Monday, June 27, 2016

Main Street Cafe ~ Keller, Texas

We've been a few times over to Main Street Cafe, including very recently. A consistently good place, though the non-distinctive name and location keeps it out of the memory bank when thinking about places to dine. Of course, it tries to replicates the main street town diners of old, but that's hard to do without a grill that's been cooked on for 70 years...

Food: Breakfast is the main draw, but they also serve lunch and dinner every day (except dinner on Sunday and Monday). We would categorize their breakfast as a "cut above" the ordinary places such as Denny's or IHOP. In the past, the RJG frequently questioned the variation for breakfast, as eggs and pancakes are often too similar to differentiate. But with the advent of skillets, creative omelettes, and artisan breads/meats, breakfast has become much more interesting in modern times. While we've yet to discover a standout dish, we've been more than satisfied with their breakfast offerings to date (omelettes, bacon & eggs, pancakes). We'd say that Main Street fits smack in the middle of the continuum from Snooty Pig to Old West Cafe in Grapevine (RJG feature coming soon!). We've also tried their lunch, and I found their cheeseburger to be quite excellent, giving stiff competition to the specialty houses in the area. Excellent hand cut fries as well. I'm most curious about their dinner offerings, as it has a distinct Italian slant. That will be our next venture.

Drink: Good coffee, and the usual juices. Since they are a lunch/dinner place, they do have a full bar as well. They used to carry Shannon, but we were informed recently that their customer base aren't really into craft beers, so they only have Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, that kind of thing. I'll be damned if I'll drink a Bud Light at this stage. We just get water (same thing, isn't it? haha).

Location: Even further south of Maria Cuca's on the strip of shops between the railroad and US 377 near downtown Keller. Its first tenant was Cedar Creek Seafood, and you can still see remnants of their original decoration, even though Main Street has been here since 2009. It's a spacious, bright and welcoming place.

Rating: 3.5. Reliably good breakfast and lunch, though not exceptional, and as such we are very infrequent patrons. Still curious about their dinner offerings.  Could go up from here.

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Main Street Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Wise Guys Pizza ~ Grapevine, Texas

THIS... this is what I've been talking about in regards to artisan pizza and craft beers. The craze that is taking hold in America is reflected quite well here at Wise Guys. Though the pizza isn't really in the same category as Grimaldi's or Spin!, it's still a fine blend of well made pizzas and a superb local beer selection. Mrs. RJG and I had visited two weeks ago, and when Mr. Music and I planned a day of food, drink, and tunes, I decided this would be the perfect lunch location. Following that, I would enter it here into the blog.

Food: Pizza is the main draw,  but they also have a fine selection of pastas, sandwiches, salads, and soups. We've only sampled the pizza so far, but based on the sauce that comes with the baked pizza dough balls (served pre-meal like chips at a Mexican restaurant), I am most excited to try their pasta. Mrs. RJG and I tried one of their Neapolitan pies with Italian sausage and fresh basil. The crust is a bit thicker than Grimaldi's for example, and it doesn't really seem like a Napoletana style to us. And what of it? We loved it anyway! Mrs. RJG who is very picky with crusts, especially thicker ones, enjoyed it immensely, as it had the right amount of crispiness and an excellent flavor, and that doesn't taste doughy. Cheese and sauce are the other key ingredients to any good pizza, and it's the latter where Wise Guys excels. Just the right amount of sweetness, and not dry at all. With Mr. Music, we decided on one of their "Specialty Loaded Pizzas" which they describe as thick and hand tossed. No way Mrs. RJG would go for this, so had to take advantage of the moment. While they are indeed thicker, it's once again crisp, and not just fat pizza bread that makes you waddle out. In fact we downed a 14 inch "Don All Meat", and didn't feel stuffed in the slightest. That's a good thing! Waddling out of a restaurant is not something we strive for. So 2 for 2, and I'm certain Mrs. RJG and I will be returning to split dishes and salads.

Drink: Best selection of local craft beers on tap we've yet to experience in NE Tarrant. Like Jack Mac's in Dallas, it's not a huge selection like Ginger Man or Drunken Donkey, and there's less than 15 taps. But it's all Texas, all craft, and not beers you find everywhere. Different brews from 3 Nations, Oak Highlands, Noble Rey, and Panther Island are hardly common in this part of DFW anyway. And they change frequently (they have a chalkboard - always a good sign). Impressive. Of course they have wine as well.

Location: Anchors the south end of a strip mall on the SE corner of Northwest Hwy and Park Blvd. just north of the 114 service road in Grapevine. If memory serves, this was once a Sonny Bryan's BBQ. Nice industrial decor, with a small bar area. Comfortable surroundings.

Notes: Wise Guys is actually from Southern California and they have two locations there (Orange and Yorba Linda). Grapevine is their 3rd, and so far last, locale. So it's not a corporate chain or anything, just a family owned operation, in 2 distinct geographies.

Rating: 4.0. Looking forward to more visits. Could easily go up!

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Wise Guys Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, June 24, 2016

Meat U Anywhere ~ Trophy Club, Texas

We've driven by Meat U Anywhere in Grapevine a number of times, always reminding the RJG that "we have to get over here for lunch". The reviews were very positive, and it seemed Meat U Anywhere was the best BBQ around. Recently Mrs. RJG and I were looking for some new 'cue, and lo and behold, they have a brand new location in Trophy Club! So we'll just start there, and see how it goes.

Food: After receiving our lunch, it didn't take long for Mrs. RJG to proclaim "this is the best barbecue I've ever had!". We don't claim BBQ aficionado status (not by a long shot), but we've had our share over the years, so it was a bold statement. And to be honest, I was inclined to agree with her. Pound for pound, meat by meat - no - we have a long way to go to prove that. But for what we ordered, we were mightily impressed right from the get go. I had a pulled pork sandwich, which was more of a mixture, similar to how chopped beef is normally prepared, to keep it from drying out it. It was very good - and satisfyingly filling. I would have preferred the bread to have been more unique and/or a bit toasted, but it's a small matter. She had the baked potato loaded with chopped beef, and we both loved the flavor of the beef. It weighed a ton, so come with an appetite. She ate it all anyway. Where the accolades come from, though, were with the sides. Generally the sides are an afterthought, something to fill out the meal. At MUA, they are chef creations, or so it seems. I had the jalapeno bacon mac and cheese. Oh my goodness, what a great dish this is. Spicy with a strong bacon flavor, and hot creamy cheese, over large ziti noodles. Yes, not the usual boring elbows. The Mrs. had the Cowboy Campfire beans, which are loaded with bbq beef, and tastes more like a chili than the usual boring ol' frijoles. Barbeque sauce is on each table, and it's excellent too, with a smoky flavor - not sweet or spicy, but just right. And if you do like it hot, they also provide a spicy homemade salsa. Which reminds me, they open at 6 for breakfast, and have barbeque breakfast tacos. That sounds delicious too! I cannot wait to try their ribs, brisket, ham, sausages, and other staples of the barbeque house. I have a distinct feeling they are going to be the "best", whatever that may mean. We certainly hope so. We'll update this post as we go. I will say, it's a bit on the pricey side. A sandwich, a baked potato, one extra side, and one fountain drink came to $27. As they say, you get what you pay for. But this isn't a place to come to if on a budget.

Drink: No sinnin' here, so no alchyhol. Meat U Anywhere is an old school Christian Texas barbeque house. Which is fine with me, since I'm an old school Christian Texan. But I was raised Lutheran, so we had beer and wine at church events! (NYA -NYA). Haha, in any case, they have the usual fountain and bottled drinks. And iced tea probably sells by the barrel load.

Location: Brand spanking new Hill Country styled building at the NW corner of Westlake Pkwy/Trophy Club Dr and TX-114. Had to cost a pretty penny to build, especially in this neighborhood, so business must have been brisk at the Grapevine location. Parking is a bit odd, but just find your way to the back of the bulding. Like the Grapevine location, they do have a valet, but it's not compulsory, as long as the free spots are empty. When you arrive, walk around the boxes, and order up at the counter. They'll prepare what you ordered right there and send you on your way. Plenty of seating - on large park benches or the many 4 person tables.

Notes: From the website: "In late 2012, after more than 10 years of building up a regional BBQ franchise, I was told that the company “was going the corporate route and those plans don’t include you.” Lifted by my faith in the Lord, with the support of family, friends and soon-to-be business associates, and refusing to become a statistic in tough economic times, I launched MEAT “U” ANYWHERE BBQ & Catering. The aim was to avoid being “boxed in” by a corporate mentality, but to serve great food and to continually exceed customers’ expectations. We took that philosophy to the street for all types of catering venues, forging great relationships and winning loyal customers. Now, the next chapter of our young history is being written with our first store opening in Grapevine, Texas, where you can get our wide selection of smoked meats, exclusive sides and ultimate breakfast tacos. Created out of a necessity to care for my family, MEAT “U” ANYWHERE BBQ & Catering has blossomed because of the commitment to great food, great customer service and countless loyal followers. Come try us in Grapevine or at our new location in Trophy Club. Or for that special event, remember, we will Meat “U” Anywhere."

Rating: 4.0  Warning: Only one visit so far. Looking forward to more though. 4.5 seems assured almost...

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Meat U Anywhere BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kincaid's Hamburgers ~ Southlake, Texas


Originally published December 31, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

Kincaid's is as great as ever. Their location in Southlake is probably as close to a "regular" burger stop as can be for us. And why is that? Because this is Mrs. RJG's favorite in the area, and she's really picky about hamburgers. I finally made it to the original Camp Bowie location in Fort Worth last November, and I have to say that the Southlake locale did a fantastic job of replicating the original.

Original 2008 Food notes: What better way to end the year than a writeup about one of Ft. Worth's most endearing institutions? Officially known as Kincaid's Grocery Market and Hamburgers, the Gentry family has been delighting visitors with their unique blend of seasoning for over 40 years. Kincaid's opened in 1946, and as the name suggests, as a local grocery. Starting in 1965, O. R. Gentry began grinding up excess beef and cooking hamburgers for a few cents each. The legend began.

You don't need the Regular Joe's Guide to learn about Kincaid's, and this is one reason I haven't rushed to write about it, even though we eat here at least once a month. Everyone from Texas Monthly to Frommer's to numerous newspapers have recommended Kincaid's to travelers and locals alike who visit Fort Worth. It is frequently mentioned in Top 10 lists for Best Hamburger - sometimes in national polls. Sometimes as "#1 Best in the USA".

And I'm sure my Fort Worth readers are aghast that I highlight the Southlake location when, after all, it is a Fort Worth icon. But since the RJG is based in NE Tarrant, we're quite proud of our local branch. The Southlake location was the local chain's first excursion beyond the original store, opening in late 2004. They did a great job of simulating the original, with shelves of canned goods, long picnic style benches, and the walls painted in a 1950's Chevy Mist Green color. And the "ego walls" are filled with accolades and awards from all corners of the world. It's a large place, and the line moves fast. They even take credit cards now.

And there's good reason why Kincaid's is so popular - it's just flat out a great hamburger. Is it the best we've ever had? Well, maybe not, but it certainly deserves consideration. It's a thick burger, with plenty of unique seasoning that seeps through the entire patty, which is no small feat. The Ore-Ida style fries are also a big favorite.

Drink: In addition to the fountain drinks and iced tea, Kincaid's does sell bottled beer, if so inclined. Though we usually just stick to the sodas when here.

Location: Order at the counter, grab you a park bench, and wait until they scream out your name when it's ready. Pay close attention, as the place is often crowded and noisy. The Southlake location is at the NW corner of Southlake Blvd. and Kimball. Hard to imagine this corner shopping center once housed a humble (not Super) Wal-Mart and its parking lot.

Notes: Southlake was Kincaid's first outlet, but they have since grown to 6 stores, including Arlington, Weatherford, and two more in Fort Worth (Alliance and Hulen).

Rating: 4.0. Consistently excellent. This the highest grade we usually give for a quick service restaurant.

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Kincaid's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Alvarado's ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Now here's one we have a long history with, in terms of timeline. According to my personal database, I visited Alvarado's way back in July of 2004, not long after they opened. I didn't have a positive experience, and basically never thought about them much again. Mrs. RJG used to work nearby there in the 2006/07 time frame, and stated they would go about once a week and have a burrito. She said it was good, but didn't think it was worthy of us going together. Year after year, the small old taco building seemed to thrive (despite an awful location), as we drove past it towards the Northeast Mall or to Richland Hills/Haltom City. They had to be doing something right! So we finally broke down and revisited late last year, and were mightily impressed with their street tacos. And we've been somewhat regulars ever since. Either they improved or our tastes have changed. Probably a bit of both, as is often the case. The reason for the delay into the RJG is that we were waiting until they moved to their new location. That has now happened, and here we are.

Food: Alvarado's is a real taqueria, which isn't as common in the northern reaches of NE Tarrant as one might presume. We like their tacos, both large and small (street). They really load them up with the meat, and are an excellent value. We like their salsa bar, which provides a vast array of different sauces, most notably a spicy chile de arbol, a pungent verde, and a smooth habanero, which is of course their hottest offering. Mrs. RJG likes their rice and beans as well, and she stated the carne asada (meal) is excellent as well. As for types of meat, we enjoy most their chicken, adobada, and carne asada. But they have more hardcore offerings like lengua for the faithful.

Drink: No alcohol as expected, but they do have Mexican bottled drinks and of course fountain sodas.

Location: Alvarado's just moved into the old Niki's space in a strip mall on Davis, just northeast of Harwood. With this move they have basically tripled their former space - and it's much nicer than the former "dive" as reported by many reviewers. It's quick service, so order at the counter, and they will either deliver it to you or scream out your number. Not organized, but they'll figure it out. Or you will... Incidentally the old Taco Bell they once occupied has already been bulldozed, along with the building next to it. Makes sense given its position on the bridge near the 820/183 feed to Davis.

Rating: 4.0 Consistent and excellent on repeated visits.

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Alvarado's Mexican Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mi Pueblo ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Originally published May 6, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

This was our very first post for a Mexican restaurant. As is often the case, it was just a timing issue, more than a preference. We have been regular visitors to this location since they first opened back in 2004. Some of that is just convenience, but the food does hold up.

Updated 2008 Food/Drink notes: There are a couple of distinctive characteristics of Mi Pueblo, that make it a recommendation for those that don't live in the area. One is the margaritas. I'm always dubious when someone recommends a restaurant based on their alcoholic drink selection. The RJG has found that the restaurant that serves the most alcohol content per drink, is generally referred to as "the best". At which point the half-in-the-bag claimant will also mention they have "the BEST food". Hmm-mmm. Well, I'm here to say that Mi Pueblo does indeed have a great frozen margarita - something that when we travel, we realize that most of the DFW restaurants do better than their counterparts across the nation. And they also have more Happy Hours than usual, so there's a better than average chance you'll get that drink at a favorable price too! More important than the booze, though, is that Mi Pueblo has unique combo platters. I've often wondered why most Mexican restaurants only serve variations on the taco, enchilada, burrito, tamale, and tostada when making up their combos. Mi Pueblo will also throw in items like quesadillas and flautas. I mean why do flautas have to be an expensive, one-food-only option on the menu? They also have a pork and rice dish I like quite a bit (al pastor platter). Mrs. RJG really enjoys the green enchiladas. Of late, I've been fond of their Pollo a la Plancha, which comes out in a sizzling plate similar to fajitas, with a fantastic guajillo pepper sauce. In addition, their chips and salsa are excellent. Very thin corn chips (perhaps too thin) that are easy to douse into the 3 salsas they provide. They will only bring out the mild red (which is good but...), so be sure to ask for the hot (spicy) green, and the hot (temperature) red. Both are outstanding.

Location: This is Mi Pueblo's second location, the original is over by Northeast Mall, in what their website calls Richland Hills, but I think it's still NRH. You'll find the location we're talking about on Davis near the Super Wal-Mart, which is back to back with a Super Target, and across the street from a Kroger Marketplace. That's just insanity right there. I can understand putting a bunch of used record or book stores next to each other, since they all might have something different. But 3 big box discount stores/groceries offering more or less the same crap? Wow. For the record, we prefer Kroger Marketplace. Anyway... the restaurant is large with 3 rooms + a full sports bar area. Popular with families, so be prepared for screaming babies and kids. Fair enough, that's their core business. Get a second frozen margarita, and the screaming babies actually start to sound good.

Notes: The same owners run Los Molcajetes, which is almost exactly the same in every way to Mi Pueblo.

Rating: 4.0. Plenty of variety, great salsas, food, and margaritas. What's not to like?

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Mi Pueblo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Tony's Pizza and Pasta ~ Watauga, Texas

Originally published July 7th, 2013 and updated with a recent visit.

Another update here from the RJG archives. When we first moved to NE Tarrant in 2003, there were dozens of these places. I was anxious to try them all, until I realized they were all more or less the same: Eastern European owned, and stemming from the Moni's empire in Arlington. As time has moved on, most of these establishments have shuttered, moved on, shut down by the authorities, etc... The few that are left have carved out their own identity, and are the cream of the crop. And for us, Tony's is our go-to Italian in the area. It's not by a long shot our favorite Italian restaurant (you have to go to Dallas for that), and of course NE Tarrant finally has secured more authentic restaurants (Oliva's, Il Calabrese) over the years. All the same, we are infrequent visitors, as this is one food type we tend to cook at home.

Food: Tony's is very similar to most of the $ and $$ Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant, and you can read some samples of that here and here. All the same, unlike many of the Italian restaurants in this category that have closed recently, Tony's continues to be very popular. Their to-go pizza side of the house is doing a land office business, as dozens of folks come in for pickups, and no doubt just as many are going out for delivery. Mrs. RJG really loves their Capellini Pomodora, which always comes out blazing hot, and al dente every time. Even though it's more or less a vegetarian dish, I love it too. One of the best unique sauces in town, and a nice diversion from the norm. I like their chicken parm, of course it's not crispy enough for me (it rarely is), but you do get a big slab of pounded white meat chicken with a nice seasoning. And the pasta is al dente with an excellent fresh tomato sauce. As can be expected from a pizza joint, their baked dishes are a cut above as well. I usually get it with some meatballs stuffed in. Sure, they're right off the truck, but I have no higher expectation when I come here. I like the way they prepare their food. Typical salad accompanies most meals, as well as hot baked bread, that is delicious.

Drink: BYOB as per protocol, thus adding to the savings for us winos.  Bring a nice bottle of red and enjoy. They'll provide glasses and an opener, though we always bring the latter along because it's easier to use...

Location: Tony's is set in a strip center in Watuaga, on the SW corner of Rufe Snow and Mid Cities/Watauga Rd. Their dining area is comfortable though hardly romantic. You don't go to Tony's for date night. You go there for reliably good food, usually with a mixture of typical suburban neighborhood folks - older and younger complete with whole broods in tow. Oh, and the waitstaff is consistent and very friendly.

Notes: According to their website, Tony's has been open since 2000, making it one of the older Italian restaurants in the area. Our first visit goes back to 2004.

Rating: 4.0. Excellent time after time. Good neighborhood Italian (and pizza).

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Tony's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Drunken Donkey ~ Keller, Texas

On the last updated post from Funky Baja's, we spoke about how Keller is all grown up. The kid is now in college, and with that... we now have Drunken Donkey. We have longed wished for a Flying Saucer type place in Northeast Tarrant. When Ginger Man arrived in Southlake, it seemed our dreams had come true. Except it didn't. Ginger Man's mentality exists from a time when getting German drafts was still a big deal. We want local, and want the beers to rotate often, not just tokenism ("Have you heard of Rahr's?" Really?). And besides, food at the Ginger Man are appetizers. So the reality is, Ginger Man is not what we were looking for. BTW, for the record, I use Ginger Man as an "extended office" and have met many of my partners/vendors/suppliers there. It definitely serves its purpose, but they can do better in my estimation. Back to Drunken Donkey... it may not be perfect, and maybe not quite as "obscure beer" focused (like Jack Mac's) as we'd like, but we're getting that much closer!

Food: They call themselves Craft Bar & Scratch Kitchen. And they do that because food is not an afterthought to the drink, and honestly that's what makes it so alluring. So far, I've only been to lunch with a couple of business partners, and had the salad and sandwich combo each time. The sandwiches are huge, and really quite good (I've tried the chicken fried chicken, and what they call the Big A$$ Club). I just noticed they have a sandwich that has a cheese sauce made with Old Chub. Oooh - I have to try that. But you know what I'm starting to crave? Perhaps an all-time first for the RJG, at least for the blog: Their champagne vinaigrette dressing on the salad. Oh my goodness. I've always loved a clean tasting, but heavily spiced, Italian dressing, and this fits that definition perfectly. Cold crisp lettuce as well. We've got a long way to go in exploring this menu, but I have every intention of doing just that.

Drink: They are a full bar, but craft beer is definitely their specialty. And they have an enormous selection. It's very similar to Flying Saucer and Ginger Man, in that they have more well known imports, and specialty Belgians. Their beer menu, at least in my 2 visits spread across two months, seemed a bit too "permanent", with maybe 2 to 3 deviations. I think if you specialize in it, they should have more "rare taps" and draft-only beer from some of the local brewers, rather than beers one can typically find at a well stocked Goody Goody. Just my opinion of course, and my "collecting nature". But for the other 95% of you, the beer selection is likely to be overwhelming on first visit. Might be worth visiting the website ahead of time, and making a small list before heading over.

Location: A nice open, sunny, and spacious standalone building, with outside seating and a bar area. This was the former TGI Fridays (good riddance, but I know not everyone agrees with us there). You'll find Drunken Donkey on the east side of US 377 between Kroger Dr and North Tarrant. I'm reading that this place is wildly popular on weekend nights, so plan ahead.

Notes: Drunken Donkey is a local chain that started in Lewisville in 2014, with other locations already in Denton and The Colony. It appears they are about to open in Colleyville as well, which I personally think is too close to Keller, and eats into the same market. I'll trust they did their homework, but it would seem Fort Worth or Arlington would have been a better site if wanting to stay west and help with crowd overflow.

Notes II: The ladies who work here are a bit on the "hot" side, in the Hooters tradition. Which is fine for a traditional male like myself, but thought I'd mention it in case it's not ideal for the company you're with.

Rating: 4.0 Counting on this going up actually.

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Drunken Donkey Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Funky Baja's Cantina ~ Keller, Texas

Originally published October 11, 2011 and updated with a recent visit

How about another update? Going back to Funky Baja's is like reuniting with an old friend that you had a falling out with. This used to be a regular stop for Mrs. RJG and I. We enjoyed the atmosphere, the drinks, and especially the "$3 Freaking Tacos". They even added craft beers, and for us, it was about the closest place to a "hangout" as it will ever get for us. We often brought friends here too. Then one day... one day... the $3 tacos were dinky! And the bartenders / waitstaff were rude, or nonchalant at best. Visit after visit. What the Helga (as my nieces would say)? To me, that's the worst thing you can do: Chintz on the portion. Better to raise the price if that was necessary. In any case, we ultimately stated "Fine, we're done here", and didn't return for nearly 2 years. But we did recently, and all seemed back to normal again. I don't know if we'll ever be regulars again, but it's back in the rotation.

Food: To us, there are three kinds of taco shops: 1) Fast food ground beef crunchy style; 2) Street tacos / taquerias; and 3) The high end, high quality ingredient taco. 3) is really an extension of 2). Honestly, I love all 3 types. So in that third category, we have a very fast growing cottage industry - especially here in DFW. Fuzzy's has become the standard bearer, while others such as Torchy's and Yucatan Taco Stand established themselves as a higher end alternative. I'd say Funky Baja's has the higher quality taco of a Torchy's (though slightly less priced), with more of a Fuzzy's atmosphere, mixed with a traditional bar. In our initial review, we spoke about the Fishman taco (beer battered), the El Santo (chipotle chicken) and the Blue Demon (spicy pork adobada). Both the fish and especially the chicken were outstanding, whereas the pork was a bit fatty and tough (sigh). It wasn't perfect, but most restaurants have specialties I fall for. Over the years, we tried just about every taco, with Pirata Morgan (steak, bacon, queso fresco) adding to our list of favorites. While the tacos don't really need the extra flavor, I do wish they provided their own really hot habanero sauce like Fuzzy's and Yucatan have (they do, however, provide El Yucateco, if so desired). We also moved to other aspects of the menu, and lately the cheeseburger is satisfying us. And if you get their delicious chips and salsa, you have a full meal right there.

Drink: Full bar, with excellent frozen margaritas, and a healthy selection of craft beers.

Location: It's interesting to note that Funky Baja's took over the old Novrozsky's place, that we wrote about many years ago. And the reason it's interesting, for me at least, is that I felt one of the reasons Novrozsky's closed was it didn't understand the space it was in. Some of that is also timing, as Novrozsky's arrived perhaps a but too early. Keller has grown up since then, as has all of Northeast Tarrant county. Texas has always struggled with its Baptist/temperance/prohibition past, but as time has passed, more and more laws are going down in favor of those who enjoy a nice, legal alcoholic beverage in a public setting. Just for reference, DFW had exactly one microbrewery entering this decade (Fort Worth's excellent Rahr and Sons). Now it seems we get a new brewery once a month! In 2008, Old Town Keller was a rather boring strip with one dilapidated, but cool, BBQ restaurant (now closed) and little else. Now it's filled with restaurants and taverns. These newer places are not the stinky dive taverns my uncle loved to frequent - an unwelcome place filled with ne're-do-wells eyeing everyone with distrust and a cigarette dangling from their mouth. Far from it - in fact, these newer places are filled with women and children. In any case, Funky Baja's is a dark place, that does feel like a sports bar, but is also very welcoming, and definitely for the whole family.

Notes: Funky Baja's is a branch of the ever growing Baja chain of restaurants sprouting all over NE Tarrant, most notably under the monikers Baja Grill or Baja Cantina.

Rating: 4.0. Well, the review above may indicate more of a 3.5, but I'm inclined to give it the extra half point on the premise we'll be back more often, as we had in the past.

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Funky Baja's Cantina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, June 17, 2016

Maria Cuca's ~ Keller, Texas

Maria Cuca's opened up a couple of years ago in Keller, and we've been infrequent visitors ever since (~6 to 7 times). To summarize, this is a place we so bad want to love... and we don't. We'll still go on occasion of course, but I'm afraid the food just doesn't measure up to others in the area, at least for our tastes.

Food: Up until the main course, Maria Cuca's is absolutely spot on. The chips are great. The salsas are great (they have more than just the table sauce, be sure to ask). Their famous homemade corn tortillas are great. And while we hardly ever talk about service, we have to say it's been uniformly excellent throughout, including the owner. And then comes the most important part: The entree. Sigh. We'll give Maria Cuca's this: They are entirely unique, and will not remind you of the other Mexican restaurants. That is definitely a plus, and something for you all to consider when reading this review. It's just that for what they do, we're not enthralled. And that goes for Mrs. RJG too. On our very first visit, I saw they have Chipotle Enchiladas. Right there, I thought I was set for life. It's not something you see often, and we always loved the ones at El Fenix. Way too sweet! They use some sort of crema in it. Ack! Oh look, they have "Pancho's Shrimp" - the bacon wrapped jumbo shrimp we so love. Flat and chewy. The crabmeat sauce is utterly disgusting. Sorry - it is. Carne Asada? Tough. Brisket tacos? Ehh. Old fashioned #1 Combo Tex-Mex plate? Boring. Verde sauce? Sour. Tacos? Dull. Mannnnnnn. Well, the rice and beans are good anyway. Not the best of course, but definitely flavorful. What do you do? I guess we'll just keep at it. We know there has to be something we'll love here. That's all it takes right? One dish. We really like these folks, and want them to succeed, but we have to be honest. Another reason to remain anonymous I suppose...

Drink: Remember this quote? "Up until the main course, Maria Cuca's is absolutely spot on". The frozen (and rocks) margaritas definitely assist in that assessment. A superb variation, and they give you one of those monster straws to penetrate the slushy ice. Just how I like them too - thick and freezing! They have a full bar for those who like more than beer and margaritas.

Location: Basically on the other end (south side) from Devivo Bros, along the set of strip malls that line US 377 between the railroad. This space originally housed Yourway Burgers, and later a Sharx Pub, which was basically a pool hall. Wrong town for that! They didn't have to do much with the interior, and I still see remnants of Yourway, including the nice looking bar area.

Rating: 3.5. They get this score because of their superb execution on everything but the main meal. We'll find something we love eventually. We know it. For the record, TripAdvisor ranks it #5 of all restaurants in Keller. All those people aren't wrong.

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Maria Cuca's Mexican Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Esparza's ~ Grapevine, Texas

Originally published November 9th, 2011 and updated with a recent visit.

Let's slip in another update here. We tend to frequent Esparza's roughly 3 to 4 times a year. This is one of the few Mexican restaurants left in DFW where I strictly stay with Tex-Mex. I've tried their more "interior" dishes, and remain nonplussed. So, as bolded by me below, Puffed Taco dinner it is. And Mrs. RJG continues to love the vegetarian Chile Relleno.

Updated 2011 Prelude: We mentioned earlier in this blog that Miguelito's in Hurst was one of our go-to places from 2004-2005. But our very first regular Mexican food fix in NE Tarrant was Esparza's. An old Dallas neighborhood buddy first recommended the place to us, and it was an instant hit at the RJG household. From 2003 to 2004, I'd say we went here more than any other Mexican restaurant. But, as with Miguelito's, the Mrs. began to sour on the place for a variety of reasons. That left Mr. RJG going solo, or with neighborhood friends, on a very infrequent basis. But now the Mrs. wanted to go for another try at the behest of moi. And how can one refuse my behesting?

Food: Now it's interesting in reading the various other reviews out there about Esparza's. The consensus is, if I'm allowed to interpret, that Esparza's has a great bar scene, with excellent margaritas - and mediocre food. The RJG disagrees with this assessment, at least the food part that is. What Esparza's excels at is good old fashioned Tex-Mex. You start dabbling in the fancy, and you're in uncharted waters as far as we're concerned. And that's exactly what we did on our last visit - try other dishes. I went with the "spicy" green enchiladas. One has to wonder why on Earth the word spicy even crossed their minds. Mine was a very bland dish, with little taste at all. The rice and beans didn't exactly propel the platter to enormous heights either. Meanwhile the wife tried the chile relleno. Guess what? It was great! She loved their unique take on the classic dish - with loads of unique vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, onions, raisins and nuts), cheese and ranchero sauce. And the charro beans were delicious with plenty of that yummy bacon flavor. So Mrs. RJG found her dish! Which means we may be going back again on a regular basis. So what will I get? Oh, I know better now - Tex-Mex! I love their puffed tacos, with a wonderfully seasoned ground beef. And doused with their trademark excellent hot sauce, that comes out with the warm crispy chips. The salsa itself is a pureed delight, with a nice kick to it (sadly missing in their green sauce).

Drink: For a place that calls itself the "Margarita Capital of Texas", they do a fine job backing that claim up! Though they do seem to charge a premium for that bit of branding, and perhaps not the best value, but very good all the same. And yes, they do tend to pack a punch, so be careful.

Location: Esparza's is definitely one of Northeast Tarrant's Mexican food institutions. Founded in 1985, Esparza's is situated in an awesome former-home setting (from the late 1800's!), tucked away in the back streets of old town Grapevine. The open patio guarantees a lively party scene - and the full sports bar in the back seals the deal. You'll find Esparza's on Worth street, which is one block east of Main (the downtown strip as it were). Easy to get too, and now that they opened up the driveway from Franklin, parking isn't the challenge it once was when having to navigate the one way entrance. We do highly recommend you enter from Franklin.

Notes: According to some friends, Esparza's obtained their start from the legendary Ojeda's in Dallas, and that some of their recipes, including the benchmark table salsa, were lifted from them. Certainly the salsa is similar! Speaking of which, they now jar the concoction, so you can now enjoy it at home. Also, since our first posting, they have opened a second location in Coppell.

Rating: 4.0. Consistently excellent. There's better Mexican food in Northeast Tarrant and in DFW, but Esparza's is definitely worthy of a visit. And it you're a social butterfly, then Esparza's is closer to the top of that bracket.

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Esparza's Restaurante Mexicano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, June 13, 2016

Spin! ~ Southlake, Texas

Spin! represents the latest fad sweeping America: Artisan Pizza meets Craft Beer. Something akin to Grimaldi's, but with more focus paid to locally made beers. In fact, we tried two such places while in West Virginia last week: Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar in Huntington and Pies and Pints in Charleston. It's the latter that is most like Spin! in that it's both a small(ish) chain, and that their menu offerings are similar.

Food: If you've read these pages long enough, you'll know that Mrs. RJG isn't the biggest pizza fan you'll encounter. But she likes these kind of pizzas. The Napoletana style, that we first spoke about long ago at the now closed Campania, just a few blocks away. For our two visits so far, we tried the Italian Sausage and Onion 12 inch pizza. It was just the right texture and crispiness, while the pizza sauce is slightly sweet, cheese appropriately gooey, and the ingredients a higher grade that what one would find at the laughable Pie Five for example (editorial: Pie Five is nothing more than Pizza Inn made in front of you, but on a smaller pie - seriously?). We also like to split a salad, and their Caesar is excellent, with cold crisp Romaine, shaved parmesan, garlic croutons, and an excellent smooth dressing, not thick and nasty like some Caesar's can be. Oh and they include hot pizza bread as well (as if you need more bread... but it is good!). We'll be certain to try other pizzas in the future. They also feature gelato, which we have yet to sample.

Drink: As alluded to earlier, Spin! does put a focus on craft beers. Now it's not the most robust selection (7 beers I think?), but at least they are mostly local, and since they are from Kansas City, they also have a couple of Boulevard's on tap. Though I would wish they'd bring along some more craft breweries with them that we can't get here otherwise. But I'm sure that's way too costly (and as reader Mervis correctly points out, they would need to get label approval from the TABC, which is not something one should expect from a pizza place!). Their Texas beer selection is somewhat typical of the area, and they probably should have at least one Shannon on tap to support Northeast Tarrant. They do have Grapevine's Lakefire on tap though. They also have weekly "pint nights" where they feature a local brewery.

Location: In the "suburbs" (lol) of Southlake Town Square. You'll find Spin on the north side of Southlake Blvd, east of the main square, next to Pei Wei. If memory serves this used to be Blue Mesa, one of the more miserable meals we ever had. It appears Spin! has exorcised those demons. It's a large space, with plenty of seating. Walk in, order at the counter, receive your "number block". And then from there it's full service. So they hand you a swiped credit card receipt, and you add the tip later. It's a unique approach, but I think it's a good concept really.

Notes: Spin! is a chain from Kansas City that is branching out into major metropolitan areas around the US in a decidedly slow growth strategy. Fortunately we were second on the map, and there are now a few locations in DFW. On our first visit, the manager noticed our pizza wasn't shaped correctly, and gave us a free one on the house. Wow! We didn't even notice honestly. Perhaps it's because we didn't bring a "free pizza" coupon. Whatever the case, an excellent gesture, and a good way to develop brand loyalty. Oh - and I do recommend you join their Spin club (rarely do we say this). It's free and phone number driven, so you don't have to carry anything with you. They actually offer serious coupons ($5 on our last visit!).

Rating: 4.0. Close to 4.5. Need more visits here to determine that.

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Spin Neapolitan Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lou Viney's Restaurant & Pub ~ Sulphur Springs, Texas

Mrs. RJG and I just returned from a week long road trip through the southeast, culminating in West Virginia, before heading back through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. It's tempting to write about all the places we ate, as all of them were uniformly excellent - and all very much "local". But I fear readership would be small, and not of much use for most of you. Perhaps I'll pen a few notes on Trip Advisor for each of them.

But I didn't want to exclude Lou Viney's, since Sulphur Springs is in the vicinity of DFW, and it's definitely worthy of a destination drive. I think we've been to Sulphur Springs once, and I remember little about it. But times have changed, and the downtown area is revitalized, and quaint, with many restaurants, shops, etc... throughout. It's nice to see small town America have that same sense of relevancy as you would find in Europe for example. I wish our country would have competitions for "most pretty village" as they do in England. Certainly there are informal ones, but it would be nice for something more official. I think it would encourage local civic pride, and also help remove the all-too-common blight one sees on the roadside.

Food: What's interesting about Lou Viney's is that this is exactly the type of food Mrs. RJG and I ate on the entire trip. A restaurant type that is more formally known as a Gastropub. I hate that name for whatever reason (sounds like an after meal condition), and so I'm now penning these places as Craft Tavern. Basically, freshly prepared meals with local ingredients, as well as a fine selection of craft beers and/or local wines and whiskeys. We were there for lunch, and it was our last restaurant before heading home. The menu is eclectic, with a large variety of mostly American oriented dishes but with unique recipes. Their most famous dish is Bourbon Chicken, but unfortunately it's only available for dinner, so we had to miss out. We each tried a cup of the chili, something that the RJG loves to sample at every restaurant since it's usually different. And this was no exception. I personally enjoyed it, but it lacked any kind of soupy texture. It was almost like a bolognese sauce in a cup, with finely cut ground beef and Italian sausage. They were out of the Broccoli Cheese soup, so Mrs. RJG decided to go forward with the chili as well, but it wasn't to her liking , though she did enjoy the flavor. It was just too much meat. This was followed by her decision to get the daily special which was the Patty Melt. Excellent she declared, though she couldn't finish it, as once again, the meat of the chili inhibited her from devouring the entire patty. But the fresh peppers were a plus as was everything else. The homemade potato chips were excellent, some of the best we've ever had. I went forward with the spaghetti and meatballs. Though they stated it was angel hair, it was more like a capellini. In either case, this is a difficult pasta to cook al dente, and they nailed it! Perfect texture. The red sauce was slightly sweet, and a bit chunky, but very much still a sauce. Superb. The best part were the homemade meatballs. It's been a long time since the RJG had meatballs this good! It's a lost art, and while Lou Viney's doesn't remind me of the meatballs of my childhood (different recipe), they are superbly seasoned. The garlic toast was also excellent, something I rarely notice or comment on.

Drink: Nice selection of wine and craft beers (on tap and bottle). We each tried a draught of the IPA from Woodcreek, a new brewery from Rockwall that I hadn't heard of prior. And it was excellent!

Location: As mentioned in the prelude, Lou Viney's sits in the middle of the revitalized downtown area. It's large open space, nicely decorated and comfortable. Outdoor seating is available as well.

Notes: Apparently Lou Viney's started as a wine tasting room, before branching out to a larger restaurant. Sometimes you'll see the name stylized as LouViney's, but the menu clearly separates first and last name.

Rating: 4.0. Warning, only one visit so far. But honestly I can easily see this rating going up with repeated visits. But since we are rarely in this neck of the woods, that may prove difficult. But you never know...

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LouViney's Restaurant & Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Magic Springroll ~ Watauga, Texas

We had mentioned in the Casa Milagro update that their timing had been fortuitous in regards to this blog. Magic Springroll had a similar fate, but in reverse. Magic Springroll was originally one of our "rotation" Thai restaurants, not long after we moved to NE Tarrant. Not necessarily a weekly, or even monthly destination, but one we frequented often. According to my personal database, in early March of 2008 we had a poor experience, and decided to drop the restaurant from our regular routine. Later that month, I started this blog, and never revisited again.... until late last year, not long after we stopped (again) writing. We saw that the reviews were very positive, and Mrs. RJG and I said we must go back. So we did and what we learned is that there had been a change of ownership since we last had been. In fact, not long after our not-too-positive experience. So, as we like to state, timing is everything. And since that visit in late 2015, we've been regulars ever since! Magic Springroll is one of the finest of Thai restaurants in the area, in regards to the food that is. And the owner couldn't possibly be nicer.

Food: One of the reasons the RJG loves going out for Thai food is that each place has unique recipes, where a similar dish can be completely different at each establishment. And so once again, my favorite Thai Basil is treated differently here than other places we rave about. And I order it "Thai style" and he knows exactly what I mean: Ground chicken, fried egg, peppers, chiles, copious basil, and Thai hot. Delicious every time. The rice is always cooked to perfection as well. Mrs. RJG recommends the Red Curry, a dish she first fell in love with in Amsterdam, of all places, back in 2004. She says this is the best she's had in DFW! She also loves their Garlic Chicken. As an appetizer we love their fried shrimp rolls, which honestly taste like the very best a legendary Southern restaurant could come up with.

Drink: BYOB, and they provide glasses. Otherwise, they have a refrigerator filled with canned and bottled drinks for you to purchase. I'm sure they have Thai coffee/tea as well, but we haven't taken advantage of that.

Location: Magic Springroll is the Webster's dictionary entry for "Hole in the Wall". It shares an old concrete building with an insurance office next door. The floors are concrete and the walls are white painted brick, and there's about 7 tables total. Despite this, the restaurant is surprisingly quaint, and has a strange romantic vibe after dark (preferably a cold winter night), especially if you're there alone with your date. Very noir. Magic Springroll is popular for take out, so there's usually a steady stream of people walking in and out. You'll find Magic Springroll behind the OC Burger, on the northeast corner of Watauga Rd and US 377.

Rating: 4.5. Definitely a regular rotation place for us!

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Magic Springroll Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Kumar's ~ Plano, Texas

A small delay, as I had a couple of other projects to attend to. In the meantime, Mr. Music sent this one in recently. It looks like a restaurant nearby to our Indian Godfather. I'll have to ask him if he's been!

Kumar’s South Indian Village in Plano is a unique experience. They are located in an OLD strip mall on Custer Rd in Plano. They serve home cooking and offer all you can eat on weekends. It’s not really a buffet, it’s much more fun than that! I went there with my friend on Saturday. We had to make reservations because it is very small (12-15 tables) and gets very crowded quickly. Our table was set with a tray covered in a banana leaf for each of us. We sat down at our table and I noticed in the middle of the room were these giant receptacles filled with fresh cooked basmati rice. The staff brings a big bowl of it over, and shovels a mountain of it in the middle of our tray. Then, servers come by with buckets of curries and other goodies. Depending on what you fancy, they ladle the food on the edge of your rice in different piles surrounding the rice. I had 2 types of mutton curry, chicken curry, & fish curry. Then they brought another round with lentils and spices, sambar (lentil stew with a variety of veggies) and rasam (tamarind soup). Everything was excellent, but I was quite partial to the mutton! They also bring roti (like a crunchy tortilla), deep fried peppers, Indian pickle, and a another condiment or two. For desert we had sweet pongel (rice and or dal with jaggery aka sugar, ghee aka butter and cashews); it was pretty good, but not my favorite Indian sweet dish, although by then I didn’t really need desert! Worth mentioning that Kumar’s is known for using much less ghee than most other Indian places. You can also get naan and a few other sides for an extra charge. One of the mutton dishes we tried, sukka (dry) mutton was only a few bucks and was very spicy and probably my favorite dish of the day; it was basically chunks of mutton that were smothered in spices without a real gravy. It was moist, but the spices didn’t drop off the meat! They also served a drink which was basically yogurt made from buttermilk with cilantro leaves on top. I loved it!

By the time we left, there were many people at the front and outside waiting for a table. 

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Kumar's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato