Friday, October 24, 2008

***CLOSED*** Mezza Luna ~ Keller, Texas

About once a year, Mrs. RJG and I will drift over to Rufe Snow and Keller-Smithfield Rd in Keller and enjoy a weekday lunch at Mezza Luna. We first tried this "ristorante" for a dinner in 2003, and decided it was a bit too dear for what it is, and that lunch would be a better alternative. And since then, we've been there about 5 times - yep, once a year. I can count with my toes too...

Remember terms like ristorante, zuppa and insalate mean $5 more per dish. Mezza Luna holds up this deep rooted tradition. Lunch, however, is very reasonable. Two entrees which include salad or soup won't set you back more than $20 including tip.

Like almost all of the Northeast Tarrant County Italian restaurants, Mezza Luna possesses a Balkan heritage and is tied in with the Moni empire. They even have a dish called Cappellini alla Moni, for which I mentioned that my wife should get it for free. They didn't get it.

There are some breaks with the traditional Moni styled restaurants. One is that it's considerably more fancy than the usual hole in the wall (and not something you would expect from the rather mundane strip mall it sits in). Another is the house dressing which is a honey balsamic rather than the usual red wine. And third, their red sauces have a creamy texture, which I enjoyed for a change of pace.

On this visit I went with the Rigatoni Bolognese, while Mrs. RJG enjoyed the aforementioned Cappellini alla Moni - a dish filled with broccoli and chicken in an olive oil and garlic sauce. As always, the food was excellent.

The restaurant sits in a strip mall area that has undergone quite a bit of changes in the 6 years that we've been coming here. Apparently the anchor was a Winn-Dixie grocery store, that went out of business in 2002. Unfortunately they didn't let go of their lease and the area remained dormant for years. In fact, if it weren't for Mezza Luna, the Snooty Pig cafe that sits next door, and a nearby free standing Taco Bueno, the area would've been completely abandoned. Once the center could be leased, many other retail outlets have opened up, most in the last two years. This can only be a good thing for Mezza Luna, the archduke of the center.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Prince Lebanese Grill ~ Arlington, Texas

A major event has happened since we last wrote about Prince Lebanese Grill - the appearance of one Guy Fiori from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It should come as no surprise to my readers that I love that show. He basically has the same attitude and concept I use here but taken to the highest level. Of course, he's a chef himself, and is very much qualified to review what each kitchen is up to. He reminds me of my very good friend Mr. Music, in his attitude, gregariousness and even his physical shape. Sometimes on a slow Saturday, especially during the summer, Mrs. RJG and I will watch a few hours of his show on the Food Channel consecutively. And get really hungry. You know, come to think of it, he also went to another RJG recommendation: Avila's in Dallas. Could Fiori be a fan of the RJG?

Because of Fiori's visit, Prince became wildly popular (though it already had a loyal local following). On Urbanspoon, it is rated as the 84th most popular restaurant in all of DFW (and 3rd overall for Middle Eastern restaurants). The former Sonic continues to be made over, and there's more seating than ever. An awesome example of urban renewal. Prince is a real American success story.

I would also add to the below review that I really love their Gyros plate. The meat is delicious, as is the rice and Greek salad (as mentioned in the review).

While on the topic are there any good Middle Eastern restaurants in NE Tarrant? I've been to one "Mediterranean" place in North Richland Hills, which was more Greek/European. I haven't done my homework here, but if you know of a place, please don't hesitate to write a comment. Thanks!

Original review

A few years ago, Mrs. RJG and I discovered a place in Arlington called Rama's Mediterranean Grill (based on a Star Telegram weekend review), in a renovated old Sonic drive in. As mentioned in the Hatam Persian restaurant blurb, we our both big fans of the spices of the Middle East, combined with the sumptuous grilled meats and bed of rice. But since it's in Arlington, it's a bit out of our routine range, and we only managed to go once. One of the partners of Rama bought the other out, and renamed the place Prince Lebanese Grill, and we noticed no downturn in quality. In fact, it was even better as the current owner was clearly the driving force of the older establishment.

And another year has passed. We had dropped Mrs. RJG's Mom at the airport one late morning and decided to head south instead of north, and revisit a place for lunch that we always love to go to, but just never think about it. And time has been even better to Prince. The place is now crowded with people. In fact, this is the first time there we didn't eat alone. It's also changed to a sitdown place, rather than an order up / serve combo. And... the prices have gone up - way up. But there's a reason for it, and it's legitimate. See, Prince has upgraded the quality of all their products, as well as upped their portions. While it used to feel like a fast food place, it now feels appropriately enough like a restaurant. And it should.

I had the kofta kabob (two large patties of seasoned ground beef), with rice and a Greek Salad. Mrs. RJG had the beef shawarma (a variation of what Greeks call gyros or, um, Californians call wraps) and a Greek Salad as well. We both adore the salad, as the dressing is absolutely delicious. The kofta is heavily seasoned, the way Mr. RJG likes it. And the rice? Oh, the rice. Long grain rice pilaf with just the right ingredients.

Looking for excellent Middle Eastern food in Tarrant county and not sure where to go? Or at least a place you can go without 1960s era belly dancers? Prince is the place. You've never had Lebanese food, but always wanted to try? Prince is the place. You will feel most comfortable in this casual establishment - the menu will explain it all for you.

You'll find Prince on Randol Mill Rd, just east of Cooper.


Prince Lebanese Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 3, 2008

Clown Hamburgers ~ Haltom City, Texas

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce to you the finest Regular Joe's Guide hamburger for Northeast Tarrant County. If you asked me to draw up the perfect Regular Joe's Guide restaurant, I still couldn't produce the masterpiece that is Clown Burger. Just look at those photos. My oh my. I would travel all day just to see a place like this. Careful on that last point, as they have some quirky hours. Check their website (below) before heading over.

From what I can gather, Clown Burger is a surviving institution, and the interior was pretty much moved piece by piece over to its current location. Originally it was on the old US Highway 377 (Belknap) and like just about every other such place, eventually closed down. Only to be resurrected later. We spoke about Haltom City in the Bangkok Thai entry, and it's the suburb that provides the most Regular Joe thrills per square mile. Populated by working class and newly arrived immigrants, it's the perfect blend for allowing old institutions to survive while at the same time creating new ones. Other than maybe Bud Kennedy, the journalists have steered well clear of the area. And the foodies think it's a no-go 'hood. Fine with me - keep out.

I've been going to Clown Burger for about 4 years now. Not too often, as it's a haul for me and the Mrs. RJG has little desire to eat there. The burger recipe is probably part of some Secret Order, buried with the Holy Ark somewhere in Scotland. Or Ft. Worth. Combine that with a grill that's seen more burgers than a congressman pork dollar total, and you have the formula for happiness. Right there, Mr. RJG has provided you the key to happiness. Did you gloss over that sentence? I wouldn't. I should also mention that the burgers on the small side, so I recommend a double.

I remember traveling with my Dad in West Texas in the early 1970s. It seemed to me that all places that had hamburgers were great. I get that kind of flavor here. All these years, and I still haven't been to Herd's in Jacksboro (how did I miss it on all those college drives from Dallas to Lubbock?). But I'm guessing it's that flavor. I smell a road trip this weekend.

Clown Burger is not easy to find. It's in the kind of shopping area that stopped existing since the 1940s - one that depended more on pedestrian traffic than automobile. I remember them fondly on trips to my Grandma's house in Long Island. It doesn't even seem possible that it can exist in a modern metropolis.

To get there, take Denton Highway and turn west on Stanley Keller. On the next corner will be Haltom Rd. Look for it on the SW corner. You won't believe your eyes. It's like a time tunnel. Once in the restaurant, there is nothing to remind you that this is 2008. It's 1958. For real.

Oh, It's officially known as Clown Hamburgers Too.

Clown Burger Too on Urbanspoon