Friend Andrew Bennett came across a terrific Cuban cafe in a convenience store of all places!
Here is Andrew's review of The Cuban Flavor in Nassau Bay at 1419 East NASA Parkway. Photos follow the review:
" The Cuban Flavor - Cuban - Nassau Bay - 4.75 Stars
Usually restaurants disguised as gas stations serve Mexican breakfast tacos, so you can get gas while you get gas.
But in Houston, exceptions range from a Mobil serving natto (soybeans as stinky as gas itself) to now, the first Cuban food in Clear Lake or environs, so I don't have to buy too much gas. Its two tables are two more than the norm and the interior approaches the cleanliness of Super H Mart's Korean food court, with better prices and a lean and mean menu ready to "fill you up" with not-so-lean protein- and carb-heavy Cuban specialties that'll last you an entire tank of gas - of course, until you come back next time.
My maternal family member/dining companion walked in at about the same time and quickly took stock of the tightly focused menu, based around Cuban sandwiches, fried delights like croquettes, sweet pastries, and a rotating daily special which happily is Ropa Vieja on Tuesdays. It fit snugly into the corner of the humble station mart next to the lottery tickets and overlooked it like a high-rise balcony, giving it as much presence as my belly was about to lay claim to after looking at every single thing behind the window and saying "Yo quiero." But my Spanish, still recovering from 15 months of confusion with French, was only capable of ordering the Ropa Vieja with Moros y Cristianos and fried plantains, and deciding that when it saw boiled yucca relaxing in a pool of oil like una mujer bonita en la playa, to not wait for a trip to El Paso to say "¿Por qué no los dos?" If it was anything like the fried yucca with mojo sauce in the sadly defunct Doris in middle-of-nowhere Carrollton, Georgia, it would be worth $3 - but en verdad, the extra side cost merely $1. When bolstered by a Cuban coffee and tamale, the entire meal set us back $15 and proved a cheaper way to get gas.
And certainly much tastier.
The fear with any steam-table establishment, as can happen in many BBQ and Southern restaurants or Chinese buffets, is that food turns to mush from hours of sitting on hot plates. Fortunately, Ropa Vieja seems invulnerable to this pitfall, remaining very juicy and in between soup and stew, its bell pepper strips melting into the sauce but retaining enough fresh vegetable crispness to cut the heaviness of the shredded flank steak that looks so unkempt its name literally means “Old Clothes.”
The black-and-white rice and beans were just dry enough to be dressed with a not-quite-Armani suit, but wet enough to be edible alone. The couple of bites of Cuban tamale I tried were filled with bigger chunks of corn and faintly perfumed with banana leaf, unlike a Mexican tamale, but are not as spicy or bold. The plantains were a perfect mixture between firm, tender, sweet and starchy, certainly beyond my flour-drenched and somewhat mushy attempts. I felt rather disappointed that the yucca came out au naturel instead of being fried into Latin America’s answer to French fries, especially with deep-fryers as prolific as Havana cigars in the White House and enough oil dripping off it that Halliburton would appropriate it, but it was well-cooked and the bland nutty-mashed-potato flavor was offset slightly by subtle hints of flavors in the oil, perhaps garlic. As far as vegetables in Cuban dishes go, you’re not going to find too many other options.
Desserts are dominated by crispy pies and tarts like the pastelitos also common in Venezuelan joints, the guava clearly most prized, and would have paired beautifully with the stupendous house-ground Cuban coffee that’s quite likely the best coffee I’ve had in any food-oriented restaurant to date – and maybe even any establishment to date. It’s like a bold and oaky Napa Cab compared to a straightforward red blend, the added cream almost like a decanter in the way it allows the roasting and coffee bean flavors to meld into it and become more distinct and milder rather than an overwhelmingly potent surge of caffeine. However, I’d had more than enough to eat for the day and decided to hit the brakes for the moment and get back to my accelerator.
You need not buy, nor get gas here. But you will find the best Cuban food in perhaps the entire Houston area at unbelievably bargain prices.
And the server at the front understood with a steadily growing smile as I made favorable comparisons to Doris, still my gold standard for all Cuban food, that she had done something special by opening up this tiny monument to Havana Manna.
Granel, I am told means "bulk" in Spanish. This latest, wonderful venture from the Flores Spices family is located directly across from El Bolillo Bakery on Airline Drive. It is impressive and is my default, go-to location for all of my spice needs. Especially cinnamon. The cinnamon we know of as Mexican cinnamon is actually from Sri Lanka. It is a milder cinnamon that is much loved in Mexico for flavoring pastries, coffee, chocolate, etc. Here follow photos of the Granel Spice Market.
Golden Bagels and Coffee is a new venue, having opened in January of 2018 on White Oak Boulevard in the Heights. The bagels are excellent and are highly recommended. Living near the Heights it has already become one of my favorite destinations, when the urge for a freshly made bagel hits me.
Bagels are an interesting creature. There is a bit of complexity to them in that you are going to be creating a bread dough, then shaping the bread into the standard bagel shape, dipping it in a solution of baking soda or lye (similar to what one does for a pretzel), BOILING the dough, and then proceeding with the baking process. That boiling phase does some interesting things to the yeast risen dough, changing the internal structure to a dense, chewy bread.
The Katy, Texas store and the Willowbrook store, I am told, are two of only ten current Bed, Bath and Beyonds to feature an extensive coffee section. They also house a World Market food section, as both stores are owned by the same parent company. Here are some photos of some of the coffee options including Melitta, Hario, Chemex, Breville, Keurig, and more.
Until now, your options were Sur La Table, Williams Sonoma, several of the artisanal coffee shops, and online, to name a few. True, you aren't going to find, say, a Rancilio Silva or a Rancilio Rocky or a Baratza Maestra here, but Bed, Bath has really done a great job with this section in my opinion.
Click on any photos to enlarge it for a better view.
An extra bonus: Now, I consider Keurig to be one of the worst things to happen to craft coffee. I am a Chemex and Technivorm kind of person. But, the store has two Keurig pro units and you can brew up a coffee sample in the store, have a coffee while shopping. And it isn't just one or two options. Just about every coffee made for the Keurig, which they sell, is available for tasting.
And don't forget: 20% off coupons on a regular basis in the newspaper.
Recently, a friend asked me about burr grinders. I thought I might capture my response here, since I mentioned Bed, Bath and Beyond to her in my response:
First off, don't consider anything but a burr grinder. Now, if you do have an espresso machine and want to grind fine enough for espresso (somewhere between white flour and sand) you are going to have to spend some money to get a good one.
But there are two options. First, forget about grinding coffee for espresso and buy the Lavazza espresso grind at Spec's on Smith Street or ask your friendly coffee vendor (Catalina, Southside, Boomtown or Greenway or other) to do an espresso grind, buy a smaller quantity and use it up before it goes stale from oxidation. Note: I am now a believer in freezing coffee.
Second, the Hario hand grinder is superb for espresso grind but not so great for medium grind. Max Gonzalez of Catalina said the ($50) Hario grinder can grind as finely as some very expensive electrical ones. I own one and used it every day in my office and on road trips.
Now, on to burr grinder. I own a Baratza that I bought at Catalina. Baratza, on the low end pricing is about as good as you can get in the price range. But you don't have to spend that much.
Capresso and Cuisinart make grinders that will suffice for your every day medium grind. If not shopping online, using the Bed Bath and Beyond 20% off coupon at their new coffee market venue out in Katy would be a good place to go shopping.
Phone: 281-513-1833 Email: email@example.com Will Springfield has been exploring the Houston food scene for years now and brings a wealth of knowledge to share with you. From taco trucks on Long Point to places where only Chinese dine on Bellaire Boulevard, he has covered this city from east to west and north to south in search of amazing places to dine. These food tours are spectacular. Whether Will is leading it, or, if he brings in local culinary experts such as Michael Shum or John Nechman, or me, Jay Francis, to reveal their/our favorite, "secret", discoveries.
Houston is my home. I grew up in Glenbrook Valley near Hobby Airport and went to Milby High School. I remember when dining out in Houston meant a Sunday lunch at Weldon's Cafeteria, and an evening out meant steak, salad and potato, or once in a while, the big splurge at Kaphan's Seafood or The San Jacinto Inn.
In the 80's the Houston food scene started getting REALLY interesting. With immigrants arriving from Mexico and Central America and Asia, ethnic restaurants exploded here. I've often joked that if one waits long enough, every kind of food will make its way to Houston. I even know a place that makes the giant tamal of the Totonac region of Mexico (zacahuil). And now, we even have several Uyghur restaurants. And a lifetime's worth of exploration of the Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants along Bellaire Boulevard for anyone up to the challenge!
Now, my expertise is probably Mexican, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern (including Turkey and Iran, though). Will is a professional chef who brings a chef's knowledge and sensibility. Between the two of us, we KNOW where the great places are to eat. Barbecue, Indian, Iranian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean...we have it covered!
Here are a few photos from some recent tours that Will organized. Traveling around Houston with Will is so much fun. We hope you will join Will for his next tour!
May 2018 - A great outing with terrific food
And, the food!
August 26, 2018. John Nechman and Will Springfield lead a very special tour of the East End where John grew up. And finish with visits with chefs Chris Shepherd and also Kaiser Lashkari at their respective restaurants.