Friday, December 30, 2011

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium ~ Addison, Texas

There was a time when the RJG had very little use for beer. Unlike many college students, I pretty much eschewed guzzling cheap beer for a cheap buzz. In the 1980s, the US beer industry was all about price. Pale lagers and light beers was all there was to quaff. And at Texas Tech, Coors was the clear winner followed by Budweiser. I didn't dislike the stuff, but I just didn't understand what the big fuss was. Once I started going to Europe later in the 80s, I began to realize what a good beer can taste like. Then my move to Colorado in 1993 opened my eyes up to the craft beer industry. Unfortunately I didn't take advantage of it as much as I should have back then, with only an occasional foray into a brewpub. And I didn't take notes, and I'm rather certain I tried some beers from breweries that are extinct. I finally got serious about beer about 6 years ago, and I've been making up for lost time (especially while in Colorado during the summers). According to my beer database, I've now tried 770 different beers and rapidly consuming more. And, as it turns out, beer is in my blood. My great grandfather on my Dad's side (Irish) was once an executive at the Hanley Brewing Company of Providence, Rhode Island (this was in the late 1800s!) The brewery remarkably survived Prohibition, only to be gobbled up in the 1950s brewery consolidation years. And on my Mom's side, which is entirely German, my Uncle was a huge beer drinker. I can remember him drinking both Olympia and Rainier on our family trips to Seattle in the early 70s, prior to them cheapening their product.

So with that background out of the way, it should come as no surprise that Flying Saucer is a favorite destination of mine. Flying Saucer specializes in having on tap, or in bottles/cans, numerous beers from around the world. And perhaps more importantly, they carry local microbrews, which can be different depending on what location you go to. I love when a chain localizes their selection and product. It gives each one a uniqueness about them. And Flying Saucer has the added benefit of providing a food menu - similar to a brewpub - and for that we can feature them here on our blog! For this visit, I was joined by my friend who lives in Garland. A perfect meeting place. We were here for 4 hours.

I'll start with the food, because even if you don't care for beer, I think it's worth going at least once for that. Sandwiches, sausages, soups and appetizers are what Flying Saucer's menu is about. We each had our favorite appetizer: The Saucer Bratzel, which is one large soft pretzel with chopped up bratwurst buried in melted swiss cheese and a side of spicy mustard. It's really just too good for words. And we also each tried their beer cheese soup made with a brown ale, and is surprisingly very spicy (seriously!). It's served in a bread bowl in case you didn't get enough of that from the pretzel.

As for the beers, I like to try local beers first and then branch out. And I always want something I haven't had before. For this visit, I started with the Lagunitas Fusion VII, which is a seasonal IPA. Lagunitas is from northern California, and is fast becoming one of my favorite breweries. In fact, I'd place them in the Top 5. Next up was the Franconia Winter Wheat, which is a weizen bock (a strong dark wheat). We've talked about Franconia (McKinney, TX) before, as they are one of only a handful of truly local breweries (though more breweries are coming folks - the beer revolution is finally here in DFW! For more info, check the excellent Texas Beer blog). I've liked all of their beers to date that I've tried (only about 4 though). This was followed by the Live Oak Primus, another weizen bock. Live Oak is from Austin, and I don't think they bottle or can their beer (same with Franconia). So you have to get it on draught from places like this. I'm sure they're more common in central Texas, but it's rarely seen otherwise. And finally I wrapped up with a black IPA from Southern Star called Pro-Am 2011, a seasonal competition beer. Southern Star is based in Conroe, outside of Houston. They're one of the newer microbreweries that can their beer rather than bottle. You can find their product at a good World Market store (some are better than others - the one in Grapevine is excellent). This particular Southern Star is only available via draught. I quite like their brewery as well.

Included with all this good beer and food, you also get a cute waitress (well... usually). The girls dress up in Catholic prep school skirts (though with shorter hems of course). So it can be a bit of a male fantasy overload considering the whole. There's also a Twin Peaks right next door, so definitely a magnet area for traditional males. Mrs. RJG likes these places too, though she was still entertaining one of our official nieces that day. Oh, one other comment on the girls. They go through rigorous training on beer - so they should be able to answer most questions. Our gal had no problems keeping up with my questions.

I really wish we had a Flying Saucer in NE Tarrant (or a similar place).

Website for Addison location

Flying Saucer on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

*** CLOSED *** ZuRoma Sicilian Kitchen ~ Keller, Texas

A few years ago, sometime in the 2004-05 range, the Mrs. and I had dined at the original ZuRoma location in Grapevine near 121. We thought it was good Italian food, and had returned at least once. A couple of years later, while planning a return visit, I reviewed their entry on Urbanspoon, and it was clear a major event had taken place. Best I can tell the original owners sold the place, and the new proprietors subsequently ran the place into the ground. I never sampled this debacle, but as is foreshadowed by now, they did close down shortly thereafter. Meanwhile the original owners opened up in the Ice House in North Richland Hills. We never did go to the hockey arena, but now they also have a to-go only place in Keller, so I decided to try their pizza on a recent evening that Mrs. RJG and one of our official nieces had something else going on. "ya on ya own" in Mrs. RJG speak.

ZuRoma specializes in the "Sicilian" styled pizza, which I sometimes refer to as "Dallas style" as first championed by Campisi's Egyptian or Prego Pasta House and further popularized by the I Fratelli pizza outlets. It's an oval-ish pizza that's looks like an outline of a small football. I went for the Hite's Cabin Special which is a combo of Italian sausage, salami, jalapeno, and extra cheese. The sausage is crumbled and non-distinctive, while the salami is finely cut small pieces of Genoa (and again, difficult to discern any flavor). The extra cheese, however, was very apparent and quite excellent in its gooeyness. The crust is uniquely flavored, but decidedly not crispy. Like having a pizza on the crust of old bread from Macaroni Grill. Even after throwing a few slices in the toaster, I couldn't get the crust to change its stale disposition. The flavor of the pizza is very good, but the texture left something to be desired. As well, I tend to like a saucy pie, and this was definitely dry. I'm giving it a thumbs up on Urbanspoon, but I won't be a regular visitor for their pizza. However, they also have a full array of Italian dishes. I'm most curious how they prepare them from the small kitchen. I'll try ZuRoma again just for that.

Even though the restaurant name implies a full service establishment, ZuRoma is strictly a take out joint with nowhere to sit except to wait for your pizza.

Monday, December 26, 2011

*** CLOSED *** Best Tex Burger ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Best Tex Burger is in the same Shell station that once housed a Billadelphia's** location, and if I recall right was originally a Chester Fried Chicken.

Best Tex Burger arrives with a feel-good story, that one has to admire. This is the American spirit at its finest.

Onto the food we go. Their website talks about a variety of gourmet burgers and a chicken sandwich option. However, they have recently reduced their menu significantly. All they now serve are hamburgers, cheeseburgers (with a double option on each) and fries. And that's it. As you all know, the RJG is very much in favor of the small menu. So my expectation was set to a high level, figuring that they only do one thing - so it will be awesome. I kept it simple and ordered a double cheeseburger and a small drink. The burger comes out with the condiments on the side and include fresh romaine lettuce, pickles, onion and tomato. They also bring a variety of sauces to put on your burger. But other than the usual suspects (mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup), there was only one that appeared unique - a chipotle mayonnaise if I'm not mistaken. So then.... was it the best burger? Absolutely not, I'm afraid to say. Was it good even? Sure, it was and I rated it a thumbs up on Urbanspoon. But the honest truth is the burger is too ordinary to get excited about. The meat was lightly seasoned, the standard bun was barely toasted. The chipotle mayonnaise was decent. Compared to places like Kincaid's or Chapps, Best Tex doesn't cut it (IMHO). Still, I would encourage you all to see for yourself. With the great story behind the restaurant, places like this deserve at least one chance. Maybe I'm just plain wrong? And I'm always up for a revisit if you all disagree. This would be one case I would like to be wrong. But for now, my opinion holds.

As an aside, technically the restaurant is know as Best Tex Burger, rather than Best Texas Burger (despite the website URL name). I did confirm that with the owner.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

***MOVED*** Jalapeno's Mexican Cuisine ~ Keller, Texas

Last update: June, 2013: Jalapeno's moved to the other side of US-377 to Fort Worth. And renamed it Las Pinatas. Review of new location here.

If you live around Keller, the name Jalapeno's can be a bit confusing. There's a taqueria by that name in the old town, with the exact same logo, and yet it's entirely different than this restaurant found on Keller Parkway. Apparently there's different ownership, but obviously they are related in some way. So if you too were confused, as the RJG perpetually is, then I do recommend you try both. We'll cover the taqueria at another time, but today's post will reflect the restaurant only. To the best of my knowledge, this is their only location and not related to other Jalapeno's in and around DFW.

Jalapeno's sits in the old Keller Pizza place (itself no doubt once a Pizza Inn). Upon entry, there's a cavernous space filled with booths and tables - and even an old fashioned 1980s styled video game area. I was pleased to see the frozen margarita machine cranking away to my left, so I ordered one. Only to be met with the now familiar "it's not frozen yet" response (it was around 11:30 for lunch). Ya know, I've been biting my tongue on this issue, but this is the third Mexican place in a relatively short time frame that each sprung this excuse. Turn the dang thing on once you get there! We also heard this excuse recently at El Paseo and Tres Jose's on our recent visits. Each time, I ended up settling on water. Anyway, I can honestly say we've never had this problem at Anamia's and we've been there at least 50 times. Alright, with that annoyance out of the way, let's focus on the food. And here, Jalapeno does a very good job - and a bit different, which we always appreciate here at the RJG. The entry level salsa is a chipotle blend. Quite good, but way too thin, and thus it tends to roll off the chips. We asked for the hotter option and we received the hottest (apparently the have a medium heat as well). This one was better textured, with a dark green color. Definitely a jalapeno based sauce, perhaps with some serrano's, and very spicy. So now our palette was set for the main course. The Mrs. went for cheese enchiladas with vegetables and covered with a tomatillo sauce. She says the cheese was very good, velvety in texture, with crisp veggies and the tomatillo was just right, not too bitter. I had 2 chicken flautitas and a ground beef taco. The flautitas were delicious with all white meat chicken crammed into slightly plump, but small crispy fried tortillas with melted white cheese on top. The beef taco was a bit different, the meat being somewhat like a chili mixture, rather than the traditional crumbled beef. One reviewer angrily called it dog food on Urbanspoon, but that's not fair at all. Actually I thought it was delicious and a unique take on a common recipe. The fresh green lettuce and yellow cheese were piled high on the side for me to load up. We both loved the rice, even though I'm not too fond of peas and carrots, but the flavor was excellent. And the charro beans were good, but a bit too fatty on the bacon.

This was only our second visit here, and our first in nearly 2 years, but we should go more often. We give it a thumbs up! Though a friendly reminder to the owners, please turn on the margarita machine earlier....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

El Paisano Taqueria ~ Dallas, Texas

Our first Mr. Music review!

I took a trip to El Paisano last Weds with my friends. I’ve been going to El Paisano regularly for over a decade now. I usually don’t go to any single restaurant that often, but I really love this place! It was the first place that really opened my eyes to what are commonly known as “street tacos”. No matter how many I try, El Paisano consistently remains my favorite place for them. Now I won’t say I’ve tried every place around; there are hundreds of them, but I’ve been to dozens. My friends and I meet on Wednesdays for a night out and make El Paisano at least 3 times a month. Tacos are a pretty simple; you’ve got a tortilla, some meat, toppings and the sauce. All of them are important, but for me the sauce is the key! Of course the meat is very important too, but the sauce can propel a “really good” taco to “OMG!”.

At El Paisano there are 3 types of tortillas: maiz which is a factory bought corn tortilla dipped in manteca (pig lard) for $0.99, then there is harina or flour for $1.15 and if you don’t mind paying a bit more you can get handmade corn tortillas (maiz heche a mano) for $2.00. I love them all, but usually opt for the harina because I don’t want so much lard and don’t want to shell out 2 bucks a pop for heche a mano when you can get an order of 4 fresh made corn tortillas for $1.00. I order mine “con todo” (with everything) which basically means I want fresh diced onion and cilantro on my taco with a slice of lime on the side. I think most taco stands offer this these days but El Paisano also includes some nicely caramelized fried onions as well. There are 3 basic meat choices: pollo, fajita, or al pastor (chicken, beef, or pork). To me, the al pastor is by far the tastiest and although I don’t think the pork is cooked on a spit as is done traditionally, the meat is very nicely seasoned. The chicken and fajita are also very good, but at El Paisano it is ALL about the sauce! They serve 3 varieties here; two in squirt bottles and one that comes hot off the grill in a mocajete. In the bottles are a green sauce which is a very creamy sauce made with green chilies that seem to be something like Hatch chilies (not tomatillo) and a red which is a brutal mixture of dried red chilies teeming with seeds, water, cumin and a dash of salt. Both are delish and can vary from medium to blazing but the real star is the steaming salsa in the mortar. I’m not sure what the exact recipe is (if I did, I’d bathe in it regularly!) but I’m pretty sure they take tomatoes, jalapenos, jalapenos, some sort of chicken stock and oh, some more jalapenos and grill them until they completely break down. This stuff is what dreams are made of! My friends and I shovel this stuff in with basket after basket of chips and reminds me of a shark feeding frenzy; then we smother our tacos with it glopping on as much as we can on each bite. When we are so full, salsa is leaking from our belly buttons, we hunt for cups to take the rest home for our scrambled eggs in the morning (or sometimes pay for a pint to go)! I’ve also tried their gorditas which are awesome, their guacamole which is so simple its beautiful and their rice and beans which are solid. They have a big place (on Lombardy just East of Denton Drive) with 2 sides. To the East is the old, run down side with decrepit bathrooms and on the West is a cleaner, cozier place with very clean bathrooms, table cloths, etc. I go to the West with my wife and kids and to the East (where we know all the waitresses) with my buddies. The food is just as wonderful on either side. If you want to eat outside in front of the original metal shack they started in, you can do that too because it still sits in front of their building.

Tacqueria El Paisano on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 17, 2011

*** CLOSED *** Panchita's Mexican ~ Keller, Texas

Panchita's is a new restaurant that opened its doors this August. It's housed in the former Windy City Deli location, and is a couple of doors down from Niki's (featured on this blog somewhere). They are a husband and wife run establishment, and you can tell that they use only fresh ingredients. No large platters of enchiladas here - each meal is individually handcrafted. The food is a mixture of Tex-Mex and Mexican from the interior. There's even a hint of New Mexico, and not surprisingly there's a family heritage from there.

The chips are crispy corn and the salsa served is what we typically see in Colorado: A mixture of tomatoes, chilies, onions and cilantro. It was good with a nice kick. As such I wasn't sure they would have a "hotter" one, but indeed they do. It's a tomatillo based green sauce blended with jalapenos and/or maybe serrano's. Definitely contains more heat and thus smooths out the bitterness typically associated with tomatillo. And, as it turns out from a second visit, they also have a blazing spicy butterscotch colored habanero sauce that is outstanding. As for an entree, I went with the super bargain $5.75 lunch special (Tue-Fri only) and had a cheese enchilada, a chicken enchilada and a ground beef taco. The cheese enchilada featured a delicious chili con carne sauce. For the chicken I asked what their hottest sauce was. They said to try the guajillo sauce. The chile itself isn't very hot, but their reddish orange blended sauce had some punch, though I wish there was a bit more of it. The beef taco featured a homemade crunchy shell and the ground beef was well seasoned. The charro beans were delicious with the right amount of bean and bacon flavor. The rice was a tad mushy and the only mistake of the meal, but it tasted good all the same. Perhaps better for the RJG, was the Mrs.' reaction. She had a cup of the tortilla soup which she said was delicious. Perhaps even better was the carne asada gordita, which came in a crispy "pocket". Best she's ever had other than at home, she claims. So a huge hit from our Lady of Sonora.

The restaurant layout has two distinct settings - a darkened lounge with TV screens and a full bar, and then secondly a regular dining area with some natural lighting from outside.

Panchita's is very good and I think it could use more exposure. This is a cut above your usual Tex-Mex restaurant and this is a young couple putting everything they have into it. Tired of the same ole' place? Give Panchita's a try.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

*** CLOSED *** Tres Jose's ~ Fort Worth-TX

Situated at the edge of the tony River Crest neighborhood, Tres Jose's seems an unlikely place to find an authentic Tex-Mex restaurant. We first visited a few years ago while visiting some museums at the nearby Cultural District. And while we await the renovations (and new ownership) to be completed over at the RJG's favorite Ft. Worth Mexican food destination - Fernandez Cafe - we decided to revisit Tres Jose's since we were over in Ft. Worth anyway.

While Tres Jose's is a reliable neighborhood spot, it's not extraordinary. We both enjoyed the blue corn enchiladas with the heavily seasoned chicken doused in a sour green tomatillo sauce. The rice was well prepared, and the charro beans had the right mix of chile's, beans and bacon. The chips are homemade and crispy, while the standard salsa is tomato based with a mild kick, and includes black pepper (something the RJG likes in his hot sauces). We asked for the hotter one, as we often do, and out came a very creamy habanero green sauce, likely mixed with avocado's. It definitely had a nice heat level, though it was far too creamy for my liking. It appears Tres Jose's has a full bar, though we just settled on diet sodas for this lunch visit.

Really not much else to say, other than if you're craving some Mexican food after immersing yourself into some high culture, then Tres Jose's is likely to hit the spot. Much better in our opinion than the Dos Gringos you are likely to have seen on University.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Everything German ~ Hurst, Texas

June 2015 update: Everything German has relocated to Hurst. More to come soon hopefully
Two of the most popular posts from the RJG were about German restaurants. The first post was when we took a trip up to Muenster and visited Rohmer's. But even more so was our visit to Gerhard's in Roanoke. We went there not long after it opened, thought it quite good, and wrote about it here. We haven't been back since, but not because we didn't like the restaurant, rather we just haven't taken the time to do so. Just by reading the comments on Urbanspoon, it appears the restaurant is hotly debated amongst those that seem to passionately hate it - and those who love it. Much of the "discussion" revolves around service issues, which quite frankly the RJG feels gets too much attention in today's world. Believe me, service in Europe is far less attentive (note I didn't say worse). We're just a very restless society I'm afraid. We've had a couple of outrageous examples of poor service that we've reported on here as well. But it really has to be bad for us to mention anything. Anyway, we're looking forward to a revisit to Gerhard's sometime in early 2012.

All that said, I feel rather confident in saying that Everything German should not hold much controversy at all. Hands down, this is the best German place we've been to in DFW, and compares well with the RJG's all-time (in the USA, that is) favorite German restaurant: House of Gerhard in Kenosha, Wisconsin (I hope to one day feature some of the RJG's favorite restaurants in the US based on extensive travels / work sites). Now I should caution we've only been once to date, but this is going to be a regular stop for the RJG. If anything changes, we'll report back quickly. We want to do everything we can to keep this place in business. I feel we need good German restaurants in the area, and they are so seldom around. And almost never this good either. It's a food concept still waiting its audience.

Everything German is housed incongruously in an old Taco Bell (and almost next door to the Al Wadi cafe we spoke about recently), which the RJG once knew as an Uncle Joe's Italian place a few years back. Everything German has further renovated it by removing the fast food window (where Uncle Joe's displayed their pizzas), and applied the familiar dark Bavarian timbers. So there's less light and it's very cozy actually. On our visit they were playing soft Christmas music - sung in German.

For our one lunch visit we each opted for the Weinerschnitzel, which comes with pan fried potatoes and a dinner roll. Yes, yes, yes! This is how it's done, just as we know from our various trips to Germany. No sweet sauces or crazy gravy (they have those too, but accurately applied to other dishes). A heavily pounded lean pork loin cutlet, breaded perfectly and came out crispy. And it covered most of the large plate. It had that perfect blend of subtle flavors (and we prefer to put a pile of black pepper on it which is perfect for the dish). The potatoes were cut finely, sauteed in butter and parsley and were delicious. I doubt the roll was homemade, but who cares as long as it was baked correctly. We washed it down on this visit with a Coke Zero. But here's even better news: It's BYOB. We're going to head over here for dinner on a frequent basis, and bring a bottle of Riesling or perhaps a few Warsteiners or Paulaners. Oh, and the lunch price was a complete bargain at $7.99 each (+ the drink). We can't wait to try many of the other dishes here.

Obviously we were very impressed with our first visit. It's a small family owned place. Give them a chance if you enjoy German food like we do!

Note that they are CLOSED on Monday and Tuesday, so file that away.


Everything German on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 9, 2011

Princi Italia ~ Dallas, Texas

While browsing the main DFW page on Urbanspoon, a little blurb caught my eye from the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram: "Homemade Italian sausage". The RJG is always on the lookout for good, high quality, homemade Italian sausage, whether from a restaurant or a local grocer. Unfortunately for us folks on the Ft. Worth side of the house, almost all of the great Italian sausage to be found is in Dallas. And even though it was the Startlegram that brought it to my attention, sure enough the restaurant is in Dallas. Preston Royal to be exact.

I spent a lot of my youth in the Preston Royal area. Not that I grew up here (I wish!), but many times my folks and I would "head east" for a weekend dinner out. While still in high school in the early 1980s, there was a great Italian restaurant called Rodolfo's Colosseo that we frequented often (anyone remember it?). He later dropped the Colosseo moniker, and I can recall my last meal being after college sometime in 1988. I suspect he closed shortly thereafter (there's a sushi place there now). In any case, I had some business to attend to in Dallas and figured the Mrs. and I could try Princi Italia. This would be my first meal to enjoy in the area for some 23 years.

So let's talk about Princi Italia shall we? Nice decor. Very nice decor. Too nice decor. Once in, we saw a large table of middle aged, nicely dressed and well-to-do ladies. Clearly a place for ladies who lunch - and have a spare coin or two. We were stuck in the corner so as to not intrude (not really. Well maybe...). Time to order. I went for the Penne Arrabbiata which they describe as a "spicy tomato sauce, garlic parmesan, basil & chilies." And given the premise for our visit, I asked for a side of sausage. I was informed that it was crumbled, rather than in a tube, which was disappointing to hear, but yes, please mix it in. Mrs. RJG settled on the Tagliatelle Bolognese described as thus: "Classic bolognese sauce, reggiano parmesan, basil". Mine arrived first, due to a mixup in the kitchen (no problem) and my wife immediately blurted out "that's a child's portion!" 'Tis true I'm afraid. The RJG agrees with many that most restaurants serve too much food (though we just take home what we can't eat ourselves). And because we workout everyday, we tend to eat like truckers. But I still prefer a normal portion. This was dinky. How about the food? I thought it was quite good, though terms like spicy and chilies are ridiculous to even consider. Their spicy won't fire up even the most tame of taste buds. But it was a very good light red sauce with basil and the added ground pork sausage was much needed to fill me up a tad anyway. The sausage was indeed very good, but it's sort of cheating. Personally I wouldn't call this homemade Italian sausage. For a great example of what I mean, head over to Pietro's on Lower Greenville (search the RJG, and you can read my love letter there). When Mrs. RJG's food arrives, it was greeted with a frown. She was already bumming about the portion, but when the bolognese came out in a brown gravy sauce, that pretty much soured her for good. There's nothing traditional at all about it. We've spent many weeks in Italy over the last 20+ years, and we never saw anything like this. She just flat out didn't like it. I thought it was good myself. It wasn't a bolognese, but I did like the interpretation. Nice blend of flavors. As well, the pasta was slightly undercooked in places. Tagliatelle is a thin flat noodle (like fettucine but not wavy), and it can clump easily if not stirred properly.

So how to rate Princi then? At the time of this writing Princi has a whopping 4 votes on Urbanspoon and a poor 25% approval rating. One is positive. The other 3 are not. And we're in that latter camp I'm afraid. The problem here, at least for me, is quite simply value. I rarely consider that when rating or evaluating a place, because I have a very large +/- error ratio on that front. But this was a pretty outrageous example. Mine was $10+$3 and hers was $12. For a VERY small portion of food. Ridiculously so. It wasn't an appetizer. The tossed salad was an additional $6, which was about $3 too much (I didn't mention the salad, but we did both enjoy it, and it featured a nice light red wine vinagraitte). I also had a Birra Moretti. That plus tax and tip: $44. And we were still starving when we left.

So it's with mixed emotions, we give Princi a thumbs down. I really wanted to like it. But honestly it looks like another mercurial chef-driven place that will be out of business within the next year. I'm sorry to say :-(


Princi Italia  on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Babe's Chicken Dinner House ~ Roanoke, Texas

This is only my second visit to Babe's, the first being about 7 years ago with a former co-worker from my days at Lockheed-Martin in Denver in the late 1990s. Mrs. RJG had been curious about what the fuss was, so we took this day to head over for lunch and get us some fried southern food.

Babe's is a now legendary place in the DFW area and it's not an uncommon sight to see large lines on weekend nights. Babe's first opened its doors in 1993 in old town Roanoke, long before anyone else was there. Due to its increasing popularity, Roanoke is now the town that never was, and is a re-creation of a classic old Texas settlement as one might find at the turn of the last century. Lots of independent restaurants and local chain legends line the streets. It's quite an awesome sight to be honest. I think few would argue against the notion that Babe's popularity was the impetus behind the entire development.

Like many truly legendary places, Babe's offers an extremely limited menu. That is to say, "Wat' you want? Chicken Fried Steak or Fried Chicken?" That's it, though some of the other locations have a slightly extended menu. As we talked about with the "& more" moniker in a prior post, and our general dislike for the term, the RJG loves it when a place focuses solely on what they do best. If you don't want fried chicken, then don't come to Babe's - that's basically the message. Fair enough.

So what do two people typically do when they go to Babe's. One orders chicken fried steak, the other fried chicken - and proceed to split it. It's $12 a person, and along with your main meal it comes with a variety of sides. For openers there is the tossed salad, which is nothing more than crisp iceberg lettuce and a sweet vinagrette dressing (oh and a cucumber and tomato...). Just the way the RJG likes it. Simple but good. Then comes some buttermilk biscuits, which are awesome really, but fortunately they start you off with one each so you don't stuff yourself on bread. Then out comes the half chicken (leg, thigh, breast and wing) and the slab, and I do mean slab, of chicken fried steak. This is not the best fried chicken the RJG has ever had my any stretch, but it is indeed very good - juicy with a nice flavorful crust. I'll be perfectly honest and state that chicken fried steak isn't our favorite meal - but this is a very good rendition of the classic dish. The cream gravy is served on the side, and we sampled a few pieces in it. Good peppery flavor, though not something I'd want to dump on the steak itself. As for sides, you get "Grandma's corn" which is cream corn and whipped mashed potatoes. The potatoes are top tier, so smooth and tasty. I prefer whole corn to cream, but it was good all the same. You can wash all that with a Royal Crown Cola (not something you see everyday).

Babe's is in an old historical brick warehouse with table and chairs that are a mishmash of styles.

A great place to take out of town guests if they're looking for some southern food with a Texas twist.

As of this writing, the original Roanoke location is the #6 highest rated restaurant in all of DFW according to Urbanspoon.


Babe's Chicken Dinner House (Roanoke) on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 5, 2011

San Diego Tacos Shop ~ Richland Hills, Texas

San Diego Tacos Shop proclaims to be the "best Cal-Mex fast food in DFW". I'm not quite sure who the competition is, but based on our one visit, I'm willing to give them the title (for now)!

Set in a day-glo mustard colored old fast food taco joint*, San Diego Tacos provides a wide array of every day Mexican fast food, as one would find in southern California. So what's the difference between Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex? Their website provides one chef's view, to which he articulates the various nuances of the two regional food cuisines. The website also describes their menu in detail - and in English. You may want to familiarize yourself with some of it before heading out, because the restaurant itself does not. However, pictures of the food line the wall for gringos like me.

Mrs. RJG, native of Sonora and a two year resident of Los Angeles, went straight for the Sopes which San Diego Tacos describes as "a traditional Mexican dish which at first sight looks like an unusually thick tortilla with vegetables and meat toppings. The base is made from a circle of fried cornmeal soaked in lime then deep fried. It is then topped with any of the below ingredients. The pinched sides of the sope are its most distinctive characteristic. " What's interesting to me, is the sope is exactly what their family refers to as a gordita. I've been eating "gorditas" almost since the day we started dating 16 years ago. Basically they look like fried ashtrays, with a refrito "soil" base, meat (chicken or grilled beef), lettuce, tomatoes and a Mexican white cheese. Here, that's called a sope. Not sure if it's just a "lost in translation" situation or rather different regions of Mexico interchange the terms - it's anyone's guess.

Whatever they're called, she thought they did a great job with them. The beans in particular she called out as being outstanding. And they used a Mexican cream as well. However, she said those two items dominated the flavors too much to truly appreciate the flavor of the meat.

I went for a carne asada taco, an adobada taco and an order of 3 rolled tacos & cheese. I asked for the hottest salsa they have, and out came the generic red ketchup squeeze bottle right from the fridge. I'm not sure what it is, but I love when salsa come out like this. I can just pour as much as possible onto my unsuspecting tacos. And as Mr. Music says when evaluating taqueria tacos, it's all about the seasoning of the meat and the flavor of the hot sauce. The asada was pretty standard, but I could taste the grilled meat. Good. The 3 rolled tacos are really flautitas by any other name. They came out super crispy, with a fine tasting beef inserted into each. And loaded on top with shredded yellow cheese. And at $1.65 for an order of 3, it's a super bargain. These were excellent. But the best of all was the adobada taco. You don't see adobada much in Texas (or even Colorado), but they're a staple in New Mexico, and it's something I seek out when there. Their menu describes it as "Pork marinated in adobo (chile) seasoning then roasted on a spit." Oh my goodness, it was outstanding! And the red salsa had a really nice kick (not too hot), but with great flavor. And when combined with the abobada seasoning, the flavors went crazy in my mouth. I loved it so much, I had to order another one. This is the kind of food I get cravings for.

I'm all in.

* - I'm almost positive this was originally a Taco Plaza. Do you all remember them? We had one in NW Dallas (on Forest) when I was a kid in the 1970s. My Mom didn't care for them much, so we only went for a couple of times (my Old Man wouldn't go near places like that in the 1970s - "place smells like a fart" he'd grump between puffs on his cigar...). Taco Plaza was bought out by ConAgra in 1977 and later bought out by Taco Bell in the early 80s. Most were converted (as I'm sure this one was).

Rating: 3.5 



San Diego Tacos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Red Dog Right ~ Southlake, Texas

Like many folks who live in NE Tarrant, if I have to go to the airport or to the other side, then I must get on Hwy 114 East. Many times I'll do that via Southlake Blvd, and when you do, you'll see on your right a Kirby's Steakhouse, and then Red Lobster and then... whoa... hold up there. What happened to the Red Slobster? It's gone baby. In its place - Red Dog Right. The RJG doesn't shed a tear when the publicly traded company gets replaced with a more local option. In this case, it's still a (local) chain, but I'm guessing Red Dog Right still isn't ringing a bell. And it won't either, as this is a new entry from the folks at Front Burner Restaurants, founded by a Rockfish Seafood guy (guess he knew Kenny too right?).

Front Burner is behind Ojos Locos, Whiskey Cake, The Ranch at Las Colinas... and their most famous brand is Twin Peaks. The name is a wink-wink deal, and what was originally supposed to go into the Red Slobster spot. But hold on there young feller, the good kindly folks of Southlake ain't havin' none of 'dem near nekkid girls here. Oh for crying out loud, really? You have to love uptight people. Anyone who's spent more than a day with gorgeous women will realize that it's less about exploitation and more about the celebration of beauty, confidence and fitness for the ladies. Look, there's a huge difference between a stripper club and a sports bar with scantily clad women. I understand that heavy levels of testosterone, topless estrogen, lots of alcohol and 3 in the morning is a lethal combination. We don't want that either. Contrast that with 8 at night, the Cowboys game and servers that look like the models from Hee-Haw. So what does a enterprising company do - fight it? Naw, too much effort and why bother. How about a new logo? So Red Dog Right was born. Apparently the restaurant is named after the technical name of a football play. Sounds good to me.

The food is upscale bar food. Like our favorite brewpubs in Colorado (where are they in Texas? Oh don't get me started - I know why...), the food is actually quite good and better than you might imagine. Chef's and cooks all over the country are migrating to taverns such as these to create high quality variations of sandwiches, salads, pizzas and burgers. Rather than chips and salsa, the free opener is a box of buttery popcorn. That's a good idea I think! I went with the basic cheeseburger, which was excellent and stands up well against the specialty burger houses in the area. Mrs. RJG went with an individual Hawaiian pizza (always a risky proposition with the wife). But they nailed it - with the right amount of crispness on the crust, tasty sauce, gooey cheese and excellent ingredients.

Red Dog Right also maintains a robust Texas microbrew selection including the Franconia Lager that I just mentioned on the Love & War blurb. First time I've seen it over here. Good frozen margaritas too.

Oh, I should mention that they provide an assortment of board/parlor games to play, including a fully stocked old-school video game area.

I like this place. Though both Mr. and Mrs RJG wish they stocked it with the babes as originally planned. C'est la vie.


Red Dog Right on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 3, 2011

*** CLOSED *** Cantina Laredo ~ Dallas, Texas

Chain is still open. We'll revisit.

Earlier in the week, we once again had a new project kicking off in Plano, so we had employees all over the country fly in for the start. Sounds like a team event to me! As noted last month, we recently went to Pappasito's, and this time we selected a very similar place with Cantina Laredo. Old time DFW citizens know Cantina Laredo well, as it was one of the first "upscale Tex-Mex" places in the area. I can remember going to the one in Addison as far back as the 1980s.

I've always found Cantina Laredo to be reliably good. On this visit I tried the Tacos Cascabel which they describe as "Sautéed chicken with cascabel sauce on soft corn tortillas with cilantro, marinated onions and queso fresco." I wasn't sure what a cascabel sauce was, but once I heard the words "chipotle" I was in. Whatever they're called, I thought the seasoning and the chicken were great. As for the opening, the chips were restaurant-chain styled light and crispy and comes with two sauces, one heated and one room temperature. They're both chipotle/garlic laced, but I preferred the caliente one. Unfortunately nothing spicy for the RJG. Thumbs up for the frozen margaritas too. I had 4 of them, so yea, I guess I did like them!

A little research shows that Cantina Laredo is part of the Dallas based Consolidated Restaurant Operations chain, the same outfit behind Cool River, Good Eats, Lucky's Cafe, III Forks, Silver Fox... and... and... and... El Chico (euwww, icks!) You don't need a Mensa test to know which restaurant doesn't fit in that group. Oh well. For Cantina Laredo, you will find their restaurants in multiple states as well as foreign locations in the UK and UAE.

This was my first visit to the Dallas Parkway location (near Briargrove). As befits the area, this location was a bit more formal than others around town. It does feature a nice bar / television area to relax in.