December 1, 2023

Gumbo in Houston - A Work in Progress


Gumbo recipes are like fingerprints. No two are exactly alike. But, “ no roux, no gumbo.” There has to be a roux.

My personal preference is for a dark roux. If you don’t get your roux dark enough, you’re missing out on some deep, toasted flavors. Shocking the trinity in the super hot roux starts the caramelization process.

Gumbo is translated from  West African words for okra (kingombo or quingombo). But I’ve noticed very little use of okra in the gumbos that I’ve been sampling.

Beginning in February of 2022, I began sampling gumbo at restaurants around town. Some were not great. Some were good enough. And some would warrant a return visit.

First off, the ones that I did not like.

Acme Oyster and Seafood. The first time I sampled it, there wasn't any seafood to speak of in it. Just a mediocre, lukewarm gumbo broth. The second time, pretty much the same experience. Not recommended.

Eugene's Gulf Coast Cuisine. The day I went the chicken in the gumbo had that warmed over flavor profile that comes from refrigerating chicken and bringing it out of the fridge the next or subsequent days. 

Eunice Restaurant. The chicken was so heavily smoky that this became a one note gumbo. Smoky chicken.

Goode Company Seafood. A thick, flour-y gumbo broth that was really unpleasant. See roux comments under "Flying Fish".

State Fare Kitchen on I-10. I sat at the bar and ordered the gumbo. The bartender said "let me bring you a sample first to taste as some people think it is too dark." Well, I LOVE a good gumbo where the roux has blackened sufficiently. It shows the chef has the necessary skills. In this case, it wasn't a dark roux. It was a burned roux. And I was so grateful that I got to do a taste test first. Big tip to the bartender that day.

Flying Fish on Durham. I really wanted to like the gumbo here because they are local to the Heights. When you make a roux, that hot oil breaks down the glutenin and gliadin, the two proteins that form the gluten web when liquid is added. So the flour loses its thickening ability as it develops for the nutty roux flavor we all love. Although the roux here was dark, the gumbo had this thick flour paste feel and taste to it that was very unpleasant. There was a nice amount of sausage and shrimp but I couldn't get past that flour paste consistency. Same problem that I had with Goode Company Seafood.

Alfreda's. I remember not liking this one bit. Can't remember if it was because it was really greasy (but not in a good way like at Viola and Agnes) or that the spicing was just unbalanced. I seem to remember thinking "clueless kitchen".

Joe's Deli on Winkler on the East Side. More like a gumbo porridge. Cheap sausage, with a texture more like Vienna sausages. Broken up bits of rice cooked down in the gumbo. 

Esther’s Cajun on N Shepherd. Piled high with meat and fixins’ but very little broth. It wasn’t a favorite. I took it home, added two cups of water to thin it out and create a broth. While I finished it completely, I can’t imagine going back for it again.

 Willie's Bar and Grill off of 290. Come here for the burgers and onion rings but not the gumbo. I have to qualify by saying that I finished the bowl. But they dump too much worcestershire sauce into it and that is all you taste. Was it a goof on one particular day? I don't know as I haven't gone back for a second test.

And now, on to some gumbos that I liked.

1929 Po-Boy Cajun Kitchen inthe Lyric Market food hall on Smith.. For me, this is about as good as it gets.

Viola and Agnes on NASA Road 1. Still my favorite. The chef is from Lake Charles. The gumbo is really rich, with a layer of spicy oil on top, and includes a crab claw and a chicken drumstick. This is a place I would take out of towners as I pretty much like everything on the menu.  ( )

Christie’s Seafood on Westheimer.. For me, this is about as good as it gets. It is the style of gumbo I like best. Dark roux. Thinner broth. Lots of flavor. Shrimp added at the last moment so as not to cook down.

Gatlin’s Fins and Feathers on Crosstimbers. While their fried chicken was “good enough” but saltier than I like, I enjoyed their gumbo a lot. I would go back for the gumbo.

Bayou City Seafood on Richmond. I liked this gumbo a lot and it was one of the true bargains for the price. Big shrimp. Real seafood. I've been back three times now.

Zydeco Restaurant in downtown Houston. I ordered both a seafood gumbo and a chicken and sausage gumbo. The steam table looked really sad, but the gumbo. These were the simple but well prepared gumbos that I could eat every day. Actually, I had planned to just have a taste of each bowl and take the rest home. But spoonful followed spoonful and I burned through both bowls. And the jalapeño cornbread was tasty, too. Now, they had jars of Kary's Dark Roux for sale. I'm not sure if they make their own or just use the jar roux. 

Le Pam's House of Creole out on 1960. Very Louisiana. Very home cookin'. I liked the way the gumbo came together as it was ordered. Some roux and broth. Add some seafood. Heat it up. Tasty gumbo for sure. One thing that I suspect, though I'm not 100% sure...unlike every other gumbo I've tried, the Le Pam gumbo seemed to have a hint of Zatarain or Louisiana Foods crab boil liquid in it. 

7 Spice Cajun Seafood (right across the street from Le Pam's, and, I see that there is now one on Westheimer also). Funny that I did two places in one day. I suspect the gumbo at 7 Spice is more "chain restaurant", might have been where they just opened a jar of roux, etc. But you know, something about it, I kinda liked it just as much as Le Pam's. Go figure.

Grace's on Kirby had a decent gumbo that I would order again.

Lucille's. They feature a gumbo z'herbes, which I always thought was a meatless gumbo for Lent made with 9 kinds of greens. But theirs had meats in it and I've since learned that this is not out of the ordinary in the world of Louisiana gumbo. Online, I've seen a bunch of recipes for this type of gumbo that include ham hock or other types of meat. (the Leah Chase recipe has chorizo, sausage, brisket, etc. for example : It was a tasty gumbo.

Little Daddy's Gumbo Bar. In Galveston and also in League City. I've always liked their gumbo and enjoy getting a bowl when I am out that way.

Saigon House. The Vietnamese restaurant of chef Tony Nguyen, located out on 1960 (aka Cypress Creek Parkway). And a mile or so from Le Pam's and 7 Spice. A gumbo that I really enjoyed. Some comments from others indicate it may be a tad inconsistent so, fingers crossed, it will be delicious on the day that you visit. Here's a photo of their gumbo presentation.

Babin's Seafood Katy. I was torn on whether to give this a "favorite" listing or a "good enough" listing. It's part of the Landy's chain of restaurants. I'm pretty sure it is a jar roux. But it was a nice, dark roux. And the shrimp were succulent, though not as impressive as, say, Bayou City Seafood. In a pinch, I'd go back for the gumbo. 

Rainbow Lodge. I found the duck and andouille gumbo to be very tasty and I would order it again.

"Good Enough Gumbo" (Because sometime good enough is good enough)

Abe's Cajun Market in Clear Lake.  A salty gumbo which would normally be an instant deal breaker. But I really like this gumbo. Even with its saltiness, it has a nice amount of sausage and chicken and a pretty good flavor profile.

BB's. A very meh gumbo, but still a good enough one if one isn't obsessed with finding the best.

Brennan's. Again, a gumbo with no soul. Kind of bland. Kind of boring. I wouldn't order it again. But not bad, so I put it in this "good enough" column.

A friend said good things about the Jason's Deli gumbo (prepared at one location in their commissary). I tried it at two locations and found it tasty enough.

Crawfish Cafe in the Heights. And I think the original location is on Bellaire Blvd. Again, a perfectly acceptable gumbo. The place is rocking at night, due to the boiled crawfish or seafood that you order sauced to your particular tastes.

Crescent City Beignet on San Felipe. An "okay" gumbo with no soul to it.

Captain Benny's. A perfectly acceptable gumbo. 

Frank's Americana. It was a thicker gumbo than is my preference, but I liked the flavor. And the shrimp in it weren't over cooked.

Roux Pour. Various locations. A decent enough gumbo from a chain.

Joyce's. A perfectly acceptable gumbo.

Pier 6 in San Leon. Another "okay" gumbo. Smallish serving. Decent flavor. Included okra in the recipe. Included two oysters which was a plus. But they cooked the smallish shrimp in the gumbo instead of cooking them separately and adding to the hot broth just before serving. So the shrimp were tough and not very appealing.

House of Roux in Old Town Spring. Original Visit: "For me, this is about as good as it gets. I discovered that I like dark, thin roux broths, like what I had at Liuzza's by the Track in New Orleans. I like them more than the thicker, flour gravy rouxs. For me, House of Roux, along with Viola and Agnes, and Bayou City Seafood are my three favorite gumbos in the Houston area. Update: 2023…Several re-visits and not great. Taking it off my favorites list.

Supreme Gumbo. It was a little  food truck on Southmore at Almeda. Now, it is a stand alone on Cavalcade. It can be an acceptable gumbo with a real Lousiana feel to it. Or it can be totally awful. Depending on the day. Caveat emptor. Update 2023: "We had some gumbo more recently that was “meh”. So caveat emptor. Was it just an "off" day? 

November 30, 2023

Comalito HTX in the Airline Farmer's Market Complex

I came away thinking, “I don’t want to eat Mexican food anywhere else from now on in Houston.”  I would normally wait several months before trying out or commenting on a restaurant that had just opened. To allow them time for new restaurant growing pains.

But everything about today’s meal was very good. Perfectly CDMX to be specific. Because of family, I have been traveling in Mexico for over 50 years. Our family friends live in Mexico City, a.k.a..CDMX. And you can imagine just how many meals I have enjoyed in that wonderful city. 

My tacos were bistec. This is a good taco to gauge a place by. Because in Mexico where there is such intense competition between the different Taquerias and price cutting is common you can go the full range of very tough and gristle-y ones to very tender ones. My taco today was as tender and perfect as it gets. And the sauces that came with it were excellent. in addition, I ordered some thing that is typical of CDMX But not as common up here. And that is the.”costra”, or, chicharrón de queso. A thin slice of cheese is grilled and then rolled into a crunchy deliciousness. And theirs was about as good as it gets. 

The mushroom soup was excellent. In style of the La Marquesa area on the way to Toluca. Mushrooms, stock, onion, garlic, and strips of guajillo chiles. Perfect.

I’d skip the tortilla soup as it was more like a thick chile puree gravy than a soup. Not recommended. 

But definitely try the flan. I saw, but did not sample, their churros, which looked perfectly made.

Tortillas.  They use several special types of corn to nixtamalize. It's one of the things that they feature. The tortillas are good, but dry. They could be softer and more flexible. But the tortillera making them does have the technique down to make them puff up. You typically need two-three different heat zones so you can move the tortillas from a lower temperature area to a higher temperature area. I've had tortillas in Oaxaca and Puebla that were so soft and pliable that you'd swear they were flour tortillas. But here at Comalito, that is not the case. These are harder and drier tortillas, still within the tortilla spectrum but not to my liking.The sign that a tortillera knows her stuff is when you watch the tortilla release its interior steam and puff up. You have to properly sear it, flip several times, do some heat transfers, and then know precisely when to give it a press to cause it to inflate. .

Specialty Coffee in Houston - Great Coffee Places in Houston - Many of Which Do Their Own Roasting

Click on the map in order to enlarge it:

1. Here is the actual link to the map so that you can explore it in greater detail:

2. Here is a link to an excellent blogpost by Carrie Colbert on her favorite coffee spots in Houston:

3. There was a terrific show on Houston Public Media with Eric, Gwendolyn and David on their favorite coffee shops. Here is a link to that show. 

November 20, 2023

El Bolillo Bakery on Airline across from the Airline Farmer's Market

El Bolillo on Airline. 

Back in the day, about a decade or more ago, there were a bunch of panaderias in the Heights. Two on North Main, two on Yale, etc. But there was something disappointing about all of them. Like the owners and staff didn't care. Messy cabinets, paint peeling on the walls, a kind of here we are, we're a Mexican bakery so this is how we are kind of attitude. Kirk Michaelis, Galveston born, had a doughnut shop and his staff of bakers told him that if he would put together a panaderia they would come and make all the traditional breads of Mexico. He established the first El Bolillo (which is actually a pun, since a "bolillo" in addition to being a dinner roll is also slang for a "white guy") and went out of his way to make it very nice and hospitable. 

Soon, people were shopping at only his place and the other panaderias went out of business. Was this cultural appropriation by a white guy? I say no. He just made a cleaner,better, more friendly venue for patrons and they supported him. With the success of the first location (where El Rey meat market is an aside, this is where I buy my chorizo as it is made in house from a family recipe of one of the butchers) he built his new location across the street and went out of his way to make it pretty, with murals on the wall, lots of space, and a large assortment of the breads of Mexico. I got to have some input. 

On one of the walls, the artist whom he had hired was painting a woman at her metate. But in her hands was a rolling pin. I showed the artist what a metlapil should look like and she repainted over the rolling pin!

Kirk survived a cancer lymphoma.

Kirk knows how to juggle.

He has three daughters that went to Nashville to start a music career as a trio. Under the name Michaelis.

For me, like for so many others, El Bolillo is my Heightw default when I want breads and I'm not baking my own.

Although they sell flour tortillas, my preferred source for flour tortillas by the dozen is actually Spanish Flowers, where Airline dead ends into North Main. Less greasy. And I also love the flour tortillas at Trigo's, but that isn't in the Heights and is a story for another time.

Many years ago, when he was just building the new place, Kirk and I did a walk through his production area. I did a video of one of his bakers forming bolillos and to this day, it is the YouTube video that I've had the most hits on. Go figure.

August 31, 2023

Lasbela Pakistan Cuisine - Sugarland - A John Nechman Discovery


John Writes:

"Of the many Houston Restaurant Weeks menus that we’ve tried this year, the best in flavor and value by a long shot is at a place I had not heard anything about until finding them on the HRW list – Lasbela, a delightful, and beautiful Pakistani restaurant in Sugar Land (13849 Southwest Freeway). We first visited this location when it was called Mai Colachi, which we really liked, but the new place is even better. If you love Indo-Pakistani food (and if you don’t, I’m sorry for you!), HRW continues through September 4th, and this is a perfect opportunity to discover (or re-discover) this place.

You can view the HRW menu at this link ( ). Four courses for only $39. But these aren’t just any courses. The first three feature plates that each are the size of typical entrées at most restaurants. In other words, this is a hellalotta food! That wouldn’t matter too much if the food weren’t magnificent, but it is. We dined with a friend, and when we told our wonderful Afghani server Aftab that we wanted to try each of the dishes from each course, he warned us that it was a huge amount of food, and he suggested we just order 2 HRW menus and share the chosen dishes between the 3 of us. We told him that we felt up to the challenge of trying all the dishes, not realizing that with portions this huge, just one HRW menu would have been enough to fill all 3 of us. (SEE MORE OF THE REVIEW AFTER PHOTOS)

We thoroughly enjoyed every course. Some were stunning. I usually stay away from sweet-and-sour chicken, but the Patakha chicken here, infused with a brisk spicy kick, is a riveting Pakistani-Chinese version with subtle hints of turmeric and mango. The word “riveting” can also be said for the restaurant’s version of Pakistani fish and chips, the Muzang fried fish, featuring an ambrosial batter and a homemade sauce that looks like tartar but tastes like Heaven.

The second course includes a selection of savory kebabs and tender strips of chicken marinated in cream and spices and described perfectly on the menu as being of “melt in the mouth texture.” The third course brought three enormous karahi (deep cooking pots that look like woks) containing a trio of delights, including my favorite dish of the evening, the murgh malai handi, featuring a rich, savory mélange of tender chicken, fresh cream, butter (and plenty of it), herbs and spices. This and the other 2 dishes mix perfectly with 2 massive mounds of rice that you can choose at no extra cost to accompany the meal—we went with the spicy and the cumin versions. You can also choose at no extra cost any of their selection of naan—we loved the garlic naan.
And though we were stuffed and staring at an enormous amount of leftovers, we couldn’t resist the dessert course, which included a creamy ice cream-like burfilee, a sundae-like dilbahar ananas, and spectacular warmed gulab jamun served in fragrant rose water.
The drinks here, all non-alcoholic, are also creative and wonderful. Aftab was very helpful in explaining each of them. We tried the Lala Rukh, a very refreshing cooler made with strawberries, as well as the Burg-E-Gul, made with rosewater. Richi loved his mango lassi, and the aromatic chai is the perfect way to end a meal here.
The restaurant is beautiful with soothing music. The service is caring and attentive, and you’re simply going to be amazed at what a wonderful experience you get for this HRW menu price. An 18% service charge is added, which I’m not crazy about (simply because I don’t like charges added before I authorize them), but the service is so excellent that we added considerably more. We look forward to returning and trying much more from the amazing sounding menu.
Our city is blessed to have what is likely the finest selection of Pakistani restaurants in the United States, led by Chef Kaiser Lashkari’s always magnificent and creative Himalaya. For another captivating glimpse at the magical cuisine of this region of the world, add Lasbela to the list.

July 31, 2023

Chinese - The Ambassador Chinese Restaurant - A Time Warp on Richmond Avenue

Let me tell you about my own personal favorite hangout. 

The Ambassador Chinese Restaurant is located on Richmond just next to the Rajun Cajun. 

There is no question that there are better Chinese restaurants in town. No argument here. But sometimes, it isn’t just about the food. And I promise you, for an all around fun experience you can't beat Ambassador. Giant shrimp eggrolls photo with dollar bill for comparison.

(Because sometimes, one just craves a simple but perfectly executed chicken chow mein with lots of vegetables!)

It is like taking a time machine back to the 50's. You walk in, and you'll hear Frank Sinatra playing through the stereo system. The waitresses are adorable. They have been serving customers there for years, and if you say something that gets them to give a nervous laugh, they will cover their mouth with their hands. It’s kind of like trying to get the guards at Buckingham Palace to crack a smile. But in a good way. They are real sweet-hearts. On some nights you might see a group of WWII veterans hanging out at their own table. Or ladies from the River Oaks crowd. Or hipsters. And old white guys like me.

The food is Cantonese and it is the Cantonese that used to be all that you could find in Houston when I was growing up in the 50's. 

The egg foo yung is crazy. When it comes out you will swear they brought you a giant chicken fried steak. 

The egg rolls are super sized, probably the biggest ones in town. 

The hot and sour soup is just perfect with the right amount of rice wine vinegar to white pepper. 

And yes, there's even a great typo on the menu (Human beef instead of Hunan beef). 

If you have an opportunity to talk to the owner, she is an absolute delight and will share wonderful stories about the Ambassador over the years. 

Yep, for me, it's the Ambassador. I recommend staying with the tried and true Cantonese dishes: sweet and sour pork, egg rolls, egg foo yung, a chicken with vegetables stir fry and on the side a big bowl of egg drop soup or (not Cantonese) hot and sour.

Ambassador Chinese Website

Some photos for you:

The giant, shrimp eggrolls.