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, New Mexican, Azle-TX

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 DFW.com 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, Hamburgers, Roanoke-TX



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.

First visit: February 2012

Other location: Justin (original)

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.

Website

Outlaw Burgers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 4, 2012

*** CLOSED *** Bad Azz Burrito, Burritos, Watauga-TX

First visit: February 2012

Last update: December 2012

NE Tarrant location: Watauga

Other locations: Saginaw (original), Ft. Worth (Fossil Creek - coming soon)

*** 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?

Website

Bad Azz Burrito on Urbanspoon

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, Tavern, Pub Food, Keller-TX

First visit: February 2012

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:

Food:
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).

Website

Keller Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bottlecap Alley Icehouse Grill, Hamburgers, Sports Bar, Keller-TX


Last visit: February 2014

Rating: Hold

Other locations: Grapevine; Southlake

February 2014 update: It's been a couple of years since the RJG last dined at Bottlecap Alley. I took the RJG's official Mom there for this visit and we dined on cheeseburgers, fries, and chili. It's all still quite good, but I just don't see the RJG craving this as a routine stop. I'm afraid the competition is too stiff in this category for Bottlecap Alley to gain a front pole position. So I'll go with the Hold rating and come back in a year or two to see if anything's changed. As for the chain itself, they continue to expand in this area with a new location in Southlake.

Original review

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!

Website

Bottlecap Alley Icehouse Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

*** CLOSED *** Sharx Pub (fka Yourway Burgers and Wings), Hamburgers, Tavern, Keller-TX



Last visit: January 2012

November 2013: And 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.

Website

Yourway Burgers & Wings on Urbanspoon