Monday, July 28, 2008


Main Street in Frisco just continues to be a happening place. If you build it, they will come (as Field of Dreams would have it). Lochranns Irish Pub next door continues to make money hand over fist, so why not build a second location of an established Tex-Mex eatery in the same building? Mattitos has been operating in Dallas for years, first in Oak Lawn, then moving to the present location on Routh in 1992, serving quality Tex-Mex in a festive atmosphere, with no dishes over $23. The concept must be working like gangbusters for the Northern Suburbanites; when I first tried to review this place about a month ago, I was told there would be an hour-long wait. Since a Texan cannot have too many Tex-Mex choices, I bundled my lovely wife the Rock Star into our motorized conveyance and, taking care to leave a little earlier this time, made the drive up the tollway again one recent Friday.


This time the promised wait was only twenty minutes, so we settled into the convival bar with the now-ubiquitous lighted coaster (Note to self: Must buy stock in whatever company manufactures these things, as they are obviously making a killing.) Lots of brick, tile, and faux-distressed wood with adjacent outdoor patio (which will undoubtedly get lots more use as summer turns to fall). Prowling waiters attended to drink needs quickly, and soon enough we were led into one of the smaller dining areas, each separated by a net curtain. A large party was setting up in an adjacent dining area, and in another, a rehearsal dinner was getting under way. No questions here that Downtown Frisco is definitely the place to be these days.


Chips were thin and crispy, and the accompanying salsa was thin but packed plenty of heat. Said heat was put to good use to give extra zest to the queso, which had a nice thick consistency, but was a touch on the bland side for my taste. Much better with a dash of salsa. My bride selected a chicken and cheese enchilada plate. The cheese enchilada with chili gravy proved all a Tex-Mex fan could ask for, with great flavor, but as is often the case in such classic-style joints, the chicken enchilada was good but uninspiring. My advice: Stick with the beef, cheese, and pork options and you can't go wrong, and the Oscar platter I ordered proved the point with an excellent pork tamal (tamale), very good crispy beef taco, and again, the excellent cheese enchilada. Rice and beans were well seasoned, and my wife really enjoyed her souplike borracho beans, which for her is saying a lot, because she usually doesn't like any beans that are not green. We paired our feasts, as usual, with Mexican beers and boxed up plenty of leftovers for the journey home.


Service was well-paced and nicely unobtrusive; when you don't notice it, it's a good thing. Website is, which has thankfully been updated to include the new location. A continuing source of frustration for me as a reviewer is to have to search the internet for info on a place that is obviously open and going great guns. So many people are internet-savvy these days, I don't understand why it's too often still treated as an afterthought.


Mark one more successful Tex-Mex joint in the books, and obviously the Mattitos family have another hit on their hands. Come see what's happening soon, and as always:


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Wine Corner Review #26: Torre di Pietra Cabernet Sauvignon

I promise: One of these days, I'll actually spend more time investigating North Texas wines and wineries. You have my word on it. But, what can I say? For now, my hearts in the highlands (as William Saroyan would have it), specifically the Texas Hill Country. Direct to you from Winery Row, that lovely stretch of 290 just outside Fredericksburg, we bring you a most marvelous cab in the most decidedly un-cabernet drinking season of summertime. Most folks might wait for cooler weather to drink hearty wines, but hereabouts in Texas, we make our own rules. So, if I want to quaff Torre di Pietra's Cabernet Sauvignon, then I'm just gonna do it, and no Wine Police are gonna stop me.

The robe of the Torre di Pietra Cabernet Sauvignon is bright midnight (as Jim Morrison would have it) laced with brown burgundy. The nose is sharp with sulfites and minerals and wisps of black pepper. Very chewy/crunchy, kind of like a Butterfinger, with notes of berry and spice. This cab would definitely benefit from a few seasons in the cellar; when you choose to bring it out, please do so with steak or wild game. Website is, and you really should do your soul some good and drive to that part of the state to see the winery for yourself. Send your heart to the highlands of Texas soon, and remember:


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tales From The Bar Side #3: Fuji Yama Japanese Restaurant

Let's face it: I'm an introvert who just happens to possess excellent communication skills. My lovely wife the Rock Star is the same way: Sometimes we can talk a blue streak, sometimes both of us can remain silent for what seems like hours. When we dine at a restaurant, we usually prefer a table (or booth; I'm a big fan of booths, particularly Edmund but not John Wilkes!), but not at a place where we intend to have sushi. Over the years, we have discovered that the best place to enjoy this fishy food is at the bar; there, you can talk to the chef, find out what's fresh, and have him suggest what's good and even make little creations, just for you. It's like having your own personal chef!! With this intent, and spurred by a colleague's recommendation, we motored South to Fuji Yama Restaurant (and Yakitori Bar), located where Dallas, Addison, and Carrollton meet and say Howdy!!

The interior is standard strip-mall/utilitarian bare-bones, but the large central bar that occupies at least half the space is very pretty and welcoming. Service is welcoming as well, with hostess, waiter, manager, and chef all tending to our needs. FujiYama (spelled as two words on the restaurant's exterior and one on the sushi menu) features both sushi and a Yakitori Bar. (Yakitori literally means "grilled chicken," in this case FujiYama applies it to all their grilled meat offerings.) We decided to skip the yakitori; we were in full-on sushi mode, so our waiter handed us the selection sheet menu and we got busy. From the Nigri Sushi section, we chose tuna and red snapper. In no time at all, the little buggers appeared. (Without question, Fuji Yama boasted the fastest service I have ever experienced at a sushi place. Our sushi came out faster than the edamame starter! That's fast!!) Both tasted delightfully fresh, particularly the snapper. Then, onto the Maki Menu and a spicy salmon roll. Spiced just right, and again wonderfully fresh. I'm not a huge salmon fan usually, so I think sushi might be the way to go whenever I dine on it. Good-sized portions, too. Finally, a Special Roll was in order and we decided on the Sun Rise Roll. Shrimp tempura and cream cheese topped with crab and avocado and the chef's spicy sauce. The creaminess of the cheese nicely offset the tempura crunch and the mustard-based sauce tied the whole thing together very well indeed. Sapporo and Kirin Light beers, both Japanese of course, made great partners to our repast. Chef was quite friendly as well, good-naturedly grousing about how long it took to get his order from a nearby wing place, and waxing enthusiastic about his new baby daughter. Altogether a very enjoyable dinner, and we will return, as the offerings were not too pricey. No website, call 972 662-2885 with any and all questions. Stake out your patch of bar soon, and remember:


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Quickie Reviews #27 & 28: Sub Wars: Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches & Firehouse Subs

Sorry, I couldn't resist. As a reader, I know I don't like the idea of covering two restaurants with one review. I can't escape the feeling that one, usually the one I'm most interested in, is getting shortchanged. Still, I do cover several restaurants at a time on my roadtrips, so I guess it's all right. (Note to self: It's your blog, so you can do what you want. Period.) Besides, it's summer so my lovely wife the Rock Star is in full-on sandwich mode at lunchtime (see my previous post), so I know I have her support. Finally, two well-known and respected chains just opened literally across the street from each other in my neighborhood, so I'm gonna go for it! Therefore, without furthur ado (drumroll please): Two sub shops in one review!! (Cue fanfare and murderers.)


Jimmy Johns was established in 1983 in Charleston, Illinois (home of Eastern Illinois University, of which Tony Romo is an alum) "to add to student's GPA and general dating ability." (I did not make that up; it was taken directly from the company's website, No online ordering (yet), so I did the old-fashioned phone-in, pick up thing. (When I arrived, I got a huge chorus of "Welcome to Jimmy Johns!", similar to the reception you get at Mooyah burger just a few doors down.) Since my wife is a club sandwich fanatic, she was delighted to hear that an entire section of the menu is devoted to clubs. She obligingly selected the Country Club: An old-school classic with sliced turkey breast, applewood smoked ham, provolone cheese, and lettuce and mayo on French bread, she devoured every last crumb in record time, so I can't tell you if it was any good or not. (She obviously enjoyed it!) Myself, I couldn't refuse the Vito: Genoa salami, Italian capicola ham, provolone, onion, lettuce, tomato, Italian vinaigrette, with jalapenos added made for one quite fresh and rather tasty sandwich. Good old-school stuff, although I think they should add a few hot subs for variety. Again, website is, and it's clear from it that the owners have a great sense of humor.


Founded in Jacksonville, Florida, by two real firefightin' brothers, Firehouse Subs can actually coexist quite peacefully in close proximity with its neighbor because, where Jimmy Johns sells cold sandwiches exclusively, Firehouse specializes in hot subs, cooked in a steamer to retain moisture. Their website,, does have online ordering, which I greatly prefer because there's a much greater chance of getting the order right if it's written right in front of you! My wife selected the Hero Sub, a three-meat combo with roast beef, smoked turkey breast and Virginia honey ham, plus melted provolone, served "fully involved" (which means lettuce, onion, mayo and mustard; she left off the tomatoes, as usual). She really enjoyed it, and she's not a big fan of hot subs. (Firehouse has only two cold choices, tuna and chicken salad.) I was intrigued by and selected the Hook and Ladder: Smoked turkey breast and Virginia honey ham, topped with melted mozarella and served fully involved as well. Great, although if they had put any spicy mustard on it I couldn't taste any. Still, I think Firehouse must get the nod today as being the better of the two, although since they are both different and good I will make return visits to each. Again, website for Firehouse is, and you can even order collectable miniature fire trucks! Start your own food war soon, and remember:


Friday, July 11, 2008

Wine Corner Review #25: Fall Creek Granite Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Just a couple of short months ago, my lovely wife the Rock Star went into her summer seasonal eating mode. The plan: Since the weather is too hot for heavy food and drink, she announced that her diet would mostly consist of wrap and sub sandwiches (or sushi if we are temporarily flush with cash. Unfortunately, my car has had other ideas lately!) and that she would drink light beer and white wine almost exclusively. Well, it's now mid-July and my bride is slowly growing tired of this routine. Lets face it: Most days she prefers red wine, as do I. So, when I ask her the question, "Red or white?," and she says "Whatever's fine," I'm usually quick to take advantage. Such was the case last night, so I brought out an old value standby from one of the fastest-growing states in terms of wine production. In case you haven't figured it out, the state in question is Texas, and the wine in question is Fall Creek's Granite Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

The robe of the Fall Creek Granite Reserve (actually a blend of 85% Cab and 15% Merlot) is burgundy-black, which I think would make a great color for a Rolls Royce. The nose hints of cherry and berry, with a strong note of minerals (that's the merlot talking). Black currant and black cherry, with lots of black and cayenne pepper, vie for palate space, resolving into a washed-gravel finish. Any Fall Creek red is great with BBQ from nearby Coopers (just down the road from the vineyard in Llano, TX); I tried it with spicy chicken, which brought out the pepper flavors well. Website is and it's available from several area grocers as well. Change up your hot-weather routine with a bottle today, and of course:


Sunday, July 6, 2008


Renewal, reinvention, repurpose. Specifically, the chains of the seventies and eighties are now becoming gentrified. People know exactly what to expect, and that can be a problem. If you're a fiercely independant Texas BBQ entrepreneur, like say Coopers, you have no problem staying exactly where you are, serving exactly what you serve, keeping the quality standards high. Maybe you open a little offshoot in a nearby town, once every ten years or so, but that's about it. Not so the chains, most of which are owned by major corporations, where profit margins and growing the brand are key to survival and thrival. So, when an old-fashioned chain attempts a significant rebirth, attention must be paid, as any nationwide improvement in quality helps us in our ongoing battle against creeping mediocrity. Thus, it was with high hopes and eagar palates that my lovely wife the Rock Star, her sister the Wild Thing, their parental unit The Momma, and myself journeyed to Houlihans one hot Friday noontide.


For their new look, Houlihans picked up their restaurant and dropped it into the new millenium lock, stock and barrel. Prominent bar near the front door. Open kitchen. Asian-inspired minimalist interior with tall ceilings. Warm and inviting, yet still trendy. We four were quickly seated where Dennie took charge of us and gave us careful attention throughout our visit.


Chips and salsa are a good way to start any communal dining experience. Houlihans chips were thin and fresh and the salsa was thick and zesty. My bride decided on the Tillamook burger. Two slices of the aged cheddar (nine months), red onion, a cup of lettuce, smoked bacon, and fresh beef added up to one very nice burger. Usually, my spouse prefers her cheese to be without sharpness, but she was very pleased in this case. The Momma went Midwestern with her choice of the Heartland chicken salad. Fresh chopped greens, bacon, jalapeno jack cheese, and toasted pecans in a garlic ranch dressing. She was delighted and even gave me one of her pecans. (If you were born in Texas, you love pecans. Period.) The Wild Thing chose a not-so-wild entree, the Down Home Pot Roast. Slow-cooked and very tasty, it was the most successful entree of the afternoon, served with Red Bliss mashed potatoes, homestyle veggies, and red wine mushroom sauce. Old-school heaven!!! My own selection was Chipotle Smoked Chicken Enchiladas, tomatillo-marinated with garlic, onions, queso fresco, atop a chipotle mozzarella sauce, served with black beans, rice, and sweet chipotle sauce. Quite fresh, but a little bland, so a side of salsa was needed to pull the whole thing together.

Mini Desserts were truly something special. Like 95% of Houlihans food, they are made in-house from scratch, and come three or five to an order. We chose the latter and were glad we did. All were excellent, particularly the tirimasu, rich and creamy, the Snickers ice-cream ball, a cold delight on a hot day, and the bourbon pecan pie, classic Southern with more of those toasty pecans. We happily boxed up leftovers for everything but the desserts, as we had decimated them.


Dennie proved quite excellent, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for her favorite menu selections when asked. Her laid-back enthusiasm was infectuous, and she revealed the source of her rather unusual name quite readily: She was named for her grandfather and not (as I had supected) for Denny Doherty, famed tenor for the classic rock band the Mamas and the Papas.
Website is and there are locations currently in 21 states, although only two in Texas as of this writing.


It's good to see an old chain gain new identity and purpose, and Houlihans certainly has done so. Investigate yourself soon, and remember:


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quickie Review #26: Campisis

Fusion this, fusion that. AAAArrrggghhhh!!! My brain is fusing together with all this talk of fusion cuisine. Actually, I must admit I'm happy with all the new choices, as I can easily remember when the epitome of Italian Food in my town was Spaghetti Warehouse. Still, I'm always delighted by a return visit to the old school, so long as the standards are being kept up. (If not, they may need to play catch up!) Guys, let's be honest: If your talking Dallas Italian Old-School, you must consider Campisis. They are usually considered to be the Godfathers of Italian Dining in this fair city, and since they've now expanded to half-a-dozen locations, it doesn't hurt to pay our respects to this most venerable of institutions from time to time. Several colleagues of mine and myself gathered a couple of times recently for a couple of takeout feasts.

The first of our repasts featured Campisis legendary pizza. Square, not round (I secretly prefer it that way) and sliced into dozens of manageable slices, all the pies were very satifsfying, with a classic cheese/topping/sauce ratio that never faltered. Pepperoni had the perfect amount of tasty meat, while supreme risked being over-the-top with generous ingredients. In this instance, the risk was worth tasting. Sausage satisfied as well, although I secretly longed for mushrooms to help counter the potent spice of the meat. Plain cheese was good as well, if that's what you like. I myself don't understand plain cheese pizza, but that's just me.

For our second meal, we decided to skip the pie and move on to other Sicilian goodies. The Jack Ruby special, named after the notorious Dallas figure from the 50's and 60's, was a complete meal deal. Plenty of salad with greens, large olives (with pits), and pepperoncinis all awash with good Italian vinaigrette. Seemingly plain-vanilla spaghetti was redeemed by a nice, spicy marinara. Chicken fettucini was redolent of butter sauce and, as with most pastas, proved even better the next day. The garlic bread was good, but should have been toasted, and a rather bizarre quesadilla-like appetizer proved dry. Still, we attacked it all and then some. Website is, but is currently undergoing renovation; a little googling will lead you to the rather colorful history of the flagship restaurant on Mockingbird. Moral: It's never too late to go back to school. Do so yourself soon, and as always: