Houston, We Have a Rodeo

There are literally thousands of reasons that millions of people pile into the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo each year. There are the big name concerts that bring the likes of Brad Paisley, Usher, Maroon 5 (Adam Levine!), Keith Urban and Blake Shelton to play to sold out shows (did I mention Adam Levine?). There is the actual rodeo where good looking cowboys and cowgirls rope, race and ride their way to the top of the BP Super Series (think barrel racing, bareback riding, steer wrestling, ). There are the livestock shows that brings thousands of Texas 4-H and FFA students between 9 and 18 to compete at the world’s largest livestock show and the subsequent livestock auctions that bring in millions of dollars in scholarship monies. Think poultry and pigs to school art, lambs and steer, all hoping to win the title of “Grand Champion”. There are hundreds of exhibitors selling every kind of Western item you could ever want or imagine. There is the Carnival and the Parade1 and a livestock birthing center in Agventure. There is so much to see and do during the three weeks each year in which Houstonians turn our city into the beer-swilling, cowboy hat and boots-wearing, two-step dancing it truly is at heart. Let’s be honest, though: the real reason we all brave the pocket-emptying parking lots and bipolar Spring weather is, of course, the food.

The cowboys aren’t the only winners during rodeo. The Gold Buckle Foodie Awards have celebrated the best of Rodeo Houston’s food for the last six years. Local micro-celebrities are invited to judge the Top 8 best of the best of the fair food where they impart their food wisdom for the benefit of all the Carnival-goers. This year’s “Best of the Best” in each of eight categories were:

     Best Breakfast: Big stone breakfast sandwich from Stubby’s Cinnamon Roll

     Best Value Food: Barbecue baked potato from Triple J’s Smokehouse (for a mere $13)

     Best Classic Fair Food: Pulled pork stuffed baked potato from Saltgrass Steakhouse

     Best Food on a Stick: Grilled chicken kabob from Saltgrass Steakhouse

     Best Fried Food: Fried pie from Kettle Corn

     Most Creative Food: Frosty bite lemon cream cupcake from Custom Confections

     Best New Taste: Cinnamon roll pancakes from Stubby’s Cinnamon Roll

     Best Dessert: Cookie dough parfait from Aunt Edmoe’s

This year, rodeo organizers introduced the genius “I Ate All Eight” — a program where, depending on the number of “Best” foods eaten, the person receives a button (two stamps); a koozie (five stamps); or a t-shirt (all eight!). Sadly, I managed to eat eight foods at this year’s rodeo, but only one from the “Best of” list. Plus, there were two things not on any list, but that sure should be: Fried Peeps (!) from Fried What? and the Fried Pickle Dog from Get Pickled. I guess there’s always next year.

So what did I eat or want to eat? Prepare your eyes and palate for the goodness!



Frozen cookie dough on a stick dipped in chocolate and rolled in pecans from Aunt Edmoe’s! #sogood


Vanilla Bean Frosty Bite -- a cupcake stuffed with vanilla ice cream. Yes, it's true.

Vanilla Bean Frosty Bite from Custom Creations — a cupcake stuffed with vanilla ice cream. Yes, this exists.


Cinnamon Roll from Stubby's.

Cinnamon Roll from Stubby’s. It was DELICIOUS! Except for the pecans because they were pecan bits and got stuck in my teeth.

Crawfish Etouffee from Cajun Unlimited. I later read they showed up on the "food infractions" list from the City for food at the wrong temp. That's what it tasted like, too.

Crawfish Etouffee from Cajun Unlimited. I later read they showed up on the “food infractions” list from the City for food at the wrong temp. That’s what it tasted like, too.

The Gold Buckle Foodie Dessert winning Cookie Dough Parfait from Aunt Edmoe's. I'm unable to articulate how excellent this was -- unable!

The Gold Buckle Foodie Dessert winning Cookie Dough Parfait from Aunt Edmoe’s. I do not have the words to articulate how excellent tasted!

I didn't eat these Cookie Slabs, but can I get an "Oh My Gosh" about this?!

I didn’t eat these Cookie Slabs from Aunt Edmoe’s, but can I get an “Oh My Gosh” about this?!

Curly Fry Loaf that we paired with the Bacon-topped Jalapeno Burger from Holmes Steakhouse.

Curly Fry Loaf that we paired with the Bacon-topped Jalapeno Burger from Holmes Steakhouse.

The obligatory turkey leg. Because it's the rodeo and you just have to go for it.

The obligatory turkey leg. Because it’s the rodeo and you just have to go for it.

Now that I’m looking back at this, it appears that I ate nothing but sweets for three weeks. No one would argue I have a sweet tooth, but I also ate a Corn Dog from Fletcher’s and a Corn on a Stick. My waist line is more than thankful rodeo does not start again for another 320 days and now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hit the gym.


1Full disclosure: I’m a member of the HLSR Parade Committee. And it’s the best damn committee in the whole damn rodeo if you ask me.


Food on a Stick

There’s just nothing better than food on a stick. It’s portable, doesn’t require utensils and, if you’re at a fair of any kind, likely fried. What other food group can beat that with a stick1? As I chowed down on my first and only corn dog I’ve had in my entire life, my dining partner snapped a photo to preserve the moment for all of eternity. And wouldn’t you know? The girl behind me went all McKayla Maroney and was clearly not impressed. Proof that a picture really is worth a thousand words.


1See what I did there?

The Chillest Wine Bar in Town

Just on the edge of the point where midtown meets downtown and just before it hits EaDo1, there sits the chillest wine bar I ever did see. 13 Celsius seems to be at once a hipster mecca with a lounge-ish vibe while at the same time packed with business people who know a great bottle of wine when they see one and wine newbies cutting their baby teeth on those slick glass corks. How I have not been to 13 Celsius before today is mind-boggling. And it’s a shame because this is definitely my kinda place.IMG_5904

The interior is bathed in an industrial-modern feel that is very on-trend. Everybody’s doing the industrial thing but, for some reason, 13 Celsius makes it feel authentic and real. The bar itself is a giant block of white marble (my personal fave) that screams cool and buttoned up all at the same time. And they have purse hooks! Praise the purse hooks gods! The mismatched club chairs paired with sleek leather sofas in small sitting areas make you want to sit and stay a while, which we did. And did I mention the patio? Oh, the precious patio. Perfect on a bright sunny day with friends or with its twinkly lights at night that’s perfect for you and your date’s first kiss.IMG_5908


The staff…oh, let’s talk about the staff! The staff at 13 Celsius looks as if they stepped straight out of the latest Billy Reid catalogue. They are perfectly hipster coiffed from the beards to the large plastic-framed glasses to the plaid flannel button downs and the well-loved Converse. With the look and feel of the place, you’d think the bartenders might not give you the time of day, but nothing could be further from the truth. They were all very warm and genuine, and could pretty much tell you something about every one of the wines in the tome they call their wine list. It was quite impressive. Not only can they tell you something about each of their wines, but they’ll happily let you taste any of their wines, too. I think I’m in love.IMG_5907

So let’s talk wine. As I was at a work event, I could not be my usual party animal self; rather, I had to be my semi-reformed party animal self and take it easy. I had two glasses of a 2010 Mt. Beautiful Riesling, a North Canterbury, New Zealand Riesling that was outstanding; it was dry and petrol-y on the nose, but had a honeysuckle citrusy finish that I love in a good Riesling. It was fantastic and a steal at only $11 for a full pour. Let me reiterate that, were I not at a work function, I would have likely downed the entire bottle. One of the neatest parts of the wine menu was  the “Most Unique” category. Being the adventurous person I am, I had to ask. Rosso Contadino 8 (2010) is an Italian wine by Belgian-born winemaker Frank Cornelissen. His philosophy is to avoid using any kind of man-made interference on his land or vines whether “chemical, organic or biodynamic.” It sounds like he may or may not stomp the grapes himself. On the nose, Contadino smelled of black cherry, licorice and terroir, with a finish that was smoky and meaty, sort of like drinking a piece of beef jerky. It really was the most unique wine I’ve ever tasted and I’m glad I went for it because what is life if it isn’t a food adventure?IMG_5899IMG_5903

Now let’s talk food. The menu at 13 Celsius is wonderful. The owner’s grandfather, Joseph, apparently had a butcher shop that was the inspiration behind the menu. The 13 Celsius menu is filled with wonderful cheeses — soft and pliable ones; firm and hard ones; and my personal fave, triple cream ones. The combinations, or “Combinazioni”, allow you to choose several cheeses and are served with sliced baguette, fruit (sliced Granny Smith apples!), nuts (Marcona almonds!) and strong, grainy mustards. The boards they were putting out were simply beautiful and simply delicious. I wanted to move in and eat every morsel on those boards! They also serve panini with meats sliced to order; the basil was fresh and, like the meats, chopped in front of my very own eyes.  I tried a little bit of everything on the boards but really wanted to try a panini, so I settled on the Mortadella. The Mortadella panini was like warm chocolate cake for my soul. Served warm, it was bathed in grilled mortadella, tomato, provolone, chopped cornichons, mustard and a fried egg all on a pretzel bun. And served with house made chips. Seriously. It was stupendous.



Lastly, I love when they think of the little things and one of the little things I loved at 13 Celsius was the little lights they sit on the mini clipboards they give you with your bill. As it’s a bar, it is obviously dimly lit and the little light avoids the need for people to blind everyone within a five foot radius by breaking out iTorch, because no one needs to lose their eyesight when they’re simply enjoying a night out. Thanks to the owners of my new favorite bar, though, because they have simply thought of everything.20140316-234207.jpg

Being that I live a bit away from downtown, 13 Celsius won’t be a neighborhood joint for me personally. However, I will go back as often as possible because it’s fantastic and because I love supporting awesome local merchants who are creative and have a passion for their craft. My advice is to get out your iCalendar and schedule yourself a night at 13 Celsius as soon as humanly possible. You can thank me later. IMG_5911

1Is this really what we call this area now? That’s so NYC Tribeca, NoDo and SoHo of us.

Let’s Dish. Or Not.


I wanted to love this restaurant. I really did. But I just didn’t and here’s why.

Ever since my days in Toronto when I ate brunch as often as humanly possible at Lady Marmalade, I have been searching for a brunch spot in Houston that was even marginally as awesome, but without any luck. In fact, I was SURE I had blogged about the other-worldliness of Lady Marmalade’s eggs bennys on my beloved Canadian blog, but after a quick search, my blog tells me I’ve only made very brief mentions of it. I guess I’ve just been chatting with people about it IRL. Imagine that. No matter, though. Just know that Lady Marmalade’s mango and bacon eggs benedict was literally the only food group I ate for weekend brunch for nearly three years — I stood in line outside their teeny tiny digs in snow, ice, blizzards, thunder snow, heat waves, humidity1, and every other kind of weather situation just to have the mango eggs benny. I don’t know if this says more about me or the dish, but I’m going with the latter.

I first learned about Houston’s newest brunch spot on Instagram. My fingers nearly caught fire from googling it so fast. I liked the concept of Dish Society. I read a couple of articles about it and it sounded like the owner/proprietor had done his homework around what people, specifically Texans, wanted in their comfort food, so I had high hopes.


First of all, Dish Society is on the ground level of an apartment complex. This is not uncommon in “walking” cities like New York, Chicago, and Toronto, where there were three restaurants in the bottom of my building. But as we all know, Houston is anything but a walking city (did I tell you about the time my friend drove from the Chick-fil-a at Richmond and 610 to a new parking spot at Best Buy at Richmond and 610?), so it felt odd to park in the parking garage of an apartment complex and enter the restaurant through the complex’s atrium area. The nice part about that, though, is that there is plenty of parking which is one of my main complaints about so many restaurants in Houston.


Once inside, the build out is open and airy. Its look-and-feel is like so many other trendy farm-to-table restaurants — lots of concrete and metal finishes. And, my biggest restaurant pet peeve also makes an appearance at Dish Society in the form of lightweight aluminum chairs. I HATE THOSE CHAIRS! Granted, they are only used outside, but that is where I ate because there was no room inside. My other favorite brunch spot, Adair Kitchen, uses them too, and I re-loathe them every time I go. Those chairs are so cold and hard that I want to eat and leave as quickly as possible. Sidebar: obvs, not every one feels this way because every time I eat at Adair, we have to stand in the back and wait for people to stop their incessant chatting and GET UP SO THOSE OF US WHO HAVEN’T EATEN CAN SIT DOWN. But I digress. I just can’t imagine how a restaurant owner can test chairs and settle on those cold chairs? How can they say “ooooh, I like this one! It’s warm and inviting and comfortable!” They are anything but. So I was disappointed when I saw them repeated at Dish Society.

I fully acknowledge that these things are my own personal issues. It may not bother anyone else that they have to sit on those ding dang cold, hard chairs in their shorts they’ll end up wearing nine months out of the year in Houston’s godforsken heat after they’ve had to park in an apartment complex parking garage! Clearly, I have specific environmental needs when it comes to dining out that not everyone may have. I GET IT! But this is my blog and five — FIVE — of my readers demanded I write this review and what my readers want, my readers get. Please and thank you.


Let’s move on to the reason we all go out anyway — le cuisine. I wanted to compare the breakfast I normally get at Adair to Dish, so I ordered migas and (tried to order) a bowl of granola and milk. Their menu referenced “house granola” as an oatmeal topping, so I asked if I could get it in a bowl with milk. Yes, they are newly open, but you would have thought I had asked if they could send me to the moon and back. Good lord, it was tough. The manager even had to come over to enter it into their system.


The food was cold when it got to me. This was good for the granola and milk, but bad for the eggs. I am an adventurous eater, but I like my food to be temperature appropriate. I hate cold food that should be hot; hot food that should be cold; and, most of all, lukewarm food. Yuck. The migas were bland, although the salsa was tasty. In fact, I should have just gotten a bowl of salsa. The granola, which is pretty hard to mess up, was terrible. I kept chewing it trying to figure out what it was, but the best way I can describe it is that it was overly seedy and kind of overcooked. You know how overcooked pieces of rice get really hard and almost breaks your tooth? That’s how the granola was — as if I kept biting into rocks. The flavor was very date-ish2 and there were no chunks at all. I personally prefer chunky granola. I didn’t finish the bowl and I usually always finish a bowl of granola. #wompwomp


The Cliff’s Notes version of what I liked about Dish Society are:

  • the yellow and white gingham shirts worn by the staff
  • and how said shirts matched the yellow coffee cups and yellow painted bar. Definitely a cheery touch.
  • they serve Maine Root soda. I like to mix the Mexican Diet Cola with the Mexican Cola and off to Heaven I go.
  • free wi-fi!

The Cliff’s Notes version of what I didn’t like about Dish Society are:

  • pretty much everything else.


I really wanted to like this place. I really wanted a new place to meet my girlfriends for brunch! But it was not to be…at least in week one. I will go back  because I am a helper and a lover, and I want Houston to have great brunch places! I am crossing my fingers and toes and legs and eyes that they do make some quick improvements. Quickly.

1Yes, Toronto has humidity. And tons of it, too. #lotsofbadhairdays

2The things you eat, not the things you go on.

Fusion Food That’s Not Fusion. But That’s Really Really Good.

IMG_5519It’s fair to say I was somewhere near a retail center last Saturday when hunger pangs struck. Knowing it was National Margarita Day, a holiday that is less “time honored tradition” and more “spirit industry at work”, I ran down the list of mexican restaurants in the area. If you’re like me, you don’t need an excuse to lift a margarita but, still, the only restaurants I could think of were a) overpriced and b) probably overcrowded. It just wasn’t going to work out.

Last year, I was lucky enough to get two tickets to the Houston Culinary Tour of Long Point Road with Chris Shepherd of Underbelly fame and Bryan Caswell of Reef fame as our tour guides. Let me just say that if you have never been on a Houston Culinary Tour, finish reading my blog and, only after you’ve finished reading my blog, click through to the site via the link love above. Run, do not walk to get tickets, because they usually sell out within minutes of going on sale, unless it’s the Vegetarian tour and then it doesn’t. Yes, the tours are just. that. good. 

I remembered a place the chefs mentioned on Gessner near Long Point called Vietnam Poblano, a random fusion of names from Vietnam (obvs) and the interior-Mexican city Poblano. I thought “what better to do on National Margarita Day than eat Vietnamese Mexican food”?! So I did.

There are tens of thousands of hole-in-the-wall restaurants on Long Point. Adventurous foodies could spend weeks hitting the diverse, exciting and delicious restaurants along this stretch of Spring Branch north of I-10. The best part about these holes-in-the-wall is that they’re affordable — heck, I’d say they’re downright cheap! — so even if you stop at some taco truck or Korean barbecue house and hate your food, you’ll still probably only be out a ten spot. Vietnam Poblano is one of these places. It sits at the end of the Royal Oaks strip center next to Tony’s Multiservices and an empty parking lot. IMG_5515

I fully expected to find some kind of viet-tex fusion but instead found a fairly typical Vietnamese sandwich shop. I asked what was good and the guy behind the counter told me they are known for their banh mi, a meat-filled sandwich on — you guessed it — banh mi, or french bread. Sidebar: Vietnam was a French colony for about 90 years and influenced the country not only in its cuisine, but in its religious beliefs, architecture, and broader social culture, as well. I ordered the BBQ pork banh mi (#1), the Gogi Beef fried rice (#10), Thai tea, and a delightfully-wrapped package of four tiny pastel macarons. I always over order when trying a new place so I can get the flavor of more than just one dish. I usually take at least half of everything home or, in the instance it’s really, really good, I don’t. 

The verdict of Vietnam Poblano? It was sublime. The BBQ pork was very thinly sliced with a hint of sweetness. I later learned this is because they add honey to their BBQ sauce. The sweetness of the honey partnered with the biting flavor of the fresh cilantro2 and deliciously pithy jalapenos on the crusty, fresh french bread nearly brought me to tears. I asked if they made their own bread and was told that they focus on the “guts” of their sandwiches and leave the bread baking to the bread bakers. Wise move, in my opinion — their meats and vegetables are cut in-house daily; they pickle their own vegetables; and their butter is made in-house daily, too. Without a doubt, it was the best banh mi I’ve ever had.

IMG_5517The Gogi Beef fried rice was very different but was delicious nonetheless. The meat had a smoky flavor to it and the fried rice was not greasy in any way. The dish was served with julienned pickled carrots into which I could have put my face. Like the banh mi, it was topped with a giant mound of fresh cilantro. They were outstanding and I was assured that they use only the finest of vinegars to pickle their veggies — you know, Heinz. Bottom line: soy sauce, so often needed to add flavor to bland fried rice was not required in any way, shape or form at Vietnam Poblano. It was also served with an egg roll, but it was flavorless and dry; clearly, the egg roll is not made in-house daily. My advice is to skip it and save your stomach space.

Rounding out my dinner was Thai tea and the bag of baby macarons. They were good, but at $5.99 for four macarons the size of a quarter, I can do without.

The service was great, the restaurant was clean and the prices (save the macarons) were very reasonable. In fact, their daily special that includes a banh mi, a side and a drink is a mere $4.99. You can’t beat that with a stick. Like I said, even if you go and hate the food (which you won’t), you’ll still only be out a five spot.

My suggestion? Run, do not walk, to Vietnam Poblano. I can’t wait to know what you think but I think you’re going to love it.


1The foodie word everybody has come to hate. Yours truly included.
2I love cilantro. I mean, I LOVE cilantro. I know that you either love it or you hate it, but I love it. The End.

My Favorite Meal of the Week

The brunch board at Tiny’s

Here’s the scene: you go out on Saturday night, binge on vodka sodas, slink home at 3 a.m., sleep off your hangover late, wake up, and go to brunch. Brunch is simply genius. It lets you take a few hours out from the everyday hundrum of life, chill at some cool little restaurant,  talk about the food, read the NY Times, have a drink, and catch up with friends. It may be loud, but it’s low-key.

In Toronto, brunch was an institution. I met friends at Lady Marmalade — my absolute FAVORITE brunch spot on the planet — nearly every single Sunday I lived in TO. Nothing on earth is as tasty as their cheddar and mango eggs bennie — nothing. I think Houston’s brunch scene is catching up to other big brunch cities and while brunch here may not yet be an institution, I’d definitely at least call it a statement; an opportunity. That notwithstanding, I have a few Houston brunch favorites including, but not limited to, the Migas at Tiny Boxwoods and the Fried Egg Sammie at Max’s Wine Dive. Yes, please!

Here are a few reasons why I basically want to marry brunch and have its first born child:

1) Combining foods normally served after noon with foods normally served at breakfast is my idea of a damn good time. 

2) Brunch is the one meal a week that lets me lollygag around and lie in bed for hours watching Sopranos re-runs while still ensuring I get to eat all my favorite breakfast foods. Which brings me to #3…

3) The vast array of foods you can eat at brunch that you probably wouldn’t eat on a normal day. For example, you can dump eggs and salsa down your groaning GI tract. Or you can wolf down pancakes, waffles and french toast to soak up all the liquor acids still in your belly, or more specifically the Reese’s Pancakes at Frank’s in Baton Rouge, the Pecan Waffle at Goode Co. Taqueria, and the Creme Brulee French Toast at Max’s Wine Dive. Dear god yes.

4) Brunch is the perfect excuse to day drink. Not that I normally need an excuse, but swilling a carafe (or three) of an alcoholic beverage at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday without any judgment is that for which I live. “Why yes, we’d like another round, please.”

Fried Egg Sammie at Max’s Wine Dive

5) Brunch is the one time of the week my friends and I can get together to discuss the haps and/or the gong show that was “about last night”. Basically, we gossip about boys, unless boys are present in which case we gossip about girls.

6) Brunch sets up the day for the perfect Sunday afternoon nap, while still giving you enough time to get your afternoon errands done. Full by 2 p.m., a nap until 3:30 p.m., and Nordstrom by 4 p.m.

7) But my most favorite thing about brunch can be summed up in two teeny little words: bottomless mimosas.