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.