Houston Party on the Patio: Come to the GHRA Burgers and Beer Cookout

Come out for all the burgers and beer you can stand at the Greater Houston Restaurant Association’s annual Burgers and Beer Cookout.  The event will be this Thursday, September 16 from 5-8PM at The Lot on Washington, 4212 Washington Avenue.  And don’t be afraid of the heat…after the string of 100° days we’ve had, temperatures are expected to drop a tad by Thursday and be in the mid-90’s which is nothing if you’ve lived in Houston for a while.  Besides, with your $30 admission you can have endless pints of Samuel Adams, Michelob Ultra, Budweiser/Bud Lite and Corona.  There will also be an array of wine selections available.

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Houston Restaurant Weeks is BA-ACCCKK!

Since 2003 Houston Restaurant Week has grown in popularity, thus now becoming Houston Restaurant WeekS (don’t ask why they didn’t just rename it Houston Restaurant Month…it’s a long and snarky story).  In fact, last year it was so popular it got extended for a few extra weeks!

So, what is it exactly?  In short it’s a month-long food fest that benefits the Houston Food Bank and allows Houston diners to take advantage of some great deals. Diners get to enjoy  eating at some of Houston’s favorite restaurants (currently the list is over 125 participating restaurants) while supporting the Houston Food Bank.  Participating venues offer 3 (or sometimes 4) course dinner menus for only $35 (2 course lunch menu for $20 is also an option at some locations).  $5 from each reservation goes to the Houston Food Bank ($3 from the  lunch).  According to Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank, each diner at one of the participating restaurants will provide 15 meals for a hungry child or adult in Southeast Texas.  Since the event’s inception, they have raised over $900,000 to help feed Houston’s hungry.

You can check out all of the participating restaurants and preset menus at the Houston Food Weeks website.  It can be a lot to read through so to give you some ideas, here are my top pics based on the menu and/or  the value (some of these restaurants are downright expensive on any normal day).  I’ve even linked each restaurants HRW menu to make it SUPER easy for you…

BTW, reservations are required!

RDG Bar Annie-they are offering for HRW lunch, dinner and brunch menus each with multiple options in each course.  Plus, the dinner menu is four courses AND represents a great value based on what you would normally pay.  Not to mention that they really do have great food.

Restaurant CINQ at La Columbe d’Or-On any other night, $35 wouldn’t get you an entree, let alone 3 courses.  Plus, I am intrigued by the Watermelon Gazpacho in course 1.  Again, they are offering multiple options per course so a little more variety.  Did I mention Strawberry Creme Brulee with aged balsamic???

Churrasco’s  I love Brazilian food because I am addicted to chimichurri sauce.  BUT, the thing I like most about their HRW menus are the add on options which allow you to do a little custom ordering (for a fee, of course) and they offer a trio of their dinner entrees as a course selection.

Haven is offering lunch, dinner and brunch menus with multiple course offerings including several vegetarian options.  I also think they have one of the more eclectic menus both for HRW as well as any other time.

Mark’s is another incredible value compared to what you would normally pay.  AND, the dinner main course has duck, steak, and seafood choices as well as a “Trio” entree that sounds amazing.  They are also offering a lunch menu for HRW.

Perry’s Steakhouse is one of my pics because I believe that their famous pork chop is probably the best form of pig I’ve ever eaten, and considering you would normally pay $30 just for the pork chop on any other day makes this a GREAT time to finally check out the chop for yourself!  And just another note on that chop:  I can eat a LOT, and the Perry’s pork chop can easily cover 2-3 meals for me. Another added plus are the multiple locations.

The Oceanaire from the looks of it has the most selections per course so a lot of variety if you’re dining in a larger group.

Please, please, please….if you visit any of the event restaurants,  share with us your experience!  I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s event gets extended.

Houston Hidden Gems: Simone on Sunset Wine Bar and Bistro

We love to share on our blog places that are some of Houston’s best kept secrets, and Simone on Sunset is just one of those places.  Let me start by saying that I am completely obsessed with their truffle/parmesan popcorn (although the blue cheese popcorn is equally fabulous).

Simone on Sunset is the kind of neighborhood gathering for spirits, wine and bites in the Rice Village area that we’ve been waiting for.  Inviting and friendly, urban-cozy Simone on Sunset is a place where you can exhale, visit with friends and meet new faces.  As far as attire, you’d be equally comfortable coming in gym clothes as you would be in black tie.  It’s one of those places that you could go by yourself and have no problem striking up an interesting conversation with someone else.

Nestled in one of the charming brick bungalows along Sunset Boulevard in Rice Village (between Morningside and Kelvin), Simone on Sunset features great ambience both inside and on their patio, served up with an array of boutique wines and specialty beers, with the list changing regularly.  I find the handcrafted light fixtures made from early period light bulbs and the changing art collection to be particularly charming.  It can be tricky to find as there is not a sign on the street, which only adds to its “only the cool people know about it” feel.  Also, because it is essentially on a residential street parking can be tricky, so be sure to pay attention to signage.  The patio is super dog friendly with water bowls and dog treats for their furry patrons.   It also has a beautiful water feature created by the owner, Kristen Powell along with an herb garden.

Things get changed up through out the week:  Monday is Burger Night (only $8 for a 1/2 # burger), Thursday is night steak night which is very popular so get there early, Happy Hour is Monday through Saturday from 4 to 8 with $5 selected whites and reds, $3 well cocktails, and $1 off beer.  Sundays features $5 mimosas.  They have an awesome signature drink, The Dingo which is along the lines of a frozen mimosa made with Prosecco topped off with sparking Shiraz and a sprig of mint.  The Pimm’s Cup (my favorite) and the Basillica are also great summertime cocktail  choices.

Food Truck Tours: The Rolling Hunger

So my sidekick Em and I were out and about today and just happened upon a new truck in town!  Of course, we had to make a truck stop.  The Rolling Hunger food truck was parked at Inversion Coffee House in Montrose.  You can’t miss it…big and orange truck enveloped in a delicious aroma.  They have a very cool concept of menu items that showcase and blend Houston’s Vietnamese, Mexican, and Korean (although they don’t plan on limiting themselves to just these three).

We split the banh mi (traditional Vietnamese sandwich typically with chargrilled pork and crisp, fresh veggies on a French baguette) and the Korean shortribs.  We got there just in time, as they only had one banh mi left.  I considered for a moment that getting the last of anything could be disappointing, but it was so scrumptious that it gave me a ton of faith that these guys were only going to serve really good food.  The shortribs  were well marinated and just the right amount of charred gristle, topped with a generous sprinkling of sesame seed.  Both items were served on a very fresh baguette.  The thing I liked about the baguette was that it was very long and skinny.  It wasn’t too big to get every delicious bit in one bite (keep it clean, people).  I hate a sandwich that I can’t get a whole bite in due to its gynormous bun.  I also liked the fact that it was fairly “neat” to eat, unlike some of the other food trucks fare we have tried.  They offered two condiments:  Sriracha and their own creation made from cilantro, avocado, onion, garlic and other herbs which I sadly forgot to put on my sandwiches before departing (like I need a reason to go back, but the sauce is definitely an added plus).

Just like some of the other gourmet food trucks popping up around town, you can’t beat the value for the selection and quality.  I am so happy about the truck movement, and Rolling Hunger just adds to that happiness.

The Rolling Hunger truck is the creation of Kwang Pyon (K.P.) and Yonathan Sadikin (Chewy) who share a background in the restaurant industry, having worked over the last several years for Uptown Sushi and Bluefish (K.P. as manager at Uptown Sushi and General Manager at Bluefish, and Chewy as a sushi chef for the last eight years, back house manager for the last four).  Their philosophy (which is one near and dear to my own ideology) is Keep It Simple, Stupid.  The guys felt like this was the right time/right place to go out on their own.  They make sure they place their truck where it is highly visible.  They position themselves in great locations including late night venues around the Galleria/Uptown and will also be on hand at the upcoming Drink Fest on May 21.  They are making sure that they will be on hand at great daily locations including Dirk’s Coffee House and other small business locations.  The best way to keep up with where they are and where they will be is to  follow their Facebook for daily locations and times.

I read that they were getting ready to add truffle fries.  I will go back and try them, but just want to say to Rolling Hunger to please do them right!  So many places offer awesome truffle fries these days that you definitely want to do them right, or don’t do them at all.  I used to say that there was no such thing as a bad truffle fry, but sadly I was mistaken when I had them recently at another place.  I’ll let you know what I think, but given my first experience I am looking forward to the next round.

A Jazz Brunch presented by Divas World

Get your spring groove on with the Divas Jazz Brunch at Zilkha Hall in the Hobby Center for Performing Arts, Sunday April 17 from 11 AM to 1:30 PM.  A champagne brunch will be catered by Artista so it’s sure to be fabulous!  Guest artists include Delfeayo Marsalis, Bobby Lyle and more.  Tickets are $65 and may be purchased in advance through the Hobby Center or by calling 713-315-2525.

Check out the full line-up for the Jazz Brunch and other Diva events here.

Houston Events: 1st Annual Meatball Invitational benefitting the Houston Food Bank

1st Annual Meatball Invitational

Sponsored by Damian’s Cucina Italiana, My Table Magazine

and Spec’s Wines Spirits & Finer Foods

What: Who has the best meatballs in Houston?  Local chefs, restaurants and caterers will serve their signature spheres – from Italian to Swedish and everything in between – in the hopes of being crowned at the 1st Annual Meatball Invitational on Sunday, May 1, host by Damian’s Cucina Italiana.  A panel of celebrity judges will select winners for Best Italian Meatball and Best Non-Italian Meatball, and attendees will select People’s Choice.

Attendees will enjoy meatballs from the contestants, other delicious nibbles provided by Damian’s, and wine provided by Spec’s Wines Spirits & Finer Foods.

The event is sponsored by Damian’s Cucina Italiana, My Table magazine and Spec’s Wines Spirits & Fine Foods.  Event proceeds benefit Houston Food Bank and the Texas Italian American Sports Foundation.

Date: Sunday, May 1, 2011 ~ 2 to 5 p.m.

Where: Damian’s Cucina Italiana, 3011 Smith Street (77006); 713-522-0439

Complimentary Valet Parking

Tickets: $35 – includes meatballs & other nibbles, wine and one (1) voting ballot.

Cocktails available via cash bar

To purchase tickets, contact Taylor at 713-529-5500,or email taylor@my-table.com.

Beneficiaries: Houston Food Bank and Texas Italian American Sports Foundation

Spring is in the air: Houston’s BEST Patio Spots

Brennan's

Truly, living in Houston during the spring is one of my favorite things about this city.  When the sun is out and temps are around 70°, my mind starts racing to, “Where is a good patio where I can enjoy this weather..and maybe a beverage and tasty food?”  There are too many to feature them all here, but I wanted to provide you a handy starter list so that you, too can celebrate springtime in Houston.  Don’t see your favorite listed?  By all means, post a comment and share your best spot.  I’ve rated cost on scale of $-$$$.

Brennan’s $$$ Located between Midtown and the Museum District, Brennan’s is finally back after the tragic Ike fire.   The high-walled intimate courtyard is just like any you would find all over the NOLA French Quarter and is best enjoyed while you sip on a mint julep.  They’ve recently kicked off their BYOB (Bring Your Own Bowl) cooking series, with a good ol’ crawfish boil coming up on March 30.  Future BYOB events include Shrimp Etouffe April 13, Jambalaya May 18, and a fish fry on June 8.  A steal at $15, it includes 2 beers from local brewery favorite, St. Arnold’s.  Attire is typically a little more formal:  professional/cocktail.

Cedar Creek $ I grew up in the Texas hill country so this place is very nostalgic for me.  Cedar Creek really feels like you are in the heart of the hill country rather than the heart of Houston!  Get a bucket o’ Lonestar, a batch of chili cheese fries and knock the dust off your boots.  Located in the north Heights area.

El Pueblito Place $$ The large courtyard is surrounded by romantic semi-private dining cabanas with big, comfy outdoor sofas makes for our pic for a great “date” patio spot.  They also serve up some awesome Mexican seafood.  Located on Richmond between Montrose and Shepherd.

Ousie's

Lucy’s Porch/Bear’s Garden at Ouisie’s Table $$$  Ahhhh…air conditioning combined with beautiful outdoor space!  Lucy’s Porch has the feel of a screened in porch and seats up to 90, and yes, it’s air conditioned!  Combined with Bear’s Garden it makes for a wonderful party venue for receptions, garden weddings and more.

Niko Niko’s $$ Now with 2 great options:  their recently added patio space in Montrose, and even more recent outdoor dining space downtown at Milam and Congress in downtown.  Grab a “Nikorita” and some of the best fries around, along with a classic gyro (make it an iced tea, and easy on the onion and tzatziki if you’re going back to work).

The Rainbow Lodge

The Rainbow Lodge

The Rainbow Lodge $$$ Feels just like a big, rustic hunting lodge.  The huge multiple level deck overlooks a beautiful layered terrain including a citrus grove, bubbling brook, and a kitchen garden.  Very earthy feel, but hardly what I would call roughing it.  Open for lunch and dinner most days.

The Grove $$$ opening out onto Discovery Green.   The upper deck of The Grove Restaurant is surrounded by gorgeous live oaks and really does feel like a (pretty fancy) tree house although sadly, the upper deck is now offered only for private venues.  Very upscale/trendy The Grove features some great margarita options.  Our favorite is the spicy ginger margarita.

Lankford Grocery

Lankford Grocery $ One of Houston’s favorite “mom and pop’s” with its rickety charm since 1938, the Lankford is nestled in a back street of the Montrose area.  Old timey burgers and patty melts, cold beer, and their legendary enchiladas make for a great spot to kick back casual.

Grappino’s $$$ Convenient to downtown, Midtown, and Montrose the patio space transports you.  The bricked deck is surrounded in lush, green foliage and the tinkling sound of water fountains.  Simply, a lovely place to enjoy a glass of wine and good friends not to mention some of Houston’s best Italian.

Lupe Tortilla $$  This is our pick for kid-friendly patios, as much of the outdoor seating area opens to a great kids play area.  This is a great spot for you to relax on the patio while the kiddos run off some of that energy.  Lupe Tortilla features their own unique twists to Tex Mex.  The following Lupe locations have the kids play area:  Shepherd and I 59, Stafford, Clear Lake, and Sugarland.

The Black Lab

The Black Lab $$ For you cerebral types, you might enjoy the chess yard, featuring a full scale chess deck surrounded by playing tables.  Feels like the red queen could arrive any minute.  The foliage covered façade is a charming backdrop while you enjoy a pint and some serious pub grub.

The Last Concert Café $ This is surely near the top of the list for best bohemian haunts in town.  Huge outdoor space features live music Tuesday through Saturday until 2 AM.  Great to let the kiddos run around, too.  Great people watching, always with a massive hodge-podge of all types.  Also a favorite haunt of ZZ Top.

Tiny Boxwood’s $$$ One of Houston’s best kept secrets!  Located on the grounds of Houston’s upscale Thompson & Hanson nursery, the outdoor patio area surrounds a pristine green lawn with whimsical acorn statuary.  The yard begs for a picnic blanket and basket, which head chef Barron says they are considering.  Even the inner dining area has a patio feel with large, paned-glass walls looking out onto the beauty.  If it’s your thing:  PLEASE try the foie gras.  No doubt, the place is spendy at dinner, but well worth every penny as the friendly service is also remarkable.  Dressy casual or professional attire.  Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, and brunch on Sunday.

Others worth mentioning:  Backstreet Cafe (see post on the brunch series), Mardi Gras, Artista, Brasil, Empire Cafe, Crappito’s.