" like Clark Kent and Jimmy Olson called Perry White as he has been almost an editor catching a few of my hiccups and politely informing me of them), Gary Riis the Hospitality Hero and several others that I see in the rotation at different openings and events. I like to think we have formed somewhat of a community, and I am always happy to see y'all about and consider your recommendations with the utmost care and respect. All of you set good professional standards that I aspire to.
Best Burgers I Tried for the First time in 2012 in No Particular Order
Jerry Built Burgers
|Jerry Built Bacon Double|
Mighty Fine Burgers Austin
|Mighty Fine Burgers in Austin|
Bernie's Burger Bus
|Delicious Homeroom Burger|
Best Events I Attended in 2012
Morton's Steakhouses got remodeled and had events that were fabulous. They hosted their own Iron Chef Competition in Galveston that I got to observe and blog about from the kitchen, along with tasting several great dishes. And the Grandaddy of them all was their HUGE expo over in the Inn at the Ballpark in Downtown Houston. Totally over the top, big Texas style and tons of great food. What's not to like? The Uchi Grand opening, meeting Tom Ryan the Founder of Smashburger and the Phamily & Phriends Food Truck Festival also ranked highly with me.
Best Non-Restaurant Opening in 2012
The Woodlands and on Shepherd Drive and West Alabama this past year. This gourmet grocer selling organic food, great unique sweets, tons of house brands that are produced to strict quality control and inexpensive yet palatable Charles Shaw (4 Buck Chuck) Wines was welcomed to Houston with Open Arms and many open wallets. Every time I have gone to either location I've ended up buying more than I intended and much of what was bought did not stay unconsumed for long in my household. A third location is scheduled to open off of Voss Rd. in 2013, and I've no doubt it will be as busy and well received as the first two locations were.
Biggest Disappointment in 2012
Nabi when it opened up in Nov. 2011. They had some wonderful dishes that were well presented and they weren't ordinary Asian Fusion at all. They were very tasty. Very satisfying and seemed to have a good restaurant plan. I think the major issue that happened was that Uchi opened up not long after Nabi did, and they kind of took away a lot of the same customer base. Which is a pity because I thought they could both share lower Westheimer/Montrose just fine. Unfortunately, Houston has a very cut throat level of competition and it is all too important for restaurants to get good publicity and build a solid customer base as soon as possible. Nabi did not act soon enough and was one of many casualties in the past year. Many of the other restaurants had outlived their natural span of time, but Nabi had more than I thought there would be.
Rediscovering Old Favourites
Star Pizza and Russo's NY Pizzeria. I realized after my first visit to Star Pizza in a few years that I had taken those places for granted and have since made an effort at least once a month to visit and review a long term old favourite so that newcomers to Houston might try them and that folks who know these places won't forget about them. Despite the cutthroat nature of our food industry these places like Star Pizza, Christie's Seafood and Los Tios survive and thrive, which means they must be doing more than a few things correctly.
Wrapping it up to Go
2012 was a great year for me as a food blogger. I got to try many more new places, I got to know other bloggers in our community, I met others in the media outside the blogging community and I learned a good deal about the Houston Restaurant and Hospitality industry from the inside out. It is my fervant hope that things continue on this level in 2013. I especially want to thank all of those whom I have previously named, and if I forgot anyone I apologize. I appreciate all of those who helped me get to this point and as the quote says, we only stand tall because we are carried on the shoulders of the Giants who came before us.
Eat Happy, Y'all!
Have a blessed 2013!
Owner and Webmaster