Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Burgers in Unusual Places: Peli Peli in Vintage Park

I've been told about how great Peli Peli is by my students as well as by my colleagues at Lone Star College.  One of my students named Josh is on there wait staff, and two of my fellow professors raved about the food and ambiance, declaring it a great place to go on a date, especially if Chef Paul Friedman is there that day to tell his unique story.  I always love a good story, and the fact that it was a unique South African Style restaurant intrigued me.  It's located in Vintage Park shopping center, which is just a stone's throw from my work, making it a good potential place for a long lunch or a meeting over a meal.  (Big wink if you get my meaning!) So I did some research on their menu--was quite impressed by the range and colors of the food--and on Chef Friedman and found out a few things:

Acacia Tree in the Dining Room
Paul Friedman is originally from South Africa, where he opened and ran 47 steakhouses before moving to the Houston area in 1978 to run a successful travel and safari business. After a season, he opened and sold three Paul's Pizza Shops and, seven years ago, retired. But Friedman couldn't stay away from the restaurant business and in 2009, he opened a restaurant that was his dream: A South African Style Grill. He wanted to name the restaurant "PeriPeri" after the pepper known as peri-peri in South Africa, but there already was a restaurant called "Peri."  Periperi is also known as peli-peli in Mozambique. It is a bird's-eye chile pepper that was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Friedman's restaurant uses it infused with guava, mango and papaya in their sauces and other foods.  This sold me and on a rainy afternoon a took a late lunch in order to make this culinary exploration.

This restaurant is quite colourful.  A stylized representation of Africa exudes when you walk into the wide open space of the dining area--right in the center a modern art interpretation of a large Acacia tree blossoms from the floor and reaches up to the apex of the ceiling.  The skylights let in plenty of natural light but the dining area isn't excessively brightened by it.

Carrot Ginger Soup
I was now wishing I'd chosen to come here for dinner, but since I was here for lunch I perused their menu and found an unusual burger that was worth my first exploration here:  The Safari Burger.  No it's not made with some kind of Serengeti plains exotic animal.  It's made with 8 oz. of Angus beef but is served on an African-style flat bread grainy bun.  It comes topped with cheese, bacon, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and onions (opted for mine grilled).  I ordered mine as part of a soup/sandwich combo, having their House Carrot Ginger Soup to start with, and also ordered a side dish called Pap and Gravy--maize meal, topped with Cacciatore gravy and Boerewors sausage.  This was a real dining safari, folks!

Pap and Gravy
My meal started with their unique Carrot Ginger Soup.  This was a a tremendously unique and savoury blend of pureed baby carrots, leeks and onions (like in "So You Want to Go Back to Egypt"), ginger root and orange, garnished with creme and their secret blend of spices.  It was thick, a little spicy (warm heat specifically), served warm but not too hot and quite beautifully plated.  A large bowl of this stuff would be a nice meal on a cold day.

My burger arrived with the Pap and Gravy on a separate plate.  Like the interior of the restaurant, the food is quite colourful.  The Pap and Gravy looks like white mashed potatoes with creole sauce on them, but actually it tastes like Polenta, and the  Cacciatore gravy with the Boerewors sausage is spicy and sweet, much like creole sauce but with a decidedly more herbal twang to it.  Another item that could be a small meal in and of itself.

Safari Burger.... ready to be consumed... with a Peppadew
The Safari Burger was so very delicious.  The meat was seasoned with the diverse sweet, savoury, warm and spicy Peli Peli seasonings, was juicy and cooked thoroughly.  The veggies were fresh--lettuce, tomato very crispy.  The mushrooms were properly sauteed and chewy.  The cheese thoroughly melted and the grilled onions worked quite well.  The bacon was thick, and between crispy and chewy.  I really enjoyed the whole grain bun.  It was softer than some flatbreads, grainier and the top was vented.  It was served with a savoury fennel seed slaw and a single Peppadew fruit that tasted like a 3 way cross between a strawberry, a red Scotch bonnet pepper and a cherry tomato.  This is an African fruit, quite unique and is one of the most unusual garnishes I have sampled in a long time.  I really regret not asking the server (Andy--good service by the way) what kind of bread was in the bun, because it was like nothing I'd had before.  This burger was so good, it took over the #3 spot on my top 20 burgers in Houston and totally removed a burger from the entire list.  And this isn't a burger joint in the least.  Without a doubt, I will be back soon, with company, for dinner, to try some of their more diverse grill items.

Dining Area at Pelli Pelli
Report Card for Peli Peli: 
     Carrot Ginger Soup: A+
     Pap and Gravy: A
     Safari Burger: A+
     Friendliness: A+
     Speed: A
Atmosphere (Modern Art interpretation of South Africa, Acacia Theme): A+
     Dining Area: A+
     Men's Room: B+

Overall Grade: Solid A 

One last note:  Peli Peli hosts live jazz music various days/evenings during the week.  Be sure to check out their web page for more information as the artists are rotating regularly.

Peli Peli is located in the Vintage Park Shopping Center:
110 Vintage Park Blvd., Suite P
Houston, Texas 77070

And remember to Eat Happy, Y'all!!!
Peli Peli on Urbanspoon

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