September 14, 2022

Pizza - Could This Be The Best Pizza In Houston?









I think so. 

Only open from 9:00 to 2:00 on Sunday, ORG Pizza is tucked away a little north of Tidwell on Yale at 5618 Yale.  

Chef Andrea is from Rome. 

For me, the crust is perfect. Chewy and delicious. The quality of ingredients is about as good as it gets. His skill as a pizzaolo, well, for me, I wouldn't want to eat anywhere else on a Sunday, mid-day. Prices are almost too reasonable. 

And, he also produces excellent gelati in remarkably interesting flavors.


John Nechman writes: “. Thank you, thank you, thank you to H-Town mortgage guru John Frels, curator of the Houston Heights Foodies page, for sharing the "secret" of ORG Pizza Garden (5618 Yale St., in the northern stretches of Independence Heights). The business model for this hidden-in-plain-sight spot is somewhat baffling:  open only Sundays from 9-2; 3 tables inside and a few more hard benches outside, mostly exposed to the elements; a masonry pizza oven set up in a trailer in the middle of the outdoor patio; barbed wire topping a chain link fence surrounding the rather bleak looking property; business development coming mostly from word-of-mouth from those who've dined here before.

And it works!

Why? Because the food is spectacular. Frels and Houston foodie extraordinaire Jay P. Francis (who also visited ORG yesterday) have called the pizza the best in the city. It's definitely a contender.  If you've had the 2 most famous styles of Roman pizza: al taglio (square and thicker crust, sold in "cut" squares) and tonda (thinner, crispy crust and usually round), this pizza from Chef Andrea dal Monte is like the best of both--pizza alla pala. It somehow manages to be both fluffy and crispy at the same time and comes out in an oval shape on  a traditional wood paddle. At $10 for the most expensive version (the magnificent matriciana, made with a rich marinara infused with guanciale and pecorino), this is one of the best deals in town and one of the tastiest pizzas.  I couldn't get a close look at the oven, but it appeared to be a Marona forni oven--perfect for cooking this style of pizza.

Also from within this magical oven comes the bread for the farciti, sort of a stuffed toast.  We tried the version with fresh-sliced prosciutto, camembert, a slather of figs compote, organic arugula, and golden local honey, and it soars to the highest rankings of Houston's best  sandwiches. I hope Jeff Balke, who compiles a list of best sandwiches for the Houston Press, gets to try this one).  A stunner of a sandwich.

We somehow managed to scarf down a maritiramisu maritozzo (sweet bun) as well and left with a pint of peach, balsamic venegar, and roasteed honey ice cream to enjoy later.

You can bring your own booze (for $14 a bottle, Total Wine & More sells an orange Sun Goddess Pinot Grigio Ramato from Mary J Blige that is refreshing and pairs with everything!), which means an exceptional Sunday lunch with wine for 2 can easily come in under $40. This place is still under-the-radar enough to likely have seating if you show up early, but before long, unless they expand (and hopefully open on other days, too), it won't be possible to find a seat here.“

September 3, 2022

Gumbo in Houston - A Work in Progress

 


















Beginning in February of 2021, 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. 


And now, on to some gumbos that I liked.

House of Roux in Old Town Spring. 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.

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.

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.  (http://www.houstonfoodexplorers.com/2021/07/gumbo-viola-agnes-nasa-road-1-in-clear.html )

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.

Supreme Gumbo. A little food truck on Southmore at Almeda. A tasty gumbo with a real Lousiana feel to it. I look forward to having it 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 : https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/leah-chase-gumbo-z-herbes) 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.

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.



September 1, 2022

Louisiana - Lake Charles Area Recommendations

My Three Maps of Markets and Dining in Lousiana, created from places mentioned in two of Dixie Poche's books on the culinary history of Lousiana:


(Personal recommendations from Kathryn Shea Duncan)
Hi Jay,
Thank you so much for the support! 
Here are some restaurants that come to mind when visiting:
Hope this is helpful! Lake Charles Tags To Follow:
  • Facebook: @LakeCharlesCVB
  • Twitter: @LakeCharlesCVB
  • Instagram: @VisitLakeCharles
  • TikTok: @VisitLakeCharles 
  • LinkedIn: Visit Lake Charles- Louisiana's Playground
  • Hashtags: #VisitLakeCharles, #LouisianasPlayground 

Kathryn Shea Duncan
Director of Social Media
 1205 N. Lakeshore Dr., Lake Charles, LA 70601 
 337-436-9588 ­   337-384-8235 ­ 
 kduncan@visitlakecharles.org ­   www.visitlakecharles.org ­     ­
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Lousiana Roadtrip - Shreveport to Lafayette and Parts In Between

My Three Maps of Markets and Dining in Lousiana, created from places mentioned in two of Dixie Poche's books on the culinary history of Lousiana:

https://goo.gl/maps/GVcZTMJJWXuyBPr28


https://goo.gl/maps/yWHepWBwgGPbrVPQ9  


https://goo.gl/maps/iJSyb8bT7G6kgg82A    




Many of the stoplights at major intersections in Louisiana are very long. But they are very fair and when it is one’s turn, the lights stay on long enough for many cars to move forward.

 

 

Day 1 - The trip began with some Texas stops. I knew that I wanted to stop in Lufkin at the Atkinson Candy Factory store and buy big bags of sugar free candies. In this month of June, I decided to bring my triglycerides down. When I crave something sweet, I default to a sugar free option. Plus, my friend Kaiser, who must watch his sugar too, well I’ll enjoy sharing some of these “sweets” with him. 

 

And so, first day. The wonderful antique shops in Lufkin were closed and I just walked around main street. Ditto in Nacogdoches. An excellent coffee at Java Jacks and then a so-so lunch at Clear Springs Café.

 

Clear Springs touted their “famous onion rings” but they weren’t that big a deal, certainly not De Weese’s Tip Top Café quality. Recently, I asked around Facebook food groups and got some local recommendations that I’ll be trying in 2022. The gumbo at Clear Springs was no big deal either. Again, a fun place, but I’d go for a burger the next time I visit.

 

Heading out of Nacogdoches along those wonderful East Texas roads full of pine trees and curving two lanes.

 

Arriving in Shreveport. I play The Shreveport Stomp on my stereo to get into the mood. I had opted for a Home Wood Suites (home wood, #notaeuphemism) and with taxes, my lovely suite with a king-size bed was $150 with all the taxes. Breakfast included but, heck, I wasn’t about to eat there when I had places to explore. I went out for gas and saw lines at several stations and began to worry that there was a gas shortage, and me, with a near empty tank. But no. It was just that prices were lower in the area and people were taking advantage of that.

 

I went online and researched “oldest restaurants in Shreveport”. I also had read about a local specialty called “stuffed shrimp”. A flattened shrimp is wrapped with boudin or sausage dressing and spices, battered and deep fried. I chose Orlandeaux’s as my place for dinner.

 

Orlandeaux’s sitting at the bar, the bartender who served me was terrific. I had the gumbo and 1 stuffed shrimp. It was flavorful, but dry, almost tough, with a thick batter. I had the gumbo and 1 stuffed shrimp. It was flavorful, but dry, almost tough, with a thick batter. I guessed that it was based on a shrimp wrapped with boudin or other sausage dressing, spices, and a thick batter that toughened up when it was deep fried. 

Gumbo was okay and I was to learn that most Shreveport gumbos lean toward the thicker more flour forward profile…not one I particularly like. If you’ve ever had the gumbo at Goode Company, you’ll know what I mean. And so, another one of those “historically significant” places with an unmemorable meal. Authentic, I’m sure, but not to my personal tastes.

 

I also came to realize that no one was putting okra in their gumbos, in my whole trip. And that the trinity was dissolved into the gumbo, no chunks in any of the gumbos I had. 

 

Day 2: An incredibly early start in search of gas and no problem getting my tank filled. The early start was to go to an Albertson’s that local spice company Bayou Magic had said was the first place to stock their products. I’ve become a fan of their salt free spice mixes. I was to learn that the Albertson’s on Southfield didn’t carry them but a One Stop down the road did. Later in the trip I discovered Tubb’s Hardware in Bossier City, that has just about every Cajun spice on the market. 

 

Second stop was a Ralph’s Place for the stuffed beignets. I ordered the stuffed beignet (sausage, cheese, egg) but fortunately got just regular ones, which were excellent. The local coffee roaster is Rhino Coffee, and I had my first Rhino here. Followed by a visit to their downtown location, where I shopped for Rhino souvenirs for friend Beth. Inluding a cool "Caffeinated" t shirt that would be a good ice breaker later on in the trip. You see, in Houston, I can't wear Houston themed coffee t shirts cause if I'm in one of my favorite places, I don't want to be advertising somewhere else. So I buy and wear Louisiana coffee themed shirts in Houston when I'm not wearing a cat shirt. Two blends, both excellent. 

I visited two downtown casinos, Sam’s Town, and Bally’s to have a look around. At Bally’s, I put $20 in a slot machine, and 3 minutes later, I was $20 poorer. I called my cousin, Jill, who knows her way around casinos to commiserate and have a laugh. She told me she’d teach me how to gamble at a future date.

 

I decided to check out the Louisiana State Museum of Exhibits. Not expecting much, I was impressed. I loved this museum. History, dioramas, information of agriculture, the War of 1812, the Star-Spangled Banner. The exhibits are in a circular building. And I walked through twice. 

 

Next stop was the Railroad Museum and the Water Works Museum, located together. As a retired mechanical engineer, specializing in pumps, that Water Works was fascinating. All these old Worthington and Allis Chalmers pumps to view. And great history.

 

This got me to lunch. Just driving around exploring the city. What seemed overwhelming at first turned out to be very manageable and I passed by many of the restaurants that were listed. 

 

I went to Herby K’s. And loved it. The staff was great. I learned some history. I had a good gumbo. And their “shrimpbuster” sandwich. Good eats.

 

That brought me into the afternoon and a visit with fencing master Adam at his Fencing Academy and museum. I had fenced in college. I hung out and watched some of the action with the students. 

 

I had heard about historically, culturally and aesthetically significant Strawn’s, famous for their icebox pies. I ordered the oft mentioned strawberry pie and it was okay but no big deal. Whipped cream (actually tasted like that stabilized whipped cream like House of Pies uses) and strawberries in a pie crust. 

 

Day 3 – A day to head down south. I decided just to check out the town of Coushatta for the fun of it. A sweet little town with not much happening but en route, I came across the Ed Lester Farm with some amazing produce. Including a giant cantaloupe, shishito peppers, beautiful bell peppers, and peaches and more (which I wish I had bought).

 

After Coushatta, Natchitoches. The last time, I had gotten to Lasyone’s too late. Not this time. I made sure I was there in time to enjoy a crawfish pie, a meat pie, and a gumbo. I love arriving at a restaurant just as SYSCO is making their delivery, as you can see some of the kitchen’s secrets. In this case, the SYSCO frozen sweet dough! Darn fine pies, crunchy, with excellent seasoning. Though I missed out on their strawberry pie, which I had spied, and it looked delicious, but was sold before I could get a piece.

 

I walked around the town, along the Cane River. I love this town.

 

Online, I had chanced upon a reference to two Army Navy Surplus stores in Leesville. I thought I’d look for a flight suit, like in Top Gun. And I got lucky. I went to both places, was intrigued by the local accents, would have loved to just record the conversations I had. 

 

Now, getting to Leesville had seen me accidentally take some back roads with a speed limit of 50. Sometimes the Google Maps isn’t the most optimum. And so, I made sure to ignore the route back to 49 it had mapped out for me and use my best judgement. And I am so glad that I did.

 

Back on 49, cruising at 80, I saw a billboard for Lea’s Lunch in LeCompte. Famous for pies. Had to go. Got there just at closing but also, they told me they had completely sold out early. Walking back to my car, and I was wearing my “Caffeinated”  t shirt from Rhino, a husband and wife couple in a big Suburban complimented me on it. I learned that he was a coffee roaster himself! They hadn’t gotten there in time for pie either and were heading back to home in Arnaudville. And I remarked “That’s where I’m going next!” I told him about my notes from Tanji Patton’s show and he confirmed my choices as good ones. 

 

I started at Bayou Teche Brewery / Cajun Saucer Stellar Pizza. I had the best hard seltzer I’ve ever had, not your White Claw stuff. A watermelon seltzer. A Cajun cover of The Levee Song by Zep was playing on the sound system, and it was awesome. Isle Derniere and Quand La Levée.

 

The pizzas feature local Cajun sausage, tasso, et al. There is even a gumbo pizza. So a couple of slices to taste and on to The Little Big Cup for supper. This was gumbo and their Cajun corn bread, which was a kind of cornbread dressing square, frozen, deep-fried til crunchy. It was pretty good. The menu here, well, I wanted to try everything on it and will definitely plan a return. 

 

There wasn’t a place to stay in Arnaudville so I booked another Home Wood Suites in Lafayette for $125 a night. A drive around for orientation. Another guest tells me that Chris’s, just around the corner has great po-boys. Next time. We also chat about Old Tyme for po-boys. I’ve been there and it is great.

 

Day 4 – Again, an early rise, as I knew I wanted to be at Reve Coffee. Sampling several coffees, buying three different ones for home. Tempted to buy their t shirts as they are always great. I joke that sometimes, places that have great t shirts don’t have great coffee or food. Inversely proportional. But Reve hits it out of the ballpark. 

 

Walking around downtown Lafayette. And the Acadian Museum opens early. And I discover the works of a local, eccentric artist, the late Leroy Evans and absolutely love everything about his works. The colors, the story they tell. I remark to one of the staff that in Victorian England, where one saw a rising middle to class of merchants, a new group of wealthy people, wanting to buy art. But as businessmen they wanted to “get their money’s worth” and so they went for art that told stories, Greek and Roman mythology, pretty girls doing things, etc. Author Brian Aldiss said, “often it would be a scene where something was about to happen, a kind of what happens next?” in the painting. And I felt drawing to the Leroy Evans paintings in the same way. There was a story hidden in each one, resulting in me wanting to revisit the paintings several times.

 

Departing Lafayette, next stop would be Abbeville. This was where I dined at Dupuy’s, yet another historically significant restaurant. Food again was good but not great. The famous crab cake that many say is “to die for” left me cold. A thick doughy center that didn’t impress. Gumbo was good and I was happy to be in Cajun country where the gumbo is thinner, a preference. 

 

High point of Abbeville was shopping for pecan oil and having the most marvelous conversation with Tina, owner of The Depot gift shop. We talked cooking of course. 

 

Time to head back home. Slowly. From Abbeville to Kaplan, passing sugar cane fields, rice fields, full of cranes. On to Rayne for a second lunch at Chef Roy’s Frog City Café. Closed. Next time. And now, on to I-10 with only one more stop. At Nina-P’s in Lake Charles for gumbo. Seafood gumbo and sausage gumbo. Same roux. No big deal. Though the media had rated them “Best in SWLA”. Cute place, but I don’t need to go back.

 

Just when you cross into Texas, there is a Tourist Center with brochures for every region. But more important, it is home to the Blue Elbow Swamp. They’ve built a walking pier that goes over the swamp so that you can get a real feel for it. Highly recommended.