Sunday, December 30, 2007

Quickie Review #12: Lochrann's Irish Pub & Eatery

In case you haven't guessed by now, my lovely wife the Rock Star simply LOVES live music! I think she would watch a solo act, duo or band every night of the year if we could afford it. Problem is, we can't. Dining out already puts a serious strain on the Royal Treasury, and to see live music often on top of that might bankrupt the Czardom. And yet, my wife's immortal soul cries out from lack of music, so what to do? Well, the Irish, in their infinite wisdom, solved this vexing dilemma aeons ago by coming up with one of God's great inventions: the pub. Live music and food all for one price. Well, sir, the good people of the Northern Metroplex Environs no longer have to walk ten miles barefoot thru the snow uphill in order to hear good dinner music. They merely have to repair to newly-opened Lochrann's Irish Pub and Eatery, conveniently located just off the tollway on Main next to Frisco square.

Though open a mere three days, Lochrann's was already filled to the brim with hearty revelers when we visited. Genuine Irish handicrafted interior surrounding a central bar. Strategically placed TV's so that one can watch FC Dallas or the Cowboys without spoiling the pub experience for all. Our smiling waiter Carl placed an abbreviated menu in front of us (Grand Opening is New Years Eve) and after selecting Guinness and Jamieson drinks (when in Dublin, etc), my spouse opted for the Famous Homemade Irish Pub Burger, well spiced choice beef with fixings and cheddar cheese which was very good, if a tad overcooked. And as for me, what's an Irish pub without Irish stew? Lochrann's was made from choice beef tenderloin, potatoes, and vegetables simmering in beef broth. Excellent, although a bit overpriced. (They have to pay for the live music somehow.) Speaking of which, guitarist Michael Harrison started his set not long after our arrival, and thoroughly entertained us with traditional Irish tunes ("Whiskey in the Jar") and oldies ("The Boxer", "Brown-eyed Girl"). We left completely sated, and look forward to exploring the complete menu soon. Website is You should visit yourself, and remember:


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Quickie Review #11: Masu Sushi & Japanese Restaurant

If you are a new restaurant in town, what's a very effective way to get the word out, short of a massive, costly advertising campaign you probably really can't afford? Answer: Simply take a copy of your menu and hire someone to place it in every mailbox and on every door in a five mile radius, and just wait for the customers to start rolling in. Upon seeing one of these menus, I showed it to my lovely wife the Rock Star, who immediately displayed advanced symptoms of SWS (Sushi Withdrawal Syndrome). Hoping to forstall need of an operation, I decided a transfusion was in order, and we made plans forthwith to sojourn to Masu Sushi in the wilds of northernmost Carrollton and enjoy a belated lunch.

Masu Sushi and Japanese Restaurant is standard strip-mall bento box decor. Long bar along one side of the narrow storefront. Asian pots, jars and knicknacks and lots of wood, with Sirius Radio Romance station playing in background. Miso soup we selected as a starter was excellent, quite bracing, but beware the spicy edamame unless you like it HOT! Hebron Roll is a standout: spicy salmon roll topped with smoked salmon and Spider Roll, featuring soft shell crab is also excellent, as is the Philadelphia Roll with cream cheese. Stick with the rolls: both the red snapper and mackerel sushi we tried lacked top freshness. Service and presentation are outstanding: the main dishes were presented in a ginormous wooded schooner which elicited squeals of appeal from adjoining tables. Likewise, fresh oranges were brought at the end of our repast, adding a light sweet touch of grace to finish on. No website, call 972 306-4170 for all questions. Seek Masu out soon, and remember:



Since I have just completed my first annual restaurant roundup, it seemed only natural to turn my attention to wines. However, a Top Ten list seemed rather silly, since I have only produced thirteen reviews of wines all year. What to do, what to do? After some intense contemplation, I decided to list my favorite wines that I reviewed in 2007 by region. Please keep in mind that due to general antisnobbishness (and hampered in no small part by budgetary considerations), these aren't First Growth Bordeaux we are dealing with here. All of these wines retail for under $20, which means that they can be quaffed everyday, if desired. Herewith are the Food Czar Wines to Remember for 2007, and the month they were posted.


-Dry Comal Creek Sauvignon Blanc - This years true upset winner, besting heavily favored offerings from better known wineries Becker Vineyards and Fall Creek, this fruity-but-dry pleaser pairs so well with food and stands so well on its own, I have given it the nod here. (November)


-Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc - Another winning selection from this underrated white varietal. In all my years of quaffing, I can honestly say I've yet to taste a bad wine from this West Coast megaproducer. (October)


-Black Opal Shiraz - With all due respect to Chile and Italy, name me a country who consistently produces more QV (quality and value) wines than Down Under. (July)


-Perrin and Fils Vacqueras - It should come as little surprise that my one and only Cellar Selection, a righteously good blend of grenache and syrah, should be my top selection from La Belle France. (September)


-Sebeka "Cape Blend", South Africa - If you know my lovely wife the Rock Star, you know she would enjoy this shiraz/pinotage blend with a presence and power that is truly Malbeckian. (November)

HONORABLE MENTION - Barton and Guestier Chateauneuf-du-Pape (December)

I think that will do it for my 2007 wrapups. Stick a fork in me: I'm done. Try all these wonderful wines soon, and remember:


Friday, December 28, 2007


Just the other day, while I was contemplating my navel, my lovely spouse the Rock Star sweetly sidled up to me and chirped, "So, Czar, when are you gonna write your top ten list of 2007? Huh? Huh?" I must be honest, I had never considered doing such a thing until that very moment. (I may be a Czar, but I'm no meglomaniac. Usually.) Now, I remembered why I gave my dear Partner in Crime a Christmas bonus. Her wonderful ideas, genius, and all-around inspiration. So, for the Rock Star, the Wild Thing, the Momma, the Rock, Crazy Cat Lady, Beaners, the nonstop niece, G29, and both of my lovely readers, here are the nonquantifyable, thoroughly unscientific, Food Czar Top Ten Restaurants of 2007, in order of posting:

-Fireside Pies (June)
Wonderful, reasonably priced food in an upscale/downscale atmosphere, Fireside Pies is my favorite restaurant (so far) in The Shops at Legacy.

-Babe's Chicken Dinner House (July)
Let the snobs scoff, but I've recommended Babe's to more people than any other restaurant this year.

-Cafe Gecko (August)
From the pizza to the soups to the Mexican, Austin Ranch fave continues to delight and surprise. Great bar, too!

-Silks at Lone Star Park (November)
Run by the most underrated chef in the Metroplex (Jake Duplantis), you must experience Silks whenever the horses are running (April-July, October-December). Best buffet in town!

-Randy's Steakhouse (November)
Best "special occasion" meal I've had all year! Best ambience, too, like dining at your grandmothers. (And I LOVED my G29!)

-Cooper's Barbecue (November)
The pride of Llano, Texas, this Roadtrip fave was the best single meal I had during 2007. (Double-cut barbecued pork chop, recommended by a fellow Chowhound poster.)

-Louis Mueller Barbecue (November)
Rock Star's all time favorite barbecue is the barbecued turkey at this Taylor, Texas landmark.

-Gregorys Restaurant (December)
Simple French country food served by thoroughly modest French chef in thoroughly unspoiled downtown Plano storefront.

-Amici Signature Restaurant (December)
Another storefront gem, this one in downtown Carrollton. The Rock Star's Shrimp Carbonara had her dreaming of sunny Sicily (or at least Little Italy).

-Rudy's Country Store and Barbecue (December)
Laugh if you must, but Rudy's barbecued turkey was almost the best Christmas dinner I've ever enjoyed (surpassed only by Coopers barbecued prime rib).

Honorable Mentions Worthy Of Mention:
-Trader Vics (June)
-Steve Fields (August)
-Zen Bar (August)
-Cantina Laredo (September)
-Salt Lick (November)
-Tupinamba (December)

Try them all soon. In fact, try all the wonderful places I experienced in 2007, and don't forget my one and only New Years Resolution:


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

:Wine Corner Review #12: Banrock Station Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon

Let's face it: It costs plenty of money for a Czar to maintain his domain. I count my roubles every chance I get, and wine is no exception. That is why I'm on an endless quest for quality and value all wrapped up in one low-cost, tasty package. So, when pondering my latest vino to review, the answer suddenly hit me like the train hit my late friend Anna Karenina: What about my lovely wife the Rock Star's "new favorite" value wine, Banrock Station Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon? Why not indeed, especially since she lists Empress of Shiraz among her many titles?

The robe of the BS Shiraz-Cab is royal purple, with sangria highlights. The nose contains vanilla nutmeg with subtle hints of cardamon and white pepper. Blackberries and black cherries are abundant on the finish, which works quite nicely with barbecued turkey. Website is if you wish to check out other offerings in their fine value line. Pick up a bottle soon, and remember:


Saturday, December 22, 2007


Quality, wood-fired barbecue is the hallmark and birthright of every true Texan. He insists on it, and demands that it be within easy driving distance of his spread. Back in the oil-rush boom days, it seemed that every crossroads, burg and hamlet featured a dilapidated shack sporting a chimney, a sure sign that the barbecue inside was slow-smoked to a high standard of tenderness and taste. But as the cities grew and natural gas became more readily available, many places lost those structures to the ravages of time and road construction. These days, however, the shack is back, thanks to Rudys Country Store and Bar-B-Q, with two dozen locations and counting, and probably being built near your personal Ponderosa even as we speak. It was in search of the true Texas experience that my lovely wife the Rock Star and I pointed our car north one moonlight Friday night, destination one of Rudy's newest locations in the burgeoning megapolopolis that is Frisco.


Rudy's Country Stores aren't really located in dilapidated shacks. They just look that way, quite charmingly I might add. Real, authentic working gas pumps out front (selling real authentic gasoline). Drive-thru window (one of God's great inventions) which on this starry, starry night was doing a brisk business. Indoor and outdoor patios. A convenience store (the "Country Store") where patrons can purchase snacks, hats, sause (yes, it is spelled that way on the bottles) and shirts with such pithy sayings as "I didn't claw my way to the top of the food chain just to eat vegetables." A rambling, barnlike main dining room featuring wooden picnic tables, rusting signs and a massive metal trough which stores a surprising variety of ice-cold beers and soft drinks. (My wife promptly grabbed a Ziegenbock for herself, I decided to stick with Rudy's excellent sweet tea.) A large, corral-like structure where hungry diners queue up for their share of 'cue. In short, Rudy's atmosphere is one of it's strong suits, and prepares you well for your taste of true Texas. The line in the corral can be lengthy at times, but a veritable army of counter attendants and carvers stand ready to meat your needs. Besides, time in line gives you a good chance to peruse the large overhead menu strategically placed behind the counter. In short order, the Rock Star and I made and paid for our selections, received our basket of goodies and our butcher-paper plates, and staked a place at one of the tables conveniently located next to a flat-panel TV. (True authenticity isn't everything you know; sports watching is another Texas birthright.)


Rudy's barbecue is smoked over oak, which burns slower and longer than the usual mesquite or hickory. The brisket was excellent, if a tad dry. (Proper moisture can sometimes be an issue in the art that is wood smoking; on other occasions my meat at Rudy's was quite moist and tender.) Both of my regular readers know by now my lovely wife's passion for barbecued turkey knows no bounds, and our portion of smoky bird boasted a pinkish tinge and perfect texture and was exceedingly tasty this eve. Rudy's sells its cue in old-school fashion by weight rather than plate, so you will have to purchase sides separately. Do not pass up Rudy's creamed corn, thick and rich with creamy, corny goodness, making a perfect complement to the meat. Rudy's sause is good but not exceptional, but my wife obviously disagreed, making a special trip to the souvenier stand to purchase a quart for personal consumption at home. (UPDATE: The dang sause kinda grows on ya, dagnabit!) In future visits we look forward to trying their dessets, perhaps chocolate or banana pudding, or possibly even one of the Rice Krispy treats. (Yes, indeedy, they are offered at Rudy's). Also, we'd like to sneak up there early one morning to try the breakfast tacos.


Count on Rudy's counter service to deliver the goods in a timely, friendly fashion, although without the boisterous camaraderie of the Round Rock location. (There, the counterman asks if you are a newbie, and if so, they all shout "Hey, Rookie!") Nevertheless, Ronny managed to offer a personal touch when he invited my wife to call and ask for him if she wanted to arrange a ham, turkey, and/or sides for Christmas dinner. The website is if you wish to check out your own catering arrangements.


The pride of Leon Springs, Texas, where the story started so long ago, Rudy's is now seeking to spread the gospel of wood-smoked goodness to every part of the Lone Star State. Visit a location soon, and remember:


Saturday, December 15, 2007


My friends from New York and Jersey are constantly bemoaning the lack of quality Italian food in this blessed hamlet. This comes as no surprise to me, as the Big Apple is the epicenter of all things Italian in this country, and practically every street has a little storefront dive that turns out quality fare that ranks with some of the best fare America has to offer. I have long been in search of such a place until recently when some fellow bloglodytes turned me on to Amici Signature located smack in the heart of booming downtown Carrollton. After checking out their menu online at, I made reservations accordingly, and set out one rainy evening, accompanied by my lovely wife the Rock Star in search of the lost Sicilian chord of gastronomy. (Or something like that.)

Motoring down a busy thoroughfare, we soon discovered to our horror that we had missed our exit and had to double back, in which case there was no way we would make our appointed time. Not to worry, a quick phone call put us in touch with very efficient management, who assured us they would find us a table without delay when we arrived. Score one big customer service point for Amici, and we hadn't even set foot in the place yet. Also, before I begin with the review proper, let me tell you that parking in downtown Carrollton at night is a definite issue; please leave plenty early as the shop has no lot of it's own and you will have to search the streets and nearby community lot for a space to park your buggy.


Amici Signature is a tiny storefront New York style, with a downstairs foyer and little else but a restroom, with an old staircase leading up to the cozy dining room. (It seats only 48 patrons; plan accordingly.) Romantic low lighting and lots of wood, with an open kitchen, and not a lot of room between the individual tables. In short, very, very homey and inviting, much like dining in an artist's downtown loft. As promised, we were seated immediately and turned our attentions to the smallish menu, which featured an insert with the daily specials.


Like many people, the Rock Star likes all things cheese and all things bread, so we decided to start our meal with the cheese bread. In short order, Miguel our waiter brought us two delicious, crusty half-loafs topped with just the right amount of cheese and thinly sliced tomatoes. We quickly devoured every last morsel. Since this was an Italian joint, my wife was hoping for anchovies on her side Caesar salad, but none appeared, and therefore she was slightly disappointed. (Perhaps they are on the more pricey ala carte version; I didn't ask.) I was delighted by the cream of mushroom soup I selected as started, the rather gamy flavor mixing quite nicely with the cheese bread, and I realized that Chef Bartolino Cocuzza really knew his onions.
(No, there were no onions in the soup, it's just a figure of speech.)

Our repast was leisurely paced, which suited us just fine, and in due course, the entrees arrived. The Rock Star had been vacillating when making her main selection, but at my suggestion, she decided on the Shrimp Carbonara: Fettucini with proscuitto, ham, bacon, shrimp, eggs, garlic, and parsley tossed with grated parmesan cheese, a combination that left her positively high with Sicilian satisfaction. My own choice was the Veal Scallopini: wonderfully tender thin-sliced veal sauteed in a lemon butter sauce, which was heavenly in and of itself and really didn't need the two (undercooked) grilled shrimp presented alongside a dollop each of mashed potatoes, corn, and very good sugar snap peas. Amici is BYOB, which helps keep costs down, and the bottle of inexpensive French pinot noir (Burgandy: pinot is the premier red grape of that region) we brought paired well with our choices. Since we had dined on cheese bread and starters prior to our main course, we couldn't even think of making room for dessert.


Like most great restaurants, Amici Signature believes in the tag team approach to service, and Miguel and the ebullient Carol made us feel quite at home. In particular, Carol took the extra time and trouble to make us feel like we were the most important people in the place, the kind of personalized touch that can make the difference in a customers repeat patronage. (Having such a top-notch chef doesn't hurt either.)


I can't wait to tell my Northeast friends about Amici Signature, and feel certain they will beat a path to their door in search of a better gastronomic mousetrap. You should visit as well, and remember:


Friday, December 14, 2007

Wine Corner Review #11: Barton & Guestier Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Whether you're Roman Catholic or not, investigating the history of the papacy can be quite fascinating. For instance, how many of you know that during the 14th Century the Holy See (the crib where the Pope and his homies hang) was relocated to Avignon, France where it remained for almost 70 years? (This region didn't even become part of France permanently until the 19th century, but that's another story.) To protect their investment, said popes constructed a massive fortified castle on a rocky outcrop, which became known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape (the Pope's little castle). Seven popes in all ruled from this roost and developed a thirst for the grape, so a local appelation sprang up nearby to meet their vino needs. French mega-producers Barton & Guestier carry on this tradition today by offering their Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a splendid tribute to the trials and tribulations of so long ago.

The robe of B&G Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a rich magenta, clearly indicating both it's fruitiness and approachability. The nose displays kirsch, leather, and licorice, and of course, minerals (pebbles, in this case). Since this wine is made from Grenache and Syrah, don't be surprised by it's raspberry taste on the palate, with a nice touch of spice, and even a little tobacco. The usual pairings of a du-Pape are wild game and prime rib, but it's fruit-forwardness makes it an approachable accompanist to shellfish, tuna and spicy chicken as well. The website is and can be read in English. Look for the distinctive gold label on the next trip to your local wine shop, and remember:


Thursday, December 13, 2007


When you say the words "French cuisine", what words come to mind? Pretentious? Snobby? Strange ingredients? Not for me? All of these descriptions may be true of some French restaurants (as indeed, they are unfortunately true of too many restaurants in general), but what would you say to food that is classically elegant, relatively affordable, and above all, delivered in a decidedly unstuffy atmosphere? Well, culinary wars veteran Gregory Moreaux has just opened his own shop in historic downtown Plano, and my lovely wife the Rock Star and myself traveled there one recent noontide in search of a leisurely paced lunch.


Nestled in the heart of a very charming block, Gregorys is a narrow storefront built on three levels, with a smallish (50 patrons or so) main dining room, a private room upstairs, and even a rooftop bar which we would very much like to investigate on a warmer day. Parking out front is rather limited, but entrance can also be gained from the communal lot behind the store. Take care in entering from the rear as the hallway is quite narrow and collisions can occur if you are not looking. The interior is rather spartan but well appointed and quite cozy, giving the feeling of dining in an historic townhome. Chris the maitre'd and The Owner Himself welcomed us quite effusely and led us to our table near the front, the better to view the complete charm that is downtown Plano.


Simple country fare is the order of the day at Gregorys, and most lunchtime choices are right around the $10 mark. I always listen to my lovely wife's suggestions, and when she decided on the soup of the day as a starter, I decided to renew my license as a registered soupaholic and join her. In short order, bowls of butternut squash potage were paced before us, along with some delightfully crusty French (what else?) bread, and we began to enjoy. The creamy soup boasted just a touch of curry and whetted our appetite quite nicely for the entrees to follow. Our excellent waiter (no I cannot remember his name; this happens when you get older) gave us the leisurely pacing we had requested and took care of our wine needs as well. (Gregorys is BYOB until after the first of the year, when a full wine list is promised.) We had chosen a chateauneuf-du-pape for our quaff, and were very pleased that this delightful French blend of Grenach and Syrah could accompany our light fare, thus proving that the red-with-red-meat-white-with-white stereotype is a guideline, not a rule. (It also helped that it was served at European room temperature, which is actually close to 60 degrees.) In due course, our entrees arrived. The Rock Star was throughly delighted with her penne pasta with shrimp, spinach, and feta cheese tossed in a basil butter sauce, and I enjoyed my skin-on grilled chicken breast on a bed of couscous with asparagus and spicy tomato sauce. (Honestly I would have enjoyed just a little more spice and a little more sauce, but that's just me.) We don't often order dessert at the noon hour, but what's a Gallic gustatory gathering without creme brulee? We split a tiny but very satisfying portion and declared our repast worthy of Monet himself. (In other words, it left quite an impression.)


Gregory promises to offer wine tastings and cooking classes in the new year and the staff at Gregorys could give lessons in caring for patrons as well. Make sure you greet your customers warmly, take the time and trouble to show a genuine interest in your customers and what they have to say, and always be available without hovering. Oh and it doesn't hurt that your owner is happy to seat patrons himself, periodically check on their needs, and even take phone reservations quite cheerfully. In fact, I could probably count on one hand the number of DFW establishments where the service level is this good.


Check out Gregorys website at soon, as this young upstart in the dining wars will likely get popular quickly. Reserve your unstuffy little corner of French heaven soon, and don't forget:


Monday, December 10, 2007


For more than sixty years, the Dominguez family has been serving Mexican Food Supreme in Dallas, although their single location has changed with the times: first on Fort Worth Avenue in Oak Cliff, later on Northwest Highway, still later on Midway near LBJ, and finally in 1996 moving to the old Crystal's Pizza location on Inwood just south of LBJ, right across from Jesuit High School. If you are in business for that long, you tend to perfect a formula for quality service and value in dining, not to mention the wonderful friendliness that is the owner's trademark. My lovely wife the Rock Star, her delightful mother the Momma, and yours truly journeyed there for lunch late one misty weekday morning.


Even after more than a decade in operation, Tupy, as the place is fondly known to it's legion of fans, retains an air of classy casualness. Large open dining space featuring a curved dividing wall. Large murals highlighted by blue lights. Separate bar area with a news and sports ticker to keep you abreast of our ever-changing world. We were greeted by Jeff, son of owner Eddie Dominguez (a basketball legend at Texas A&M a few years back), put our names on the list (they don't use beepers), and settled into the smallish foyer for a short wait. (As I have stated in other postings, it's usually not a good idea to expect to walk into a place EXACTLY at noon and be seated immediately. Other folks have to eat too, you know.) In short order, we were called and settled into our table by the large picture window near the front.


Tupinamba serves excellent Tex-Mex for lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch, and yet is rarely crowded at night. Perhaps proximity to Jesuit and so many offices make it a fine choice for the noon meal; more likely, diners can't resist the lunch specials. A dozen or so fine dishes or combo plates, all for $7.95 including iced tea. Since many places charge more than a dollar for the tea itself, this makes for superb value. The Momma loves her some spinach enchiladas (which are not part of the lunch specials) and she was rewarded with two corn tortillas stuffed with Popeye's favorite vegetable and covered with velvety sour cream and very good ranchera sauce. The Rock Star is a fajita fanatic, and her chicken fajitas were well marinated and served on an army of sizzling plates with tasty rice and good flour tortillas. Although Tupy (fried) tacos are some of the best in Dallas, I also love a good chile relleno and got the (ground) beef-stuffed poblano pepper covered with queso and served with slightly soupy but otherwise very good refried beans. We dined on these perfectly spiced delectables and the excellent salsa with just enough bite, and had a blast, a hoot, and a holler (a really good time). Truly a family-oriented place where patrons can feel really comfortable (just ask the lovely ladies laughing loudly at a nearby table). Dessert? Oh, no! To go boxes? Oh, yes!!


Service at Tupinamba is always some of the best and friendliest around, and many of the waitstaff are longtime employees, always a good sign. Also, the Dominguez college affiliation is readily apparent, with plenty of reminders of College Station's finest university, right down to the restroom doors marked Aggies (His) and Maggies (Hers). No website, as this is an old-fashioned family place, so call 972 991-8148 for all the details.


Quality Tex-Mex and great value, delivered by very friendly folks, are yours for the asking at Tupinamba, the place where Mexican food reigns supreme. Visit soon, and remember:


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Wine Corner Review #10: Fredericksburg Winery 150th Anniversary Texas Rose

Fredericksburg, Texas, that marvelous Hill Country haven, celebrated it's 150th-year anniversary in 1996. In commemoration, Fredericksburg Winery bottled a Texas Rose wine, featuring the symbolic Vereins-Kirche building on the label. More than ten years later, you can still buy this slightly sweet vino online through the winery's website at and belatedly celebrate the grueling 70-mile, 16-day journey taken by 120 hardy souls in order to found the town.

The robe is pale peach/strawberry in color (call it peachberry), with orange highlights throughout. The nose is quite subtle and ever-so-slightly fruity with traces of tangerine. The taste reveals strawberry, pomegranite, tangerine, and even a touch of peanut butter on the chewy finish. My lovely wife the Rock Star felt it would be best paired with brie, while my friend the Rock and myself offered that it would be good with any fruit/cheese combination, and would stand up well with just about any spicy food. Please note that as of this writing, Fredericksburg Winery wine can only be bought from the winery itself; they refuse to work with what they feel is the unjust package-store situation in Texas. Please email, call, or order online soon, and remember:


Saturday, December 1, 2007

Quickie Review #10: Jerseyville Classic

Let's face it---I LOVE sports bars and neighborhood hangouts. I love their vibe, energy and just downright friendliness, and when I hear that one has gone beyond the norm to offer quality fare, I'm there! Dallas Cowboys linebacker Akin Ayodele and some other sports investors have pumped new money into the old Doug and Bruski's place in the Shops at Willow Bend, and reinvented it as Jerseyville Classic. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I have visited a couple of times, and are impressed by the entire operation, not the least of which is the quality of the food.

Okay, say you want something other than wings, burgers, or your standard bar food appetizers? How about Adovo Chicken pasta: thin spaghetti covered in a delicious red pepper cream sauce and parmesan cheese and served with grilled chicken and steamed broccoli? Sound appetizing? Well, it is and so is the grilled meatloaf, served with red chili mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. Jerseyville Classic has several other unsportsbarlike enticing entrees, but if you just want the basics, try the mushrooms and swiss burger or the wonderful new sliders or the Zoof (cheese, etc) fries. Lots of TV's, of course, for your sports watching needs, and a very accomodating staff, not to mention $5 pitchers of Ziegenbock beer all day every day, and you can see why this place is filling up with happy customers so far. No website yet, so call 972 202-4599 for all your questions. Seek out this sports paradise soon, and remember:


Friday, November 30, 2007

Wine Corner Review #9: Dry Comal Creek Sauvignon Blanc

My lovely wife the Rock Star and I are very fond of our beloved home-away-from-home Fredericksburg, TX, so much so that we sometimes forget that the Hill Country offers many more fabulous destinations, including another old German community, New Braunfels. (Speaking of which, don't forget that immigrants from Germany figure prominently in the settling of Texas, as anyone from my dear departed grandmother's hometown of Brenham will be glad to tell you.) Dry Comal Creek Vineyards is headquarted in New Braunfels, and after recently tasting their Sauvignon Blanc, my wife and I are eager to try more of their mouthfeel-friendly product.

The robe is a rich, pearlescent old gold, somewhat reminiscient of unpolished brass. The winery's website, describes the nose as "gooseberry, freshly mown hay, and grapefruit," but I found it to be replete with minerals, befitting a good sauvignon blanc. As for the taste, pucker power is revealed with definite grapefruit, pear, and melon flavors with a finish of lemony cantalope. I agree with the website that this would be a perfect blanc for spicy food: perhaps a volcanic sushi Dragon roll, Tex-Mex, or even pizza. In any case, it's a thoroughly invigorating vino, and I can't wait to try some other selections in their line. Try a bottle soon, and remember:


Saturday, November 24, 2007


My lovely wife the Rock Star and I know from our previous trips to Camp David that Molly always brings breakfast between 8:30 and 9:15 AM. Sure enough, promptly at 8:30, there was our efficient hostess-with-the-mostess knocking at our cabin door with our ambrosial eats. For our third and final day of this all-too-brief roadtrip, she brought us one of her classic standbys: breakfast quiche. (If quiche were a woman, I think her name in this case would be Lorraine, that classic French pastry, bacon and egg confection; however, I'm not a quiche expert and my only thoughts on that golden morning were in devouring every last crumb before it got away.) As usual, Molly served it cheerfully with a fruit cup, orange juice, and breakfast (cranberry) bread. We happily ate what we could, finished packing, and set out to the first stop on our trip home.


Cord Switzer is one of the most prominent figures in the annals of Texas winemaking, and the stories about him are the stuff of legends, many of which are masterfully told in Wes Marshall's Bible of Texas wineries, "The Wine Roads of Texas." His delightful sense of humorous uniqueness can be best summed up by one of his many pithy sayings "Ninety-five percent of people prefer sweet wine, five percent prefer dry wine. The five percent push their opinion more." Now who can argue with such an iconoclast, even if you prefer dry wine, which I do? Needless to say, the Switzer family is, in my opinion, the number one producer of sweet wines in Texas, although they also have excellent dry selections as well. Anyway, since my lovely wife's mother The Momma loves Fredericksburg wineries Enchanted Rock Red, we were determined to pick some up for her, while at the same time making a few picks for ourselves.

After an expertly-conducted tasting, we selected 150-year Anniversary Wine, which is a Texas Rose, and Main Street Christmas, a Gluhwein (mulled wine) popular in Germany in which cinnamon, cloves and other spices are added to red wine and served warm. (Speaking of rose, my curiosity got the better of me: are blush and rose wines one and the same? After extensive Googling, I discovered that blush is sweet and rose is dry. The things you learn when writing a blog!)

Having paid for our vino (not too much; Fredericksburg Winery,, is another value-oriented producer), we resumed our drive, next stop, Taylor, Texas and Barbecue Mecca #3 for lunch.


Louie Mueller barbecue is the winner of the 2006 James Beard Award in American Classics category, and one taste will convince you why. Not only do the Muellers cook over real wood, but they come in at 3AM (you read that correctly!) to make sure everything is done right. Their brisket is exceptionally tender and their spicy sausage is made in-house. Special mention must be made of their sauce: I usually prefer the thick, ketchupy kind, but Louie Muellers sauce is thin and chock-full of delicious meat juices. My lovely wife the Rock Star, herself a barbecue turkey fan (yes, it is offered, and yes, it is delicious!)now declares Louie Muellers to be her favorite barbecue anywhere. It doesn't hurt that not only is their meat meteroic and their sides superb, but their service is always exceptionally friendly. The URL is One suggestion: as with most Barbecue Meccas, try to avoid dining there during the noon hour, as the restaurant can fill up quickly with hungry diners.

The Rock Star and I continued the rest of our trip home without incident, except we had to return to the Czech Stop (see Post #1) for afternoon snacks. Plan your own roadtrip soon, and remember:


Friday, November 23, 2007


Day Two of our trip began auspiciously enough, with Molly bringing breakfast to our cottage promptly at 8:40 AM. I feel that Camp David's gourmet breakfasts are one of the best features of the place, and keep my lovely wife the Rock Star and I coming back time and again. Why wake up to cereal when you can dine like a king on Eggs Florentine? Molly's version boasted spinach, eggs, and ham on top of an English muffin, then covered with lemony Hollandaise. Marvelous! She also served an excellent pumpkin bread, fruit cup, and orange juice, leaving us well fortified for our busy day. In short order, we pointed our car northward, destination Tow, Texas.


For my money, Ed and Sharon Auler run the best value-oriented winery in the whole state of Texas. I do admit, however, that finding it for the first time can be rather a challenge; we usually go north from Fredericksburg to Llano, then head east on Young street about two miles out of town and follow the signs from there. (Consult the map on the winery's website at before you proceed.) As usual, we skipped the tour and headed straight for the tasting room, where the amiable Buzz deftly guided us through our selections. We particularly enjoy Fall Creek's award-winning Chenin Blanc and Granite Reserve and selected bottles of the Muscat Canelli, Granite Blush, Sweet Red (a present for the Rock Star's lovely mother, The Momma), and Ed's Smooth Red to make up a case so we could get the 10% discount (natch!). Yours truly will be sampling and reviewing said product in the very near future, or giving it away as Christmas presents, as a hand-selected bottle of vino makes one of the nicest presents one can possibly give or receive.

With Buzz's help, we wrestled the case into the back of the car and headed back to Llano to lunch at Barbecue Mecca #2.


Quick, which was the first barbecue ever served at a White House State Dinner? If you said Coopers, go to the head of the class! (You get bonus points if you remember that the president in question was LBJ.) You know you are in for a true archetypal Texas dining experience when you line up a the outdoor pits to make your selection. You tell the pit man what kind of meat you want, he slices it and dips it in sauce if you prefer, then you carry it inside where the smoky meat is weighed and priced, and you can select other sides. (Hint: If you're as much of a true 'cue fanatic as I am, skip the sides because Coopers generously provides you with barbecue pinto beans and all the bread and sauce you want at no charge.) Just stake out a place at one of the long picnic tables and chow down. Cooper's brisket, sausage, and pork loin are stellar stuff, yet I must make special mention of two of their selections. The double cut pork chop is an absolute monster, thick as a bodybuilders biceps, and juicy for days. The barbecued prime rib is the best version I've had of this steakhouse standby anywhere, and as usual, I purchased a cheap styrofoam cooler and ice to tote it home. In sum, I challenge you to find better Texas barbecue anywhere than Cooper's prime rib or double cut chop, for as of this writing, if it exists, I've yet to find it.

After lunch, we motored back to Fredericksburg for a little relaxation and sightseeing. (You simply must make time to walk their turn-of-last-century downtown.)


Since there are so many winerys in the Hill Country, an excellent way to sample several at once is to stop at one of the independant tasting rooms that dot downtown Fredericksburg. Texas Wine Cellars features friendly service and free tastings, however, please be prepared for the fact that some wines may be marked up to as much as DOUBLE their normal retail price. (This was certainly true of Fall Creek's Granite Reserve.) Another quibble: Not all area wines are sold there, although some of the town's wineries may not allow it, choosing instead to sell them from their own tasting room instead. Texas Wine Cellars also schedules winery tours. Check them out at

After making a few more selections, and with cocktail hour upon us, we repaired down main street to try another of Fredericksburg's fine biergartens.


The interior of this place resembles nothing so much as an oversized shotgun shack, with the covered bar area opening up into an alfresco biergarten. The bartender and her assistants were wonderfully welcoming and gracious, talking us easily through the rather intimidating list of beers. We selected German beers, of course (you know me, Mr. When-In-Rome), and like the previous day, it was too early for dinner, so we scanned the menu for appropriate appetizers before selecting the German Snack. Top-notch, peppery Hill Country sausage was paired with Swiss and Cheddar cheese, sauerkraut, and hearty pumpernickle bread to make an absolutely perfect match with our Spatens. The atmosphere was very convival, and we are determined to return on a future trip to town. Their website is

We drove back to Camp David to freshen up, as it were, before setting our sights on dinner and maybe a little live music. To our horror, we discovered that one of our favorite places, Hondo's on Main, is closed on Monday nights. Not to worry, a little bit of research led us to our final destination for the evening.


A great new place in an old house right on Main street, Silver Creek Restaurant and Saloon has been in business less than a year but already boasts a devoted following for it's live music which takes place on the charming front porch and yard. The Rock Star absolutely loved her steak salad, featuring a well prepared flatiron cut, and I enjoyed my ribeye, baked potato, and asparagus, a classic renditon indeed. Blues Monday was in full swing, except that after playing for an hour or so, host Graham Warwick had to leave with the owners to plead his case in night court! Seems someone didn't care for the live music and complained, so a delegation from the restaurant set off to appear before the judge, promising to return in about an hour. We waited about ninety minutes, then left, thoroughly satisfied with our day, and returned to Camp David for the night. By the way, Silver Creeek has no formal website, merely a site on Myspace at Don't forget:


Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Since I was rapidly approaching a milestone birthday, my lovely wife the Rock Star came to me a couple of months ago with a proposition: Why don't I take you to the Texas Hill Country for the big day? Since I am originally from San Antone (born a mile from The Alamo; how Texan can you get?), I jumped at the chance to spend such a glorious occasion close to my roots. Therefore, as we reached the appointed day of departure, we set off for a classic Texas roadtrip, sure to feature excellent beer and wine, great barbecue, and good times for our entire family. (Well, almost all; our cats, Hercules and Sterling, had to remain behind, as they do not travel well.) Luckily, we have been on this trip several times before (or as that great philosopher Yogi Berra once put it, "It was deja vu all over again"), so we were determined to combine new haunts with old faves, and accordingly set off down I35 in search of breakfast at one of those faves.


Seasoned travelers along the Dallas to Austin corridor know all about the Czech Stop, a combination gas station/convenience store/bakery/deli located in the charming hamlet of West, Texas about a dozen miles or so north of Waco. (In other words, West, Texas is not located in West Texas. Is that clear as mud?) And speaking of Hamlet, as the Danes have danishes, so the Czech people have kolaches, delicious little roll-like creations filled with fruit, sweets, or meat and cheese. The Rock Star always gets one or more Pecan rolls, freshed baked and just filled with melt-in-your-mouth Texas goodness. I myself cannot resist the breakfast sausage and cheese kolaches, generously stuffed with top quality sausage and cheddar. Over the years, we've learned to pick up several so we may enjoy snacks and/or easy breakfasts. One thing that must be noted: there are only a few tables in the bakery and just a few more in the convenience store so you may want to take your goodies with you and dine on the road. (It's a very popular stop for tour buses.) Czech out their website online at for all the particulars.

Continuing our drive south, we went right down the interstate thru Austin, then headed west on Hwy 290, making a ten-mile detour on the other side of Oak Hill so we could stop for a late lunch at another iconic Texas spot.


The tiny town of Driftwood, Texas is home to the first of three bonafide Barbecue Meccas on our tour. The Salt Lick has been serving world-class 'cue smoked over real pecan shells since 1969 in a rambling structure built from rock quarried on-site. We arrived Sunday around 2PM, which meant we were still dealing with the after-church crowd, but were still seated rather quickly. If you're traveling with a large group or are VERY hungry, you will want to order family-style, which features generous portions of beef, sausage, and pork ribs served with plenty of sides at the relative bargain price of $15.95 per person. If there are only a couple of you, not to worry: the Salt Lick also offers individual plates where you can mix and match your meats to meet your needs, and those plates have a lot of food as well. Like most men, I must confess I'm a rib fanatic, and the Salt Licks ribs are their strong suit: big, meaty and thoroughly tender. The Rock Star loves turkey, and the star of many Thanksgiving feasts was wonderfully pinkish and tasty. (As is her custom, she let me try some. What a great wife!) The brisket was very good and the sausage was another standout: thoroughly spicy, which matched well with the (I feel) overly sweet sauce. The beans were nothing special, but the coleslaw revealed sesame seeds and a surprising Asian tang, and the potato salad tasted distinctly of homemade hashbrowns. If you want more information, is their website. Please be advised that credit cards may be used only if you wish to order online; the Salt Lick accepts only cash at the restaurant itself.

Now thoroughly stuffed, the Rock Star and I rejoined Hwy 290 and reached our lodgings in Fredericksburg after another hour's journey.


Sure, there are motels in this charming German village of roughly 10,000, but take it from me, bed and breakfast is the way to go. Molly Sagebiel and her husband run one of the best-valued B&B's, conveniently located on west Main street, just moments from all the Old World charm and ambience. Just $99 (weeknight price) gets you your own comfy cottage and a guaranteed gourmet breakfast (What say you to Monte Cristos for breakfast? Intriguing, eh???) Molly is wonderfully cheerful and always on-site to help you with anything you need (even at 3AM!). To preview their accomodations, their URL is, and reservations can be made online using the Gasthaus Schmidt reservation service that handles many B&B's in Fredericksburg.

Since it was a Sunday in fall, our thoughts naturally turned to football, and since our beloved Cowboys were already playing, we headed for one spot in town we knew to have big-screen TV's, beer and bratwurst.


Located right down on Main street, the Fredericksburg Brewing Company contained all the elements we needed for our own Cowboys watching party, provided the TV's were in fact tuned to the Cowboys game. (They were!) We enjoyed two or three of their authentic German-style brews whipped up in their giant copper tanks, cheered loudly, enjoyed a very-good soft prezel appetizer, and were thrilled to see our favorite team hang on to victory. Yah!!! This wonderful brewpub can easily accomodate lunch or dinner (or snack) needs, and boasts a large biergarten in the back with an absolutely monsterous big-screen TV perfect for sports watching. The URL is, oddly enough,

Game over, we decided we weren't quite ready for dinner after such a late lunch and snack, and so proceeded back to our temporary digs for rest and to prepare for the evening meal. Fredericksburg, naturally, boasts many first-rate German restaurants, but we'd already had both sausage and beer that day, so we chose another beloved Texas cuisine for our dinner.


The Rock Star and I can rarely let more than a day go buy without eating at a restaurant that is an El or La Something-or-other, or has a similarly south-of-the-border name. Mamacitas has five locations, all in Central Texas, and features traditional Tex-Mex cuisine in a rather Moorish setting. (I know it sounds strange, but it works.) When the Rock Star is not ordering fajitas, she loves to chow down on quesadillas, and Mamacitas chicken quesadillas were quite good. Myself, I love combo plates, and chose Combinacion #26 with beef enchilada (good sauce, otherwise a little bland), and crispy beef taco (much better), served with very good rice and refried beans. Mamacitas salsa and tortillas were outstanding, and the service was quite gracious (as it was at every stop on the way). Their website is

Tired, full and happy, we made our way back to Camp David for the night to prepare for Day Two of our roadtrip on the morrow. Remember:


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wine Corner Review #8: Fall Creek Ed's Smooth Red

My lovely wife the Rock Star and I have a confession to make: our favorite winery is not Latour or Petrus of France, a Napa boutique brand, or even Washington state's surprising and delightful Chateau St. Michelle. No, we reserve our top honors for a Lone Star Winery, Fall Creek in tiny Tow, Texas, hard by Lake Buchanan in the Texas Hill Country. There, winemakers Ed and Sharon Auler craft superb wines with a definite eye toward both QUALITY AND VALUE. In fact, most Fall Creek wines retail for under $10! (How do you wine snobs like them apples???) We recently returned home from the first Food Czar Roadtrip bearing boatloads of wine, including, I must confess, an entire case of our favorite winery's product. I thought I would introduce my readers (both of you) to this fine line via a superb meritage, Ed's Smooth Red, in which the winemaker literally issues a challenge to the would-be imbiber: Figure out what's in this bottle, I dare ya!

The robe of Ed's Smooth Red is a deep reddish-purple, not unlike that of a fine Ruby Port. The Rock Star and I put our heads together on the nose (ouch!) and decided that it smells like a combination of allspice and A1 Steak Sauce. The flavor is as smooth as a David Benoit or Al Jarreau jazz number with strong hints of apples. My guesses for the grapes? Hmm, I'm going with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and a touch of Zinfandel. (In the background, the Rock Star is concurring enthusiastically.) Since Ed issued us all a challenge to "guess the grapes," I'm going to issue you a challenge: taste it and decide for yourself what foods to pair it with. Why? Because we are enjoying sipping it by itself so much, we can't think of any pairings. Check out the Fall Creek line yourself at, and remember:


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wine Corner Review #7: Red Truck Pinot Noir

Wine aficionadoes consider the novel and movie "Sideways" essential viewing, but unlike Miles, the often morose, Pinot-Noir-imbibing protagonist, most of us can't wait for the occasional wine tasting to slake our thirst for this juicy varietal. We need affordable, everyday options and Pinot can be quite pricey. Thankfully, Red Truck Pinot Noir, one of the standouts in a value-oriented line inspired by vintage vehicles, fills the bill quite nicely for a simple, rather uncomplicated, yet still quite tasty quaff good enough for weekday meals.

The robe can be best described by looking in the dictionary under the word "plum". The nose is quite subtle for a pinot, with currant and cardamon notes. Berries, cherries, and plums abound playfully on the palate with a slight vanilla finish. Because of it's fruitiness, I'm foregoing the usual prime rib and pot roast suggestions for a pinot: this one might be better suited to poultry, fish or game birds like duck, or even holiday ham. Visit to see their entire line (my lovely wife the Rock Star is quite fond of Pink Truck!). Pick up a bottle soon, keep on truckin', and remember:


Saturday, November 10, 2007


Sometime after the Civil War, a man named T J Campbell built a sturdy two-story house in the pleasant farming village of Lebanon. Cattle drives later stopped there, giving the tentative town status, but in 1902 the railroad bypassed Lebanon for Frisco, hastening the former farming center's demise. A year later, the undaunted Mr. Campbell moved the house lock, stock, and barrel to Frisco, where it sits today, It's classic country charm serving as a beautiful backdrop to world-class dinners as Randy's Steakhouse. My lovely wife the Rock Star and a party of nearly two dozen revelers made the delightful drive north for an unforgettable experience.

Since our party was so large, reservations were made for the ample yet cozy room on the second floor reserved for large groups. While ascending the rather narrow stairs, we oohed and ahhed over the period furniture and fixtures, supplied by the antique mall located across Main Street. Since this was a celebretory occasion, the planners of our party had agreed to a complete menu, starting with a round of cocktails and conversation. While the Rock Star and myself renewed and reminisced with old acquaintences, our waiter Eric and his genial colleagues attended to our drink needs while at the same time effortlessly preparing our party for the repast that lay ahead.


After cocktails were concluded, we seated ourselves around our vintage rectangular table to await the appetizer portion of our leisurely paced meal. Delectable boiled gulf shrimp with remoulade or New Orleans Creole mustard sauce were heavenly, and the stuffed jalapenos had a subtle but swift kick, but the crab cakes were the real standout, delivering a narcissistic knockout punch of flavor. Needless to say, they didn't survive long. Most of our fellow foodlovers, including my wife, opted for sumptuous salads next, but I was intrigued by the soup of the day: turtle soup featuring ground tenderloin and Cajun spices. Rich, delicious, and absolutely satisfying, you must order it on your visit if it is offered, as it was easily the best pre-entree feature of the meal.

Despite Eric's insistence that the rock lobster tail was delectable, just about every member of our party took the "when in Rome" approach and opted for steaks, prime-graded beef meticulously cut by hand and beatifully prepared. Most diners selected the blue cheese filet, eight ounces of sheer goodness stuffed with cheese and roasted walnuts. However, I am a ribeye fanatic, and while I usually try the bone-in variety, I decided it's 28 ounces were a bit much to handle after starters and soup and instead opted for the smaller 12oz version. Medium rare and accompanied in classic fashion with superlative sauce Bearnaise, this steak was sheer perfection and ranks as one of the finest meals of it's kind I've enjoyed anywhere, enjoyed with sensational alacarte sidekicks of steamed asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, and garlicky mashed potatoes. Cloudlike, airy spongecake rounded out our repast quite nicely, since we couldn't have managed a heavy dessert after such a large meal.


At the risk of sounding redundant and in the face of a feast of such quality, I must note that the stellar attraction of Randy's Steakhouse is indeed the house itself. The century-and-a-half-old former dwelling reminded me of my late, beloved grandmother's house in Brenham, hard by the railroad tracks and also filled with period charm. Sure, great steaks are available at numerous locations in the Metroplex, but I challenge anyone to find a restaurant more lovely or homey. In fact, I wanted to turn around as we were descending the stairs (watch those steps, they are tricky!), hoping against hope to once more gaze upon her enchanting visage. Eric and his cohorts paced the party perfectly over a span of three hours so we could furthur enjoy one another's company. The Man Himself (Randy, that is) graciously made repeat visits to us topside to ensure all was well.


The URL for Randy's on the internet is, naturally enough,, and they use the Open Table system for advanced reservations if you so desire. Overall, a truly unforgettable experience, although accuracy compels me to report one very real quibble: I feel the wine list, featuring Kendall Jackson selections, is grossly overpriced, with not one bottle priced below the $20 mark; $32 is, by any standard, too much to pay for ordinary white zinfandel and unfortunately all choices are similarly inflated in price. Thus, I believe that cocktails or beer might be the way to go here: in fairness, the wine-by-the-glass prices are not outrageous. Still, if your finances are sufficient, Randy's Steakhouse is truly a delightful destination for fine dining, guaranteed to deliver an outstanding experience. Visit on your next special occasion, and remember:


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Wine Corner Review #6: Sebeka "Cape Blend"

I'm not a purist by any means, but I've hitherto subscribed to the theory that, as regards vino, "what's in the bottle is far more important than what's on the outside." Well, even an old Czar can learn new tricks. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I were browsing in a wine shop just the other day when we were absolutely intrigued by the label on a bottle of Sebeka (South Africa) wine: a running cheetah. My wife is the Empress of Cats and also the Queen of Shiraz, and since the label read "60% Shiraz, 40% Pinotage" (Pinotage is South Africa's signature red grape, created by crossing Pinot Noir with Hermitage, aka Cinsaut), we both decided there and then: We just had to try it!

The robe is a purple plush, almost dirty in color, just made for royalty. The nose is unmistakably white pepper and some berry fruit we couldn't quite name (Boysenberry?, offered my ever-helpful spouse). The taste confirmed those flavors, plus the distinct finish of Angostura bitters, giving this muscular wine all the concentrated power of an Argentine Malbec. Most definitely a superlative quaff, especially considering it retails under $10. If all South African wines were this good, I'd be Nelson Mandela's best friend, that's for sure. You can access their evocative website at Try it with salmon or pork tenderloin, and as always, remember:


Friday, November 2, 2007


My friend the Rock has dined all over this great country of ours, from Los Angeles to Chicago, and even across the pond in London town (where he was lucky enough to be among the crush of people witnessing a royal wedding). He has sampled the cuisine of chefs great and small, from hither and yon, and as you might imagine, he has definite ideas about dinner and lunch and all the many incarnations thereof. So who do you think is his Favorite Chef? Dean Fearing? Bobby Flay?? Stephen Pyles??? Answer: None of the above! It's Chef Jake Duplantis, the genial Cajun who just happens to ride the ranges at Lone Star Park, one of my favorite places in the Metroplex and The Place in DFW for top horse racing action.

Classically trained in New Orleans by such noted chefs as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Somebody-or-other (otherwise known as Lagassi; BAM!!!), Chef Jake and his staff run all the food concessions at Lone Star, most notably Silks, their fine-dining fixture, and Post Time Pavillion, their simulcast palace. Because I am a fan of all things horse (particularly in the wagering arena), I always mark Kentucky Derby Day and Breeders Cup Day on my calendar, and make reservations for Silks well in advance, since Derby day in particular is always a quick sell-out. As such, I made reservations in September, looking forward to the last Saturday in October, when my lovely wife The Rock Star and The Rock could join me for a Breeders Cup day at the races.

Unfortunately, as the month of October wore on and the promised date approached, I discovered to my horror that all of us were certain to have scheduling conflicts. First, my lovely wife had a tour of The Frozen North lined up, slated to start on that Saturday, and since she had already had to postpone it once, she could not in good conscience do so again. Then, the Rock, despite his pleas, was totally unable to take off work, and I myself was dealing with a pressing family commitment. Luckily, my brothers and I finished our business reasonably early, so I set out for Lone Star Park, regrettably alone.


If you decide to do Silks yourself, I have three extremely important words of advice: TRY THE BUFFETT!!! (There is a very good set menu as well if your not so famished.) For all his high-class training, Chef Jake is a very humble man, and is an absolute master of the buffet, which features gourmet comfort food. Sure it's pricey (between $20 and $30) but if you get there early, you can feast all day long like a king. Sharp regulars especially know to come ASAP, when the morning omelet bar is in full swing. Grab a plate, get in line, select your ingrediants, then watch as the Man Himself, or one of his trusted assistants such as Miguel make you one of the eggiest, bestest, and most flavorful omelets you've ever tasted.(Be sure to toke or tip him a buck or two for his efforts.) These delicious creations are so popular that the diners often demand that the omelet bar be kept open until well after the noon hour. Sooner or later, however, eggs give way to pasta and you can return again later for a scrumptuous plateful of linguini or penne made with the same loving care.

Even though it may not be easy, screw your courage to the sticking place, and try the buffet proper as soon as you are able. It may sound strange, given the sheer quantity of quality delectable eats available, to rave about salads, but I feel I must. Do not Miss Chef Jakes Salads: They are among the best you've ever eaten. Being a card carrying Cajun, Jake has a natural affinity for seafood, and his traditional crab and shrimp salads are stellar. But do not feel slighted if your tastebuds can't swim because the Tuscan salad, featuring Italian sausage, green and red bell peppers slathered in Italian dressing, is superb stuff as well. Also don't miss the chicken salad, with its perfectly cooked cluck sharing the bill with pecans and other goodies too tasty to mention. On this occasion, Chef was offering pale, pretty pork loin, splendid asparagus, and (I believe) broiled new potatoes as well, and I dutifully took some of each; however, I saved most of the room on my plate for the carving station. Silks usually offers fine sausage and oven roasted turkey, carved to order, but as I approached, I noticed the prime rib was prepared medium rare and decided there and then on a rather large slice. Accompanied with creamy horseradish sauce and spicy brown mustard, the rich rib meat was easily the standout of an already fabulous meal. Later I returned for two dessert delights: first-rate, crunchy pecan pie (I am a Texan, after all) and a German chocolate cake guaranteed to please the Kaiser himself.


Silks has a beautifully elegant informality, much like Chef Jake himself. White cloths and good silverware abound, but the atmosphere is never stuffy, and you can watch either the live racing through the massive picture windows on one side of the restaurant, or simulcast thanks to a clever little monitor thoughtfully placed at almost every table. A couple of things to keep in mind however: Silks is set up on four different levels, rather like a formal grandstand, so if you have mobility issues, you should select a table near the top. (You actually enter at the top, like a theatre or sports box, and descend to your seats.) Also, some tables are back tables, which make it slightly more difficult to view live racing, and others have no monitors; be sure to clear all that up when making reservations. Finally, there is a dress code: no shorts, holey jeans or collarless shirts. Still, it's quite informal, and an aloha (Hawaiian) shirt is just about right for dress.


Faith, Inga, and Anne attended to my needs beautifully on this occasion. Faith and Inga took care of my meal, while the very knowledgeable Anne took my wagers and dispensed my tickets all in stride, so I didn't have to leave my seat to place a bet. Imagine! If you're a first-timer or veteran to this or any other track, you should purchase copies of The Daily Racing Form and Lone Star Today to read up on all you need to know about the days racing. Oh, by the way, there is a per-guest charge for the table at Silks, plus the meal, plus parking, so budget yourself accordingly. (Not to mention any alcohol you may care to indulge in!) Be sure to read all about it in advance at the website:


Silks will be closing soon for the season, not to open again until thoroughbred season starts in early April. (Like most tracks, Lone Star only runs races approximately half the year: thoroughbreds in the spring, quarter horses in the fall.) So, if there is no live racing, and you still want good food and great horse racing action, be sure to head for Post Time Pavillion, the facility's race book. Here the action is nonstop simulcast racing from mid-morning to late nite, with a more limited but still quite tasty bill of fare in the offing. The soup-and-sandwich combo is a great bargain for lunch, but I usually get the chicken nachos: layers of beans, tomatoes, peppers, and chicken breast all covered with ooey, gooey cheese, and served with sour cream and salsa, makes for a fabulous lunch, with plenty left to snack on throughout the day. On most days, you'll have plenty of seating options, and you don't even need a dining carrel: Just grab one of the many tables, and a smiling waitress will attend to you in short order. With plenty of big-screen TV's carrying racing action from virtually every track imaginable, Post Time Pavillion is truly a punter's paradise.


If you've never experienced live or simulcast horse racing, do yourself a favor and seek out Lone Star Park. It's truly fun for the whole family, for all ages and levels of society, equally loved by kings and poor folks alike. And if you don't feel like splurging, come anyway: there is plenty of cheap general admission seating during racing season, plenty of concession stands, all with tasty fare, and on Friday nights, cheap beer and good live bands as well! How can you resist? Visit soon, and remember:


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quickie Review #9: Tin Star

My lovely wife the Rock Star and I have long wanted to try Tin Star, but were confused by the name. What kind of place would this be and what food would they serve: Texan, American, Mexican? Well, after several visits to various locations, I can give you a definitive answer: Texican! Translated, that means dishes that borrow from all three cuisines, fun food for good times with a delightful, unique twist of freshness, resulting in a fine, new entry in the fast-casual arena, with new locations popping up all over like meerkats in their manor.

Just place your order at the counter in one of the earth-tone, family friendly locations, grab a beverage, brew, or margarita, and settle in to one of the booths or tables for your food to be delivered. While waiting, be sure to load up on chips and salsa at the complimentary salsa bar, with three zesty choices of dip. If you have kids, they are sure to love the Cheeseburger Tacos: soft flour tortillas filled with ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onion and mustard, just like your local drive-in burger, and sumptuously crunchy. Even better are the Signature Soft Tacos, in beef, pork, or chicken: the number 6 with roasted pork, honey chipotle barbecue sauce, shredded lettuce, and jack cheese and the number 1 featuring grilled steak, avocado, grilled onion and jack cheese are packed with fresh, fajita-like flavor. Other choices include a first-rate chicken fried steak, chicken scallopini, or fire grilled salmon. Brunch, lunch, and dinner are all offered and the URL is Make plans to visit soon, and as always:


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wine Corner Review #5: Becker Vineyards Texas Fume Blanc

Most people don't realize that Texas wine industry has grown so rapidly that the Lone Star State is now one of the top five producers in the whole country! Yet, even though there's a lot of quality out there, I've been faced with a pleasant but persistent dilemma: What to write about for my first review of a Texas vintage? Should it be from Fall Creek, that fabulous, value-oriented producer in tiny Tow, Texas? What about Fredericksburg winery, the undisputed king of Texas sweet wine, whose head honcho, the one-and-only Cord Switzer, is a genuine Lone Star character whose pithy sayings are the stuff of legends? In the end, I decided to go with a bottle from argueably the most award winning Texas winery of all, and, to that end, my lovely wife the Rock Star, her sister the Wild Thing, her nonstop niece Beaners, and myself gathered for an early evening tasting one recent Friday.

The robe of the Texas Fume Blanc (basically, a Fume Blanc is a Sauvignon Blanc with upwardly mobile aspirations) is the gentle gold of a Hill Country summer morning. The nose evokes honeysuckle and only the slightest touch of spice. Crisp apples and the distinct taste of ambrosia salad spread slowly across the palate, leaving a light,dry lemony finish. Beaners notes that it would be perfect for pasta and shrimp, not to mention chicken, and of course the Rock Star, being the Queen of Sauvignon Blanc, decreed that a bottle should be added to our collection immediately. You should do so yourself, either from your local wineshop, or if your state or county allows it, directly from In any case, remember:


Sunday, October 14, 2007


Dining on fresh seafood is rather difficult in a landlocked city like Dallas. The good seafood isn't cheap and the cheap seafood isn't good. Oh, how I wish sometimes I lived in that marvelous metropolis known as Seattle, where every restaurant, dive, bar, brewpub, and hole-in-the-wall joint sports excellent fish, and you can dine like King Neptune for under $10. To fill this void, some partners joined together about a dozen years ago to create Half Shells Oyster Bar. One group split off and morphed into the chain called Rockfish. The other is known in seven states as Fish City Grill, although two locations still retain the Half Shells moniker. My lovely wife the Rock Star and my best friend The Rock journeyed to our local Half Shells location on a recent Sunday lunch visit. (For purposes of clarity, I will henceforth in this review call the chain Fish City.)


The atmosphere of Fish City Grill practically screams "neighborhood bar." Very narrow, strip-shopping-center locations, only seating perhaps half-a-hundred patrons. Wood and exposed brick, with a couple of TV's, and numerous blackboards offering the daily specials. In other words, a very inviting joint, but quite small, so be prepared for a wait at peak times. Luckily, the three of us were seated immediately and started perusing the simple menus, which are conveniently left in a box on every table.


Most entrees are under $10 and taste very fresh, and if you're a longtime resident of the Metroplex like me, you wonder how can this be, since most Dallas seafood establisments won't even let you open the menu for less than $10. Just after being seated, I noticed one of the ubiquitious blackboards offering a daily special: Blackened Tilapia for $6.99. 6.99! In Dallas! Are you kidding me? And it's fresh? I opted for it there and then, while my two companions decided on fried seafood baskets. (Fried seafood is a longtime Texas tradition, probably started to mask the lack of freshness.) The baskets came with waffle fries and hushpuppies (another Texas seafood tradition, the balls of fried cornmeal are quite delightful), but the Rock wisely substituted excellent, spiced rice in place of potatoes. Both left few remnants of their repast. My tilapia was served with the same wonderful rice and a medley of fresh steamed veggies (zucchini, carrots, and broccoli) and I happily devoured it, plate and all. (OK, I left the plate, but not much else.) On other visits, I have quite enjoyed the generous fish tacos (which are really wraps, but fish wraps sounds more like something you would throw into the trash), and the incredibly delicious Tabasco-infused shrimp pasta (keep plenty of water close at hand for this one, you'll need it!)


I wish I could say that speedy, friendly service was a highlight of our visit, but not on this occasion. Michael, our server, seemed indifferent or preoccupied, repeatedly getting our order wrong, and otherwise in a hurry to get rid of us. To be honest, I think there was a communication (language) problem afoot, or maybe we were just a victim of SDS. (Sunday Dining Syndrome: On Sundays, the owner or manager is frequently absent in restaurants, often resulting in uncaring service.) Let me stress that such service is not the norm for the Fish City chain, as I have visited three different locations on at least a dozen occasions. This was definitely an abberation from the norm.


The Fish City Grill website can be reached at You'll note that there are now locations in seven states, hopefully one near you.


Despite the service gaffes, the Rock Star and I (and perhaps The Rock) will dine again at Fish City / Half Shells again in future, and you should, too. Visit soon, and remember:


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Wine Corner Review #4: Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc

Not many grandsons can boast that their grandma actually worked at a liquor store well into her 80's. Yet my best female friend (at least until my lovely wife the Rock Star came along) could find no other employment so she took the job and stayed almost a dozen years, often outworking her much younger coworkers. You should have seen G29 (my pet name for her, indicating her age of choice; she was 29 for some 55 years) lifting heavy wine cases that the 20-something males could barely move, and doing it all cheerfully and with a ready smile. She developed a taste for the grape, and Robert Mondavi was her tipple of choice. So it is in tribute to her that I raise a glass of Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc, a stellar selection from the winery's value line.

The robe is a pale, straw color, indicating the delicate nature of the goodness which awaits. The nose opens just as gently, with lemon, lime and grapefruit spreading like a bouquet of fresh summer citrus blossoms, but not quite as fruity. Crisp Granny Smith apples spread like clover over the palate upon tasting, leaving just a finishing kiss of mineral. Like all sauvignon blancs, the Mondavi is just heaven-sent to accompany seafood, particularly grilled halibut and tilapia, and can pair well even with robust sauces (try it on chicken as well).

Robert Mondavi actually has more than one website: accesses the main one, leads you to the Private Selection line. The company also owns Woodbridge and La Famiglia; C K Mondavi is totally separate, an outgrowth of the Charles Krug winery which was purchased in the 1930's by the Mondavi family. Pick up a bottle of Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc soon, join me in toasting my dear, sweet grandmother, and remember:


Quickie Review #8: Planet Burrito

These days, build-your-own burrito places seem as ubiquitous as pessimists at a Sylvia Plath convention, what with Freebirds, Qdoba, and Chipotle enticing the hungry diner with tortilla-and-sauce confections. All are excellent, but in my mind, the standout in the bunch is Planet Burrito, the new Texas-based chain that has only two locations at this time, with more hopefully on the way. Just like the other chains, you order at the counter (or call ahead if you like) and they build your very own culinary creation right before your eyes.

My lovely wife the Rock Star likes to build her own, and her choice of a small grilled steak burrito with corn pico, lettuce, and rice was very tempting indeed. She wanted queso blanco to tie the whole thing together, but was given white cheese instead. Not to worry, she reports that the accidental switch didn't cause much of a falloff in flavor, as the finished product was still quite tasty. Planet Burrito has specialty burritos as well, and one of my favorites is the Southwestern, a fetching amalgam of carnitas (pork), cheddar jack cheese, pepper pico de gallo, pinto beans, tomato chipotle rice, cilantro, and corn. Normally, Diablo sauce is used as sauce, making for an unforgettably fiery experience, but the superhot sauce is a little too warm for my tender tummy to take, so I opted to substitute salsa del norte instead, and while the burrito was still quite good it did not give me that transcendental torrent of taste I've come to expect from the Southwestern. Nonetheless, the quality of the ingredients shone through, making for a fabulous lunch. On other visits, I've really enjoyed the Texan: Picante beef brisket, braised in red chili sauce, with refried beans, tomato chipotle rice, cheddar jack, roasted garlic, pico de gallo, and chipotle BarBQ sauce. I'm a barbecue fanatic, so this delicious combo of Tex and Mex really rocks my world.

Planet Burrito also features tacos, salads, quesadillas, and nachos, if you're not into burritos, and boasts breakfast as well. (Note to self: must try breakfast, as it's hard to beat migas or bacon and egg burritos in the morning!) Planet Burrito is a very eco-friendly place, with Planet Responsibility as their mantra; find out all the particulars at Do yourself a flavor and visit soon, and as always, remember:


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cellar Selection #1: Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras

Despite their often-questionable political stances, the French have contributed much to world culture: a tremendous playwright in Jean Giraudoux (who proved time and again in his plays that anyone, from street vendors to madwomen, can have the soul of a poet), the fabulous actress Juliette Binoche (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), and of course, wine. This is not just snobbery talking: even the most inexpensive French vin du pays has the ability to tantalize your tastebuds on multiple levels, and in my opinion, no one does a great blend quite like they do. So it is with complete confidence that I recommend the first Food Czar Cellar Selection, a truly marvelous blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah called Vacqueras Les Christins, by the Rhone appelation Perrin and Fils (which I believe means "fathers and sons").

Rather than reinvent the wheel, why don't I just quote directly from the tasting notes on their delightful (English language, but you can switch to French if you so desire) website, located at

"An opulent forward youthful nose, bursting with sweet black fruits and rhubarb compote...packed with ripe fig, licorice, and currant paste flavors, backed by cocoa and graphite notes....The dark muscular finish has some serious grip, so cellar short-term to let it around to form. Best from 2008 to 2010."

There's not a whole lot I can add to that. Grenache is one of the best blending grapes around (there's even a white grenache extant and it's not bad) and of course, I've already spoken about how my lovely wife the Rock Star is the Queen of Shiraz so you know she was all over this bottle like white on rice. A fabulous quaff by itself, it also works with roast and grilled red meats, all spicy dishes, and strong cheeses. Pick up a bottle soon for your cellar, and remember:


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Quickie Review #7: Lenny's Sub Shop

My lovely wife the Rock Star and I honeymooned at a resort in the Poconos, deep in the wild jungles of Pennsylvania, where we stayed in a true Roman-style, two story, rock star suite, complete with champagne-glass-shaped jacuzzi, sauna, small pool, fireplace, and a bed with real fake stars overhead. During mealtimes, we loved to dine on genuine Philly cheesesteaks, and if you've ever eaten one, you know you've had one of the true gourmet dining experiences in all America. Most sub chains have something they call a cheesesteak, but 99.9% just can't compare with the real thing. Well now, my friends, you don't have to go to Philly, the Poconos, or even Atlantic City, just pay a visit to your local Lenny's Sub Shop, now found in almost twenty states nationwide.

Lenny's offers many different types of cold subs, hot subs, and round sandwiches, so if cheesesteaks aren't your thing, you have plenty of choices. Nevertheless, if you like Phillys at all, you must try Lenny's version, as their founder started his career in Wildwood, New Jersey, close to The Source, and thus knows what he's doing. I tried Lenny's version on wheat bread, hot, with all the veggies, plus hot pepper relish. YOU MUST ORDER THE CHEESESTEAK WITH HOT PEPPER RELISH. Like all true cheesesteaks, this one was buttery, cheesey, and all around melt-in-your-mouth good, plus the pepper relish adds a great kick that makes it extra special. The Rock Star loves their Traditional Sub, with capicola, ham, and provolone on white bread. Unless you have a HUGE appetite, the regular sizes are plenty, and Lenny's store brand chips are excellent as well. Check them out at and remember:


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quickie Review #6: Wing Stop

Once routinely discarded as an unsaleable trimming, chicken wings have by now been fully embraced by the American dining public. Both my lovely wife The Rock Star and I adore them, so on a recent Monday Night football evening, we decided to pick up some to enjoy at home while watching the game. (Football and wings: Is America great or what?) Since their locations are becoming as ubiquitous as Starbucks, we decided to give our neighborhood Wing Stop a try, and now we're kicking ourselves for not having tried them sooner. We prefer our wings boneless, so we decided on the 16 piece boneless breast strip order. (Yes, I know breast strips are not wings; please work with me here, people!) For our three flavors, we selected Mild, Lemon Pepper, and Garlic Parmesan. The Lemon Pepper strips were zesty and tangy, the Garlic Parmesan ones were tart and cheesy, and as for the Mild, WELL!!! In wing parlance, mild usually translates into "only for the wusses" (timid people). Not these babies, they were crisply breaded and absolutely packed full of crunchy flavor. Don't forget to try their famous, seasoned fries as well, with SKINS ON for better flavor and nutrition. The URL is and you can order ONLINE. One very minor quibble: the website boasts that each location is outfitted with old aviation decor and artifacts. I wonder if this is still the case: our local storefront in Plano looked pretty spartan to me. In any case, the wings are the thing, so you should drop by soon, and remember:


Monday, September 17, 2007


The Momma is none other than the lovely mother of my beloved wife The Rock Star. Still boppin' away in her mid-seventies, and looking better than she has ever looked throughout her rather long life (I think she only admits to 29; I know my grandmother was that age for many years!), she sometimes treats us to dinner. Since my wife and I believe there's nothing better than free food and her gracious company, we're often quick to comply. On a recent Saturday evening, the three of us felt a hankerin' for great Mexican food, but not just any Mexican food. We wanted the great cuisine that only a high value Gourmex restaurant can provide (Gourmex = gourmet + Mexican: I just love to make up my own words!) My dear mother-in-law usually prefers her dear, beloved Mi Cocina, but with a little arm-twisting, the Rock Star and I convinced her to give Cantina Laredo a try.


My wife and I have tried two or three locations of this chain (outposts of which are now located in half-a-dozen states), and we can honestly say they don't look very much alike, since they seem to try to fit into available space. They do share several traits, however. An understated, elegant atmosphere with an attached bar area that seems to get pretty boisterous at Happy Hour. Strolling mariachi musicians (featuring an accordion along with the usual guitars). Lots of wood and brass. In a word, quite upscale yet very convival. The three of us were seated immediately with copies of their one-page, laminated menu, which we perused over glasses of the Cantina's very nice Sangria.


The cuisine at Cantina Laredo shines like a shooting star in the Southern sky. (How's that for alliteration?) From previous dining experiences, I know The Momma loves her some guacamole, and since Top Shelf Guacamole was a featured item on the menu, I suggested we order some. WOW!!! Ripe avocadoes, tomatoes, red onions, spices, and just the right amount of jalapenos and cilantro combined to make this among the finest versions of the green stuff I've ever encountered. The three of us eagerly devoured it all while awaiting delivery of our entrees. The Momma usually selects some form of nachos, but she also can't resist a good spinach enchilada and so decided to go for the Enchiladas De Espinaca. Enchiladas stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, and Monterey Jack cheese were topped with a tasty but slightly bland sour cream poblano sauce. (Not to worry, just sprinkle a touch of one of the two complimentary salsas atop your order and you should be good to go.) For her part, The Rock Star ordered a combination of beef and chicken fajita meat soft tacos and I decided to join her, opting instead for the beef fajita soft tacos and Tacos Al Pastore (marinated pork). In both cases, soft flour tortillas were served brimming with perfectly spiced meat, the leftovers of which should make for excellent late-night dining one day soon. (If you think I'm going to let these heavenly babies sit for many days in the refrigerator, you've got another think coming!) Very good rice, nice borracho beans (really more like bean soup) and excellent grilled veggies completed our meal, which satisfied us all so much we could't even begin to think of dessert.


Jorge absolutely OWNED our tables, eager with suggestions and forthcoming with ready answers to questions. Cantina Laredo seems to follow the policy of not only bringing you to go boxes, but also physically BOXING UP the leftovers for you! (A practiced much appreciated by the ladies of our party.)


Cantina Laredo is owned by Consolidated Restaurant Operations Inc, which owns several fine brands including Good Eats. Website can be reached at Sign up for their email club, although that link wasn't working when I tried to access it.


The Momma now declares that she has a new favorite spot for Mexican, and one visit should convince you how good it is. Visit Cantina Laredo soon, and remember:


Sunday, September 9, 2007


Ever since the early 1980's and the appearance of the first Black Eyed Pea restaurant, places that feature home cookin' have been hugely successful. Families, in particular, are attracted by the possibility of a place that features food as good as Grandma can make it (though, of course, without her special touch of love she puts in each dish) at a price that won't leave their wallets drained. Two down home guys from Nacogdoches, Texas (a town which sparked Groucho Marx's immortal line: "Nacogdoches is full of roaches!") decided they would get in on the action some 18-20 years ago when they opened their first Cotton Patch Cafe. Now a thriving chain with numerous Texas and (one) New Mexico locations, Cotton Patch delivers the down-home goods, while still managing to seem as contemporary as Paris Hilton. Drawn by their charming radio commercials and in need of a good lunch fix on a busy, errrand-filled Saturday (aren't they all?), my lovely wife The Rock Star and I spotted one while driving and decided there and then to check them out.


The word of the day here is down-home-corporate. Comfortable booths surrounding tables. Faux pressed-tin table tops and faux brick wall panelings. Open kitchen. Some beer signs, although the place has a low/no alcohol policy. (It closes before midnight.) In a word, very much in keeping with it's Frisco, TX mall-nearby surroundings. The entire family plus little Grandma will feel right at home. (After all, a girl has to check out the competition for herself sometimes.) The Rock Star and I were seated right away and started perusing the expansive menu.


Even though the appetizer choices sounded tasty, the Rock Star and I decided to skip them and get right down to the business of lunch. My wife loves her chicken, so the Chicken Fried Chicken with carrots and sweet-potato casserole on the side (the latter vegetable was a special of the day) became her choice rather quickly. For me, a home cookin' joint lives and dies by it's Chicken Fried Steak, so I selected that, along with mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas (despite the fact that it wasn't New Years Day). In addition, I love great Chicken Enchilada Soup, and as it was also a daily special, elected to start my repast with a cup. Shortly after, my soup made it's appearance, sporting a nice, thick roux, chunks of chicken, and just a touch of green onions and tortilla strips. Marvelous and filling, it was one of the highlights of the meal, as were the complimentary light, yeasty rolls that my wife and I devoured while awaiting the main course. Both chicken and steak followed soon after, fork-tender, with light breading and very good cream gravy. The Rock Star also let me try her sweet-potato casserole. Sweet and light, it was also a highlight and should be offered on the menu every day. Carrots and peas were fine but nothing special. Cotton Patch Cafe offers slightly smaller portions called dixie belle plates for $1 less, and we definitely took advantage. Portions were still quite generous, so much so it left no room for dessert.


Our server Jordan was quite genial and quite good, although he was responsible for six tables, which meant that some minutes passed between iced-tea refills. (Most times, 3-4 tables is just about right for one waiter, particularly if he doesn't have to attend to large parties as well.)


Cotton Patch's website can be accessed at Read their rather folksy history, and take note of all their menu has to offer. In addition to home cooking, burgers, salads, and such varied entrees as steaks, tilapia, and Norwegian salmon are also on the bill of fare. Seems like these boys want to make them some money!


Great home cookin', and much more, can be found for you, your family, and little Grandma too, at your local Cotton Patch Cafe. Visit soon, and remember:


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Quickie Review #5:: The Plano Tavern

In ancient Roman mythology, there is a story of a winged bull carrying Bacchus, the god of wine and revels, high above the earth in search of the best food and drink. The winged bull has become the symbol of The Plano Tavern, and Bacchus himself would be quite comfortable with the cuisine if he chose to land here. The Tavern Burgers, made with Angus grilled beef, are especially tasty, and the Smothered Chicken (grilled chicken breasts blanketed by smoked cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, apple-smoked bacon, and merlot mushrooms atop buttery Yukon Gold mashed potatoes) made the Rock Star positively want to stand up and sing for joy. For my part, the Ale-Battered Catfish (two farm-raised fillets fried in spicy tempura batter, dusted with corn meal, and served with kickin' jalapeno tartar sauce and match-thin crispy seasoned fries) completely made my day. In addition, I thoroughly enjoyed the Chicken Tortilla Soup, a delicious cup of rich, caramelized goodness that may have been the best dish I've ever tried there. Paired with good house wines, the fare was excellent, the service quick and accomodating, as always, and we'll definitely be back once again. Website can be found at Next time you're in the area, be sure to stop in, and remember:


Sunday, August 26, 2007


Austin Ranch epitomizes perfectly the new era in urban/suburban living. A master planned community in The Colony, Texas, Austin Ranch is a seamless integration of apartment lofts, retail space, shops, offices, first-class amenities, and last but not least, restaurants. (WOW! I just sounded like a commercial, didn't I?) A gentleman named Trammel Crow was/is a real estate pioneer who once upon a time had a nifty idea: Why not talk to potential clients, both business and residential, and find out the kind of space that would attract their business and then give it to them? Mr C came up with this radical concept some 30-40 years ago, built an empire on it, and now his daughter Lucy Billingsly successfully carries on the tradition with, you guessed it, Austin Ranch.
My lovely wife the Rock Star and I live very, very close to the fine restaurants of this community (you might say we're within walking distance), and frequently take advantage of their excellent cuisine. At the time of this writing there are two bar/restaurants and one coffee shop/restaurant/hangout that call Austin Ranch home.


I would like to begin this review by stating categorically that the vicious rumor you may have heard is not true: You positively cannot buy auto insurance at Cafe Gecko! You can, however, enjoy drinks, pool, darts, video games, tv sports, lots of good companionship, and "foods from sunny latitudes" on the premises. The Rock Star and I are guests of the Windhaven (Austin Ranch) location as often as is financially possible, particularly during football season. We've enjoyed several of their dishes, which include Mexican Food, bar food, sandwiches, and burgers, but it's hard to pass up their excellent pizza. We get the build-your-own variety, featuring a fresh, just-out-of-the oven crust, excellent toppings, and a good balance of ingredients. (I usually get extra sauce, but that's just me.) A medium or even a small can easily be split between two people, with a box readily provided by the sweet and VERY talented waitstaff. (Simone, in particular, is quite good, but all the ladies are wonderful about making sure ALL tables are taken care of, not just their own.) If your not in the mood for pizza, try the Mexican: the sour cream chicken nachos are spiced just right and delicious, and the soft beef chicken tacos (order them spicy) are also excellent, and come complete with pico de gallo and tasty rice. (You might want to ask for a side of salsa.) Check out their website at All things considered Gecko is a great place to hang after work or start the weekend, even if the lizard on the wall doesn't talk like the commercials!


Zen Bar and Restaurant, like many All-American restaurants, serves Asian fare. (Actually their menu can best be described as eclectic, but I couldn't resist the joke. Sorry!) Pastas, burgers, sandwiches, bar food, Asian goodies, and more ambitious entrees such as Fish Tacos (served with a chipotle cream drizzle and thoroughly yummy!) are all on the bill of fare; however The Rock Star and I LOVE their starters and often make a meal of those. The Mississippi Fried Mozzarella is very lightly fried in tempura batter and served with a spicy diablo marinara. The Creamy Spinach Artichoke dip deftly combines veggies, smoked Gouda, Parmesan, and mild spices into a very appealing dish. (For me, I'd like just a touch more kick, please.) But, for us, the absolute standout dish of the Zen master chefs is/are the Thai Chicken Tacos: Hoisin marinated chicken breast topped with cilantro and Asian slaw and served with fruit chutney, and good enough to make a monk renounce his vows! (Well, not quite, but you get the idea.) All of this quality food is served in an ultramodern setting featuring outdoor tables, indoor tables and couches, and of course, lots and lots of flat-screen TV's. (Most new bar/restaurants provide these for their mostly twentysomething sport fan patrons and for the young-at-heart like yours truly. The Rock Star, for her part, will never grow old!!!) Their website can be accessed at, and if you are fortunate enough to live in Austin Ranch, they do deliver! (Quite quickly, I might add.)


Not content with an existence as a mere caffine shop, this first-rate establishment also serves a mean breakfast and lunch (and now dinner)as well. Unlike Gecko and Zen, Unwind is a fast-casual place, which means order and pay at the counter, and your food will be speedily delivered to you at the table, couch or comfy chair of your choice. Also unlike the other two places, which currently feature two Texas locations each, Daily Grind boasts shops in no less than 119 locations, coast to coast; just visit their website at to see if there is one in your neighborhood. They, of course, serve a selection of coffees and teas that is truly Starbuckian in nature. (Yes this is a word---I say it is---My blog, my rules, and my Grammer is out in the kitchen making cookies!) Next time you stop in for your latte or fruit-flavored tea, why not try a delightfully flaky, melt-in-your mouth ham and cheese croissant to go with it? Or stop in early on a hot afternoon like the Rock Star and I recently did and enjoy the salad stuffer: one of those croissants just bursting with delicious chicken salad and served with chips and side greens with a choice of dressing. Their standout dish just happens to be the fabulous, almost legendary panini, particularly the beef and cheddar, dripping with bistro sauce and served on grilled flat bread. Your friend Bubba might find it too, too frou-frou (did I really write that?), but your cousin Hunter from Seattle would surely devour it and not leave a crumb. In this case, Hunter, not Bubba, really knows best! In the Austin Ranch location, you can take your food to go, enjoy it at one of the outdoor cafe tables, or as I said earlier, take advantage of free wi-fi access (all the aforementioned restaurants also feature this amenity) and plop down with your laptop and enjoy. You could also take advantage of the books, newspapers or board games thoughtfully placed by management in the dining space for your use. In sum, take advantage of Cafe Gecko, Zen Bar, and The Daily Grind Unwind ASAP, and remember: