Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cousin's Bar-B-Q ~ Fort Worth, Texas

We've written about Cousin's before, when they had a little shotgun shack over in Keller. But with Back Forty recently arriving in NRH, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the mothership. Or actually a branch of the original. They shut down the to-go only place in Keller, so that they could open this very large location in the Alliance shopping area of far north Ft. Worth. This is the second visit here for the RJG. We first went in December of 2010. So obviously we haven't done our part in helping the restaurant along. There's really no explanation as to why we've been infrequent visitors, as I've been a fan of Cousin's since we moved back to DFW 10 years ago.

Mrs. RJG had the baked potato with smoked turkey, and she loved it. I tried the turkey, and it's as good as ever. Cousin's always had the best turkey. They need to show their sibling over at Back Forty how to do it right. And speaking of sibling, since Cousin's has a similar meat selection to the start-up, I decided to focus on three items that would be smoked. In other words, I laid off the sausages, presuming them to be the same or very similar. So I had a 3 meat platter with sliced brisket, pork ribs, and quarter dark meat chicken. As you have read here, we love the chicken at Back Forty, and I don't think I ever had it at Cousin's. Well - it's nearly the same. It's really fantastic. Great seasoning and fall off the bone tenderness. The ribs were also excellent - not fatty or tough, with a very fine dry rub. And the brisket was also a winner, very flavorful. I see many critics complain about the lack of flavor, but I cannot agree with that assessment. As for the sides, the mac and cheese was way too cheesy and soupy. The upstart Back Forty kills them on that front. And the corn was fine, though a tad mushy.

Back Forty wins on the sides, but the RJG will always weight the scales for the meat. Overall edge goes to Cousin's but Back Forty is closer in proximity to us. Glad they're both here! These are our favorite barbecue places in NE Tarrant for now. We have a few more to go though...


Cousins BBQ on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 19, 2013

Viet Bites ~ Denton, Texas

The RJG just returned from a 6 day vacation, which I hope to report on soon. However, while catching up on e-mails, I discovered that none other than Mr. Music had sent us a fresh review. Alright! So take it away Mr. Music....

A recent drive from the Denton library with Mrs. Music, Music Jr., and Baby Music revealed a welcome sight!  A new restaurant on S. Elm called Viet Bites!  I was just talking to Music Jr. a few days ago about how cool it would be for a real Vietnamese restaurant to come to Denton.  We couldn't wait to go!  I have to admit that it tickles me that my 8 year old daughter often asks me when we can go for spring rolls and pho! 

On Friday night we met another couple at this cute little, standalone building. It looks like it once may have been a one-off taco stand or something similar. As we walked in, we marveled at the rows of fresh Thai basil with their purple leaves and Thai chilies pointing to the sky surrounding the perimeter!

Even under the cute awning, it was too hot to enjoy the seating outside so we opted for a seat in the a/c filled dining room. A slight complaint is that the a/c wasn't working so well so it was a little warm and sticky inside, but I believe that was a temporary condition.  When I first looked around, and then saw the menu, I was a little worried. The menu looked really small and I was afraid the food might be like a wannabe version of the dishes I enjoy. I've been to places like that before.  

Much to my surprise, the menu is packed with a variety of interesting items. These guys just do a great job of streamlining.  Plus the waiter let us know there are always a few special items not on the menu.  Today they had fried calamari with a pepper seasoned batter and 'tofu fries' - strips of tofu, cut and fried. We had already ordered spring rolls, so we decided to wait to try them another time. The spring rolls came with all the right stuff: Peanut sauce, hoisen, and Sriracha! The spring rolls were good but not spectacular.   

On the menu, in the upper left corner, are the appetizers with a variety of rolls (fried and steamed), crab rangoon, lettuce wraps, and even wings in a spicy blend with fish sauce! Below that is a section with a build-your-own pho with offerings of beef (steak, meatballs, flank steak), chicken, as well as a veggie/tofu soup appropriately called 'pho-get the meat'!

Baby Music got some grilled chicken which was lovely - moist and tasty grilled strips.  Music Jr. opted for some pho w/o meat and loved it.  Mrs. Music wasn't very hungry and just picked off the kids plates. I got the jumbo combination with rare steak, meatballs and flank steak.  I got the big bowl even though our waiter warned me that it was huge - and it was!  Lots of toothsome meat and a good portion of noodles in a dark, rich broth.  In fact, I told the waiter what I want in a large bowl is lots of broth but it was just too packed with other goodies.  Thirty seconds later a large bowl of hot broth was at my side and it was good!  They boast a 6 hours process with herbs and spices to make the broth and it really shows. I do have a personal suggestion: If they added a bit more ginger to the broth, it would be perfect! The noodles were cooked 'to the tooth' as they say!

One of the highlights of the evening was the staff. Our waiter was very personable and upbeat, not to mention very attentive.  A young woman, who I believe was the owner, came out to talk with us and she was very friendly as well.

I will definitely be back!  One thing I noticed - they have Vietnamese tacos and they look great! Another reason is the rest of the menu!  The right side, as compact as it is, has a plethora of interesting options. This is the 'build your own meal' section! First, you choose a style: Bun (noodle dishes), Bahn Mi (the scrumptious sandwiches in French rolls - love that bbq pork!), or Com (rice plates).  Next you pick a protein: Lemongrass chicken, shrimp or tofu, char-grilled pork or beef. Then you can add some veggies like avocado, kim chi, cucumber, sprouts, cilantro, lettuce, herbs, and jalapeno! Finally a variety of sauces complete the dish: Citrus ginger, soy and shallot vinaigrette, sweet and sour, fish sauce dressing or peanut sauce.

Oh, and  the prices were very reasonable. I paid $7.95 for the jumbo meat combo. Ohhh, and I had one of those 'what a small world' experiences.  When I was in Southern Mississippi recently visiting some family, I had my first begneit! A begneit is basically a thick sopapilla that was invented in New Orleans (ED: Beignets were declared the official state doughnut of Louisiana in 1986). I try not to eat fried food that much, but OMG, they are delicious!  These yummy treats are a highlight of the desert menu. They also have some other interesting items like pandon and coconut cake! Did I mention I'm really looking forward to going back??  


Viet Bites on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Prego Pasta House ~ Dallas, Texas

The RJG goes from our favorite Denver Italian restaurant, to our second favorite Dallas area Italian restaurant. As many of you all know, Pietro's is our favorite Italian in DFW, and remains the RJG's all-time favorite restaurant. But for close to 30 years, Prego has been right there behind them, providing hearty competition. And like Pietro's, we're infrequent visitors to Dallas anymore, so it's a rare treat indeed when we do dine here. We may have been only a couple of times since I started this blog, so this week's visit gave us the opportunity to finally blog about it. One major difference between Pietro's and Prego, is that the latter is open for lunch. And it's just that opening that allows me to choose Prego when in the area at that time. Mrs. RJG and I were in Dallas for an emergency weekday errand, and we had a bit of downtime right around lunch. Of course we first had to visit Northpark (guess who was behind that decision?) - and then I took control of lunch. 5 minutes later we're at Prego.

According to Prego's website, the restaurant has been open since 1982 (with a building owned by the family since 1951). And that's roughly two years before we started frequenting. I was in college at Texas Tech then, which tells me that we must've first dine there while home for the summer. If truth be told, both my parents liked Prego probably more than any restaurant - including my beloved Pietro's. For a number of years, they had a new location up in Far North Dallas (Tollway and Trinity Mills) that just happened to be pretty close to where I had an office in 2003 and 2004. They had great lunch specials, and I tried to go at least once a month, if not more. Unfortunately that location closed a few years ago. But the original is where most of my dining memories of Prego occurred. It's a single room restaurant, that can get very loud when crowded (which it often is - particularly for dinner). It's hard to imagine today, but Prego, like every restaurant of the time, allowed smoking. And my Old Man made sure everyone got cigarette smoke with their dinner. Not every law the government passes is a turkey. They got that one right! As an aside, valet parking is compulsory (it's free - but with tip of course). I noticed on this visit, they tore down the building next door. Maybe they can finally get their own parking spaces?

So what's so great about Prego? Old school Italian. Done perfectly - every time. If you like a thick and smooth red sauce, with the perfect blend of seasonings, then you'll love Prego. They make their own Italian sausage. Their salad is basic but delicious (a vinaigrette with garlic and onion tops, an olive and hot pepper). Pasta is always al dente. Meat sauce is made from their homemade meatballs. Their pizza will remind you of Campisi's. I'm not a heavy cream sauce guy, but I'll bet their Alfredo is delicious. Italian food doesn't have to be fancy to be good. It's amazing to me how very few really good Italian restaurants there are. Most of the simple restaurants use too much sauce, or can't even cook pasta right. The elaborate ones are so focused on decoration and off-the-wall recipes, they can't get even put together a decent salad. Prego reminds me of everything I like about old school Italian. It's a can't miss proposition. Prego, as mention earlier, is usually very crowded for dinner. And who eats there? Lots of squeaky clean, good looking families from nearby University Park. Regular folks, but regular folks who have way more money to blow than the rest of us. And know a good value when they experience it. As for the RJG - I've been going for 30 years now, and I still look forward to dining here. If any of the above sounds appealing, then Prego is a must.


Prego Pasta House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mama Louise ~ Aurora, Colorado

Continuing with our favorite Denver area restaurants, here is our go-to Italian place. We first started going to Mama Louise not long after they opened in the DTC (Arapahoe and Dayton) around 1998 or so. (Prior to that there was a burrito place - I believe it was called "Jalapeno's" that we had eaten at a couple of times). After about a year of infrequently visiting, Mrs. RJG and I became regulars. Rarely would a week go by where we wouldn't venture up from Parker for a dinner. Usually on Friday night. Even on snow nights, we would go. Not long after we relocated back to DFW, owner Kent moved his establishment east to the Piney Creek area of Aurora. I can remember going to the original DTC location as recent as 2004 on a visit, so this must have happened shortly thereafter. The new location is a wonderfully decorated restaurant. Kent has been there since day one, and he's always pleasant and glad to see you. For years, his Mom would be by his side ensuring all was running smoothly. Apparently she had knee surgery not long ago, and is now traveling the world. So you won't see her anymore! :-) The family originally had a restaurant in Highland as far back as 1978 (I can't remember the name - but I don't think it was Mama Louise) and closed down. Kent is the son of the founder and restarted the tradition in 1997/8, as stated above.

I can only use the term "best" or "favorite" in relation to the places I've frequented. But what makes it so special for the RJG? Because they have the best chicken parm I've ever had. Anywhere. In the world. I like my parm crispy, and that's what you get at Mama Louise, along with an incredible seasoning mixture unlike anything I've ever had. Make sure you ask for Louise Sauce with your pasta. It's a spicy concoction made up of spicy Italian sausage, ground beef, and tomato sauce. It's extremely flavorful and comes with a nice kick. Each meal starts with a minestrone soup, which I quite like, though it's not a traditional recipe (it's more like a noodle soup with celery). This is followed by a cold iceberg lettuce salad, that is pleasantly simple with an excellent homemade Italian dressing. And they have fine desserts as well. And a decent wine list. This is also Mrs. RJG's favorite, and in a rare case of solidarity when it comes to food selection, she also loves the chicken parm. Excellent all around.

Like El Tepehuan, Mama Louise is a place I want to go every time I set foot in Denver. It's not always possible to eat at all our favorites each time, but Mama Louise rarely gets skipped.

Mama Louise Italian on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Potbelly Sandwich Shop ~ Hurst, Texas

I was beginning to wonder if Potbelly would ever come to Northeast Tarrant. It seemed the chain was avoiding the area like the plague. They've been in DFW for quite some time, and as you can see above, I've been to the Las Colinas location. That was in 2006 when I had an office nearby working for another company. The situation was becoming almost comical. About once a year, I'd go to their website and click on a map for DFW locations. Dots everywhere, except a huge gap of nothingness West and NW of DFW airport. When I was a kid, we had a cat. A cat that disliked my Dad. So every time he would reach from his easy chair to pet it, the cat would take a wide swath around his chair just to avoid him. It seemed Potbelly's was doing that to us.

But they finally made it here. They're in an area of Hurst that is basically being rebuilt around the construction of 183/121 at Precinct Line Rd. Across the highway is In-N-Out Burger that we've written about. The city of Hurst must be laying out the incentives, as many new chains are coming to the area, including an Outback, Pei Wei, and a newly rebuilt Starbucks, amongst others.

Anyway, was it worth the constant tracking for our own store? Yes. Yes, it was. I love their sandwiches. Potbelly started in 1977 in Chicago, but didn't branch out until about 1996. I first heard of them while walking through Midway Airport many years ago. They're sort of a cross between a traditional East Coast sub shop, a Chicago styled grinder house, and Quizno's. The bread is delicious, and they use the conveyor belt setup to heat their sandwiches. And their prices aren't bad for this day and age. I went with the Italian on this visit, and Mrs. RJG had the chicken salad sandwich. They were executed to perfection.

If you've never tried one, and you live nearby, give them a shot. We'll be regulars for certain. Now that they're here, that is...


Potbelly Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill ~ Colleyville, Texas

We were reviewing new restaurants in the area, when I saw that they planned on opening a new Costa Vida in Fort Worth. I had totally forgotten about this place, and that reminded me of the one in Colleyville, which is closer than the new one will be to us. Surprisingly this is our first visit here.

Costa Vida is a chain from Utah (Lehi - in the row of towns between Provo and Salt Lake City) that originally came up during the burrito craze of the last couple of decades as lead by Chipotle, Baja Fresh, and Qdoba's. Other than a proliferation of stores throughout the Beehive State, you will find a smattering of Costa Vida's in most of the West and Southwest states.

I zoomed in on the Baja Bowl, which is their variation of the Naked Burrito or Burrito Bowl, and filled it with grilled chicken, pinto beans, rice, red enchilada sauce, and cheese. Now the distinguishing characteristic of Costa Vida is they then push the bowl through the heated conveyor belt (like Quizno's) for a nicely toasted dish with melted cheese. On the back end they'll toss on top lettuce, pico, and a salsa of your choice (in this case I grabbed a container of the honey habanero). Mrs. RJG did similar but she asked for half grilled chicken and half sweet pork, which is their signature dish. I also had a frozen margarita, because it's that time of year, right?

We both were satisfied. Their grilled chicken is slightly better than Chipotle's, and I've always been a fan of Chipotle's chicken. The toasting concept is fantastic, as the melted yellow cheese is excellent in this setting. The rice is also a major winner, besting the other chains. The beans are... well, beans. They're fine. On the downside, the sweet pork was indeed sweet. Too sweet, and too greasy according to the Missus. The honey habanero, while packing a little bit of heat, was also too sweet, and definitely pales compared to better salsas found at the three chains mentioned in the prologue. I need to try their other salsa next time. And finally, while on the topic of sweet, the margarita was more like a sugar Kool-Aid. So it's obvious the chain has a bit of a sweet tooth, which doesn't quite appeal to us.

Will we be back? Oh definitely. In total, an excellent experience. And we want to try their tacos, quesadillas, and maybe even the enchiladas. And I'll grab a beer next time. A good place for sure. I can't believe it took us this long to try it.


Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 5, 2013

El Tep (El Tepehuan) ~ Englewood, Colorado

June 28, 2015: Quick note. I was here back in April, and apparently they are moving to the end of the strip, in what used to be a Vietnamese restaurant. This may have already happened, I'm not sure. They also will change their name to El Tep (we like The Teep better). I'll probably be back in October and will report more then.

This is one of the few places, from before this blog anyway, that I can recite the exact first date I visited. It was October 16, 1995. It was a late afternoon on a Monday, when the secretary (err, Executive Assistant) of our department was scurrying about trying to unload a free football ticket for the Broncos game that night. It was for only one seat. And there was probably only one loser in the whole office who would have had nothing better to do that night, and who was unmarried or unattached. Yea... me. About 15 minutes later, coincidentally, I was introduced to our new SAP "basis" lead, who had just relocated his family to Denver from Cincinnati (I was the Oracle DBA on the project at that time). That gentleman we will identify for this blog as the Spamlamb, who became a lifelong friend that I still talk with frequently to this day. So I mentioned to him that I was going to the game. Spamlamb said that he was going as well, with his brother and sister-in-law. He asked if I wanted to tag along. That was a no brainer - I didn't have to worry about parking if nothing else. Then he says to me: "We're going to The Teep before the game - you been?". "No, what's that?" And the rest is history as they say. BTW, Denver crushed Oakland 27-0 (this was when Oakland was still reliably good). It was at the old Mile High Stadium. Man, that place went nuts that night.

Spamlamb's older brother had lived in Denver for many years, and this was their go-to spot for Mexican.  Spamlamb himself had taken a shine to it on his frequent trips to Denver. As you can see in the photo above, this was an old diner that sat on one of those "old town" type streets (which is exactly how one could describe the scene on Broadway in old Englewood). And there's almost no parking out front (there's plenty in the back). In those days, El Tepehuan was a dump, with old restaurant furniture and poor lighting. As is the case with the RJG now, those things didn't bother me then either. I dipped the chip into the "hot sauce", placed it in my mouth, and I knew I'd be a regular at "The Teep" forever. To this day, I would argue that El Tepehuan's salsa is one of the best, if not the best salsa one can get at a restaurant. It's very spicy with a unique taste I haven't experienced anywhere else. This "unique taste I haven't experienced anywhere else" is actually the storyline of El Tepehuan in general. It doesn't taste like Mexican food I've had anywhere else in Denver, or DFW, or the USA, or Mexico. It's one of a kind.

I don't think it's an exaggeration for me to say I've been to El Tepehuan more than 200 times since that first night in late 1995. The restaurant has definitely improved the interior with homemade carved heavy wood furniture. But other than that small facelift, the place still has the look and feel of a 1960s breakfast diner. And the food quality is pretty much the same now as it was then. Maybe even better. Every time I go to Denver, I want to eat here at least once. And that's precisely what I did this past May.

So what are the favorites there? The Spamlamb swears by the chile relleno - says it's one of the best of its kind (there are a couple of types of chile relleno's that he can give full dissertations on). And he's also very fond of their Huevos Rancheros, something I too can attest for.

Naturally being from Texas, I had a tendency to go for more Tex-Mex offerings at first. That's not a good idea in principle when eating Mexican in Denver. It took me awhile to find my favorite dish there, but once I did, it sold me even more than just the amazing salsa. First of all, I love their ground beef. Just a good old fashioned ground beef taco at El Tepehuan is a fantastic taste experience. But it's their chicken that steals the day. Their shredded chicken is the gold standard by which no other place can even get close too. They heavily season it, then fry it lightly to give it crispy edges and the taste of a grill that probably hasn't been replaced since 1966. Throw those bad boys into a taco and slather it with El Tepehuan's salsa, and you will go home happy. And maybe a little scared because the heat of the sauce is still on your lips.

But even better, is to get that same chicken stuffed into a burrito the size of your head, and then have it doused in their incredible green chile. Like everything else, El Tepehuan's green chile is like none other you've had. First of all it's not spicy (What? The RJG likes something that isn't spicy?). But the flavors are incredible. I do know they use bay leaves, which isn't in your typical recipe. So: Chips and salsa, one big fat chicken burrito buried in green chile, washed down with a cheap Mexican lager. I'm presuming this is what heaven is going to be like. It better be. :-)

This is one of the RJG's favorite restaurants on the planet (and Mrs. RJG loves it as well). It was a deep secret in the 90s. Word's gotten out over the years, but it's still a "local find". The place is always crowded - whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But it's never packed. There's always one or two empty tables awaiting you. Look at that Urbanspoon rating with over 100 votes. Need I say more?


El Tepehuan on Urbanspoon

Denver area RJG reviews

One of the things that has been gnawing at me for some time regarding this blog has been my total negligence on reporting on places outside of DFW. I managed to get in the Lubbock trip lately, but that's about it. Now part of the reason is the lack of regular visits to a particular restaurant. Or perhaps more to the point: My inability to return. I'm a bit uncomfortable making strong recommendations on places that I've been to once, or that it's likely to be only once for many years. While I would try to refrain from negative reviews, even a positive one can be misleading. What if I just got lucky that one day? However, while that might explain away a lot of my traveling experiences, I cannot use that excuse for Denver.

Quick history of my past with Colorado. I moved to Colorado Springs (from Carrollton) in late November 1993 for a new job. Even though I'd never even traveled to the state at that time, I moved site unseen. I knew it was going to be awesome, and it was (is). In April of 1995, I changed jobs again and relocated to Denver. It was there I met Mrs. RJG and we were married in 1997. By May of 1998, we bought our first house in The Pinery which is south of Parker. And in January of 2003 we relocated back to DFW, but this time to Northeast Tarrant rather than the Dallas side. But that didn't end our Denver story. Since Mrs. RJG still has family there, and I still had business and friends there, we continued to return annually, sometimes a few times in a year. Then in 2009 we picked up a summer townhome in southeast Denver and spent 4 to 5 of the summer months there through 2011. For whatever reason, I never could get motivated to write on this blog while we were there. Anyway, we decided in early 2012 to sell the townhome, and now we're back to occasional visits. And it is my intention to at least visit Denver once a year if at all possible (if not more). I recently was there in May (sans Mrs. RJG) for personal business.

There's still plenty of places for us to report on here in DFW, but on those many days when I have nothing new to add, and if I have a bit of free time to reminisce about Denver, I will try to pepper a few in. I will mainly cover off on places I've been for many years. But I do have one I discovered on my last visit this past May that I want to write about.

I've created a new Label called Denver Metro, which also includes the few places I wrote about in 2009 and 2010. On my last visit in May, I did stop by the venerable Brewery Bar, which I've updated as well.