Let’s Dish. Or Not.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Burgers and Beer: The Only Kinda Combo Plate

The base of my food pyramid is inclusive of several things that includes, but is not limited to: french fries, Texas peaches, roasted corn, Mexican beer and a great burger. It was no surprise then that, when I was invited to CultureMap’s 1st Annual Backyard Burger Grill Off, my response was somewhere in the neighborhood of “not yes, but YES!”

The Backyard Burger Grill Off was held downtown at Discovery Green and was designed to find Houston’s best burger, something I know a thing or two about. For $40, patrons could taste all-you-could-eat sliders from some of Houston’s best restaurants with all the necessary accoutrements, and unlimited as-much-as-y0u-could-stomach beer from some of Houston’s best breweries. Discovery Green was bustling, mostly with parents trying to get their children to run like the wind so they wouldn’t be up all hours of the night, but also with a hip and hungry Houston crowd ready to decide the proprietor of our fair city’s best burger.

The first stop was the Southern Star Brewery table where we kicked things off with a big (plastic) glass of Bombshell Blonde. Not only do I love the cheery blue label complete with a blonde bombshell on it, I actually really love the beer. It’s a not-hoppy American Blonde Ale that is perfect for a hot Houston day. We paired this with the Tasting Room’s Corn Maque Choux and their slider topped with shredded pork. As much as I love The Tasting Room, I was disappointed with their slider; it was bland and, if a burger can even be this, kind of meeley. The corn maque choux was decent, but wasn’t life-changing by any means.

The next stop was the Saint Arnold Brewery table for some Santo. I am nothing if not a die-hard Saint Arnold’s fan, so when I saw they were serving Santo, I made a bee-line. You just cannot go wrong swilling anything from Saint Arnold’s and I may or may not have loitered around their table far longer than a properly lady should have.

The other burgers we had were from J. Black’s (which was great); Roots Bistro (meh); BRIO (decent); Vic & Anthony’s (really good); and The Grove (who won my “pink marble” for best slider of the night). As far as the beer was concerned, I liked the Weisse Verse from No Label and the Oktoberfest from Saint Arnold; however, I especially loved the Leprechaun Dry Cider! As adventurous an eater as I am, I have never tried a hard cider before last night and I absolutely loved it! It tasted like a cross between beer and champagne and, really, what could be better than that? As I always say, the only pain is champagne and combined with beer makes it just that much better.

As a side note, Whole Foods was serving their homemade potato chips (Vanilla Pepper! Maple Pepper! BBQ!) that I didn’t even know they made, and grilled ancho-chile pineapple. Pure deliciousness!

The winners of the best burger turned out to be a tie between J. Black and The Grove, although if I’d have known that they were going to close the voting at 7:30, I’m pretty sure I would have been the deciding voter. Silly swing voters.

The only downfall of the event was that they didn’t have any water — not even to buy. In fact, they had nothing at all to drink except beer. I get that it was a beer-sponsored thing, but it was about 100 degrees with the humidity and I would have paid $1,000 for a bottle of water. I must have looked really desperate at The Counter‘s table because they actually gave me one of their bottles from their own stash. Sweet y’all, so sweet.

All in all, the 1st Annual Backyard Burger Grill Off was a fantastic event. Being there with such great friends in a place I don’t normally go in Houston and finally being able to be outside after a brutal Summer made everything all right.

The post script of this story is that we went to The Railyard when a group of people more senior than us came in celebrating a birthday and carrying a blow up doll. That is certainly not something you see every day and, let’s just say I developed a bit of an affinity for this young, plastic man. He was handsome with big blue yes, trim, polite, and quiet, although a bit shoddily dressed. We snapped a picture and swilled a beer together, and it was actually the best date I’ve had in a long, long time.