Monday, July 4, 2016

Baja Cantina ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Baja Cantina is the latest entry for the loosely knit local Baja chain that is slowly proliferating throughout NE Tarrant County. We recently updated the Funky Baja's entry, and if you search further into the blog, you'll find entries for Peace Burger and Dive Bar in Grapevine, as well as Baja Mex Grill in Watauga, both of which need updating. We've also been to Baja's Bar and Grill in Southlake, but that was many years ago, and we never reported back on it. Let's see how the new place stacks up.

Food: If you've been to any of the Baja's elsewhere, then you'll find Baja Cantina is right in line with the others. We've always enjoyed their version of Tex Mex, and we were quite pleased with our first foray here. The chips were good, light and crisp, but not quite as corn tasting as I recall from the other establishments. The default red sauce they bring out is excellent, with a nice kick, filled with garlic, pureed tomatoes, and chilies. We asked for a hotter one (of course we did), and out came this mean looking red, which is their habanero sauce. It didn't look or taste much like a habanero to us, but it was excellent all the same, and made a nice complement to the table sauce. It's a $1 extra, but worth it. Mrs. RJG ordered the Machaca, a favorite breakfast staple of her Sonoran homeland. She loved the papitas (potatoes), eggs, beans, and finely ground meat which is the namesake portion of the dish. Think dried pencil shavings of ground beef, and you have an idea of the texture. I tried the cheese enchiladas with fajita chicken on top (I forget the name of the dish). It was with 2 enchiladas, one topped with a wonderful tomatillo, which wasn't as sour as most in the area, so that was a definite plus. The other was smothered in a creamy queso.  What was so nice about it, is the dish was served sizzling hot, so that by the time I was lapping up the final bites, the cheese still was pliable, and hadn't congealed, which is a common problem with this dish. The fajita chicken was appropriately grilled and flavorful, though a couple of the strips (but not all) were a tad tough, and probably the only demerit for the entire experience. The rice was excellent, with finely ground carrots. And the beans were a cut above as well, with a smoky flavor. And again the hot temperature assists with the quality of these dishes. We're excited to come back and try other entrees.

Drink: Yes! Now this is one of the best frozen margaritas I've had in a long, long time. Smooth, with a whopping tequila kick, and fantastic flavor. Not too sweet, sour, or watery. Just perfect. Mrs had it on the rocks, and claimed a similar high quality. When we got the bill, we realized perhaps why. $10 a pop. That's pretty steep, but you get what you pay for I guess. If they keep the quality up, I'll gladly pay it, but if they don't, they're asking for complaints. Of course they have a full bar as well, and a nice selection of Mexican beers. I didn't think to ask about craft beer, but this isn't really a place that needs it honestly.

Location: On  the west side of Precinct Line, just south of Davis, near the Super Walmart complex. This was originally a Beef O'Brady's, that we frequented a couple of times many years ago, but wasn't very distinct to be honest. When they left town, there was an interregnum period where a place existed called "Sports Bar". Or something dumb. I couldn't find a reason to go with a name like that. Baja Cantina I think is the perfect fit for the area, and should do well in this location, with only Mi Pueblo to provide local competition. They're pretty distinct from each other, so I think they both will thrive. The interior decoration took Beef o' Brady's and "Baja-ized" it. It's more open, and made to feel like an oasis on the beach. There's the hanging light bulbs, stuffed fish, and nets everywhere. And a bar area. There's also the now familiar Mexican wrestling theme as well. Weird culture that one is... Anyway, very welcoming place.

Rating: 4.0. Only one visit so far, but based on prior experience with the other Baja's, the rating is likely to stand.

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No Zomato again. Seems all new places are SOL on the hapless site.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Cane Rosso ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Some of you astute readers may recall that Mr. Music wrote about the original location in Deep Ellum, not long after they first opened. We've been thinking of going ever since. Then we heard about a location coming to our side of the Great Divide, and we were all set to go.... and then promptly forgot all about it. In reviewing some old notes, I was reminded that it was due time for a visit. And that time has come. So south on 121 we ventured....

Food: As our waiter stated right off, this is "knife and fork pizza". I may have mentioned this before, but while still in my 20s in the late 80s through the mid 90s, the RJG was an avid European backpacker, taking a full month off nearly every year to explore the continent, both west and east. Those were heady days, as the Fall of the Wall spurred on a most exciting environment everywhere. When it came to lunch or dinner, one of the more satisfying meals, on a backpackers budget mind you, was that of the Italian pizza. They were uniformly excellent, and cheap (usually in the vicinity of $5 back then). They were knife and fork pizzas, and whether you were in Norway or the Ukraine, rich or poor, the pizza was superb, and filling. Cane Rosso is that pizza. But taken to the next level with artisan ingredients, and of course the specially made coal oven that they fire up to 900 degrees (getting up to cremation temperatures are we? Not saying they put dead bodies in there or anything...). We split a Zoli, which contains hot soppressata, basil, and "local sausage". The latter sounds funny to me. Locally made sausage or locally sourced sausage makes sense, but local sausage? It's a Union made up of sausages! Anyway, the soppessata is in effect their version of pepperoni, except it's way better. Much spicier and flavorful and absolutely fantastic on pizza. The "local" sausage is crumbled, and not as distinguished as I'd hoped, but it was still very good. The basil is fresh, like you'd get at a Thai restaurant. Most of their pizzas feature homemade mozzarella, and hand crushed San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy. Sauce, cheese, and crust are the key ingredients to any great pizza, and it's here that Cane Rosso really shines. They have a great formula, can't miss really, and is very satisfying. We did ask afterwards if they can make the pizza a tad crispier. The answer was no, because it would burn. OK, fair enough. The pizza is 14 inches so perfect to split... as long as you also split a salad too! A small salad is gigantic, about the same size as a "small" at Grimaldi's. At $6 to $7, it is an absolute bargain. A large salad, BTW, feeds 5 to 6. We had The Larry, which was superb. I tend to bristle when I see the phrase "field greens", or what I frequently refer to as "backyard salad". However, these field greens were fresh and delicious. The balsamic vinaigrette is a very high grade, as is the shaved parmesan. The tiny rolled Italian meats only add to the greatness. All in all just fantastic, and I'd love to explore the menu further. They need to come to NE Tarrant! And not Southlake either (there's plenty there already)... Cane Rosso also features Italian appetizers, pastas, sandwiches, and desserts. But pizza is why you come here.

Drink: In following modern protocol, Cane Rosso is heavily committed to craft beer. Yaay! They have many local taps, as well as a full selection of cans/bottles. I tried on tap one beer from Panther Island and Martin House, both Fort Worth breweries, and both were beers that you cannot find in bottles or cans. And of course, they have a full wine list as well. The Mrs. had the same IPA I did from Martin House (it's a different hop from their canned version).

Location: Perfectly located on Magnolia, and fits the neighborhood to a T. It's on the eastern end of the strip of restaurants lining the Fairmount neighborhood's most famous road. It appears to be a new structure, and has that post modern industrial 1950's meets the 2010's look. Very spacious, welcoming, and open. They also have patio seating, but you have to be a masochist to do that this time of year. Oh, and they have a special space for a large group, which is good for noise control. Parking is in the back on the east side of the restaurant.

Notes: Cane Rosso is growing fast with 5 locations in DFW, 2 in Houston, and one coming in Austin. It's easy to see why, especially in today's food culture. They're here to stay. This is not trendy food, but as noted earlier, the kind of staple of the diet that has been in Europe for decades. As also stated, one sure would look good in NE Tarrant. Downtown Keller maybe... just sayin....

Notes II: When Mr. Music and I first heard the name, and they initially went by Il Cane Rosso, we immediately thought of Italian prog. Bands with names like Premiata Forneria Marconi, Il Balletto di Bronzo, and Raccomandata Ricevuto Ritorno (and hundreds of others). If you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, then you have hours of fun awaiting you on YouTube.

Rating: 4.0. We've only been once, but most assuredly this will rise over time.

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Cane Rosso Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Los Jimadores ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

We've driven by Los Jimadores a number of times, curious what had taken over the old Antonio's spot, that at one time we enjoyed immensely. When my wife first pronounced it to me, I thought she said something along the lines of "Humidor".  I thought it was some sort of vape place! Or an extension of the cigar bar next door at the very least. Well, apparently not. So finally the day arrived for us to try it. Let's venture in and see what we find...

Food: Can I start with a pet peeve? You know we don't talk about service at the RJG much, because we realize that workers in this industry tend to be transient, and on "any given day" you might get great service or terrible. But what drives us nuts are these waiters who don't write the order down. What is the problem? Are they lazy? Are they trying to be some sort of 5 star restaurant waiter? Are they working on their memory skills? Write it down for crying out loud! Inevitably, as the waiter purposely heads to the kitchen with the full order in their heads, another table will flag them down for a refill on a drink, or something similar. And out of their cabeza goes the change details of our order. The point is to make the customer happy, not to impress us with your cognizant learning ability! OK, I feel better now. The food. Ah yes, chips come out. Decent, but ordinary. Two salsas are brought forth, both hot temperature (plus), One is a red, tangy and slightly spicy. Very good. The other is a black bean dip, similar to Lupe's, that is also very good. With our order, we asked if they had a spicier option? "You mean the green?" he asks. Uhhh... I guess so, if that's the hot one? But bonehead didn't write it down and we had to remind him as our meal was being served. A little late there bubba. Can I just state we were there for lunch and there were only 3 other tables with patrons, so it wasn't like some crazy busy Friday night. Sigh. Food, RJG. Food. I had the grilled chicken with chipotle sauce. It came out on a regular plate, and was warm. This is a dish that needs to be sizzling hot, preferably in an iron tray. The chicken was a little too perfect, as if it came from a Tyson's bag, and warmed over, not grilled. The sauce was a bit dull. Rice and beans were good (only warm though). Mrs. RJG tried the Poblano Enchiladas. They came out with a lime green sauce, as if it were an avocado type sauce. She wasn't too pleased. Her rice and beans were warm too. Needs to be hot fellas. It was good, but it wasn't near the quality of Antonio's in our opinion.

Drink: Had a frozen marg. You can tell they turned the machine on too late, as it was just barely frozen. Had we got there at open, we would have been out of luck. The flavor was excellent, though, so I was happy with the drink. Mrs. had it on the rocks, and she said it was the highlight of the meal. Not a good sign. Los Jimadores has a full bar if so desired.

Location: To find Los Jimadores, I'll copy in exactly what I wrote for Antonio's: On Bedford-Euless Rd. along a "nightmare's row" of boring chain eateries (with a couple of exceptions) that dot I-820 near Davis and Hwy 26. As the crow flies, it's right across the "street" from Northeast Mall in Hurst. That street is the Interstate. To note as an addendum, many of those chain restaurants have closed down, with only Red Lobster and Olive Garden still doing a land office business. The location itself is condemned I'm afraid. Our biggest gripe about Antonio's was the constant smell of smoke. It comes from the cigar bar next door. I think Los Jimadores did a better job than Antonio's in masking the scent, but not enough for either of us. It smells of stale smoke, like an old bowling alley.

Notes: This is Los Jimadores second location, the first being in Bedford. The Bedford location was a former restaurant with "tequila factory" in the name (can't recall it off the top), that we went to once years ago and were not impressed. In any case, Los Jimadores adopted the name for that location, but not the NRH one.

Rating: 3.0. OK, perhaps even a bit generous here. I'm seeing a lot of folks are high on this restaurant, and we even received a positive tip on the blog. Perhaps it was a bad day? It happens. Certainly the food was good, but not exceptional in the slightest, and we saw no hint of it. We'll give it a couple of years, and if the reviews keep piling in at a high level, we'll try it again. Fair?

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Zomato only has the Bedford location. Remember how they were going to stay on top of everything? No "crowd sourcing" for them, no sirree! This location opened in Dec of 2015, so obviously they have given up their quest, and there's no way for the public to help. I swear that Zomato will soon be a distant memory of but a few. So sad that they ruined Urbanspoon. Knuckleheads.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Main Street Cafe ~ Keller, Texas

We've been a few times over to Main Street Cafe, including very recently. A consistently good place, though the non-distinctive name and location keeps it out of the memory bank when thinking about places to dine. Of course, it tries to replicates the main street town diners of old, but that's hard to do without a grill that's been cooked on for 70 years...

Food: Breakfast is the main draw, but they also serve lunch and dinner every day (except dinner on Sunday and Monday). We would categorize their breakfast as a "cut above" the ordinary places such as Denny's or IHOP. In the past, the RJG frequently questioned the variation for breakfast, as eggs and pancakes are often too similar to differentiate. But with the advent of skillets, creative omelettes, and artisan breads/meats, breakfast has become much more interesting in modern times. While we've yet to discover a standout dish, we've been more than satisfied with their breakfast offerings to date (omelettes, bacon & eggs, pancakes). We'd say that Main Street fits smack in the middle of the continuum from Snooty Pig to Old West Cafe in Grapevine (RJG feature coming soon!). We've also tried their lunch, and I found their cheeseburger to be quite excellent, giving stiff competition to the specialty houses in the area. Excellent hand cut fries as well. I'm most curious about their dinner offerings, as it has a distinct Italian slant. That will be our next venture.

Drink: Good coffee, and the usual juices. Since they are a lunch/dinner place, they do have a full bar as well. They used to carry Shannon, but we were informed recently that their customer base aren't really into craft beers, so they only have Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, that kind of thing. I'll be damned if I'll drink a Bud Light at this stage. We just get water (same thing, isn't it? haha).

Location: Even further south of Maria Cuca's on the strip of shops between the railroad and US 377 near downtown Keller. Its first tenant was Cedar Creek Seafood, and you can still see remnants of their original decoration, even though Main Street has been here since 2009. It's a spacious, bright and welcoming place.

Rating: 3.5. Reliably good breakfast and lunch, though not exceptional, and as such we are very infrequent patrons. Still curious about their dinner offerings.  Could go up from here.

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Main Street Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Wise Guys Pizza ~ Grapevine, Texas

THIS... this is what I've been talking about in regards to artisan pizza and craft beers. The craze that is taking hold in America is reflected quite well here at Wise Guys. Though the pizza isn't really in the same category as Grimaldi's or Spin!, it's still a fine blend of well made pizzas and a superb local beer selection. Mrs. RJG and I had visited two weeks ago, and when Mr. Music and I planned a day of food, drink, and tunes, I decided this would be the perfect lunch location. Following that, I would enter it here into the blog.

Food: Pizza is the main draw,  but they also have a fine selection of pastas, sandwiches, salads, and soups. We've only sampled the pizza so far, but based on the sauce that comes with the baked pizza dough balls (served pre-meal like chips at a Mexican restaurant), I am most excited to try their pasta. Mrs. RJG and I tried one of their Neapolitan pies with Italian sausage and fresh basil. The crust is a bit thicker than Grimaldi's for example, and it doesn't really seem like a Napoletana style to us. And what of it? We loved it anyway! Mrs. RJG who is very picky with crusts, especially thicker ones, enjoyed it immensely, as it had the right amount of crispiness and an excellent flavor, and that doesn't taste doughy. Cheese and sauce are the other key ingredients to any good pizza, and it's the latter where Wise Guys excels. Just the right amount of sweetness, and not dry at all. With Mr. Music, we decided on one of their "Specialty Loaded Pizzas" which they describe as thick and hand tossed. No way Mrs. RJG would go for this, so had to take advantage of the moment. While they are indeed thicker, it's once again crisp, and not just fat pizza bread that makes you waddle out. In fact we downed a 14 inch "Don All Meat", and didn't feel stuffed in the slightest. That's a good thing! Waddling out of a restaurant is not something we strive for. So 2 for 2, and I'm certain Mrs. RJG and I will be returning to split dishes and salads.

Drink: Best selection of local craft beers on tap we've yet to experience in NE Tarrant. Like Jack Mac's in Dallas, it's not a huge selection like Ginger Man or Drunken Donkey, and there's less than 15 taps. But it's all Texas, all craft, and not beers you find everywhere. Different brews from 3 Nations, Oak Highlands, Noble Rey, and Panther Island are hardly common in this part of DFW anyway. And they change frequently (they have a chalkboard - always a good sign). Impressive. Of course they have wine as well.

Location: Anchors the south end of a strip mall on the SE corner of Northwest Hwy and Park Blvd. just north of the 114 service road in Grapevine. If memory serves, this was once a Sonny Bryan's BBQ. Nice industrial decor, with a small bar area. Comfortable surroundings.

Notes: Wise Guys is actually from Southern California and they have two locations there (Orange and Yorba Linda). Grapevine is their 3rd, and so far last, locale. So it's not a corporate chain or anything, just a family owned operation, in 2 distinct geographies.

Rating: 4.0. Looking forward to more visits. Could easily go up!

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Wise Guys Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, June 24, 2016

Meat U Anywhere ~ Trophy Club, Texas

We've driven by Meat U Anywhere in Grapevine a number of times, always reminding the RJG that "we have to get over here for lunch". The reviews were very positive, and it seemed Meat U Anywhere was the best BBQ around. Recently Mrs. RJG and I were looking for some new 'cue, and lo and behold, they have a brand new location in Trophy Club! So we'll just start there, and see how it goes.

Food: After receiving our lunch, it didn't take long for Mrs. RJG to proclaim "this is the best barbecue I've ever had!". We don't claim BBQ aficionado status (not by a long shot), but we've had our share over the years, so it was a bold statement. And to be honest, I was inclined to agree with her. Pound for pound, meat by meat - no - we have a long way to go to prove that. But for what we ordered, we were mightily impressed right from the get go. I had a pulled pork sandwich, which was more of a mixture, similar to how chopped beef is normally prepared, to keep it from drying out it. It was very good - and satisfyingly filling. I would have preferred the bread to have been more unique and/or a bit toasted, but it's a small matter. She had the baked potato loaded with chopped beef, and we both loved the flavor of the beef. It weighed a ton, so come with an appetite. She ate it all anyway. Where the accolades come from, though, were with the sides. Generally the sides are an afterthought, something to fill out the meal. At MUA, they are chef creations, or so it seems. I had the jalapeno bacon mac and cheese. Oh my goodness, what a great dish this is. Spicy with a strong bacon flavor, and hot creamy cheese, over large ziti noodles. Yes, not the usual boring elbows. The Mrs. had the Cowboy Campfire beans, which are loaded with bbq beef, and tastes more like a chili than the usual boring ol' frijoles. Barbeque sauce is on each table, and it's excellent too, with a smoky flavor - not sweet or spicy, but just right. And if you do like it hot, they also provide a spicy homemade salsa. Which reminds me, they open at 6 for breakfast, and have barbeque breakfast tacos. That sounds delicious too! I cannot wait to try their ribs, brisket, ham, sausages, and other staples of the barbeque house. I have a distinct feeling they are going to be the "best", whatever that may mean. We certainly hope so. We'll update this post as we go. I will say, it's a bit on the pricey side. A sandwich, a baked potato, one extra side, and one fountain drink came to $27. As they say, you get what you pay for. But this isn't a place to come to if on a budget.

Drink: No sinnin' here, so no alchyhol. Meat U Anywhere is an old school Christian Texas barbeque house. Which is fine with me, since I'm an old school Christian Texan. But I was raised Lutheran, so we had beer and wine at church events! (NYA -NYA). Haha, in any case, they have the usual fountain and bottled drinks. And iced tea probably sells by the barrel load.

Location: Brand spanking new Hill Country styled building at the NW corner of Westlake Pkwy/Trophy Club Dr and TX-114. Had to cost a pretty penny to build, especially in this neighborhood, so business must have been brisk at the Grapevine location. Parking is a bit odd, but just find your way to the back of the bulding. Like the Grapevine location, they do have a valet, but it's not compulsory, as long as the free spots are empty. When you arrive, walk around the boxes, and order up at the counter. They'll prepare what you ordered right there and send you on your way. Plenty of seating - on large park benches or the many 4 person tables.

Notes: From the website: "In late 2012, after more than 10 years of building up a regional BBQ franchise, I was told that the company “was going the corporate route and those plans don’t include you.” Lifted by my faith in the Lord, with the support of family, friends and soon-to-be business associates, and refusing to become a statistic in tough economic times, I launched MEAT “U” ANYWHERE BBQ & Catering. The aim was to avoid being “boxed in” by a corporate mentality, but to serve great food and to continually exceed customers’ expectations. We took that philosophy to the street for all types of catering venues, forging great relationships and winning loyal customers. Now, the next chapter of our young history is being written with our first store opening in Grapevine, Texas, where you can get our wide selection of smoked meats, exclusive sides and ultimate breakfast tacos. Created out of a necessity to care for my family, MEAT “U” ANYWHERE BBQ & Catering has blossomed because of the commitment to great food, great customer service and countless loyal followers. Come try us in Grapevine or at our new location in Trophy Club. Or for that special event, remember, we will Meat “U” Anywhere."

Rating: 4.0  Warning: Only one visit so far. Looking forward to more though. 4.5 seems assured almost...

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Meat U Anywhere BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kincaid's Hamburgers ~ Southlake, Texas


Originally published December 31, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

Kincaid's is as great as ever. Their location in Southlake is probably as close to a "regular" burger stop as can be for us. And why is that? Because this is Mrs. RJG's favorite in the area, and she's really picky about hamburgers. I finally made it to the original Camp Bowie location in Fort Worth last November, and I have to say that the Southlake locale did a fantastic job of replicating the original.

Original 2008 Food notes: What better way to end the year than a writeup about one of Ft. Worth's most endearing institutions? Officially known as Kincaid's Grocery Market and Hamburgers, the Gentry family has been delighting visitors with their unique blend of seasoning for over 40 years. Kincaid's opened in 1946, and as the name suggests, as a local grocery. Starting in 1965, O. R. Gentry began grinding up excess beef and cooking hamburgers for a few cents each. The legend began.

You don't need the Regular Joe's Guide to learn about Kincaid's, and this is one reason I haven't rushed to write about it, even though we eat here at least once a month. Everyone from Texas Monthly to Frommer's to numerous newspapers have recommended Kincaid's to travelers and locals alike who visit Fort Worth. It is frequently mentioned in Top 10 lists for Best Hamburger - sometimes in national polls. Sometimes as "#1 Best in the USA".

And I'm sure my Fort Worth readers are aghast that I highlight the Southlake location when, after all, it is a Fort Worth icon. But since the RJG is based in NE Tarrant, we're quite proud of our local branch. The Southlake location was the local chain's first excursion beyond the original store, opening in late 2004. They did a great job of simulating the original, with shelves of canned goods, long picnic style benches, and the walls painted in a 1950's Chevy Mist Green color. And the "ego walls" are filled with accolades and awards from all corners of the world. It's a large place, and the line moves fast. They even take credit cards now.

And there's good reason why Kincaid's is so popular - it's just flat out a great hamburger. Is it the best we've ever had? Well, maybe not, but it certainly deserves consideration. It's a thick burger, with plenty of unique seasoning that seeps through the entire patty, which is no small feat. The Ore-Ida style fries are also a big favorite.

Drink: In addition to the fountain drinks and iced tea, Kincaid's does sell bottled beer, if so inclined. Though we usually just stick to the sodas when here.

Location: Order at the counter, grab you a park bench, and wait until they scream out your name when it's ready. Pay close attention, as the place is often crowded and noisy. The Southlake location is at the NW corner of Southlake Blvd. and Kimball. Hard to imagine this corner shopping center once housed a humble (not Super) Wal-Mart and its parking lot.

Notes: Southlake was Kincaid's first outlet, but they have since grown to 6 stores, including Arlington, Weatherford, and two more in Fort Worth (Alliance and Hulen).

Rating: 4.0. Consistently excellent. This the highest grade we usually give for a quick service restaurant.

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Kincaid's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Alvarado's ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Now here's one we have a long history with, in terms of timeline. According to my personal database, I visited Alvarado's way back in July of 2004, not long after they opened. I didn't have a positive experience, and basically never thought about them much again. Mrs. RJG used to work nearby there in the 2006/07 time frame, and stated they would go about once a week and have a burrito. She said it was good, but didn't think it was worthy of us going together. Year after year, the small old taco building seemed to thrive (despite an awful location), as we drove past it towards the Northeast Mall or to Richland Hills/Haltom City. They had to be doing something right! So we finally broke down and revisited late last year, and were mightily impressed with their street tacos. And we've been somewhat regulars ever since. Either they improved or our tastes have changed. Probably a bit of both, as is often the case. The reason for the delay into the RJG is that we were waiting until they moved to their new location. That has now happened, and here we are.

Food: Alvarado's is a real taqueria, which isn't as common in the northern reaches of NE Tarrant as one might presume. We like their tacos, both large and small (street). They really load them up with the meat, and are an excellent value. We like their salsa bar, which provides a vast array of different sauces, most notably a spicy chile de arbol, a pungent verde, and a smooth habanero, which is of course their hottest offering. Mrs. RJG likes their rice and beans as well, and she stated the carne asada (meal) is excellent as well. As for types of meat, we enjoy most their chicken, adobada, and carne asada. But they have more hardcore offerings like lengua for the faithful.

Drink: No alcohol as expected, but they do have Mexican bottled drinks and of course fountain sodas.

Location: Alvarado's just moved into the old Niki's space in a strip mall on Davis, just northeast of Harwood. With this move they have basically tripled their former space - and it's much nicer than the former "dive" as reported by many reviewers. It's quick service, so order at the counter, and they will either deliver it to you or scream out your number. Not organized, but they'll figure it out. Or you will... Incidentally the old Taco Bell they once occupied has already been bulldozed, along with the building next to it. Makes sense given its position on the bridge near the 820/183 feed to Davis.

Rating: 4.0 Consistent and excellent on repeated visits.

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Alvarado's Mexican Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mi Pueblo ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Originally published May 6, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

This was our very first post for a Mexican restaurant. As is often the case, it was just a timing issue, more than a preference. We have been regular visitors to this location since they first opened back in 2004. Some of that is just convenience, but the food does hold up.

Updated 2008 Food/Drink notes: There are a couple of distinctive characteristics of Mi Pueblo, that make it a recommendation for those that don't live in the area. One is the margaritas. I'm always dubious when someone recommends a restaurant based on their alcoholic drink selection. The RJG has found that the restaurant that serves the most alcohol content per drink, is generally referred to as "the best". At which point the half-in-the-bag claimant will also mention they have "the BEST food". Hmm-mmm. Well, I'm here to say that Mi Pueblo does indeed have a great frozen margarita - something that when we travel, we realize that most of the DFW restaurants do better than their counterparts across the nation. And they also have more Happy Hours than usual, so there's a better than average chance you'll get that drink at a favorable price too! More important than the booze, though, is that Mi Pueblo has unique combo platters. I've often wondered why most Mexican restaurants only serve variations on the taco, enchilada, burrito, tamale, and tostada when making up their combos. Mi Pueblo will also throw in items like quesadillas and flautas. I mean why do flautas have to be an expensive, one-food-only option on the menu? They also have a pork and rice dish I like quite a bit (al pastor platter). Mrs. RJG really enjoys the green enchiladas. Of late, I've been fond of their Pollo a la Plancha, which comes out in a sizzling plate similar to fajitas, with a fantastic guajillo pepper sauce. In addition, their chips and salsa are excellent. Very thin corn chips (perhaps too thin) that are easy to douse into the 3 salsas they provide. They will only bring out the mild red (which is good but...), so be sure to ask for the hot (spicy) green, and the hot (temperature) red. Both are outstanding.

Location: This is Mi Pueblo's second location, the original is over by Northeast Mall, in what their website calls Richland Hills, but I think it's still NRH. You'll find the location we're talking about on Davis near the Super Wal-Mart, which is back to back with a Super Target, and across the street from a Kroger Marketplace. That's just insanity right there. I can understand putting a bunch of used record or book stores next to each other, since they all might have something different. But 3 big box discount stores/groceries offering more or less the same crap? Wow. For the record, we prefer Kroger Marketplace. Anyway... the restaurant is large with 3 rooms + a full sports bar area. Popular with families, so be prepared for screaming babies and kids. Fair enough, that's their core business. Get a second frozen margarita, and the screaming babies actually start to sound good.

Notes: The same owners run Los Molcajetes, which is almost exactly the same in every way to Mi Pueblo.

Rating: 4.0. Plenty of variety, great salsas, food, and margaritas. What's not to like?

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Mi Pueblo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Tony's Pizza and Pasta ~ Watauga, Texas

Originally published July 7th, 2013 and updated with a recent visit.

Another update here from the RJG archives. When we first moved to NE Tarrant in 2003, there were dozens of these places. I was anxious to try them all, until I realized they were all more or less the same: Eastern European owned, and stemming from the Moni's empire in Arlington. As time has moved on, most of these establishments have shuttered, moved on, shut down by the authorities, etc... The few that are left have carved out their own identity, and are the cream of the crop. And for us, Tony's is our go-to Italian in the area. It's not by a long shot our favorite Italian restaurant (you have to go to Dallas for that), and of course NE Tarrant finally has secured more authentic restaurants (Oliva's, Il Calabrese) over the years. All the same, we are infrequent visitors, as this is one food type we tend to cook at home.

Food: Tony's is very similar to most of the $ and $$ Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant, and you can read some samples of that here and here. All the same, unlike many of the Italian restaurants in this category that have closed recently, Tony's continues to be very popular. Their to-go pizza side of the house is doing a land office business, as dozens of folks come in for pickups, and no doubt just as many are going out for delivery. Mrs. RJG really loves their Capellini Pomodora, which always comes out blazing hot, and al dente every time. Even though it's more or less a vegetarian dish, I love it too. One of the best unique sauces in town, and a nice diversion from the norm. I like their chicken parm, of course it's not crispy enough for me (it rarely is), but you do get a big slab of pounded white meat chicken with a nice seasoning. And the pasta is al dente with an excellent fresh tomato sauce. As can be expected from a pizza joint, their baked dishes are a cut above as well. I usually get it with some meatballs stuffed in. Sure, they're right off the truck, but I have no higher expectation when I come here. I like the way they prepare their food. Typical salad accompanies most meals, as well as hot baked bread, that is delicious.

Drink: BYOB as per protocol, thus adding to the savings for us winos.  Bring a nice bottle of red and enjoy. They'll provide glasses and an opener, though we always bring the latter along because it's easier to use...

Location: Tony's is set in a strip center in Watuaga, on the SW corner of Rufe Snow and Mid Cities/Watauga Rd. Their dining area is comfortable though hardly romantic. You don't go to Tony's for date night. You go there for reliably good food, usually with a mixture of typical suburban neighborhood folks - older and younger complete with whole broods in tow. Oh, and the waitstaff is consistent and very friendly.

Notes: According to their website, Tony's has been open since 2000, making it one of the older Italian restaurants in the area. Our first visit goes back to 2004.

Rating: 4.0. Excellent time after time. Good neighborhood Italian (and pizza).

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Tony's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Drunken Donkey ~ Keller, Texas

On the last updated post from Funky Baja's, we spoke about how Keller is all grown up. The kid is now in college, and with that... we now have Drunken Donkey. We have longed wished for a Flying Saucer type place in Northeast Tarrant. When Ginger Man arrived in Southlake, it seemed our dreams had come true. Except it didn't. Ginger Man's mentality exists from a time when getting German drafts was still a big deal. We want local, and want the beers to rotate often, not just tokenism ("Have you heard of Rahr's?" Really?). And besides, food at the Ginger Man are appetizers. So the reality is, Ginger Man is not what we were looking for. BTW, for the record, I use Ginger Man as an "extended office" and have met many of my partners/vendors/suppliers there. It definitely serves its purpose, but they can do better in my estimation. Back to Drunken Donkey... it may not be perfect, and maybe not quite as "obscure beer" focused (like Jack Mac's) as we'd like, but we're getting that much closer!

Food: They call themselves Craft Bar & Scratch Kitchen. And they do that because food is not an afterthought to the drink, and honestly that's what makes it so alluring. So far, I've only been to lunch with a couple of business partners, and had the salad and sandwich combo each time. The sandwiches are huge, and really quite good (I've tried the chicken fried chicken, and what they call the Big A$$ Club). I just noticed they have a sandwich that has a cheese sauce made with Old Chub. Oooh - I have to try that. But you know what I'm starting to crave? Perhaps an all-time first for the RJG, at least for the blog: Their champagne vinaigrette dressing on the salad. Oh my goodness. I've always loved a clean tasting, but heavily spiced, Italian dressing, and this fits that definition perfectly. Cold crisp lettuce as well. We've got a long way to go in exploring this menu, but I have every intention of doing just that.

Drink: They are a full bar, but craft beer is definitely their specialty. And they have an enormous selection. It's very similar to Flying Saucer and Ginger Man, in that they have more well known imports, and specialty Belgians. Their beer menu, at least in my 2 visits spread across two months, seemed a bit too "permanent", with maybe 2 to 3 deviations. I think if you specialize in it, they should have more "rare taps" and draft-only beer from some of the local brewers, rather than beers one can typically find at a well stocked Goody Goody. Just my opinion of course, and my "collecting nature". But for the other 95% of you, the beer selection is likely to be overwhelming on first visit. Might be worth visiting the website ahead of time, and making a small list before heading over.

Location: A nice open, sunny, and spacious standalone building, with outside seating and a bar area. This was the former TGI Fridays (good riddance, but I know not everyone agrees with us there). You'll find Drunken Donkey on the east side of US 377 between Kroger Dr and North Tarrant. I'm reading that this place is wildly popular on weekend nights, so plan ahead.

Notes: Drunken Donkey is a local chain that started in Lewisville in 2014, with other locations already in Denton and The Colony. It appears they are about to open in Colleyville as well, which I personally think is too close to Keller, and eats into the same market. I'll trust they did their homework, but it would seem Fort Worth or Arlington would have been a better site if wanting to stay west and help with crowd overflow.

Notes II: The ladies who work here are a bit on the "hot" side, in the Hooters tradition. Which is fine for a traditional male like myself, but thought I'd mention it in case it's not ideal for the company you're with.

Rating: 4.0 Counting on this going up actually.

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Drunken Donkey Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Funky Baja's Cantina ~ Keller, Texas

Originally published October 11, 2011 and updated with a recent visit

How about another update? Going back to Funky Baja's is like reuniting with an old friend that you had a falling out with. This used to be a regular stop for Mrs. RJG and I. We enjoyed the atmosphere, the drinks, and especially the "$3 Freaking Tacos". They even added craft beers, and for us, it was about the closest place to a "hangout" as it will ever get for us. We often brought friends here too. Then one day... one day... the $3 tacos were dinky! And the bartenders / waitstaff were rude, or nonchalant at best. Visit after visit. What the Helga (as my nieces would say)? To me, that's the worst thing you can do: Chintz on the portion. Better to raise the price if that was necessary. In any case, we ultimately stated "Fine, we're done here", and didn't return for nearly 2 years. But we did recently, and all seemed back to normal again. I don't know if we'll ever be regulars again, but it's back in the rotation.

Food: To us, there are three kinds of taco shops: 1) Fast food ground beef crunchy style; 2) Street tacos / taquerias; and 3) The high end, high quality ingredient taco. 3) is really an extension of 2). Honestly, I love all 3 types. So in that third category, we have a very fast growing cottage industry - especially here in DFW. Fuzzy's has become the standard bearer, while others such as Torchy's and Yucatan Taco Stand established themselves as a higher end alternative. I'd say Funky Baja's has the higher quality taco of a Torchy's (though slightly less priced), with more of a Fuzzy's atmosphere, mixed with a traditional bar. In our initial review, we spoke about the Fishman taco (beer battered), the El Santo (chipotle chicken) and the Blue Demon (spicy pork adobada). Both the fish and especially the chicken were outstanding, whereas the pork was a bit fatty and tough (sigh). It wasn't perfect, but most restaurants have specialties I fall for. Over the years, we tried just about every taco, with Pirata Morgan (steak, bacon, queso fresco) adding to our list of favorites. While the tacos don't really need the extra flavor, I do wish they provided their own really hot habanero sauce like Fuzzy's and Yucatan have (they do, however, provide El Yucateco, if so desired). We also moved to other aspects of the menu, and lately the cheeseburger is satisfying us. And if you get their delicious chips and salsa, you have a full meal right there.

Drink: Full bar, with excellent frozen margaritas, and a healthy selection of craft beers.

Location: It's interesting to note that Funky Baja's took over the old Novrozsky's place, that we wrote about many years ago. And the reason it's interesting, for me at least, is that I felt one of the reasons Novrozsky's closed was it didn't understand the space it was in. Some of that is also timing, as Novrozsky's arrived perhaps a but too early. Keller has grown up since then, as has all of Northeast Tarrant county. Texas has always struggled with its Baptist/temperance/prohibition past, but as time has passed, more and more laws are going down in favor of those who enjoy a nice, legal alcoholic beverage in a public setting. Just for reference, DFW had exactly one microbrewery entering this decade (Fort Worth's excellent Rahr and Sons). Now it seems we get a new brewery once a month! In 2008, Old Town Keller was a rather boring strip with one dilapidated, but cool, BBQ restaurant (now closed) and little else. Now it's filled with restaurants and taverns. These newer places are not the stinky dive taverns my uncle loved to frequent - an unwelcome place filled with ne're-do-wells eyeing everyone with distrust and a cigarette dangling from their mouth. Far from it - in fact, these newer places are filled with women and children. In any case, Funky Baja's is a dark place, that does feel like a sports bar, but is also very welcoming, and definitely for the whole family.

Notes: Funky Baja's is a branch of the ever growing Baja chain of restaurants sprouting all over NE Tarrant, most notably under the monikers Baja Grill or Baja Cantina.

Rating: 4.0. Well, the review above may indicate more of a 3.5, but I'm inclined to give it the extra half point on the premise we'll be back more often, as we had in the past.

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Funky Baja's Cantina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, June 17, 2016

Maria Cuca's ~ Keller, Texas

Maria Cuca's opened up a couple of years ago in Keller, and we've been infrequent visitors ever since (~6 to 7 times). To summarize, this is a place we so bad want to love... and we don't. We'll still go on occasion of course, but I'm afraid the food just doesn't measure up to others in the area, at least for our tastes.

Food: Up until the main course, Maria Cuca's is absolutely spot on. The chips are great. The salsas are great (they have more than just the table sauce, be sure to ask). Their famous homemade corn tortillas are great. And while we hardly ever talk about service, we have to say it's been uniformly excellent throughout, including the owner. And then comes the most important part: The entree. Sigh. We'll give Maria Cuca's this: They are entirely unique, and will not remind you of the other Mexican restaurants. That is definitely a plus, and something for you all to consider when reading this review. It's just that for what they do, we're not enthralled. And that goes for Mrs. RJG too. On our very first visit, I saw they have Chipotle Enchiladas. Right there, I thought I was set for life. It's not something you see often, and we always loved the ones at El Fenix. Way too sweet! They use some sort of crema in it. Ack! Oh look, they have "Pancho's Shrimp" - the bacon wrapped jumbo shrimp we so love. Flat and chewy. The crabmeat sauce is utterly disgusting. Sorry - it is. Carne Asada? Tough. Brisket tacos? Ehh. Old fashioned #1 Combo Tex-Mex plate? Boring. Verde sauce? Sour. Tacos? Dull. Mannnnnnn. Well, the rice and beans are good anyway. Not the best of course, but definitely flavorful. What do you do? I guess we'll just keep at it. We know there has to be something we'll love here. That's all it takes right? One dish. We really like these folks, and want them to succeed, but we have to be honest. Another reason to remain anonymous I suppose...

Drink: Remember this quote? "Up until the main course, Maria Cuca's is absolutely spot on". The frozen (and rocks) margaritas definitely assist in that assessment. A superb variation, and they give you one of those monster straws to penetrate the slushy ice. Just how I like them too - thick and freezing! They have a full bar for those who like more than beer and margaritas.

Location: Basically on the other end (south side) from Devivo Bros, along the set of strip malls that line US 377 between the railroad. This space originally housed Yourway Burgers, and later a Sharx Pub, which was basically a pool hall. Wrong town for that! They didn't have to do much with the interior, and I still see remnants of Yourway, including the nice looking bar area.

Rating: 3.5. They get this score because of their superb execution on everything but the main meal. We'll find something we love eventually. We know it. For the record, TripAdvisor ranks it #5 of all restaurants in Keller. All those people aren't wrong.

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Maria Cuca's Mexican Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Esparza's ~ Grapevine, Texas

Originally published November 9th, 2011 and updated with a recent visit.

Let's slip in another update here. We tend to frequent Esparza's roughly 3 to 4 times a year. This is one of the few Mexican restaurants left in DFW where I strictly stay with Tex-Mex. I've tried their more "interior" dishes, and remain nonplussed. So, as bolded by me below, Puffed Taco dinner it is. And Mrs. RJG continues to love the vegetarian Chile Relleno.

Updated 2011 Prelude: We mentioned earlier in this blog that Miguelito's in Hurst was one of our go-to places from 2004-2005. But our very first regular Mexican food fix in NE Tarrant was Esparza's. An old Dallas neighborhood buddy first recommended the place to us, and it was an instant hit at the RJG household. From 2003 to 2004, I'd say we went here more than any other Mexican restaurant. But, as with Miguelito's, the Mrs. began to sour on the place for a variety of reasons. That left Mr. RJG going solo, or with neighborhood friends, on a very infrequent basis. But now the Mrs. wanted to go for another try at the behest of moi. And how can one refuse my behesting?

Food: Now it's interesting in reading the various other reviews out there about Esparza's. The consensus is, if I'm allowed to interpret, that Esparza's has a great bar scene, with excellent margaritas - and mediocre food. The RJG disagrees with this assessment, at least the food part that is. What Esparza's excels at is good old fashioned Tex-Mex. You start dabbling in the fancy, and you're in uncharted waters as far as we're concerned. And that's exactly what we did on our last visit - try other dishes. I went with the "spicy" green enchiladas. One has to wonder why on Earth the word spicy even crossed their minds. Mine was a very bland dish, with little taste at all. The rice and beans didn't exactly propel the platter to enormous heights either. Meanwhile the wife tried the chile relleno. Guess what? It was great! She loved their unique take on the classic dish - with loads of unique vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, onions, raisins and nuts), cheese and ranchero sauce. And the charro beans were delicious with plenty of that yummy bacon flavor. So Mrs. RJG found her dish! Which means we may be going back again on a regular basis. So what will I get? Oh, I know better now - Tex-Mex! I love their puffed tacos, with a wonderfully seasoned ground beef. And doused with their trademark excellent hot sauce, that comes out with the warm crispy chips. The salsa itself is a pureed delight, with a nice kick to it (sadly missing in their green sauce).

Drink: For a place that calls itself the "Margarita Capital of Texas", they do a fine job backing that claim up! Though they do seem to charge a premium for that bit of branding, and perhaps not the best value, but very good all the same. And yes, they do tend to pack a punch, so be careful.

Location: Esparza's is definitely one of Northeast Tarrant's Mexican food institutions. Founded in 1985, Esparza's is situated in an awesome former-home setting (from the late 1800's!), tucked away in the back streets of old town Grapevine. The open patio guarantees a lively party scene - and the full sports bar in the back seals the deal. You'll find Esparza's on Worth street, which is one block east of Main (the downtown strip as it were). Easy to get too, and now that they opened up the driveway from Franklin, parking isn't the challenge it once was when having to navigate the one way entrance. We do highly recommend you enter from Franklin.

Notes: According to some friends, Esparza's obtained their start from the legendary Ojeda's in Dallas, and that some of their recipes, including the benchmark table salsa, were lifted from them. Certainly the salsa is similar! Speaking of which, they now jar the concoction, so you can now enjoy it at home. Also, since our first posting, they have opened a second location in Coppell.

Rating: 4.0. Consistently excellent. There's better Mexican food in Northeast Tarrant and in DFW, but Esparza's is definitely worthy of a visit. And it you're a social butterfly, then Esparza's is closer to the top of that bracket.

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Esparza's Restaurante Mexicano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, June 13, 2016

Spin! ~ Southlake, Texas

Spin! represents the latest fad sweeping America: Artisan Pizza meets Craft Beer. Something akin to Grimaldi's, but with more focus paid to locally made beers. In fact, we tried two such places while in West Virginia last week: Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar in Huntington and Pies and Pints in Charleston. It's the latter that is most like Spin! in that it's both a small(ish) chain, and that their menu offerings are similar.

Food: If you've read these pages long enough, you'll know that Mrs. RJG isn't the biggest pizza fan you'll encounter. But she likes these kind of pizzas. The Napoletana style, that we first spoke about long ago at the now closed Campania, just a few blocks away. For our two visits so far, we tried the Italian Sausage and Onion 12 inch pizza. It was just the right texture and crispiness, while the pizza sauce is slightly sweet, cheese appropriately gooey, and the ingredients a higher grade that what one would find at the laughable Pie Five for example (editorial: Pie Five is nothing more than Pizza Inn made in front of you, but on a smaller pie - seriously?). We also like to split a salad, and their Caesar is excellent, with cold crisp Romaine, shaved parmesan, garlic croutons, and an excellent smooth dressing, not thick and nasty like some Caesar's can be. Oh and they include hot pizza bread as well (as if you need more bread... but it is good!). We'll be certain to try other pizzas in the future. They also feature gelato, which we have yet to sample.

Drink: As alluded to earlier, Spin! does put a focus on craft beers. Now it's not the most robust selection (7 beers I think?), but at least they are mostly local, and since they are from Kansas City, they also have a couple of Boulevard's on tap. Though I would wish they'd bring along some more craft breweries with them that we can't get here otherwise. But I'm sure that's way too costly (and as reader Mervis correctly points out, they would need to get label approval from the TABC, which is not something one should expect from a pizza place!). Their Texas beer selection is somewhat typical of the area, and they probably should have at least one Shannon on tap to support Northeast Tarrant. They do have Grapevine's Lakefire on tap though. They also have weekly "pint nights" where they feature a local brewery.

Location: In the "suburbs" (lol) of Southlake Town Square. You'll find Spin on the north side of Southlake Blvd, east of the main square, next to Pei Wei. If memory serves this used to be Blue Mesa, one of the more miserable meals we ever had. It appears Spin! has exorcised those demons. It's a large space, with plenty of seating. Walk in, order at the counter, receive your "number block". And then from there it's full service. So they hand you a swiped credit card receipt, and you add the tip later. It's a unique approach, but I think it's a good concept really.

Notes: Spin! is a chain from Kansas City that is branching out into major metropolitan areas around the US in a decidedly slow growth strategy. Fortunately we were second on the map, and there are now a few locations in DFW. On our first visit, the manager noticed our pizza wasn't shaped correctly, and gave us a free one on the house. Wow! We didn't even notice honestly. Perhaps it's because we didn't bring a "free pizza" coupon. Whatever the case, an excellent gesture, and a good way to develop brand loyalty. Oh - and I do recommend you join their Spin club (rarely do we say this). It's free and phone number driven, so you don't have to carry anything with you. They actually offer serious coupons ($5 on our last visit!).

Rating: 4.0. Close to 4.5. Need more visits here to determine that.

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Spin Neapolitan Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lou Viney's Restaurant & Pub ~ Sulphur Springs, Texas

Mrs. RJG and I just returned from a week long road trip through the southeast, culminating in West Virginia, before heading back through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. It's tempting to write about all the places we ate, as all of them were uniformly excellent - and all very much "local". But I fear readership would be small, and not of much use for most of you. Perhaps I'll pen a few notes on Trip Advisor for each of them.

But I didn't want to exclude Lou Viney's, since Sulphur Springs is in the vicinity of DFW, and it's definitely worthy of a destination drive. I think we've been to Sulphur Springs once, and I remember little about it. But times have changed, and the downtown area is revitalized, and quaint, with many restaurants, shops, etc... throughout. It's nice to see small town America have that same sense of relevancy as you would find in Europe for example. I wish our country would have competitions for "most pretty village" as they do in England. Certainly there are informal ones, but it would be nice for something more official. I think it would encourage local civic pride, and also help remove the all-too-common blight one sees on the roadside.

Food: What's interesting about Lou Viney's is that this is exactly the type of food Mrs. RJG and I ate on the entire trip. A restaurant type that is more formally known as a Gastropub. I hate that name for whatever reason (sounds like an after meal condition), and so I'm now penning these places as Craft Tavern. Basically, freshly prepared meals with local ingredients, as well as a fine selection of craft beers and/or local wines and whiskeys. We were there for lunch, and it was our last restaurant before heading home. The menu is eclectic, with a large variety of mostly American oriented dishes but with unique recipes. Their most famous dish is Bourbon Chicken, but unfortunately it's only available for dinner, so we had to miss out. We each tried a cup of the chili, something that the RJG loves to sample at every restaurant since it's usually different. And this was no exception. I personally enjoyed it, but it lacked any kind of soupy texture. It was almost like a bolognese sauce in a cup, with finely cut ground beef and Italian sausage. They were out of the Broccoli Cheese soup, so Mrs. RJG decided to go forward with the chili as well, but it wasn't to her liking , though she did enjoy the flavor. It was just too much meat. This was followed by her decision to get the daily special which was the Patty Melt. Excellent she declared, though she couldn't finish it, as once again, the meat of the chili inhibited her from devouring the entire patty. But the fresh peppers were a plus as was everything else. The homemade potato chips were excellent, some of the best we've ever had. I went forward with the spaghetti and meatballs. Though they stated it was angel hair, it was more like a capellini. In either case, this is a difficult pasta to cook al dente, and they nailed it! Perfect texture. The red sauce was slightly sweet, and a bit chunky, but very much still a sauce. Superb. The best part were the homemade meatballs. It's been a long time since the RJG had meatballs this good! It's a lost art, and while Lou Viney's doesn't remind me of the meatballs of my childhood (different recipe), they are superbly seasoned. The garlic toast was also excellent, something I rarely notice or comment on.

Drink: Nice selection of wine and craft beers (on tap and bottle). We each tried a draught of the IPA from Woodcreek, a new brewery from Rockwall that I hadn't heard of prior. And it was excellent!

Location: As mentioned in the prelude, Lou Viney's sits in the middle of the revitalized downtown area. It's large open space, nicely decorated and comfortable. Outdoor seating is available as well.

Notes: Apparently Lou Viney's started as a wine tasting room, before branching out to a larger restaurant. Sometimes you'll see the name stylized as LouViney's, but the menu clearly separates first and last name.

Rating: 4.0. Warning, only one visit so far. But honestly I can easily see this rating going up with repeated visits. But since we are rarely in this neck of the woods, that may prove difficult. But you never know...

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LouViney's Restaurant & Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Magic Springroll ~ Watauga, Texas

We had mentioned in the Casa Milagro update that their timing had been fortuitous in regards to this blog. Magic Springroll had a similar fate, but in reverse. Magic Springroll was originally one of our "rotation" Thai restaurants, not long after we moved to NE Tarrant. Not necessarily a weekly, or even monthly destination, but one we frequented often. According to my personal database, in early March of 2008 we had a poor experience, and decided to drop the restaurant from our regular routine. Later that month, I started this blog, and never revisited again.... until late last year, not long after we stopped (again) writing. We saw that the reviews were very positive, and Mrs. RJG and I said we must go back. So we did and what we learned is that there had been a change of ownership since we last had been. In fact, not long after our not-too-positive experience. So, as we like to state, timing is everything. And since that visit in late 2015, we've been regulars ever since! Magic Springroll is one of the finest of Thai restaurants in the area, in regards to the food that is. And the owner couldn't possibly be nicer.

Food: One of the reasons the RJG loves going out for Thai food is that each place has unique recipes, where a similar dish can be completely different at each establishment. And so once again, my favorite Thai Basil is treated differently here than other places we rave about. And I order it "Thai style" and he knows exactly what I mean: Ground chicken, fried egg, peppers, chiles, copious basil, and Thai hot. Delicious every time. The rice is always cooked to perfection as well. Mrs. RJG recommends the Red Curry, a dish she first fell in love with in Amsterdam, of all places, back in 2004. She says this is the best she's had in DFW! She also loves their Garlic Chicken. As an appetizer we love their fried shrimp rolls, which honestly taste like the very best a legendary Southern restaurant could come up with.

Drink: BYOB, and they provide glasses. Otherwise, they have a refrigerator filled with canned and bottled drinks for you to purchase. I'm sure they have Thai coffee/tea as well, but we haven't taken advantage of that.

Location: Magic Springroll is the Webster's dictionary entry for "Hole in the Wall". It shares an old concrete building with an insurance office next door. The floors are concrete and the walls are white painted brick, and there's about 7 tables total. Despite this, the restaurant is surprisingly quaint, and has a strange romantic vibe after dark (preferably a cold winter night), especially if you're there alone with your date. Very noir. Magic Springroll is popular for take out, so there's usually a steady stream of people walking in and out. You'll find Magic Springroll behind the OC Burger, on the northeast corner of Watauga Rd and US 377.

Rating: 4.5. Definitely a regular rotation place for us!

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Magic Springroll Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Kumar's ~ Plano, Texas

A small delay, as I had a couple of other projects to attend to. In the meantime, Mr. Music sent this one in recently. It looks like a restaurant nearby to our Indian Godfather. I'll have to ask him if he's been!

Kumar’s South Indian Village in Plano is a unique experience. They are located in an OLD strip mall on Custer Rd in Plano. They serve home cooking and offer all you can eat on weekends. It’s not really a buffet, it’s much more fun than that! I went there with my friend on Saturday. We had to make reservations because it is very small (12-15 tables) and gets very crowded quickly. Our table was set with a tray covered in a banana leaf for each of us. We sat down at our table and I noticed in the middle of the room were these giant receptacles filled with fresh cooked basmati rice. The staff brings a big bowl of it over, and shovels a mountain of it in the middle of our tray. Then, servers come by with buckets of curries and other goodies. Depending on what you fancy, they ladle the food on the edge of your rice in different piles surrounding the rice. I had 2 types of mutton curry, chicken curry, & fish curry. Then they brought another round with lentils and spices, sambar (lentil stew with a variety of veggies) and rasam (tamarind soup). Everything was excellent, but I was quite partial to the mutton! They also bring roti (like a crunchy tortilla), deep fried peppers, Indian pickle, and a another condiment or two. For desert we had sweet pongel (rice and or dal with jaggery aka sugar, ghee aka butter and cashews); it was pretty good, but not my favorite Indian sweet dish, although by then I didn’t really need desert! Worth mentioning that Kumar’s is known for using much less ghee than most other Indian places. You can also get naan and a few other sides for an extra charge. One of the mutton dishes we tried, sukka (dry) mutton was only a few bucks and was very spicy and probably my favorite dish of the day; it was basically chunks of mutton that were smothered in spices without a real gravy. It was moist, but the spices didn’t drop off the meat! They also served a drink which was basically yogurt made from buttermilk with cilantro leaves on top. I loved it!

By the time we left, there were many people at the front and outside waiting for a table. 

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Kumar's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, May 21, 2016

DeVivo Bros. Eatery ~ Keller, Texas

I promised some new entries, so time to get crackin' on that. As mentioned, we do tend to enjoy our favorites, and have moved away from trying new places. Not only is that routine beginning to change (again) but there are some restaurants we've added to our favorites that we have yet to write about here. DeVivo Bros isn't quite in the latter category yet, but it's moving towards it.

We actually had intended on writing about DeVivo Bros. back in 2014, not long after it opened, and was receiving rave reviews even then, while racking up some local awards. We had a visit in October of that year, and unfortunately we weren't impressed, and decided to wait it out. Today, DeVivo Bros. is considered the #1 restaurant in Keller for both TripAdvisor and Yelp, and #10 in Zomato (where they list it simply as a "bakery"). But we all know that the latter is completely broken these days (we really do miss Urbanspoon). In any case, all these people can't be wrong. We must try it again. And are we glad we did!

Food: Self-described as "Rustic Comfort Food", that seems as good as any definition I could come up with. Rural Italian perhaps would be another? A very unique concept (for America anyway), where you order up at the counter, sit, and wait until your meal is actually prepared and cooked. And then delivered to your table. Chef driven quick service restaurant? Yep, pretty much! The food quality reminds me of what we would get in Italy itself. All made with fresh ingredients, and unique recipes. Our first experience was a meatball sandwich, which wasn't distinctive enough for us to recommend. Something wasn't right, and the meatball seemed bland to me. On this visit, I tried the chicken parmesan lunch meal and it was absolutely delicious. Finally, someone understands the concept of crispy breading! The pasta was definition al dente, cooked to perfection. The sauce is a bit more chunky than I prefer, but it was delicious all the same with fresh basil, tomatoes, onions, and spices. And it was served hot! Mrs. RJG enjoyed a Devivo's Omelette, which is basically a vegetarian omelette with potatoes, and she stated it was excellent, though she would have preferred a bit more cheese. While not cheap, the prices are fair considering what you get. We just settled on water to drink, and so our total bill was under $20. And they show the courtesy of not expecting a tip, when indeed it is counter service. So we have every intention of going back and trying multiple things on the menu, as there are many tantalizing looking items. And yes, Zomato is right, they do have a bakery. But it's far more than that! They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Drink: It's BYOB, so yet another chance to save. Since we were there for lunch, we didn't partake early (not that we haven't done it before...).  Otherwise the usual assortment of fountain drinks, etc...

Location: Anchors the first of the endless row of strip centers fronting the railroad, south of downtown Keller (and south of Bear Creek), on the west side of US 377. The restaurant is very pleasant, airy, and bright. White dominates with black color enhancements. Ordering at the counter seems a bit awkward at first, since it doesn't look like a place to order. But they'll guide you through if you appear lost (which I often do...).

Notes: You can read all about the actual DeVivo brothers here. Solid, hard working duo. They've also expanded to Southlake and operate a Latin Fusion restaurant that we'll need to try. In addition to that, they also have a mobile fire truck (yes, a real fire truck) known as the Hook and Ladder Pizza Company, that provides catering. These guys are clearly on the upward trajectory. Bravo to them!

Rating: 4.0 We anticipate this will go up to 4.5. But we need more visits to confirm.

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DeVivo Bros. Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Jack Mac's Swill and Grill ~ Dallas, Texas

Originally published July 4, 2013 and updated with a recent visit.

Interesting that I've met with The Garland Troublemaker for the last two straight weeks. Especially considering I may see him two times a year these days. This visit was from last week, and Jack Mac's is just as great as it always has been. I'll leave the review below pretty much intact, with a few edits and formatting changes. Jack Mac's is incredibly consistent. And one reason for that is Jack is usually there and cooking for us! Great guy too.
 
Original 2013 Notes / Food / Drink: It all started with some research on Ratebeer about some local beers that folks were rating. I asked myself "Where are these guys getting this stuff?" In the reviews I would commonly see "on tap at Jac Mac's (sic)" . What the heck is Jac Mac's I ask? So I look it up on Urbanspoon, and then went to their website. Wow! This place has my name all over it! All local to Texas craft beers and a very interesting looking menu. So I suggested to The Garland Troublemaker that we meet at Jack Mac's Swill & Grill rather than Flying Saucer next time for our next quarterly "executive briefing".

And so it transpired. And I'm happy to say: We have a new meeting place. We love The Flying Saucer, but Jack Mac's is even better for what I'm looking for. They only have 14 taps. But those 14 constantly rotate - with many hard to find / obscure beers - all from Texas. Anything from established micro's such as Rahr, Saint Arnold, Ranger Creek, and Franconia, onto up and comers like Firewheel (Rowlett) and Community (Dallas), to just-out-of-the-womb 903 Brewery (Sherman). And to think next time we go, they will all be different (2016 update: And that has remained true to form). Maybe not different breweries of course, but different beers from those breweries (or others). That's exciting. As they state on their website: "All 14 of our handles are Texas craft beer and to keep it interesting, we’re constantly rotating brews.  So stop in to see what we’re featuring this week."

But as I often say, even if you only drink iced tea, Jack Mac's will satisfy on a strictly culinary level. They have an ambitious menu, that goes far beyond sandwiches, chips, pizza, and burgers. They have all those things (even standard variations), plus much more. On this visit they were featuring llama burgers. I wasn't quite ready for that adventure, and stuck to a standard meat filled pizza - which was excellent, and featured some homemade chorizo (May 2016 update - I also really enjoy their Cubano Sandwich!). TGT went with The Mexican Burger which is, get this, two cheese enchiladas between a bun. Ooo, that sounds awfully heavy doesn't it? Anyway, their menu is filled with dozens of interesting looking items, that we will be certain to try on subsequent visits. This is the first place I've listed as a gastropub in the RJG (ed: Don't like that name anymore - going with Craft Tavern now!). The offerings are just too imaginative to call it strictly pub food. About a year ago, I dined at the Magnolia Brewery in San Francisco that was advertised as a Gastropub. Their offerings weren't any different in spirit than what is at Jack Mac's - just less of it.

Jack Mac's is exactly the type of place I wish we had in NE Tarrant. Certainly we've grown up in the last couple of years ourselves, and even have a Ginger Man now (May 2016 update - and more than that now... more to come on the RJG!). But Jack Mac's is in a different league altogether.

Fans of Hopdoddy in Dallas, that we featured awhile ago, should also give Jack Mac's a try!

Location: Anchors a strip mall on Preston Rd in far north Dallas, south of the Bush Turnpike, and north of Frankford. Nice airy place, with a fine area to sit around the bar. Also darts in the back room!

Rating: 4.5. Love this place!

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Jack Mac's Swill & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Milagro ~ Richardson, Texas

Originally published July 9, 2012 and updated with a recent visit.
 
Timing really is everything. The last time the RJG visited Casa Milagro was in May of 2013. In fact, I believe that's the last time I was in Richardson altogether. The RJG's work changed at that point, and the need to go to Richardson subsided. And yet exactly 3 years later, in waltzes the RJG just as the blog is rolling again. And for this visit, The Garland Troublemaker who graces the article below, has rejoined me. And we also had the Indian Godfather on hand. It was time for a meet. We talked about this prior in our Banana Leaf review a few years ago. This could very well be the last one too. The end of an era. Why? Well, our Monster Corporation X sold our business unit to Monster Corporation Y at the end of last year, but managed to leave out our group. An unfortunate oversight, but hard to untangle now. These are Fortune 10 companies, and Twilight Zone activity commences often (think Dilbert). SoCal Gal (below) left us late last year for New Company on the Rise, at our encouragement. The Salt Lake City gentleman has been gone since 2014. In any case, the 3 of us (and others left in our group) have an uncertain future. It is our hope we can stay at Monster Corporation X (which we all think is better than Y anyway). We'll see where fate takes us. Well enough about me...

As for Casa Milagro, everything is exactly as I remembered it. Absolutely brilliant. I do have one key update (made below) regarding a menu change. But otherwise, I won't have too many edits other than a bit of formatting.

Original 2012 Notes / Food / Drink: In a very short period of time, Casa Milagro has become our favorite Mexican restaurant in DFW. Wow! I didn't see that coming. We first visited in April while conducting one of our training sessions with a gentleman from Salt Lake City who has a similar job to ours. My co-worker, The Garland Troublemaker, suggested Casa Milagro, as it is one of his favorite restaurants. And since he knows the area far better than myself, who was I to argue?

Oh... Oh.... this is really good. No, no. It's exceptional. From the beginning, when the smallish glass filled with the adult slurpee known as a frozen margarita hit my lips, I knew it was going to be a good night. Small glass, powerful punch. Two of those is plenty. The chips taste like real corn, and the table salsa is very good. But wait... do you guys have a hotter one? The waiter's eyes lit up. He had a chicken in the coup. Sucker. You can't handle our hot one, said his eyes. Try me I said back silently. Out comes this scary looking yellow habanero concoction that would scare off war veterans. In goes the chip. Boom goes my tongue. Lift off. What a great flavor! And the hottest sauce I've ever had at a Mexican restaurant. Ever. There's one place in Santa Fe called Horseman's Haven that has a much hotter green chile to smother a burrito in, but I can't recall any table sauce this spicy. Oh, and before you get all high and mighty with the "it's so hot you can't taste it" argument, just know that IMO the flavors become even more distinct and pronounced. I do agree, though, that building up tolerance is key. Training your palate as it were. Anyway, I lapped up a bowl of that and asked for another. I thought the waiter's eyes were going to bulge out of his head. The Garland Troublemaker took a couple of bites, but just sat silently for a few minutes afterward. It appeared he wasn't sure if he would make it through the night. Our co-worker from SLC saw the events unfold and decided to sit out the experience entirely. And to think we haven't even tried a dish yet! With my palate all set, the dish that just floors me is Camarones a la Chef* which they describe as "Five jumbo bacon wrapped shrimp, grilled to perfection, stuffed with Monterrey jack cheese and fresh jalapenos. Served with rice and Latin stir-fry vegetables." Of course, that was only one visit, but I wanted to go back and soon! *May 2016 update: They took it off the menu! Ack! But they did make it for me anyway, and it was just as great as I remembered. So hat's off to them for that.

So... a couple of weeks later, we hired a new gal who I'd worked with at software-company-most-people-have-heard-of (and she needed rescuing after 17 years there) to take on some parts of the organization that the Troublemaker and myself were holding down, but didn't have time for. So she flew in from Southern California for a week long round of training with us. First night we're back at Casa Milagro. On this visit I tried their shrimp tacos, which were also delicious. The Troublemaker gave another go to the "Yellow Beast", but was defeated again. I lapped it up with much glee. So. Cal Gal stated that super hot food wasn't in the cards for her. However, she commented, how incredible the taste of the food was. Best Mexican she'd had! That's high praise indeed from someone who likes to dine out quite a bit and lives in Orange County. So I think we're onto something here.

OK then, final test. Mrs. RJG! I had of course told her about my new dining find. She was insanely jealous, stated that it didn't sound like I was "working" at all, and was enjoying myself all too much. So, she suggested, you're taking me there. And so the perfect opportunity was around Memorial Day. My dad, grandparents, and great-grandparents are buried in nearby Restland cemetery, in one of the military Veteran plots. I'm not much a grave watcher (nor was my dad when alive), but it had been many years since I last went, and it was high time I got over there. A new tradition was born. Memorial Day...Cemetery...Casa Milagro. Let's just hope The Yellow Beast doesn't make it Casa Milagro...Cemetery. Anyway... Mrs. RJG can handle a hot sauce with the best of them. She enjoyed a few bites, and her mouth was a blazing on fire. Her test dish is shrimp enchiladas, and her favorite is at Anamia's. Casa Milagro wins again! Incredible she stated. Oh, and I haven't mentioned it yet, but their rice is exquisite. As is their charro beans.

Anamia's remains our favorite in NE Tarrant, but Casa Milagro - in very short order - is now our favorite Mexican restaurant in DFW. Give it a try and report back.

Location: In a strip center northeast of Plano Rd and Campbell. Very pleasant surroundings. Comfortably dark, with a nice bar area. On one wall they play old black and white silent Mexican movies across a series of TVs. Get a few margs in you, and they start to make sense!

Rating: 5.0. Seriously, the best Mexican around DFW that we've tried.

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Casa Milagro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato