Microaggression and my Houston apologia

houston hermann park conservatoryAbove: my family at the Hermann Park Conservancy in Houston last year, not long after we moved here from Austin.

12,000+ views, 2,000+ Facebook shares, and 28 comments later, it’s still going strong… When I published it a week ago Sunday, I never imagined that my post “You’re from Houston? I’m so sorry” would have generated such a response.

When she shared it on her Facebook on Thursday, Houstonia magazine managing editor Katharine Shilcutt (and one of my editors there) wrote: “it’s always heartwarming to see non-natives become Houston apologists.”

Katharine, a Houston native, is a friend and one of the writers and editors I admire most on the food scene here. It was a thrill to discover that she enjoyed the post enough to share it with her legions of followers.

And today, the post was featured on the Houston Chronicle “Opportunity Urbanist” blog.

Honestly, I never intended the post as a panegyric.
Continue reading

The Confederate flag and me

In 1968, a year after I was born in the South Side of Chicago at Michael Reese hospital, Bobby Rush founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Institutionalized violence against black men in urban areas in the U.S. was so severe that Rush and his fellows felt compelled to arm themselves to protect their communities.

But there were no Confederate flags displayed in the city at that time — at least I can’t remember any.

In 1970, my family moved to gilded La Jolla, California, where Jews had been excluded from buying property until a University of California campus was established there in 1960.

There was only one black kid in my class at Bird Rock Elementary. His name was Michael Green and he and I were friends.

Continue reading

WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT: BBQ porn from yesterday’s Houston BBQ Festival

pork belly corkscrewYesterday I managed to snag a press pass and sneak into the Third Annual Houston Barbecue Festival. The event was co-founded by Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist Chris Reid, my good friend here.

This year’s gathering featured 23 Houston-area smokers according to its website.

While Lockhart in Central Texas is considered the “barbecue capital” of Texas and Austin continues to grow as a hipster barbecue mecca, Houston is emerging as another mandatory stop on the Texas barbecue trail.

In the last five year or so, many new artisanal smokers have appeared and “cult bbq” — with its early-morning waits and long lines — is now an established phenomenon here.

That’s smoked pork belly by CorkScrew, above.

boudin stuffed pork chops corkscrew bbqI didn’t visit every stand but CorkScrew’s was my number one for taste and presentation. I loved the Boudin-Stuffed Pork Loin, above, the best thing I tasted at the festival.

brooks place bbqBigger is often considered better in Texas barbecue. That’s the Brooks’ Place beef rib, above (the cut is often called a “brontosaurus rib,” even though it is now believed that the brontosaurus never actually existed).

pulled porkI overheard one of Houston’s highest-profile food writers say that Patrick Feges’ pulled pork, above, was the best thing he tasted yesterday.
Continue reading

On dinosaurs and astronauts: Houston’s wonderful cultural resources

hello kitty astronautAbove: yesterday’s outing was to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where I couldn’t resist buying Georgia P a Hello Kitty astronaut. Georgia, who’s now 3, calls the space center “the real astronauts.”

It still happens all the time.

When I’m on the road and people learn that I live and am raising a family in Houston, many respond with a knee-jerk reaction like o, I’m so sorry or Houston? How’s that going? or even — and this came from a relative — how can you live around all those awful people?

There’s no getting around it: Houston, like Texas in general, has a horrible reputation beyond its city limits.

Sadly, the hard-line republicans from Texas have given their state a bad name in the American consciousness. And it’s a real tragedy for the rest of us because Houston is actually a very liberal and ethnically and culturally diverse city.
Continue reading

Cult BBQ with J.C. Reid, leading ‘cue commentator & connoisseur

cork screw bbqAbove: BBQ waits for no one at Cork Screw BBQ in Spring, Texas, where the line begins to form at 8 a.m. for an 11 a.m. open.

There was a time in Texas, I’ve been told, before citizens would begin lining up early in the morning to get a taste of limited-edition cult BBQ.

Some say that Snow’s in Lexington (about an hour east of Austin) was the first pit master to attract such an early morning crowd.

But it was Franklin’s in Austin (proper), opened in 2009, that irrevocably created a new BBQ vernacular: BBQ zealotry punctuated by early-morning commitment and/or long waits under the Texas sun to savor the coveted gelatinous beef fat or pork product of choice.

With Killen’s, which opened earlier this year, Houston got its first high-profile cult BBQ destination — including the long waits and disappointed customers who don’t make it to the front of the line in time for their favorite cut.

chris jc reid bbq texas writerAbove: J.C. Reid, left, travels across Texas and the United States writing about BBQ. Georgia P and cousin Marty sit to his left.

On Saturday morning, Georgia P, cousin Marty, and I joined J.C. Reid — the foremost authority on Texas BBQ in my view — and his beautiful wife Tamara for a meal at Cork Screw BBQ in Spring, about forty minutes north of Houston.

“Chris,” as he is known to his friends, was the first in line when the cashier opened at 11 a.m.: he had been there since 7:30 holding his place (read the Cork Screw FAQ for queue etiquette [please excuse the pun on ‘cue]).

In his weekly BBQ column for the Houston Chronicle (launched in April 2014), Chris wrote that Cork Screw’s “smoked meats now rank with the city and state’s best, and the bar will likely keep getting raised higher.”

Click here for the article. It’s a great window into the commitment and unbridled passion that go into great BBQ (I love the line about the “thousand-yard stare”).

foldover sandwichAbove: a “fold over,” in southern parlance, when you make a sandwich using one slice of bread. The brisket — the sine qua non of BBQ in Texas — was outstanding, with melt-in-your-mouth texture, well balanced rub (seasoning), and integrated smokiness (a key factor in the best BBQ in my experience).

Chris has written about BBQ for a number of top mastheads (including the New York Times).

We became friends a few years after I moved to Austin in 2008 via social media thanks to our shared love of central Italian cookery (we’re planning a carbonara-fueled trip together to Rome in spring 2015).

The thing that sets him apart from the current and past generation of BBQ chroniclers in Texas (blowhards, for the most part) is that he sets his sites beyond the state’s borders.

He and his wife are world travelers and gourmets and he’s acutely aware (and self-aware) of BBQ’s role in the americana gastronomic canon (a grad of USC, he has also worked as an architect in New York and the chief of a web hosting company here in Houston).

When I thanked him for holding our place in line, he smiled and told me he was happy to do it.

“It’s my job,” he said.

The best place to follow Chris is his Twitter, where he posts a subscription-free link to his Houston Chronicle column each week. See also his article, published last week, on favorite BBQ destinations beyond Houston and the Texas tradition of the “BBQ run.”

An awesome Gavi and other grooviness @VinoVinoWine #ATX

best gavi cortese biodynamic

So much groovy wine is finding its way to Austin, Texas these days. And it seems that nearly every day, I get turned on to a label I’ve never come across before, like this stunning Gavi by Giordano Lombardo, which blew me away with its focus, its mineral and citrus flavors, and its gentle 12% alcohol. I really really love this wine.

It was poured for me last night by my Austin client Vino Vino, our go-to wine bar in town.

bisson glera

Last night, we also tasted the Bisson crown-cap reclassified Prosecco that the winery labels as Glera (thanks again to owner and friend Jeff, for celebrating the birth of our daughter with me!).

With so much banana-candy Prosecco in Texas these days, it’s wonderful to see a commercial Prosecco like this one that actually tastes like Prosecco. High acidity, the classic note of green bitterness, and citrus and white fruit aromas and flavors. (I imagine that Bisson reclassified because it wanted to use the crown cap — a much more intelligent closure in my view — which is not allowed by the Prosecco DOC).

Bisson’s been in the Texas market for some time now and we’re big fans of its Ligurian Ciliegiolo. But I had never had the chance to taste this one.

st magdalener schiava

A local sales rep tasted us on another wine that I’ve followed for some time but — I believe — is new to the Texas market, the St. Magdalener Classico Huck am Bach, bottled by the Cantina Bolzano cooperative.

The wine showed beautifully and I love how the Lagrein gives the more gentle Schiava some oom-pah-pah. Great wine and a great time to love Italian wine in Texas.

Buon weekend, yall!

Serious buttload of wine @Texsom preview @EatingOurWords @HoustonPress

courtney perry

Image by Courtney Perry.

This morning, the Houston Press posted my preview of Texsom, the annual Texas Sommelier Conference, held in Dallas, now in its ninth year.

Reviewing my notes and composing the post, I remembered the first time I learned about Texsom: five years ago, before I’d ever been to Texas, Alfonso suggested that I attend so that I could connect with him and Tracie P.

It was held in Austin that year (the only year, I believe). And I didn’t attend, although I did come that month to Texas to take Tracie P on a dinner and dancing honkytonking date (we went to Polvo’s for dinner and the Continental Club to see Redd Voelkaert and Hey Bale… and I never looked back).

It’s been remarkable to follow Texsom’s evolution.

In 2008, when I first came here, it was still a homegrown, locally focused event that gave young wine professionals the chance to attend seminars and tastings with top sommeliers.

Today, it’s a major, nationally-recognized event that attracts the best and the brightest from across the U.S.

It’s the “little sommelier conference that could” and I wrote about it today for the Houston Press.

Texas Frito Pie and Schiava brilliant pairing @stilesswitchbbq

texas frito pie

Houston, we have a problem…

The bbq at Stiles Switch in Austin (around the corner from our house) is just too damned good to resist.

And our daughter has become addicted to their chopped beef.

The folks at Stiles Switch use chopped beef and beans to finish their Frito pie: a pan-Southern dish typically made with Fritos topped with chili and shredded cheese (in Texas, it’s generally made with classic Texan “chili con carne,” which doesn’t claim beans as one of its ingredients).

When I chided the pit master this week about why Stiles Switch adds the designation “Texas” to its “Frito pie,” he noted that it’s “Texas” because of the fact that they use chopped beef (instead of chili).

Well, I’m not one to split hairs about such things… ;)

laimburg schiava

We paired the Texas Frito pie (yes, there are Fritos underneath that mess of beans, chopped beef, pickled jalapeños, and cheese) with bright, fresh, slightly chilled Schiava by Laimburg.

The wine is so focused and pure, so refreshing and its alcohol so well balanced by the brilliant fruit and acidity, that the next day, even Mrs. B aka “nanna” (who doesn’t care much for red wine) couldn’t stop talking about how good it was.

It’s such a great metric for the quality of wine, no? When you’re still talking about it the day after, it must have been outstanding.

don't mess with texas bbq

Don’t mess with Texas bbq! And don’t get between a girl and her chopped beef!

Frito pie would be a bit overwhelming for little Georgia P. But a heaping helping of Stiles Switch chopped beef with a side of mac and cheese was just right.

Buona domenica (happy Sunday), yall!

harsh times for disenfranchised women but good tortillas in Texas capital

herdez salsa

Those crazy-assed Texan republicans have nearly prevailed in delivering some of the the most restrictive reproductive policies in the U.S. And when they’re done, they will have closed all but a handful of Planned Parenthood clinics through out the state (one of the richest in the U.S., home to its fourth-largest city, and the fastest growing in the nation). The few remaining will nearly all be in major urban centers. As a result, financially challenged families living in rural areas will have virtually no access to affordable women’s health services. And services in the big cities will be more limited.

But it’s hard to find a bad tortilla in this town, capital of the Lone Star State.

Continue reading

how Cajuns fry

cajun frying oil

As soon as I typed the title for this post, I realized it was an amphiboly.

It could be construed as how Cajuns fry their food or how does one fry a Cajun.

Tracie P sent me to the store last week to get some peanut oil to fry up this year’s first batch of fried green tomatoes.

I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of this jug of Cajun Injector Cottonseed “Premium” Frying Oil.

Food shopping in Texas is as commercialized and homogenized as anywhere else in the U.S. But “regional” brands still appear in mainstream supermarkets.

Another one that gets a lot of mileage at our house is Boudreaux’s Butt Paste.