Monday, December 31, 2012

Cavalli Pizza ~ Irving, Texas

The RJG has been on an artisan pizza craze of late. We've written about some of them like the declining Campania, the always excellent Coal Vines, and the super INZO. We have a couple of others to talk about, but since we're on the RJG Restaurant week, here was our next lunch, with Mrs. RJG back in the fold after a day of deliberatin'.

Cavalli's is proud to claim that they are the first pizza place in DFW to be certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana association. Campania also once held that designation, but have since fallen off this most sacred of pizza organizations. The RJG suspects they didn't want to pay the annual fees rather than being removed due to close inspection and a failed audit. All the same, Cavalli feels it's important to be certified by the VPN, and so we'll leave it at that. For what it's worth, the only other DFW pizzeria to obtain this certification is Il Cane Rosso in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas. We haven't been, but Mr. Music has recently tried it and reported back that it is indeed a must try place. So we for certain will embark on that journey at some point.

Certifications might give one bragging rights, but all we really care about is the flavor and texture of the pizza. To save you time of further reading, the answer is a profound YES. There is no harsher critic of pizza than Mrs. RJG, but she's already asking for the next return visit. The key to artisan pizza is the flavor and texture of the crust. And here Cavalli scores quite well. Now all isn't perfect, and I think the consistency of their crust doesn't quite penetrate the middle of the pie near as well as the outer portions. Mr. Music in fact had said on his one visit there was a puddle of grease in the middle. Obviously had we faced a similar fate, we wouldn't be recommending it. So it does appear great improvements have been made. But they have a little bit further to go. As for the ingredients, I tend to sample pizza with the most simple toppings as possible to ensure I'm evaluating it on a level playing field. So I tend to go with a Margherita (aka cheese pizza) with Italian sausage added. The sausage was very good, if not very distinctive. Mrs. RJG went with the Vegetarian, signaling to me that our future is inching closer to the crops than the ranch (sigh). On that same theme, I definitely recommend the side salad as well, with its excellent homemade vinagrette dressing.

Cavalli is located in NW Irving near Las Colinas, just south of 635 near Belt Line.

As it turns out, I was able to revisit the following week, as I met an old high school chum who now lives in Murphy. Seems like a good half-way point to me! We both tried the Texas Heat, where the heat part comes from jalapenos and Sopressata, which is a  type of spicy salami. I thought the texture wasn't quite as crisp as our first visit, though I suspect that may have to due with the amount of ingredients. The more you pile on the top, I think the harder it is for them to gauge the crispness. They should account for this, but just a quick observation on two visits. I'm not deterred though, and this seems like the ideal meeting place for anyone I know who lives on the Dallas side of the house and would like to meet in the middle. And there are a few other pizzas I'd like to try from here. And word on the street says their panini's are fantastic as well. Besides Mrs. RJG wants to go again!

Oh, it's BYOB for those who like to bring their own jug of wine to the party.


Cavalli Pizza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rodeo Goat Ice House ~ Fort Worth-TX

Continuing on with the RJG Restaurant week, today's post concerns a one Rodeo Goat. Mrs. RJG had her monthly Grand Jury duty to serve, so I was on my own for lunch on this mid-week day. In an act of solidarity, I felt that maybe I too should also venture down towards central Ft. Worth for the afternoon. A perfect scenario to try Rodeo Goat, a place that offers two of my favorite intake items: Burgers and Brew!

Rodeo Goat is the newest venture from some of the fine folks at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium and the Meddlesome Moth. From that, you probably already guessed that craft beer is going to play a major role in the Rodeo Goat concept. And indeed it does, with a specific focus on the burgeoning DFW microbrewery scene. They offer at least one beer from the following up and coming breweries: Four Corners (Dallas), Revolver (Granbury), Lakewood (Garland), Deep Ellum (Dallas) and Peticolas (Dallas), along with already established Texas brews from Rahr (local Ft. Worth), Real Ale, St. Arnold, Live Oak, and of course Spoetzl/Shiner. I suppose the only bummer is that they are, for now anyway, only going to offer two seasonals: One from Real and one from Rahr. I really do hope they consider more rotation than that. But otherwise, it's a very fine selection of beers on draft. They also carry an impressive array of craft beers in bottles and cans from around the US. Though nothing one can't find at a well stocked beer store.

While I'm giving top bill to the beers, the majority of the food community is buzzing about their burgers. And well they should. Rodeo Goat is the latest burger place to infuse the ingredients, rather than lay them on top after the patty is cooked. Infusion is a fancy term for mixing the ingredients into the burger before you cook it. It's a winning idea that adds new life to the hamburger market (we spoke of a similar concept with Yourway Burgers about a year ago). Well you already know that the RJG had to start with the Hot Bastard, a burger infused with chiles and spicy cheeses. And it truly was a corker on the Scoville scale. Definitely the best "hot" burger I can recall having. As such, I cannot wait to try some of their other highly interesting looking burgers such as the Terlingua, Salted Sow, and the one that has everyone talking: Caca Oaxaca (what a name!). And they cater to vegetarians as well, with at least one soy burger option. And there are salads too (one is vegetarian) and they appear to be much more than token items.

Another fine tradition that Rodeo Goat brought along is the idea of pretty waitresses and bartenders to serve the food. That's one concept I doubt I'll ever tire of!

I will be back as soon as possible, probably with Mrs. RJG along for the ride. Or maybe even Mr. Music if we can get the time. Both will really enjoy this place.
If you're anywhere near the Cultural District, and start building up a huge appetite after viewing all those classic oil paintings at the Kimbell, then by all means drop by for an infused burger and a pint or two of Texas craft beer!


Rodeo Goat on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 28, 2012

Don Mario's ~ Arlington, Texas

December 2013 update: Don Mario's has moved to another location in Arlington. They are now at Randol Mill and Fielding near a Thai restaurant we used to frequent called Sukhothai. We didn't get a chance to go there this year, but maybe in 2014 we'll wander over for a revisit. You can follow their move via their Facebook page.

Back to the mythical RJG Restaurant week. I'm sure I'll be done reporting on it by, I dunno, 2014 or so? Maybe.

One of the official RJG grandmothers, a colorful lady who lived a full life (87 years young) and was once a Vaudeville star, was born (1902) and raised in Palestine and got hitched in Arlington in 1918 to a 35 year old dapper from Rhode Island, also a Vaudevillian star (times were 'a different then) - who I would have called grandpa... if I ever met him that is. So I guess in a way, I was destined to go to an Arlington based restaurant with a past in Palestine. Who knew?

But the real magnet for the RJG was the mere mention in a Bud Kennedy column of Don Mario's possessing a generations old recipe for New Mexico green chile! Now that's the kind of food item that is worth driving across town for. So we got the old Beverly Hillbillies jalopy loaded up, and with Mrs. RJG and her Ma' (aka Chula) in tow, we journeyed down south for some good Mexican grub.

According to what I've read, this location has just about guaranteed an immediate departure for all who think commerce will thrive here. Don Mario's didn't do much to enhance the place, sort of leaving its 1980s steakhouse appearance alone. I think it's a wise move. The decor is sort of "interesting" in that way old restaurants can be. It looks like the hybrid of 10 different places. But they have a full bar, and it's quite well stocked. In fact, the RJG was very impressed with their craft brew selection - certainly way above par for a Mexican restaurant. While on this topic, I decided to try their frozen margarita instead. Mistake. I didn't care for the mixture, and it certainly lacked potency. But that's about the only thing that went wrong on this visit. So on the next visit I will obviously imbibe in a beer. Or two.

Onto the food we go... the chips were somewhat typical restaurant tortilla chips, not really good enough to be without a salsa. They provide a standard tomato, cilantro and onion based red sauce that has a good flavor but no kick. But... ah yes, they do have a spicy one if you ask. Out comes a pretty mean looking green sauce, made from fresh chiles. It's definitely got some fire in it. And now suddenly even the red tastes splendid.

For entrees, Chula got chicken fajitas - which I'm fairly certain is the first time anyone in the RJG household has ordered such an item since my dear Dad departed this mortal coil some 10 years ago (Dad, as in son of Grandma above). Fajitas were all he would ever order at a Mexican restaurant. And beef at that, since he really liked the concept of a steak far more than Mexican food. Which lead to one of my Dad's favorite, and predictably corny, Vaudeville styled jokes (hey I sense a theme here): "There's only TWO dishes I like at a Mexican restaurant. Fajitas and.... (wait for it) my daughter-in-law! RA-ra-ra-ra-RA-ra-ra. Perhaps he was looking on from above as we dined at Don Mario's this fine day. So Chula's order was oddly timed indeed.

I cannot remember what Mrs. RJG ordered, but rest assured it had plenty of vegetables in it - with chicken. All I know is she loved it. For me, well it should be obvious by now that I was zoning in on any dish with green chile. So I ordered the grilled chicken enchiladas smothered in green. I have to say the grilled enchilada part was the real highlight. Slathered in melted white cheese (it may have been mozzarella rather than a Mexican cheese. Mrs. RJG couldn't tell, and she's native to the land!). The grilled chicken by itself was delicious, and the sizzling platter only aided and abetted the situation. The green chile itself was very flavorful, but I prefer more spice. Now it could be a situation of the season, and we all know that chiles can be spicy or mild depending. But I was hoping for a more Santa Fe experience regarding the heat level. No matter, as I will be back as many times as possible, and will find out for myself. Certainly if I'm back in this neck of the woods, I'll be dining at Don Mario's.

If you're looking for something a little different from your Mexican food, definitely consider a drive to Don Mario's. It's a far cry from your typical Tex-Mex joint.


Don Mario's Mexican Cuisine  on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Il Calabrese (fka Patrizio Osteria) ~ Southlake, Texas

December 2014 update: Il Calabrese is no longer part of Patrizio's in Dallas.

OK, where were we? I thought I was going to have a slow week at work, but I should have known better. Now I think it's going to slow down. So let's get back to that RJG Restaurant Week, shall we?

In my European backpacking days 20+ years ago, I quickly learned that Osteria is Italian for "beyond my budget". I find it interesting to read that the term obviously has evolved, since technically it should be just the opposite: A small place with locally grown ingredients carefully cooked to order. And apparently Highland Park based Patrizio agrees with my personal assessment. In fact, this place could be called Patrizio's Ostentation.

For anyone who commutes up and down 114 in these parts of NE Tarrant, you no doubt saw the palatial villa going up near the Southlake Town Square. There was a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding its opening, and the restaurant frequently suffers from long waiting times. This makes for a lot of hungry, and potentially grumpy, diners-in-waiting, which may explain some of the bad mouthing the place has already had bestowed upon it. But the RJG is smart (on rare occasion that is). We don't go at 7:00 on a Friday night without a reservation. We go at 11:00 in the morning on a Monday. When we arrived, we had the place to ourselves. When we left over an hour later, a line was beginning to develop. Ah, the sweet joys of planning.

Of course, the other aspect of the critique comes naturally to a place that charges a lot of money, and sits in such glorious surroundings. It's easy pickins'. And the RJG concurs with this philosophy as well. I want a restaurant to put their money into the food, not the ambiance. I'll go to a fancy hotel lobby for that, and pretend I'm staying there. And drink their free coffee. While it's tempting to diss places like Patrizio, one must ignore all the window dressing and focus on the main reason we're all here (or the main reason we all should be here): The food. And it is on this latter point, Patrizio delivers a high quality product.

We've spoken at length about the dearth of original Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant. Which is not the same thing as saying a lack of Italian restaurants. It's just that they're all about the same. They have roots in the Balkan countries, and they use a similar cookbook. I wouldn't call these places a chain per se, because they have a great amount of latitude - especially around their nightly specials. And this is not a complaint - they do a fine job at traditional Italian cooking. But it gets boring when one is looking for perhaps some original recipes, especially around the basics. There are exceptions of course, places that we've blogged about already, like Oliva and Italianni's. And then there's the chains like Macaroni Grill and Brio. Now we've never spoken about the Ohio based Brio before, but we have been a couple of times (once in Southlake, once in Denver), and I have to admit they are quite good at what they do. Patrizio Osteria is a local response to Brio - and perhaps not surprisingly the location of our local Brio sits in the Southlake Town Square - literally a hop, skip and a jump away from our featured restaurant today.

One of the RJG's rules about fancy restaurants is that if you can't cook the basics, why should I trust you with something more intricate? If a restaurant can't make a decent red sauce, or a good salad dressing, or bolognese - then I'm not going to bother to dig further. We started with an Italian sausage appetizer, since they stated they make their own (good sign). And sure enough, an absolutely delicious sausage was delivered, with the right texture and bold flavor that we prefer (though not overly spicy, but that's to be expected). The salads were excellent, with crisp field greens and an excellent vinaigrette. Mrs. RJG settled on the Conchiglie con Spinachi which is shell pasta with bacon and spinach in a creamy cheese like sauce. She loved it. I had to go with test dish #1: Chicken Parm. With a side of angel hair. Now angel hair is tricky - and in the hands of mere amateurs will almost always come out mushy. Nope, it was al dente. Bravo! The red sauce is very much a tomatoey taste. I think I would have preferred something a bit more hearty but it was still great. The chicken parm was crispy with high quality white meat chicken breast (oh how I tire of those super thin chicken parms with a mushy bread coating). So they scored big on the basics!

Their beer selection was a bit disappointing, though I admit to preferring red wine with Italian food. Didn't matter too much, because on this visit we stuck with water (a rare sober moment I guess...)

I'm all in now, and cannot wait to try some other dishes. Of course, we'll need to plan that visit right?


Patrizio Osteria  on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The RJG is back (again)

Hi everyone! Hope some of you are still out there?

I have a whole new batch of restaurants to report from Tarrant County. A couple of them are (gasp) actually new places that are all-the-rage. So let's blow the dust off this thing and get rolling. I plan to get started tomorrow.

To celebrate the new start, I redesigned the blog. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Northeast Tarrant Beer post!

Hi everyone... I need to get something going here. You know how it goes - you put it off, and then the pile becomes too big to deal with... and then you just blow it off ("Why bother?" "Nobody reads it anyway..."). At least I wanted to get some quick thoughts of restaurants in our area. I think most of these updates will be for our friendly neighborhood Northeast Tarrant County. So I'll start with this beer guzzling edition, then some restaurant updates, and then I'll have a separate post on openings and closings.

As mentioned in our previous post, we did in fact go to Oregon and Washington for 3 weeks in mid-July through early August. We picked a great time, as it seemed that was the hottest weather DFW received this summer. I worked remotely for two out of those 3 weeks, with the middle one used as vacation. The first week we rented a cottage in Bend, Oregon. What a beautiful region. And we managed to try all 10 of their microbrews / brewpubs (we even got the free silicon mug that the city Tourist Board gives out if you go to all of them!). I mean how crazy is that? A town of 80,000 has 10 breweries! Now they have 11 if you can believe it and more on the way. They have more than all of DFW combined, and we're the 4th largest MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) in all of the United States. But that's a changin' folks. Thanks to hard working breweries and independent (beer connoisseur) lawyers, they've finally started repealing old Prohibition Laws that are amazingly still on the books. The beer revolution is here and growing like a weed. It is no coincidence that I will refer to beer often in these updates. According to my personal database, updated to last night, I have now tried 1,172 different beers from 401 breweries all around the world (and I didn't start keeping track until halfway through 2006). And Texas is right in the middle of it: I've tried 104 Texan beers from 24 different breweries. This trip to the Northwest skyrocketed my Oregon totals, which currently sit at 105 beers from 33 breweries. Obviously Texas continues to gain ground and will ultimately pass it. It will be years before we catch up with Colorado, especially given the last 3 full summers we spent there. And California has an incredible brew culture that I've taken full advantage of.

The second week we toured along the Oregon coast, and into Washington. We based in Seattle for 3 days, but explored most of the National forests and parks within the state. Needless to say, our Washington beer total went through the roof as well. All of the Left Coast is a beer drinker's fantasy (there's even a California brewery named Left Coast that is quite excellent). And then for the final week we settled in Portland, where we rented a basement apartment that I worked from.

In Portland they have a place called Bailey's Taproom. It's a true beer bar. They don't have static stock, and you can't buy a Bud Light, or Coors, or Shiner, or Fat Tire or even Full Sail Session (you see what I did there?). Or probably anything you've ever heard of. They had beers from Bend that I couldn't find while there just two weeks prior! They have 20 rotating beers, all shown on a large computer screen. The screen shows the tap # (no point having the brand tap, since it will change quickly), the beer name, brewery, type of beer, where it's from and the ABV (alcohol level). Some beers barely last a day, none last longer than a week I suspect. We went twice during the work-week and the place was always packed. What a great place to sample rare taps - beers that aren't even bottled or canned. It's either go to the actual breweries (which is very time consuming and expensive), or just go to this one downtown bar. I so wish we had a place like that here. Certainly Flying Saucer is close in terms of quality (they don't carry that many obscure beers, but certainly enough, and besides they have good food!). And the other issue is that downtown Ft. Worth is the closest one with Addison a close second for us anyway. You do realize that no public transportation, long driving distances and lengthy beer sessions don't go together very well right?

Ah, but you say, "RJG! What about the new Ginger Man in Southlake??" Ugh... Oh don't get me started now. Oh..oh... don't. Well, darnit you did. I'm so hopping (no pun intended) mad at them right now, I can't see straight. I cannot tell you how excited I was to hear we were getting our first authentic beer place in NE Tarrant. If you go to the Ginger Man in Austin, for example, you will have the opportunity to try many cool local beers. But on my first visit to the one here in Southlake, I was furious - not to mention the condescending bartender who had no clue what she was talking about. Thank goodness for a cute barkeep named Danielle, who saved the day and at least made the visit tolerable for my wife and I. It wasn't her fault that the owner decided that Sam Adams Okterberfest was some sort of obscure beer. Therefore I wrote this scathing review on Urbanspoon. A review, I might add, that I don't want to keep. I want them to prove me wrong. I want them to hear me, so I will be a regular visitor. But if things don't change - then there's no way I can promote them. Here's the review:

"The Ginger Man, at least the Southlake location, couldn't possibly have a more lame selection. Everything they have you can get at the local World Market or Grapevine Beer & Wine just down the road. 96 taps doesn't matter anymore - it's still easy-to-get beers. A beer bar cannot have a STATIC beer list. It must be dynamic with local taps. 2 total beers from (512) Brewery - that's your total Austin selection. Nothing from any of the new breweries in DFW. Just a couple of token Rahr beers that Kroger has on their shelves.Worse is their website does not represent what they have in stock. Nearly 50% of the beers listed here: are not at the location!The Mellow Mushroom pizza joint just down the road has more unusual beers - and I'm dead serious here.To the owners of Ginger Man: You want to be a real beer bar? Offer me brews I can't get elsewhere. Otherwise, just another bar with a large selection of international and national macro brews. Flying Saucer blows this place away. But unfortunately NE Tarrant doesn't have one. So I implore the owners of Ginger Man: Please offer weekly new beers!! Not Sam Adams Octoberfest (Tom Thumb has that!), but rather something new from Deep Ellum, Peticolas, Revolver, Lakewood (uh - these would be local breweries - you probably don't know them) and any number of the exciting new breweries in our area - or from Austin, San Antonio or Houston. Let's GET SERIOUS about beer here please! Thank you."

So there you have it. I checked their website yesterday, and they still claimed to have all of these really cool beers from Austin, which I'm sure they don't have. To date, there are 4 votes. 3 positive and one negative (mine). But 3 folks have rated my review as "helpful". I promise to change it if Ginger Man changes their approach.  But if they just want to be "we have Spaten on tap" - then whoopdee-doo. I'll go to a German restaurant for that. I'll be meeting one of my business partners there in 2 weeks - so let's see if we notice progress.

Speaking of lots of great beer on tap: When was the last time you went to Tolbert's? I think we hadn't been since March. Now they've gotten serious about beer! They've added 32 micros on tap - including 16 Texas ones! None are real obscure, but it's just cool they have a good selection of beers on tap from Real Ale, Saint Arnold, Franconia, Rahr and Spoetzl. And their selection of out-of-state micros is also well researched. In fact they give full descriptions of everything they serve. Apparently they made this change roughly two months ago according to our waiter. Who knew?

So, RJG, what stores in NE Tarrant can I buy all this great beer anyway? My suggestion is to start at the World Market in Grapevine (the one in Watauga is a lost cause). Why there? Because they allow you to buy singles (one 12 ounce bottle), so you don't have to commit to 6 packs. And they have an excellent selection - and some knowledgeable folks. Central Market in Southlake has greatly improved in this area, and they too offer this benefit. Market Street in Colleyville seems to have pulled back some, but they also have singles. Honestly, that's how I got started with this. It saves you money, and it lets you get an idea of what types of beer you really like. The differences between a Belgian Wit and an Imperial Porter is like broccoli and steak. It won't be long before you start going for the "bombers", generally the 22 ounce bottles or the wine size bottles. These are how most premium beers are stored, especially those from Belgium, but really most of the US microbreweries will do this too. It gets pricey, but I would advise to stay under $10 a bottle until you really know what you're doing. Believe me - some of the best beers in the world can be had for cheap. It's not like wine in that respect.

Once you exhaust their selection, and you're still into it, then you're ready to go "all-in". The largest selection in our area is definitely Hall's Grocery in Colleyville (121 & Glade). But I will tell you that it is one wacky store. They run a barbecue fast food joint out of there as well. Their prices are definitely the highest, and depending on when you go, some of the help staff there is rather... ummm... scruffy. And mean sometimes. But their selection is overwhelming. I'm still working my way through that store. They don't have singles, and that's their only real flaw.

My favorite store is definitely Grapevine Beer and Wine (114 & NW Hwy). They are owned by guys originally from India and they couldn't be nicer. And they really work hard to try to bring in new beers (they do their homework). Their prices are on the high side, but not as bad as Hall's. They're a small independent store, so I think they probably are offering rock bottom prices to still make a little profit. Their fatal flaw is the store is waaaay too small. You can't swing a cat in it. And because of that, they can't offer singles either.

I also want to give a shout-out to quite possible the best beer store in DFW. As usual, it's on the Dallas side of the Great Divide. But definitely give Lone Star Beverage a try, if in the vicinity of Carrollton (Josey and Frankford). Mr. Music turned me on to this place, and their selection is just fantastic. It's not huge, but it's very selective, with beers I haven't seen anywhere, especially from Texas. No singles here either, though.

Now the new kid on the block is Total Wine, who just opened their first store in Ft. Worth (Hulen area). They combine the great selection of Hall's and Grapevine with the ability to buy singles, all at a very low price. It's a superstore and as a friend calls them "Supermarkets of Alcohol". I've been to their Dallas store (near Northpark), and it was fantastic. But those are long journeys, and I won't be able to frequent either location much. Word on the street says Specs in Dallas (close to Total Wine and another superstore) is also awesome, but I haven't been yet.

Mr. Music advised that I clarify again what I mean by "singles". Places like World Market and Total Wine offer 12 ounce bottles to be sold separately, rather than insisting you buy the whole 6 pack. All of the above places offer Bombers (22 oz) or 750ML bottles. Just wanted to clear that up.

Most of the new liquor stores in Colleyville, Roanoke, and Westlake (the only local communities that allow you to buy high octane liquor) are surprisingly lame when it comes to beer. Fossil Creek and Centennial are hopeless, Bear Creek does an OK job, and Goody-Goody's treats beer as an afterthought (wine, OTOH, they excel at). Goody-Goody's has a large selection, but little focus is given to local to Texas beers and it's pretty obvious they only come from large distributors.

Man, this gave me a thirst. You guys 'bout ready for a beer (pronounced "bur")?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

DFW Roundup - Chains edition

And the final of our promised guides. This post revolves around national or regional chains that have either recently popped into the Metroplex or ones I've just not spoken of prior. As mentioned years ago, the RJG really appreciates regional chains, and becomes a bit less interested when they have a national presence. But even the larger corporations are doing a better job of "localizing" their franchises. As long as they stay out of the Public Markets, they generally can do anything they want, and that flexibility helps them tremendously.

So the big news in chain food is the arrival of...

.... not what you're thinking.....

Taco Villa. Benbrook (July) Review moved here

Freebirds World Burrito. Grapevine (July). The wife and I first tried Freebirds when they arrived to the DFW market with their store on Greenville Avenue in Dallas (2004 time frame). I was pretty impressed with their wide selection of tortillas, rice, beans, meats, and sauces. It was like Chipotle on steroids. But Upper Greenville is a long way from NE Tarrant, so we didn't venture back. Then they opened one up in Addison, near our office on the Tollway. But of course it was just as we were being bought out by another company, and I only managed to get their once. But I thought it was great still. And here comes store #3 for us - in far north Ft. Worth on the edge of Keller. Still a bit of a long drive and the place was absolutely packed to the ceiling. Of course, Freebirds was still quite a novelty then. I heard they opened a store up in Hurst by NE Mall, which was even a bit closer to us, but we never went. And now they have a new location in Grapevine on William D Tate nearby to many other chains (Red Robin, Boston's, Hooters, etc...) that is even a bit closer. And its this location that the RJG decided to have his July 4th lunch at. Meh. What happened? The chicken tasted boiled not grilled. The tortilla was overly sticky, the rice was mushy, the beans were bad. The salsas on the table had goo all over them. What the heck? Looks like Freebirds has outgrown their management. They have a great concept, but they clearly don't have the infrastructure to support it. Time to invest fellas! Or your good name is going to suffer. Of course, I'll go back and try it again. In a few months that is....

In-N-Out Burger. Hurst (June). Review moved here

Mellow Mushroom. Southlake (June). For all the vitriol that In-N-Out Burger receives, I seriously doubt Mellow Mushroom will suffer the same fate. Duuuude.... SHROOMS. Mellow Mushroom glorifies the late 60s and early 70s psychedelic culture, and it would be way uncool to attack it, right man? But fun decor and themes aside, it's about the taste of the food and the variety of drink that matters right? I first went to a Mellow Mushroom in their home base of Atlanta in 1996 while on business there. I figured it was one of those places I would only get to if I was in the area. But their immense popularity has allowed them a rapid growth. So I was shocked when I heard they opened near TCU. We never did get over there, and now they've made it very easy for us - they're here in NE Tarrant! Right on! They're in Southlake in the old Baker Brothers location. Remember how we predicted that Baker Brothers would close there? I could never understand how a sandwich place could survive in such a large building in a high priced real estate market like Southlake. Mellow Mushroom, however, is the perfect tenant for the space! They specialize in pizza of course, and they hand toss them. It's a really good tasting pizza with excellent crust and ingredients. Perhaps even better for the RJG is their robust beer selection. They may have more selections of draught and bottle than any restaurant or bar in NE Tarrant! At least until Ginger Man arrives in August (hurry, hurry!). If you haven't been to Mellow Mushroom, give them a try. This location is very comfortable and well managed.

The only other news I'd like to report on is Taco Mayo is creeping closer and closer to DFW! Bridgeport had been their closest locale, but that's still quite a hoof to get up there. Now they're in Justin, which is about 10 miles north and a little west. We haven't been yet, but for certain we will by our next update. Taco Mayo is a fantastic crunchy fast food taco chain from Oklahoma that is slowly penetrating our market.

OK, that about does it here for awhile. I may jot down some other thoughts on restaurants around the US. Especially Denver, as we just spent the last 3 summers there. Denver is a great eating town, especially if you like Mexican, Pizza and Italian.

Monday, July 9, 2012

DFW Roundup (Mar-Jul 2012)

As promised yesterday, here's our feature on the rest of DFW outside of NE Tarrant. I spent much more time on the other side of the Great Divide (DFW airport) than usual in recent months. At telecom-company-everyone-has-heard-of, we have an office in Richardson that required my presence for a couple of weeks. Mainly to conduct training sessions and onboard new employees. I also had a rare opportunity to spend two different Saturday's with none other than Mr. Music, who lives up in the Corinth area. Like yesterday, we'll start with the most recent and work backwards. These are all places we have never written about in The RJG prior. Most are new to me. Month listed is last time visited.

RG Burgers & Grill. Denton (June). Any place that has a condiment sauce that includes Ghost chiles (naga bhut jolokia), sign me up! Though, as Mr. Music says "they never put enough on it". We're talking about the Ka-Ching burger, and I couldn't imagine ordering anything else. RG's are big fat juicy flavorful hamburgers. Lots of flat screens with sports to keep you entertained while there. I don't get to Denton much, but when I do, this would have to be considered a must stop. It appears to be highly rated at Urbanspoon, so they earned their stripes. Excellent place.

Al Markaz. Carrollton
(June). As stated probably a few times before, the RJG used to be a resident of Carrollton (1991-1993) as did Mr. Music, so when we get together we have a tendency to wander down to the "old neighborhood".  Except that we eat at places that never existed back then! Al Markaz is a combination grocery market and restaurant. It's counter service, but food is served at your table. The menu is meat heavy, and the dishes tend to be more Pakistani than Indian, though there's plenty of vegetarian dishes as well. Mr. Music informs us that the owners are from Nepal, so there's probably some influence in the cooking there as well. Ever since getting sick on Indian food back in 2000, the RJG tends to shy away from places like this. But slowly - very slowly apparently - my taste buds are beginning to appreciate what I once enjoyed throughout the late 1990s. And Al Markaz was very good. Mr. Music is a pretty adventurous eater, so in addition to minced beef and curried chicken,we also had goat biryani.  All were very good, and makes me want to try the other dishes on hand.

Mariano's. Arlington
(June). Mariano's has become our go-to place before Texas Rangers games. It's location is perfect just east of the Ballpark. And on this occasion I went over with my old Dallas neighborhood childhood buddy The Prowler. There are better Mexican restaurants in DFW, but Mariano's is no slouch and hold their own quite well against stiff competition. Their specialties are more geared toward Mexican interior cooking rather than Tex-Mex. They have the latter, but mainly to satisfy those who only want tacos y enchiladas. So I stick to what they do best: Elaborately prepared chicken, shrimp, steak, etc... They have good chips and salsa, and they have a hotter one if you ask (though it's not terribly spicy - unfortunately). According to the "museum" at the front of the restaurant, Mariano's invented the frozen margarita machine. Hey, you gotta give props for that!

Banana Leaf. Far North Dallas (May). Review moved here.

Palermo's. Argyle (April). A beautiful country drive up US 377 and over FM 407 is where the RJG's Mom took the wife and I out for our anniversary. Palermo's is a very nice Italian place with food similar to most "neighborhood" Italian restaurants in the DFW area (likely owned by the Balkan community that dominates Italian food in this region). Nothing exceptional, but they do have solid interpretations of tried and true entrees. Great setting in a nice shopping center in rural southern Denton county, just east of Argyle technically in the town of Bartonville.

Birrieria Aguinaga. Dallas
(April). One of Mr. Music's favorite places to eat is this out of the way place in the Hispanic area off of NW Hwy near Bachman Lake - not too far from where I grew up. Goat stew is more or less what a Birrieria specializes in. They also feature other staples of a Mexican taqueria. This place is pretty hardcore, but a must for fanatics of authentic Mexican street cooking. Mr. Music is very much that fanatic, and rates this place near the top. I always laugh when I see this part of Dallas labeled as "Preston Hollow" in Urbanspoon. Yep, right next to ole George W and Laura Bush! This area is a hardcore barrio. Someone needs to create a Bachman Lake neighborhood. Maybe I'll do it if I can figure it out.... (and I did try, so we'll see how it comes out).

Campisi's. Richardson (April). Review moved here

Texas Restaurant (aka Son of Texas). Richardson (April). Since So Cal Gal was in town for training, it was a good opportunity for her to meet one of our vendors that she'll be working with, and who treated us to a night at Texas Restaurant. It's an upscale eatery with focus on drinks, steaks and other local cuisines. Like an upscale Love and War in Texas. We all had a good time and yukked it up with the owner, a stately older gentleman. We all played cards at the table, which is one of their gimmicks. It was a harmless evening, and I couldn't imagine others not enjoying this place as all 5 of us enjoyed it immensely.The reviews on Urbanspoon tell a different story. Holy Cow - this place has some serious enemies. You can read the vitriol here. I wouldn't hesitate to go back though if invited.

Del's Charcoal Burgers. Richardson
(March). As introduced in the Casa Milagro thread, the Salt Lake City man was here for some cross training with The Garland Troublemaker and myself. I didn't really comment on his take on Casa Milagro. I was probably too teary eyed to notice. But without a doubt his favorite place was Del's. He loves old school 1950's styled burger houses (they seem to be popular in SLC), and this place was perfect. Homemade burgers on a grill that probably has flavors burnt in for decades, along with good fries and root beer in a frosty mug. All in an authentic setting in downtown Richardson. Really fantastic and compares favorably with NE Tarrant's own Clown Burger in Haltom City. It's a cramped spot, and is very popular, so you may want to get there early (or late) during the lunch hour. We lucked out and got the last table... SLC man still talks about this place on conference calls. We'll need to get him back out here!

Corky's Wood Fired Pizza. Arlington
(March). Corky's was a legendary pizza place from Hartford, Connecticut who eventually relocated to Arlington. Why to this sad shopping center in SW Arlington, who the heck knows? With a backstory like that, it would seem they could open near The Ballpark or Jerry's World and do a land office business. Well anyway, being a lover of East Coast pizza in general, and knowing and having experience that there's a difference between New England and New York styles, I was quite anxious to trying Corky's. So the Mrs. and I headed over one Saturday afternoon for... decent pizza. That's about all I can say. I didn't see God, my mouth didn't burst with exciting flavors. My local pizza guy here in NE Tarrant does better. Does that make it bad? No, of course not. It's very good in fact and I'm by no means a "hater" (I'm not one of those people in general). But I'm not driving all the way down there for something that is somewhat normal tasting IMO. The crust on these pizzas is crucial, and ours just didn't seem that special. Maybe it was just a bad day - the problem with only going once to a place. If you live in the area, consider yourself lucky. But otherwise, I'm missing what the big deal is. I'm open to being convinced otherwise.

Milano's. Ft. Worth (Seventh Avenue / Cultural District area)
(March). The weekend prior to Corky's, Mrs. RJG and I had to be in Ft. Worth for some sort of errand. Heck if I remember what it was. On the way there, we passed by Milano's and asked a local if it was good. A huge thumbs up was given and off we went. It was a rainy afternoon, and the place was cozy as could be. It didn't take long to realize the flavors were of the Balkan owned variety (see Palermo's and Gentri's above). As with all these places, the service is great and the food is very good. It's sort of variations on the same theme. I'm not going to complain about any of these places - and they're almost all very good. But I do long for something a bit different in the "neighborhood Italian" category. Like my all time favorite Pietro's. Or Prego's in Dallas. Are there any over in Tarrant County? We've been to a couple of unique restaurants like Mancuso's (White Settlement) and Oliva's (Keller/far north Ft. Worth) and it would appear Margie's is unique (but we haven't been). Any others? Not upscale "Northern Italian" places or "modern Tuscan", but more old school southern Italian is what I'm talking about. It's making me appreciate Macaroni Grill more and more...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Northeast Tarrant Roundup (Jan-Jul 2012)

So here's the first of the guides. All of these are places that we have not written about previously. Some were entirely new to us, while others were restaurants we may have first tried before we created the blog, and it was our first trip back in many years.

As always, we adopt Roanoke into the NE Tarrant scene, even though technically it's in southern Denton county. The month listed in parenthesis represents our last visit.

Bite the Weenie. North Richland Hills (July). I was recently in Chicago on business and was bemoaning the fact that DFW, at least on the FW side of the house, had a dearth of fine hot dog establishments. Only a couple of weeks later, here comes Bite the Weenie, sure enough started by a former denizen of the Windy City. And since it's only about 10-15 minutes from our house, I think we'll be regular visitors! Their menu is based on the various regional style of hot dogs. I tried the Coney, which the owners correctly attribute to Detroit (rather than Brooklyn), as the combination of Greek chili, mustard and onions is a proud tradition at the various "Coney Islands" you find in the Motor City. But they have dozens of other specialties to try, and they also move to other types of sausages such as Italian, Polish and German. They even have a $20 Foie Gras hot dog for the more adventurous (and well-heeled apparently). Now if we can convince the owners to add the Czech/Slovak classic dog Parek v Rohliku, I may never need to go anywhere else! I have yet to see anyone in America import that crucial "missile" styled appliance that makes those so special.Bite the Weenie is next to Red Hot and Blue, and if I recall right was a former Starbucks. Closed April 2013

Planet Burrito. Southlake (July). We first tried Planet Burrito in April of 2007. It had arrived to Southlake with much fanfare, as apparently their Plano store was all the rage (and it would appear to be a 15-minutes-of-fame moment as it is now closed). Frankly we weren't impressed and wrote the place off. Sometime a couple of years later, I was ready to revisit when the now famed "hookers" reviews were coming out. Hot waitresses are fine with the wife and I, but something didn't seem right, so we didn't pursue it. And now, finally 5 years later, we made it back. Planet Burrito are back to the basics of burrito making: Choose the tortilla, rice, beans, meat, toppings and salsas. All served up by regular guys and gals on the assembly line. Since there are plenty options to choose from, I put Planet Burrito in the same category as Freebirds rather than Chipotle. And quite frankly, I'm preferring Planet Burrito more nowadays. As Freebirds grows and loses touch with their original success, Planet Burrito seems to be putting more into their one store. The burrito tasted great. And perhaps even more endearing to the RJG, they have hot sauces that are really hot! And they have bottles on the table as well, so you never run short. Flat screen TV's round out the experience. We'll be adding Planet Burrito to the regular rotation. Closed December 2013

Bayou Jack's Cajun Grill. Roanoke (June). Review moved to here

Chuy's. Watauga (June). It was sad to see the demise of Lina's. And as predicted on our entry for them, they are now closed. They were doing a fine homespun business, when they decided to expand to a larger space next door, and add flat screens, a full bar, etc... And the food quality seemed to suffer. Gone were the crowds and next thing you know - they were closed. In comes Chuy's, a local chain of old-school family styled Tex Mex restaurants. This Chuy's is not to be confused with the much glitzier Austin based chain. I've been to a couple of Chuy's before (in fact they once had a store only about a mile south of this location), and they aren't very exciting. Maybe 20 years ago, they would have been considered acceptable, even great. But times and tastes have evolved and Chuy's really hasn't kept up.Even with that setup, I couldn't say anything else but "likes it". There's nothing wrong with Chuy's, and they fill a void for local Mexican food. There's no frozen margaritas or anything that resembles spicy here, so it's really quite boring in the end.

Lupe's Tex-Mex Grill. Bedford (June). Review moved here

Press Box Grill. Grapevine (April). Cut above the usual sports bar, Press Box Grill offers unique dishes like blackened chicken and mango salmon, both of which we tried and loved. Still need to try their burgers.It appears the beer selection is more robust at the original Dallas location, but I'm holding out hope that Press Box Grill will add more craft brewery micros, especially local Texas ones. Plenty of TV's around to gawk at your favorite sports including one HUGE TV on the west wall. Press Box Grill is in the old Lucy's spot (later Guadalupe's) in a 1980's era strip mall just north of Main Street. Closed February 2014

Baja Mex Grill. Watauga (April). We ended up going here 4 times in a short period of March and April. We haven't been back, for no particularly good reason. We'll probably make the effort this week. Baja Mex is related to other "Baja" ventures in NE Tarrant like Funky Baja's (that we featured last year and is an RJG favorite) and Baja's Bar & Grill. Each one features a slight variation on Mexican cuisine. Baja Mex would likely be their most pure interpretation of Mexican cooking. The chips taste like real corn and the salsa is excellent. Fantastic, and powerful, frozen margaritas - perfect for the summer. Many of their dishes are great, but I find myself ordering the Street Tacos more than anything else. Overall, an excellent option for those that enjoy Baja California styled Mexican. Baja Mex occupies a lonely end position of a boring strip center. To make it easier to find, the restaurant faces North Tarrant and is close to Hwy 377.

Cafe Medi. Hurst (March). We'd gone here first in September of 2006, and weren't very impressed. But some friends recommended we try it again, and I'm glad we did! We probably got the wrong thing the first time. Even though they claim to have Middle Eastern food, I think it's best to think of this place as Greek, and that's what they excel at. I really loved their Gyro meat flavor! I just noticed that Keller has not one, but two new Greek restaurants. This is great to see. More on that after we try them. But for now our favorite Greek place in NE Tarrant is Cafe Medi.

Wildwood Grill. Southlake (March). A good place to meet business associates who have a flight to catch. Especially if they're buying! Otherwise, honestly, nothing stood out here for me including their famed flatbread pizzas. Sort of a typical upscale grill, with a decent beer and wine list. I'm reading that their chicken dishes are quite good. So if I go again, on someone else's dime, I'll try that. I actually preferred the previous tenant - 29 Degree Tavern - owned by none other than the same group behind the now bankrupted Bennigan's.

Uncle Buck's Brewery & Steakhouse. Grapevine (February). As a long time prior resident of Colorado, I'm surprised I don't absolutely froth about NE Tarrant's one and only brewpub (well, OK, BJ's in Hurst counts too, even though it's a national chain). The beer is very good and so is the food. It's pretty upscale and pricey, like some of Denver's finest establishments that make their own beer. Mrs. RJG sort of turns her mouth askew every time I suggest it. Even though she admits to liking it. I just need to round up some more friends to get over here. This place is great. Incredible hunting lodge like setting. Sits next to the Bass Pro Shop and the decor is fitting.

Tortilla Flats. Roanoke (February) A pretty good authentic taqueria right in the middle of the "Unique Dining Capital of Texas". An anomaly for the setting, but would be good for folks on a budget. Their street tacos are very good, though not exceptional. With so many other options within walking distance, and better taqueria's elsewhere in DFW, this place exists solely for the locals.  Closed January 2013

Bronson Rock Bar & Grill. Keller (February). Do you all remember my feature on Keller goes burgers and beer? Here was the 4th place that I never got around to writing about. I went with the Cowcatcher for lunch (who also went with me to Tortilla Flats). We both thought it was really good. In fact, I liked their burgers better than the other 3 (to refresh your memory: Bottlecap Alley, Yourway, and Keller Tavern.). But it would appear my opinion is in the minority. This place gets absolutely lambasted in Urbanspoon. Most of it seems to center around service issues. As stated many times before, the RJG is very tolerant on that topic, unless a place has a trend of poor service. The one time we went, we had no issues, but it was a mid week lunch. Perhaps a Friday night is a different story. The restaurant space is pretty small. Anyway, it would seem to be a good place for a burger and a beer during the week. Otherwise, sounds like a sweaty wild joint that I just assume avoid on Friday nights.

D. Asian. North Richland Hills (December). Ha. This one got lost in the shuffle when I was able to actually keep up with reviews. D. Asian is a Thai restaurant in a dingy gas convenience store space. The food is pretty good but not exceptional in any way. It doesn't even come close to the NE Tarrant Big 3 Thai places of Sea Siam, Sweet Basil and Bangkok Cuisine. It's catty-corner from Cuco's that we reported on earlier this year. Give them a try, but if you're that close, you may want to drive a bit further west to Bangkok Cuisine.

Oh, I should also mention that Fat Daddy's Burger House in Southlake has closed down and is now called Burger Shack. We weren't really that keen on Fat Daddy's and it would appear others agreed with us. It was good, just not great. And in NE Tarrant, great is all that will do when it comes to burgers. As an aside, early reviews aren't positive on Burger Shack so we'll take a wait and see on it.

OK, that about does it here. Next up is the remainder of DFW, followed by a feature on chains in the area.

After seemingly lost, the RJG is back

Hello everyone!

Long time since we last spoke. I knew back in February that the avalanche was coming, I was just in denial. But the cavalry finally arrived at work to save me from 70 to 90 hour work weeks (including travel), and my schedule went back to normal sometime in May. On top of this insanity, in early April, we sold our summer townhome in Denver (in only 3 days!), making us drop everything at once, adding to the chaos of that most crazy month of my life. So we're back here full time in DFW once again, with one or two planned summer excursions per year to escape the oppressive heat. This year will be a 3 week journey to Oregon and Washington starting later this month.

As always, I find myself debating internally how I want to report about the restaurant scene in DFW, and in particular NE Tarrant. At least for the time being, I plan to give periodic roundups. Maybe I'll flesh some of these out later, but for now they'll be bite size reports. My main goal has always been to bring about exposure to restaurants that you may not know about, or would like to know a little bit more of. I have zero intention of being a food writer, nor do I want to be one.

I'll start with a quick guide of new places we've been to in NE Tarrant, then do one for the rest of DFW. I'll also have one for regional and national chains. And maybe, with any luck at all, I may even do a similar guide for the various places we've traveled. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Some of these places I've already written quick sketches for on Urbanspoon, a website that appeals to me more and more as time goes by. As such, I won't link these in to Urbanspoon unless I write a special feature separately on a restaurant.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

INZO Italian Kitchen (fka Brix Pizza & Wine Bar) ~ Roanoke, Texas

February 2013 update: Seems that INZO is concerned that they've lost business due to the name change, so they're now putting up banners stating that they are indeed the same as ever. It was just a name change. Mrs. RJG now claims INZO as her favorite pizza in DFW. I have them second behind Grimaldi's. Also worth mentioning that I call out Cavalli's below. We hadn't been at the time, but have been since, and it's been covered in this blog.

November 2012 update: Brix changed their name to INZO Italian Kitchen. Apparently there were other establishments with that name, and they wanted a more distinctive brand.

Original review

I intended on posting about Brix almost a month ago. We had gone on a Sunday, and I fully expected to be able to get a post up by Monday. At that time, I had completely caught up, and was excited about visiting new restaurants. Then a multitude of events conspired against me. Mainly all work related, and whatever spare time I had, completely dissipated. Weekends were spent catching up on more important tasks that I could normally take on during the week. But there's been a break in the clouds, and perhaps we can get back to where we were with some sort of regular posting routine. And with that, we actually had a chance to revisit Brix earlier this month.

This past summer while in Denver, Mrs. RJG had a craving - a craving for the kind of pizza you get in Italy, and really all throughout Europe. Fortunately artisan pizza places are starting to crop up all over in America, one of which is Campania Pizza in Southlake. So we visited a few places in the Denver area, and our favorite ended up being a small local chain called Proto's Pizza. (We specifically went to the Lafayette location for a nice drive - and a long way from our former townhome in southeast Denver). We by no means exhausted the area, and all of the restaurants in this category were satisfactory.

I wasn't quite sure where to go, as Campania is the only Neapolitan pizza place I'm aware of in NE Tarrant. There are other inventive pizza places like Coal Vines, which pays homage to the old New York styled coal oven places like Lombardi's. Cavalli's is receiving high praise over in Irving, close to Las Colinas. I was about to head over there, when my eye caught Brix. In fact, I had just been up in Roanoke to try Outlaw Burger, so why not head back and this time go to the main street and try it?

Brix has a fairly simple menu of appetizers, pizzas, salads, calzones and Italian pasta dishes. Obviously they double as a wine bar, though the Mrs. and I weren't in the mood and settled on a beer (they feature one Texas micro - Real Ale's Fireman #4, which is refreshingly becoming somewhat easy to find).

We were there for pizza, and on both visits we each tried a different one. I've had the Meat Lovers and a simple Margherita with Italian sausage added. Mrs. RJG tried the chicken and onions as well as one with Italian sausage, which I'm not finding on their internet menu. We also shared a garden salad, which is mixed greens with an excellent vinaigrette dressing. A small pizza is plenty for one, and the Mrs. had to take the last one home. For our money, we prefer the pizza here to Campania. The key is the crust, which has a wonderful flavor with the right amount of crisp to chewy ratio. I believe the sausage is homemade and is excellent as well. The only negative was the chicken pizza, and that was really our fault as we didn't realize it was a "white" pizza (no tomato sauce). And that's what we wanted. So our bad - the crust and the cheese were still cooked to perfection.

Prices are very reasonable for this kind of pizza, and the setting in downtown Roanoke is wonderful, including outdoor seating.


Brix Pizzeria Rustica on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Ranch at Las Colinas ~ Irving, Texas

The one exception to the home dining routine as mentioned yesterday was a business dinner earlier in the week. We had some of our company's sales folks in town, so that sounds to me like an expense account! My counterpart in crime, resident of Garland, suggested we meet at The Ranch at Las Colinas. And a good choice it was.

I should be able to keep this review pretty short. Basically The Ranch is a direct cross between Love and War in Texas and Cool River Cafe, both places we've reported on recently. From Love and War, they borrow the regionalized food-of-Texas concept. From Cool River, they bring the high quality steaks, upscale Hill Country atmosphere, and the bar scene.

So after having a couple of drinks at the bar with the Garland troublemaker, the rest of the party arrived and we sat down and got right into the menu (OK, maybe there were a couple of more drinks involved first...). We passed on appetizers (hey - none of us are under 45 - got to watch the calories here!) and dove into the dinner menu. I was in the mood for a steak and opted for the 12 oz. Cabernet Charbroiled Strip with smoked chili butter and a side of herb whipped potatoes. The steak was cooked to perfection, and had a wonderful distinct flavor no doubt due to the butter glaze. The potatoes were smooth and creamy, and the portion was just right, as it was served in a small individual container. I also tried a cup of the venison chili, which was fantastic. I didn't pay attention to what everyone else had, but the troublemaker went for the large portion of the chicken fried steak. Out came two huge and I mean HUGE slabs of brown...fried....meat. He was licking the plate as I looked over. One of the others opted for a full bowl of the venison chili and he enjoyed it as much as I. Predictably we passed on dessert as well (though Henry's Ice Cream is always a good choice)


*** - Unfortunately I doubt they have Dublin Dr. Pepper anymore, since the parent company just shut them down (who knows why? It's basically the original formula!). If they do, be sure to have one before they sell out.

Another aspect of The Ranch that the RJG applauds is their full selection of Texas microbrews from craft breweries like Rahr & Sons, Franconia, Saint Arnold, Real Ale and, of course, Shiner (not technically a microbrewery, but they have some unique beers beyond the usual Shiner Bock).

The Ranch is an excellent choice to take out of town guests or business associates. Pad your wallet though!


The Ranch at Las Colinas on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Billadelphia's is back! New Del Taco in NE Tarrant

Howdy everyone. As predicted earlier this year, work has finally put the RJG under. I haven't even been going out to eat for lunch, choosing to stay home with a sandwich, as I'm lucky to get 30 minutes away from the chaos. And we've only gone to a couple of regular favorites for dinner, but in general, have been grilling outside now that the weather has been so nice.

I'm now 6 entries behind, and Mr. Music says he has a stack to send in as well. So maybe we'll catch up eventually.

Anyway, here a couple of observations from the last two Saturday's.

Today, while driving up north on Davis, we saw that the new Billadelphia's is now open in North Richland Hills. We reported on this development late last year. Good news for Philly Cheesesteak fans! I'll need to swing by and update my post from 2008. I've updated the Urbanspoon entry and have asked for them to reopen the restaurant on the site.

Last Saturday, we were coming up Denton Hwy, and saw that a new Del Taco has opened in Watauga (in the old Sheridan's Frozen Custard spot - next to Fresco's). This is the second NE Tarrant location. We recently posted about the first one that opened in Hurst. It was the middle of the afternoon, and we both were ready for a snack. So we dropped in and had 3 tacos each. Excellent as always. And the place was packed, even at 3 in the afternoon.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

La Choza to move

Well that didn't take long. We stated on our La Choza review on Feb 12 that we'd hope they'd move to Northeast Tarrant. That didn't happen - but they did move a bit closer. So instead of the completely rural setting - they will now be near TX-199 off of I-820. Hopefully this will result in better business for this fine New Mexican style restaurant!

Here's the news item from Bud Kennedy on his Eats Beat column: "La Choza Mexican Grill , the hole-in-the-wall Santa Fe-style cafe near Azle, is moving closer. It will move by May to a new location at 7001 Confederate Park Road, next door to LightCatcher Winery & Bistro. For now, La Choza continues at 11210 S. Farm Road 730 near Azle. New items include enchiladas on blue corn tortillas and a spicy Mexican chocolate cheesecake."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

La Choza ~ Azle, Texas

Finding a restaurant in DFW that serves New Mexican food has proven to be quite the challenge. There was Anthony's Place over by Meacham Field, but they've since transformed to a special events and catering only business (though no surprise - as you will find out later - Anthony is the same owner as our restaurant featured today). Mi Dia From Scratch, a new place in Grapevine owned by the same folks behind Bob's Steakhouse, has a very limited "Santa Fe" portion to their menu (and only for dinner), and it's mostly items that use similar ingredients to Tex-Mex (just cooked differently) . We haven't been, but it certainly seems more like a high-end ($$$) Mexican restaurant than New Mexican to me (feel free to write in if you are of a different opinion). Chencho's seems to have a few NM type items of interest, and I'll be trying those soon. Don't even mention Blue Mesa to me. Please... don't. And, well...... that's about it? Even in Colorado, which is closer culturally to New Mexico than DFW is, New Mexican food is hard to find. With perhaps the sole exception that no Coloradan place worth its burrito doesn't at least offer a good "green" (chile sauce) to smother it in.

With that in mind, it pays to follow our local Star-Telegram newspaper sometimes. I try to track what they're reviewing via or their news feed into Urbanspoon. Since their main focus is Ft. Worth, much of what they cover isn't too much of interest to the RJG, unless it's an exceptionally good example of what we love or it's a unique food group. And New Mexican qualifies for the latter. So back in December, one of their writers uncovered a real gem. A place I would have had no hope of finding on my own. A place I would not stop in if just driving by (the simple homemade sign says Mexican Food-Steaks-Drinks). I don't even think I would have found this place if I lived in Azle! So kudos to the Star-Telegram for finding La Choza.

First visit: February 2012

La Choza is the first "real deal" New Mexican place I've been to here in DFW. It's far more authentic than the somewhat watered down Anthony's Place was (the menu's are way different). That's not to say there aren't other New Mexican places here, we just haven't been (if there are others - please do write in and tell us about it). The interior is definitely the colors of the Enchantment State (follow the Star-Telegram link for interior photos). It's a shame I can only eat one meal at a time, because I want to try about 15 different things. The chips are very light, thin and crisp. The standard salsa is a bit too thin with not enough kick, but does have a good roasted red chile flavor. I asked (of course) if they had a hotter option. They said yes, and out came the same exact salsa with what tasted like El Yucateca habanero sauce mixed in. That's cheating! But I still liked it (grin). Mrs. RJG went with the chile relleno, which was what the Star-Telegram recommended, and it's one of her test dishes. It was unlike any relleno she'd ever had, and one of the best! Creamy melted white cheese, grilled chicken, black beans, corn all stuffed into the pepper and lays on top of basmati rice in a delicious ranchero sauce. I went hardcore and tried the pork chile verde, which is a dark green chile sauce with chunks of perfectly cooked pork. I would have preferred it more spicy, but I'll take it. Mine came with rice and refried beans, the latter not their specialty and it showed. I've got to try the mango habanero shrimp and chicken next time!

La Choza has a full bar in the back, like an old cantina would. We kept it alcohol free, given the long drive time we had facing us. Also, very important to note: It's CASH ONLY. I think the place is a bit too expensive to still be relying solely on scratch. So just make sure you have some green tender with you and they'll provide the green chile.

It takes a bit to get there, but worth it. Take I-820 west to Hwy 199 west and finally FM 730 south. On a empty stretch of highway, with only a gas station nearby, is the little hole in the wall La Choza. It really does look like a place you'd see in rural, somewhat depressed, New Mexico (for example EspaƱola) - a million miles away from the high brow oh-so-perfectly crafted sites of Santa Fe and Taos.

Perhaps we can persuade La Choza to come to Northeast Tarrant! To the owners of La Choza, don't worry - there's no need to open up in the Southlake Town Square - we have plenty of locations that will make you feel right at home. And the RJG will be right there on opening day - and many others afterward. If not La Choza, then any other restaurateurs out there willing to take the plunge? We finally have German food - how about New Mexican?

Website (yea right - JUST kidding)

Update from Bud Kennedy in his Eats Beat column: "La Choza Mexican Grill , the hole-in-the-wall Santa Fe-style cafe near Azle, is moving closer. It will move by May (2012) to a new location at 7001 Confederate Park Road, next door to LightCatcher Winery & Bistro. For now, La Choza continues at 11210 S. Farm Road 730 near Azle. New items include enchiladas on blue corn tortillas and a spicy Mexican chocolate cheesecake."
La Choza Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 10, 2012

Outlaw Burgers ~ Roanoke, Texas

Since we're on a burger kick here, I thought I'd pick up where we left off from last week. According to the Star-Telegram, Bronson's Burgers is now open for lunch as of this week. So we'll be certain to try it soon, and finish our Keller-goes-bar-and-burgers series.

In the meantime, I took a right turn on US-377 from 1709 and headed north to Roanoke, which now has tagged itself as the "Unique Dining Capital of Texas". These are truly modern times when official city boosters see fit to call out their restaurant scene as their main asset. In any case, it is here that we find Outlaw Burgers.

In the very early days of the RJG, we spoke of a restaurant called C&A Italian Family Deli (which is now Tirelli's and has moved to Keller). Outlaw Burgers is now in that location. Though funny enough, the shopping center billboard has both Outlaw Burgers AND Italian Family Deli on it. Maybe they didn't notice they left three years ago! "Vern, dident wee'd have one of 'dem sanwhich places here too? Where is it? I cain't seem to find it."

This is the first expansion of Outlaw Burgers, a restaurant that first started up the road a piece in Justin. They renovated the place and gave it a small town diner feel. You order up at the counter, grab a drink cup and they'll serve you the meal. I ordered an Outlaw Burger *HOT*, which basically means a standard cheeseburger with a homemade spicy sauce concoction (made of various chile's). Almost seems like a menu item custom-designed directly for the RJG! Since fries don't come with it, I passed as is my custom (I'll eat a few if they're there, but otherwise I don't need it in my diet). As well, I always like soda fountains with Diet Dr. Pepper, and Outlaw Burger has it. So far, so great. I wandered the place briefly, noticing that each table featured a small biographical history of notorious criminals from the Old West. Nice touch.

So I sat down, grabbed my iPhone to catch up a bit on work e-mail (the RJG receives an e-mail about every 2-3 minutes during work hours, so an hour long lunch can bury me if I don't keep up) - and the meal was just arriving. Uh-oh, that's not a good sign. Waaaay too fast. I like my meal cooked hot off the grill. Now I understand that a lunch place will forecast a certain amount of traffic to move the line a bit quicker. I guess they miscalculated. The burger was well-cooked and all that, but it just wasn't very hot (temperature). So that's a bummer, and I imagine I could have an entirely different experience next time. Just mentioning it, that's all. As for hot in the spicy sense of the term, yea - we have a winner there for sure! Great sauce. The bun was toasted nicely, though again it seemed to be off the grill a bit longer than it should have. Overall flavor? Well, I put it behind the 3 Keller places we covered last week. Mike isn't going to want to hear that (LOL)! Maybe on par with the Best Tex Burger we covered awhile back. Still, I did like it and rated it favorable on Urbanspoon. Not sure, though, that I will be a regular visitor here. Am I wrong? If you say different, of course I'll be happy to run back here and try it again sooner.

As of this writing, the Roanoke store has a relatively low 64% rating with a small amount of votes. But their flagship Justin location maintains a very fine 92% rating with a good number of votes. Not sure what all that means, as again, I gave the Roanoke place a positive myself. Just interesting I guess.


Outlaw Burgers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 4, 2012

*** CLOSED *** Bad Azz Burrito ~ Watauga, Texas

*** Watauga location is closed. The others are still open.

The burrito craze started back in the 1990s, and the city of Denver (where we lived full time back then) was ground zero for this food movement. So at times it seems I've almost grown up with the concept. Both Chipotle and Qdoba started in Denver and still represent the major brands in this market . The formula was simple, yet effective. The assembly line method was used. First they'd steam your tortilla, then you'd get the cilantro lime rice, followed by black or pinto beans, and finally a meat. Then you choose your salsa and other toppings, pick up a drink cup and off you go. Just about every burrito copycat place from then on used this formula with minor variations.

It was inevitable, but what if you wanted more options? Enter stage left Freebirds, and a whole new slew of parameters were introduced to the process. It wasn't enough to just be offered a flour tortilla. Now you can choose what kind of tortilla you want. Cilantro lime rice? What if you want something different like Mexican rice? Now you can get it. And so it goes.

Bad Azz Burrito is modeled after Freebirds. And why not? Qdoba found great success after Chipotle. On this visit I tried the cayenne pepper tortilla with cilantro lime rice, pinto beans and grilled chicken. So I didn't really venture far off the norm - though I did try the pork green chile first. This is a staple of the Colorado diet, so I was curious how they'd do. Not very good I'm afraid. The green chile was mild and the pork was chewy. So that's why I opted for the chicken which looked great. And it was - a delicious seasoning is applied. I was a little disappointed in the salsa offered for the burrito. They have only two options. I asked which was hotter, and she said the green so I had that slathered on my burrito. But I asked for a side of the red just to compare. I loved the flavors, but neither are very fiery. In this day and age, I think that's necessary. Qdoba, Chipotle and Freebirds all offer seriously hot sauces. One unique gimmick I do like from Bad Azz is the use of the conveyor toaster, similar to Quizno's or Schlotzsky's. This ensured my meal would be hot upon serving since it had cooled off while being prepared.

I like Bad Azz Burrito. I really do. It's a place I'll go once in awhile, but I don't think it's as good as the aforementioned chains. What do you guys think? Am I wrong?


Hard Eight Barbecue opens in Roanoke

Now that I feel I've caught up somewhat, I'm going to attempt to keep up with restaurant openings in the NE Tarrant and surrounding areas. I'll just use the News label for this.

Bud Kennedy reported back in November that Hard Eight would be here by January, and is now scheduled be open this Monday, February 6 according to their Facebook page . Other locations can be found in Coppell, Stephenville and Brady.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Keller Tavern ~ Keller, Texas

And here's the third installment of the Keller-goes-bar-and-burgers. Of the three establishments so far, Keller Tavern is definitely the most bar of the lot. I truly love the interior of this place. A simple A-frame low roof, architected in the German or Swiss style, with a dark wood interior. Honestly I felt like I was in the upper Midwest as soon as I entered the building. Like I suddenly stumbled into a tavern in Green Bay or Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Even though it was 65 degrees outside, I imagined it was more like 20, and was grateful to be cuddled up in the warmth of the tavern. And a nice beer...

Since I'm on a burger kick, and that's the comparison point for these 3 places, I went for their Tavern Bacon Burger. Unlike the last two restaurants, Keller Tavern is strictly menu driven, and doesn't offer a dizzying array of choices for your burger. And that's because the Keller Tavern isn't really a burger joint and they offer what I'd call "upscale pub food", which we see more often in Colorado than here. There's another level on this genre called Gastropubs, which are usually marquee name chef driven, but Keller Tavern isn't fancy in that way. Which is fine by the RJG. Upscale pub food works for us. In any case, it's probably good that Keller Tavern doesn't rely solely on burgers. While it was certainly good, and I wouldn't say different, it certainly wasn't great. Ironically enough, the best part was the bun - a nicely crafted Kaiser roll. I say ironically only because the bun was the weakness of the other two! The meat patty was not aesthetically pleasing. In fact it was... and this sounds worse than it is, but it's still a fact.... gray. Gray meat. It was cooked well done and all that, but it was still gray. If Mrs. RJG* saw that, she would never step foot in the place again. And the "crispy bacon" was no such thing. It was rather limp actually. Despite all of that - I did like the burger. The fries were of the crispy seasoned variety that I've had at other such diners and taverns, and they were excellent. But on my next visit, I'll try something other than a hamburger.

As for the bar portion, I was happy to see they had a couple of micros on tap. I went for the Rahr & Sons (Ft.Worth) Iron Thistle, which is a powerful Scotch Ale (Rahr's call it a Scottish Ale, which to me is considerably different). First time I've seen that on tap. It's an excellent beer that I've had many times before. In fact, I have one in the fridge right now. Is it too early? Hmmm... They also had Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, which isn't obscure but better than just the usual Bud-Miller-Coors (BMC).

The fourth restaurant on this block is Bronson's Burger & Beer, which has the most direct naming convention for what's going on here. It doesn't appear they're open for lunch though - at least they weren't for this week. As such, it may be awhile before I try it. Will need a free evening, and those are pretty scarce.

So let's recap the last three places. All 3 bring something positive, and it's difficult to pick a favorite (so I won't). Let's break it down into two categories:

1. Bottlecap Alley
2. Yourway
3. Keller Tavern

Ambience / Hangoutability:
1. Keller Tavern
2. Yourway
3. Bottlecap Alley

If you're just looking for a great hamburger, go to Bottlecap Alley. If you want to hang out with friends and munch on some appetizers, try Keller Tavern. Want a little of both - Yourway is the place to go.

*You'll note Mrs. RJG's absence on the last 3 blog entries. She's no burger hound, so she opted out of my latest venture. But I think she'll like all of them - just need to find the right dish for her (she'd definitely like the burgers at Bottlecap Alley though).


Keller Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bottlecap Alley Icehouse Grill ~ Keller, Texas

Here's the second in our series of Keller-goes-bar-and-burgers. Bottlecap Alley originally started in Grapevine, in a former Sonic location (a rare indoor locale, not one of their familiar drive-ins). I like to stock up on microbrews at the World Market store in Grapevine, which is in the same shopping center, so I've passed it many times. But I never did stop by for lunch or dinner. Apparently they've been successful, as they've now opened up a second location in downtown Keller.

The way it works at Bottlecap is once you enter, you are instructed to fill out some paperwork. Remember that term "paperwork"? Who does that anymore right? Everything is online. I bought some Forever stamps a few years ago, and I still have almost all of them. I'm sure the post office will be long out of business before I finish them. That's going to cost me $5.24! Those dirty dogs... Where was I? Ah yes, the worksheet. It's the Mooyah/Which Wich system where you check off what you want from the meats, cheeses, toppings, extras, sides, etc... (though no infusions). It's a highly efficient system though somewhat daunting and labor intensive. Then you pick up a beverage from the cooler, and head to the counter with your order sheet. Out comes the flashing ashtray. When your order is ready, the ashtray buzzes wildly, and you go back to the same counter and walk away with your meal. Work for you? Works for me.

I went with a quarter pounder with cheese, and a cup of "Earl's really meaty chili" (not for the timid they allege). The burger was served wrapped in tin foil, which kept it steamy hot. YEA - this is one doggone good burger. One of the best new burgers I've had in a long time. They crisp the edges of the meat, and the flavor is delicious. The bun, like at Yourway, was still a bit too doughy and the only flaw I found. Otherwise, this is a real winner. The chili, too, is excellent. It reminds me a lot - and I mean a LOT - of the chili served over at Tolbert's. Meaty, and heavy on the chili powder. Comes topped with jalapeno slices - though they were rather tame on my visit.

Bottlecap Alley features a bar area, but unfortunately all the taps are your standard corporate macros. Better is the ice cooler, where they feature a number of bottled beers, including a nice selection of Ft. Worth's own microbrewery Rahr & Sons. So I selected a Buffalo Butt, whose tag line is "Everything it's cracked up to be". LOL. It's a nice Amber that I've had plenty of times before. Ratebeer says it's the same as their Texas Red, but I have my doubts about that.

Bottlecap Alley is a fairly large place that goes to the "back room", pool table and all. They also have an outside seating area. Flat screens are everywhere, as is expected anymore.

An excellent addition to the Keller downtown landscape. Definitely give it a try!

Tomorrow, we venture to one more Keller beer bar!


Bottlecap Alley Icehouse Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

*** CLOSED *** Yourway Burgers and Wings ~ Keller, Texas

November 2013: And Sharx Pub is already closed. They lost their core focus. Keller is not a Pool Hall kind of town.

June 2013 update: Apparently on May 13, 2013, Yourway renamed their establishment to Sharx Pub. We haven't been back since the January visit in 2012, so I can't comment on if anything else changed.

Original review

Funny how things work. Just 6 months ago, if you went to Keller and wanted to act like a big boy and get a real hamburger with an adult beverage in a tavern setting, then you were pretty much out of luck. Now in the last 3 months, Keller has not one... not two.... not three.... but FOUR new places of a similar ilk. All on the same road. All on the same side of the road. Three of them are bunched within a quarter mile of each other. Birds of a feather now cook together I guess... For the curious, the 4 places are: Bottlecap Alley Icehouse Grill, Keller Tavern, Bronson's Burgers & Beer and the topic of today's discussion: Yourway. And this is the only one not found on the main US-377 strip downtown.

So I, as your humble NE Tarrant correspondent, now must go forward and try all of these places. I do it for you. I will make the sacrifice and eat fat cheeseburgers and drink microbrews. I mean someone has to step up and take one for the team right?

The novelty of Burger King proclaiming "have it your way" is two generations old. Nowadays, in order to get some sort of market edge, burger joints are getting more and more experimental with their offerings and concepts. Choosing your toppings is soooo 1970s... now you get to choose what to infuse your burger with. That is to say, what ingredients would you like for them to mix with the ground beef before it hits the grill. So that's Yourway's go-to-market gimmick. I think it's a good idea actually - though my choice to infuse with crushed red pepper (on the menu) was ruled out because apparently it clumps together in one spot. At least it would have been a hot bite! Anyway, it won't be long before you can start choosing reduction sauces rather than say.... mustard.

Before you say infusion schmusion, I'll answer the only question you can possibly have: How's the salad? Oh, wrong review.... Yes, yes - the burger is very good actually. I opted for one of their signature burgers (no infusion though) called the Sausage BBQ Burger, which predictably throws sliced pork sausage and a barbecue sauce on it. I picked a few pieces of the burger out individually, and it had a nice salty flavor, Not amazing, but still very good. The bun was a bit too doughy for me, and though it appears they attempted to heat it up, they didn't leave it on the grill long enough.

Yourway is housed in a very welcoming sports tavern setting, in one of the countless new strip malls lining US-377 south of Keller. There's a full bar, though 95% of the beer is common macroswill. However the friendly and knowledgeable bartender was enthusiastic about bringing in more Texas micros, and so maybe it will happen? I hope so - it sure would be nice to have a "hang out" place in NE Tarrant with some new beers to try. I did enjoy the one micro they had on tap - a Saint Arnold Santo from Houston. It's a strange beer, described as a black Kolsch. Yea, I didn't know that style existed either. But it's very good actually. They also have wine, margaritas and other liquid beverages that are bad for you. Flat screen TVs are everywhere to ensure you don't miss a play.

Tomorrow we'll report on another Keller "burger alley" place.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Saviano's Italian ~ Euless, Texas

I tend to forget about Saviano's when thinking of Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant. I had just mentioned a few days ago about restaurants that we frequent the most, and that we're struggling to settle on a great Italian joint in the area. I don't think Saviano's necessarily solves that dilemma, but they're definitely part of the equation. One potential reason we don't think of them is their location at the far southeastern edge of our primary coverage area. By being situated on Euless Main and 183, Saviano's is further for us than many places in Ft. Worth proper or Arlington even. No matter, as Saviano's has proven to be very popular with the locals and was again packed to the rafters on this particular evening. Incidentally, it was on our way here that we first discovered the Mexican Inn in Bedford had shut down.

Saviano's has recently opened a second location in downtown Ft. Worth, that has also proven to be very popular. And why not really, as Saviano's is truly old school Italian, something that isn't as common in DFW as you might think. St. Louis, Chicago and Philadelphia we are not. And speaking of which, Saviano's originally came to DFW with a 20 year resume of cooking in Long Island, New York where food like this can be found on every corner - or so it seems.

All the meals come with garlic knots and salads. The latter is a simple mix of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, celery and a delicious red wine vinaigrette dressing. The garlic knots are very chewy, buttery, garlicky and subsequently very tasty. The dishes here have a focus on the southern Italian regions, but they also have a wide variety of other entrees to choose from including Cacciatore, Alfredo, Marsala, etc... I appreciate their baked dishes, as the meals come out in those heavy duty "blackened" dishes (I love those), with bubbling cheese holding down the sizzling red sauce (and their sauce is delicious). Bury a homemade meatball or sausage in there for extra enjoyment. On this visit, the ziti was a little overcooked, so that's a bozo no-no. I'll let it slide, as everything else was well executed. These places need to learn how to cook al dente pasta earlier in the day. We passed on dessert as is our custom.

Saviano's is not BYOB, so we bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for a little under $20.

We've been coming to Saviano's since about 2005 or so, but it's been a few years since we last visited. Since that time, they've made the place more welcoming with dimmer lights throughout, as well as adding a full bar with a large flat screen to enjoy some sports. Parking is hard to come by up front, so you may need to pull around to the back. Dinner is traditional dining and served by a wait staff. It used to be that lunch was counter service. It appears that might still be the case, but I'm not certain. On our last visit in 2008, it was. But that was a long time ago.

Have a hankering for some Old School Italian? Try Saviano's


Saviano's on Urbanspoon