Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chelsea Pizza ~ Grapevine, Texas

I've been aware of Chelsea Pizza for many years, as reviews and comments alike praised their authentic New Jersey styled pizza. In fact, they first opened in 2009 about a year after getting this blog started. I'd intended on heading west to their Keller location for what seems forever, but there was always some reason why I didn't. At first they were dinner only, which was inconvenient since Mrs. RJG typically doesn't want pizza for dinner. Then by the time they did open for lunch, their website menu didn't indicate they had pizza by the slice, and I didn't feel compelled to order a whole pie.

So it was a month ago while Mrs. RJG and I were dining at the Cafe Italia on Hwy 26 that I noticed Chelsea Pizza had opened a new location right next door. I found out they were open for lunch, and they had pizza by the slice, so it was indeed time for me to finally try it. So I finally wandered over recently for a lunch, and had two slices - one cheese and one sausage. The slices are very generous, slightly larger than a traditional portion from an 8 cut pie. The crust was slight crispy, but not very pliable, so there would be no folding down the middle and inhaling. The crust was also fairly uniform, indicating that it may have not been hand tossed. A traditional NY pizza place will have the pies out for viewing, and you point at what you want, but at Chelsea there was nothing on display, they just went to the back and a few minutes later showed up with pizzas on a plate. That's certainly fine with me, but I had no visibility on how they make their pizzas. The flavor of the crust, again, wasn't anything noteworthy. The tomato sauce was not distinctive either, but pleasant. The cheese was wonderfully gooey, and the sausage they use are the crumbles rather than anything homemade.

What's the verdict? Definitely a fine pizza, but not overwhelmingly positive. Hence, the 3.0 rating which basically means I'll eat there willingly again, but I have no intention of seeking out for regular visits. Thumbs up, but not outstanding.

Rating: 3.0


Chelsea Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Las Caras ~ Denver, Colorado

So we continue our trek through the Denver restaurant landscape. We first discovered Las Caras in our recent summer townhome phase of Denver living (2009-2011). Las Caras was conveniently close to our place in SE Denver, and since I worked from home, it made the perfect lunch stop for Mrs. RJG and I during the week. Las Caras means "The Faces", and the name takes on more meaning once you realize the owner (or family member of the owner) is also an artist, and many painted faces adorn the walls.

So what separates Las Caras from the competition? A few things actually. The salsa that comes with the chips is quite good, but if you ask for the hotter one, you'll receive a dark green concoction that has this most unique smoked chile flavor, and packs some heat too. For an entree, be sure to get something with their grilled chicken. It's absolutely delicious. It's always tender, and features a marinate similar to what you might find at a Thai restaurant. It's not exactly that, but it's unlike any charbroiled chicken I've ever had at a Mexican place. And this being Denver, I of course get a chicken burrito and "smother it in green" - or more precisely in spicy green. Always ask for that if you are so inclined - as many of the Denver area restaurants have hotter chiles then they might let on. Fantastic! Mrs. RJG suspects there's some Oriental influence in their cooking, and I have to agree. I think that's one of their positive separators. And really, that's all there is to tell. Great chips, spicy salsa, smothered chicken burrito, and a Bohemia beer to wash it down. Reasonably priced, and a meal that feels healthy. Unlike some Mexican restaurants where you waddle out in regret, Las Caras always makes me feel fit for the rest of the day. The perfect lunch spot.

As such, on my last visit to Denver, I walked off the plane, into the rental car, and made a beeline here for lunch. It was... yea... perfect. Same as I had remembered from 2 years prior. The shopping center itself is completely different though. They bulldozed the Tamarac mall area up front and put up a Target and probably a few other things (it really does look way better). The strip center behind that, though, was given an upgrade and appears to be here for the long haul. This is where Las Caras sits.

If you're in the Tamarac Square area, or wandering Hampden around meal time - definitely stop on in, and grab some tasty and guiltless Mexican food. At least, on the latter point, it feels that way. We've been dozens of times, and it never fails to hit the spot.

Note the high Urbanspoon score on a strong sample size. Denver is a demanding city when it comes to Mexican food, so that's very impressive indeed.


Las Caras Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Freshcraft ~ Denver, Colorado

(photo courtesy of beerphxation)

While the RJG awaits to try his next new restaurant in DFW (though we already have 9 revisits as indicated by the 2014 update tag), and I have a little extra time to write, let's get back to our "second home" in Denver. Now that we sold our summer townhome, I tend to get to Denver only about twice a year for family and personal business.

And on both visits to Denver in 2013, I visited Freshcraft, which ironically I discovered for the first time last year. Freshcraft is located in the LoDo section of downtown Denver, right in the heart of the active nightlife section. I typically stay at a hotel in the Denver Tech Center, that is conveniently within walking distance of the RTD (Denver's light rail system). So it's perfect for a dinner. Train in, walk, eat, drink a few craft beers, walk back, train out. On both visits, I went on a Saturday night around 7:30 or so. In June I was able to sit at the bar with few patrons. And in November, it was very difficult to even find a stool for one and I had to wait a few minutes. It's that popular. And it's easy to see why. With a very diverse, and constantly changing beer list, combined with a hearty menu, Freshcraft provides the perfect balance of food and drink. Their beer list does not offer exclusively Colorado only beers, but even the out of state beers are not what you would commonly find at a typical bar. The link above changes on an almost daily basis. As for food, they offer anything from snacks to "large plates". If it fits your dietary needs, absolutely go for a cup of the Ale and Cheese soup made with a Pale Ale. It's creamy and delicious. Along with the soup, I've only stuck with sandwiches to date, and recommend their Cuban (which I'm not seeing on their menu as I type this), though I've had my eye on their Crispy Pork Schnitzel both trips. What I like most about their menu, is that it's not overly chef school fru-fru nor is it heavy on greasy fried "brown food" - which is what a lot of brewpubs unfortunately only offer. Its diversity is perfect for the traditional male and female diet.

Even though I have a long list of Denver favorites, Freshcraft has managed to secure a place near the top in short order. At this point, I plan on going here on each and every visit, where time allows.


Freshcraft on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 10, 2014

Samui Thai Cuisine ~ Plano, Texas

And here's the final entry from Mr. Music's last batch of reviews. I'm not familiar with Samui, which I could say about almost all restaurants in Plano, but it appears to be a popular place according to Urbanspoon.

Mr Music writes: My boss suggested we come to Samui Thai for lunch last Friday. I had been once before and just didn’t remember loving it, although several of my co-workers speak highly of it. I was looking forward to another visit. Samui is a nice Thai place in the Shops of Legacy. The lunch menu was reasonably priced and had all the dishes I know and love - Thai food is one of my favorite types of food. I noticed they had Lad Na, which a Thai friend of mine told me was a good sign as it is a favorite dish at home. I actually opted for the Spicy Basil Chicken and my boss and co-worked each had a fried rice dish. We could add soup or a spring roll for $1 so of course I went for the Tom Kha Gai. The bowl was a good size for a side and the soup was great. Chicken broth with galangal, lemon grass, a little fish sauce and chili flakes with coconut milk and tender chicken chunks was mixed just right. I ordered 4 of 5 stars (heat level) on the spicy basil and also got the chili flakes and a bowl of my favorite: Pik Nam Pla (fresh Thai chilies sliced into fish sauce). The portion was big and the food hot and fresh. Very tasty – and I made it a 6 or 7 on the spicy scale with the pik nam pla and chili flakes. The fried rice dishes looked great, and one was teeming with big shrimp. My opinion of Samui has changed - it is a solid Thai restaurant and I’d go anytime. I need to go more to find the one dish that makes them shine.


Samui Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 9, 2014

3 Parrots Taco Shop ~ Benbrook, Texas

Many of you will remember that the RJG had visited 3 Parrots Taco Shop almost exactly a year ago. We had gone to the Beach Street location. In the latest batch of reviews from Mr. Music, he'd apparently gone to the Benbrook location after some disc golf. So I'll create a new post here, and we can compare notes to our own experience. And it appears he drew a similar conclusion regarding Fuzzy's. As you can see from the link above, we haven't returned, and I don't think that we will unless I hear of significant changes.

Mrs. Music and I were in West Ft. Worth with some friends for some serious disc golf at Z-Boaz Park. After a grueling 3 hour round, we were ready for some chow! One of our friends surfed up Three Parrots and since it was very close, we decided to check it out. I’d never heard of it and didn’t have time to look it up so I was excited to go in blind. Ryo was excited to see they had schooners of beer for $3, but if craft been is your preference, this is not the place for you. The most exciting item on the brew list was Rahr’s Ugly Pug. Aside from that were the usual suspects. The décor was interesting - it has a very commercial feeling, but featured cool tikis, beer signs with guitars and demon heads and guitar necks with skull and tiki bodies. The menu was compact. You pick a taco or burrito, salad or nachos, and then pick the meat you want for it. I decided to get 3 tacos: Grilled fish, grilled shrimp and chipotle chicken. Mrs. Music got fish and a breakfast taco with chorizo. Ryo got beer battered fish tacos and Ms. Cubana had nachos. They had a sauce on the table and offered a hotter, habanero sauce as well. We got both. The tacos all came in double steamed corn tortillas and everything reminded all of us quite a bit of Fuzzy’s - even the sauces. The pluses were the corn tortillas were a bit heartier and the tacos stuffed a little more than Fuzzy’s, although $2.29 as opposed to $1.99. The flavor of the fish at Fuzzy’s appealed to me a bit more and Fuzzy’s habanero sauce is a bit hotter, “better” Ryo chimed in. The food was pretty good and fresh. The place was clean as a whistle, but not sure I need to rush back soon. 

Website And they still don't mention the Beach St. location!

3 Parrots Taco Shop on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Revolver Taco Lounge ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Not only is the RJG back in the saddle, but Mr. Music has suddenly reappeared as well with a fresh set of local reviews. Revolver Taco Lounge is a place that has received an enormous amount of press, but we have yet to wander over and try it. Let's see what Mr. Music thinks...

The Musics' were in Ft. Worth on Saturday and decided to check out some local tacos. A good friend mentioned he’d seen a place called Revolver Taco Lounge and had been meaning to check it out.  I saw some good reviews and thought it was worth a shot.  The restaurant is very small with nice décor and the white table cloths help make it seem upscale.  The menu is packed with very interesting items such as mole, ceviche, birria and several yummy looking tacos. Mrs. Music wanted to splurge a little and ordered the Langosta tacos which are made with a half-pound of lobster meat. I opted for Al Pastor - a favorite dish of mine.  Music Junior and Baby Music split an order of tamales.  We were accompanied by 2 nephews and a niece, but they were not interested in eating there. The tacos came 4 to an order so we decided to have 2 of each, each. Amazing handmade corn tortillas wrapped around the goods boded well. Mrs. Music expressed foodgazmic delight as she slowly took down the Langosta which had caramelized red onions, lemon zest and well-seasoned melted butter. I attacked the delicious looking pastor complete with pineapple, cilantro onion and a special salsa.  It was delicious! I think the pork was actually cooked on a spit, as it should be. The tacos were not packed but had a good amount of filling. The tamales were plump and covered with sauce. The pork had red mole on it and the chicken had tomatillo. Both had crema drizzled atop. A third tamale with shrimp would have accompanied the other two but we opted for an extra pork as the kids are not yet into shrimp. Poor things!  We ordered bottomless, homemade limeade. it was tart and slightly sweet and very refreshing! The food was as fresh as can be and everything tasted so good, but it wasn’t cheap.  After tip it was $80 and I was actually still a little hungry afterwards. It’s a very nice place and I plan to go again, but don’t think it is a good place for young kids.  The staff was wonderful and was very kind with the kids even if they did want to climb on all the stools and couches and run to and from the bathroom.  If you are in a rush, you might want to wait before coming to Revolver. It is a great place to hang out for a nice slow evening and since all the food is handmade right there, it can be a little slow, especially if the restaurant is full. I’d love to try just about everything on the menu and hope to get back soon.


Revolver Taco Lounge on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 3, 2014

TPR Burger ~ Watauga, Texas

So we start the new year not with a revisit, but rather a new entry altogether. TPR Burger was getting some buzz in the local media marketplace, and since it's here in NE Tarrant, I felt I better get over there and report back.

TPR, as you can discern from the photo above, stands for Texas Patty Real. In speaking with the owner, the acronym was born when the cost to replace the sign above the restaurant was too expensive to put the whole name there. Once again it proves the old axiom: Necessity is the mother of all invention.

When I first walked in, I was expecting to see an order counter, and since no one greeted me, I wandered around aimlessly for a couple of minutes. It was clear after awhile, that it's a sit down restaurant, and I was greeted warmly by the owner and she escorted me to my table. I'm guessing they are short on help at this point. Since this is my first visit, I decided to stick with the basics and go with a cheeseburger, and that comes with a side of fries. About 10 minutes later, out comes this wonderful basket with sizzling fries, and a double aluminum wrapped big and awesome looking burger with gooey cheese hanging from the sides. Since the hand cut fries were staring at me, I started with them, and the heavily salted potatoes were excellent. All burgers come with two large and thin patties and topped with what I think is called an Hawaiian bun, which has a slightly sweet taste. It's obviously a key ingredient and impacts the flavor in a positive way. The burgers have an excellent flavor, and the bun was toasted to perfection. Given the size of the burger, plus the fries, the $6.99 price tag is a good value.

TPR replaced one of the many Balkan owned Italian restaurants that have been closing at a rapid rate around the area. It was originally built with a large open window space, and the restaurant can be very bright at the lunch hour. The location is a bit hidden, but it's in the same shopping center as Habanero's which is at Basswood and US 377 (NW corner).

Texas Patty Real Burger is an excellent addition to the DFW hamburger landscape, and complements well with Watauga's other gem: The Burger and Philly Shack. Give them a try!


TPR Burger on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! Hopefully 2014 brings happiness to all.

Especially to our taste buds.

And on that note, let's do a quick 2013 in review. We had our most productive year on the RJG to date. Not bad for a silly little project that started almost 6 years ago. I was able to stick with it all year, even though we didn't have new entries for a few months towards the end. But I kept the updates fresh, as evidenced by the 66 updates (see 2013 Update label to your right). That is in addition to the 78 new entries we added. I will leave that label alone, and we'll create a new 2014 Update category for all 2014 updates to entries prior to today. I'll be curious how they compare.

Many of the principle's of the RJG are still intact, and I don't see them changing anytime soon. Amongst those 1) We are not professional food writers and do not want to be. While that should be painfully obvious after reading only one entry, it's worth noting that we do this strictly as a hobby, and its primary function is to call out restaurants "where the regular folks eat". 2) We are not "foodies". We like to go out to eat. There's a big difference. Most restaurant reviewers, especially the professionals, are indeed foodies. That's certainly not a condemnation, as I truly respect these people. It's just not what the RJG is about. We talk about the dining experience and what's good to eat. We do not give detailed dissertations on how the meal was prepared nor hit the thesaurus for new adjectives on how it tasted. And 3) we continue to do this anonymously. The main reason for this is we do not want any kind of special treatment. I have been blessed with good paying jobs for many years now, and I want to spend money at these establishments so they stay in business. I get frequent invitations to go to "grand openings" or "can you try our restaurant - and we'll cover all expenses". No way. We don't want anything for free. We may try the restaurant but they'll never know when. I can't blame these establishments for trying to curry favor, but we aren't for sale. I make precisely $0 doing this. As you can see, I have no advertising (Google Ads) up. I won't say never - maybe one day I will need the money. But I'm working very hard now so that doesn't happen. And this blog is here as a volunteer effort to support the local community.

So what were the positives for 2013?

1. The craft beer movement in Texas has absolutely taken off. This is an exciting development that has had a profound impact on the restaurant industry as well. The most popular restaurant in all of DFW for 2013 had to be Hopdoddy Burger Bar (Dallas), that we covered last January. It's been in the "Talk of the Town" section of Urbanspoon for the entire year, And if you think it's just because of the burgers, then you only understand the half of it. It's the beer selection too. Perhaps the RJG's favorite is Jack Mac's Swill and Grill (far north Dallas), whose beer selection is entirely made up of Texas craft beers - that rotate often. And the food is excellent. Of course both of those places are pretty far from NE Tarrant, and I've only managed one visit each to date. Other similar places are going up in Fort Worth, Dallas, Plano, Frisco, and Denton. Unfortunately nothing here, beyond The Ginger Man (Southlake), which is pretty disappointing from a local craft beer perspective (not terrible, but not as exciting at they could be). They have way too many national and international macro brews to take too seriously. And their menu is an afterthought. Mellow Mushroom (Southlake) and the Baja Grill chain (under various names throughout NE Tarrant) have done an admirable job of supplanting their menus with fine craft beers.

2. Plenty of new restaurants in NE Tarrant opened in 2013 (or close to it). Some of our favorites include:

-Lupe's Tex-Mex Grill (Keller). Already established in Bedford, but the Keller location is much welcomed - and very good.

-Jet's Pizza (NRH) New outlet for the Michigan based to-go pizza chain. I love their Jet Boats and pizza sauce!

- i Fratelli's Pizza (Keller) A new outlet for the classic "Dallas styled" pizza chain. And right near the RJG's Mom's apartment.

-Back Forty Smokehouse (NRH) Perhaps our new favorite BBQ in all of NE Tarrant

-In-N-Out Burger (Hurst) My favorite California burger chain arrives in NE Tarrant

-Apeizza e Vino (Southlake) Best new entry in the Napoletana pizza sweepstakes

-Taco Villa (far north Ft. Worth) The arrival of West Texas' finest crunchy taco chain hits NE Tarrant

-TruFire Kitchen (Southlake) Best chicken parm in NE Tarrant, and it's not even an Italian restaurant. Fine menu, and reasonable prices. Impress your friends.

-Niki's (NRH) Well, hardly new - but a new opulent location right across the street from the dilapidated old one. Same good Italian food - much nicer surroundings.

-Torchy's Tacos (Southlake) Austin's famed taco house comes to Southlake and gets a license to print money. Always packed. But it's "damn good" as they say. Like the craft beer movement mentioned above, the high end "tacos y margaritas" concept continues to grow.

-Freebird's (far north Ft. Worth) They open about one new location a year around here, each about 6 feet closer to where we live. And yet none are close. Amazing. But it's still cool that we now have 5 NE Tarrant locations to choose from, where we had none only a few years ago.

-Potbelly Sandwich Shop (Hurst) After what seemed forever, the Chicago based sandwich chain finally found its way to NE Tarrant.

-Duff's Famous Wings (Southlake) The Buffalo legend expands for the first time out of New York and Toronto - and comes to NE Tarrant. Cool.

-Lee's Grilled Cheese (far north Fort Worth) Food truck gets a brick and mortar, and has created an entirely new fast food category. I think the concept has tremendous potential.

There are many more than this, but these are the ones that most excited us.

3. And with exciting openings, comes disappointing closings. These include:

-Mo' Fish (Keller). Maybe not a full closing, as they renamed it to Baja Grill (same owners). But I liked that Mo' Fish had a Bayou slant. That location has always struggled, and many restaurants there have closed.

-Daddy Jack's (Southlake) This one came and went in a flash. Looks like this location continued to struggle. Too bad as we liked their New England take on seafood.

-Planet Burrito (Southlake) They just couldn't get out of their own way. They had a good concept, but they tried too hard with other ideas and lost their core base.

-Aleda's Pizza (Southlake) The Barry's Pizza Pub legend couldn't handle the competition from the new Mama's across the street.

-Black Diamond Smokehouse (NRH) I was really bummed about this, as I was very impressed with their BBQ on one visit, and was looking forward to many tries. But the location was horrible. Who the heck would even know they were there? Word of mouth was too slow apparently.

-Yourway Burgers (Keller) Another place that abandoned their core idea, and ultimately ended up as a pool hall. And closed for good not long after that.

-Bite the Weenie (NRH) The one and only hot dog place in NE Tarrant, that had a great idea of regional hot dogs. I think it's a tough sell in this day and age of "healthy" eating - even if that's not what anyone actually does. It's just the thought. There are tons of places like this in Chicago, but they never have done well here in Texas.

I know there's more, but those were some of the more notable ones we'd written about prior.

OK, I could probably go for days, but I'll stop here. Let's see what 2014 brings us, shall we?