Tuesday, May 5, 2015

food for thought: April 2015

Another month of dining in the books, here are some thoughts on an eventful April.

Simple, perfect Italian from Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

The best thing I ate: For this month, I could also title this section "What a difference a server makes." My wife and I dined at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino a few years back and left underwhelmed. The food was solid but did not stand out, and the service was very poor. Our server was loud and abrasive, offered no input whatsoever on the menu, and committed one of my cardinal sins of service: As our entrée plates were cleared, the server casually dropped the check at the table and was done with us for the evening. First, this is bad for her own pocket by not asking her table if they would like another glass of wine, coffee, or dessert. Second, a killer dessert can often pull a mediocre experience up a notch. After that first impression, we were not in a hurry to get back to Giacomo's. There are so many great places to eat in Houston that one bad experience can get you crossed off a person's list pretty fast.

Fast forward to April, 2015. My wife and I were running errands around the Kirby and Westheimer area and decided to have a quick lunch out. I suggested Giacomo's mostly based off of other people's positive experiences of the place. We were quickly seated upon arrival by a friendly server who immediately made us feel welcome. She conversed for a moment, offered suggestions on the menu, and was quick to tell us when she thought we'd ordered a substantial enough amount for a hearty lunch.

Dishes came out at a nice pace, our server was attentive without being overbearing, and the food was spot on. Beautifully hearty Bolognese rested on top of pleasantly toothsome pasta. That dish worked in harmony alongside the misto of perfectly cooked garlicky sautéed vegetables that we ordered. Our two experiences at Giacomo's could not be more different from one another, and the lunch that day was my favorite meal for the month.

A piece of Texas history.

More meat travels: April brought about another whirlwind of barbecue touring throughout the state. After Franklin Barbecue plans fell through with some friends, we were able to meet up with Scott and Bryan's families for a great Saturday duet of Snow's BBQ in Lexington and Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor. These two places, located outside of Austin, are widely considered some of the best in the state. They did not disappoint. I was also able to leave with what I thought was a fun piece of barbecue history: a brick from the original Louie Mueller pit that caught fire a few years ago. My wife, of course, thinks I'm ridiculous.

Another road trip amongst our newly formed triumvirate saw us hit ten barbecue places in one day. Yes, ten. We stuck to small samples and did a good job of pacing ourselves. Opie's Barbecue in Spicewood was a favorite of the day. Their baby back ribs are spectacular, and the free butter beans on weekends are comfort food at its finest. It was a great trip and we've already got another one planned for May.

Last but certainly not least in my meat excursions was the third annual Houston Barbecue Festival. Put on by barbecue enthusiasts Chris Reid, Michael Fulmer, and an army of extremely dedicated volunteers, this event brings together a great line-up of barbecue places around the city in one venue for everyone to sample. It's a great place to meet up with old friends, make some new ones, and try some good barbecue.

Left, soft scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and fennel from Tout Suite; Right, morning thali at Pondicheri.

The most important meal of the day: My wife and I try to have one breakfast or brunch out every month, even if that's simple diner pancakes and eggs. This month delivered a few breakfasts of note. We decided to try Pondicheri one Sunday morning for breakfast (sidenote: I usually don't spend this much time around Kirby!). Never having been there for breakfast, we weren't sure what to expect. To say we over-ordered would be an understatement. I should have stuck with the breakfast thali, a wonderful assortment that would have easily filled me up. Pondicheri, which offers breakfast daily, is often praised for its morning offerings; I can now see why.

Tout Suite also provided a great spot for a weekend breakfast. A nice strong cup of Greenway coffee and a well executed soft scramble with house-smoked salmon in a relaxed atmosphere was a pleasant way to start a day. While Tout Suite can be noisy during peak times, it's a fun place to people watch.

Hugs and Donuts, the hot new breakfast spot in the Heights, had been on my to-try list since before it opened. A longtime fan of the H-Town Streats food truck, I was excited to try its proprietors' new donut shop. Unfortunately, due to a small storefront and its popularity, it was a 45-minute wait. While I'm definitely not one to shy away from a food line, I have a hard time forcing myself to wait any length of time for a donut. That being said, the donuts were good and if I could get in and out in a short time frame I'd gladly go back.

More char, please. 

Let there be pizza: Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana opened in Montrose, the second location for Bill Hutchinson and family. The original Pizaro's location on the west side of Houston was a favorite of mine when I lived in Katy, so I was glad to have the new location open up in an area where I dine often. The new spot is definitely more open and a lot more thought went into the design than the first outpost. To be fair, the original Pizaro's at Kirkwood and Memorial was opened in a strip center when the Hutchinsons had no idea how successful their venture would be. I am pleased to report that Pizaro's Montrose is off to a great start. The pizza on my visit was fragrant and flavorful, though I could have used a bit more char on the pie. That's more of personal preference than actual critique, though.

My morning savior.

A local pour: While I wouldn't call myself a connoisseur of coffee by any stretch, I do enjoy a good cup in the morning. The biggest problem for me: I'm at work by 7 AM and most of the really good coffee shops in Houston don't open until that time. Some days I grind Greenway or Amaya beans at home, but plenty of mornings I don't have the energy.

Fortunately for me I found a really nice, local shop in Humble that opens at the ungodly time of 5:30 AM weekdays. Javaman Coffee in Atascocita roasts beans onsite and serves great, affordable coffee. Owner Mark Norelli is there nearly every morning, full of energy and friendly conversation. He learns his customers' first names as well as their standard order; it's obvious Javaman is a passion for him. If you're a local in the Humble/Atascocita area or just passing through, I highly recommend checking this place out. Don't miss the beignets on the weekends!

Full disclosure: This month included 41 stops (and countless trips to Javaman).

1 comment:

Kasandra said...

This is an outstanding venue, with great and thoughtful staff, and a fantastic chef. The location is well situated. We has been delighted to host our annual event at these LA event venues for the past few years, and the space has been perfect for our group of roughly 300.