Dallas has few diversions other than eating, drinking and shopping.....and shopping does not interest us.
So we spend our time hopping from restaurant to restaurant and to every pub that we can find in search of the perfect meal and the perfect beer.

We randomly review restaurants and bars, dishes and beers at whim and give our brutally honest opinions of our findings. And while we concentrate on Dallas, we travel far and wide to sample cuisine from all regions of the country and beyond.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Road Trip Dining - Koffee Kup Family Restaurant

Koffee Kup Family Restaurant - Hico, Texas

There are so many cliches that can be used to describe Hico, which is located about 1.5 hours southwest of Dallas in Hamilton County.  Country?  Oh my, yes.  Dirty?  A bit dirty, yes.  Scary?  Only if you are not a white, baptist, tea party member.  But regardless of what this town is, or isn't, I must admit that we have made this trip half-way to nowhere 3 times now just to eat at what used to be the Koffee Kup Kafe (the spelling should give away to you the feel of the town).  Texas Monthly ranked one of the burgers here as the 41st best in the state of Texas and though I have not eaten at every burger joint in Texas, I believe that this burger is in the top 10 that I have had anywhere.

As you walk in the door the music stops and you feel the eyes of Texas upon you.  The patrons then decide whether or not you are harmless and hopefully put away their guns.  You see the kitchen immediately off to your right and see the first eyebrow raiser...the cooks.  Not the pimple faced kids or the hispanic staff you usually see, but older ladies, wearing aprons for goodness sake.  "Aunt Bee", you shout, "where's Andy and Opie"?  The patrons reach for their guns again...maybe they were a bit hasty to judge you as harmless.  You are sat in the back, windowless room where you cannot get away quicky if the crowd turns ugly, but you don't care, because you know you are going to have a feast. 

These burgers are a full 1/2 pound of hand formed ground beef, cooked anyway you wish, served on a homemade, yeasty, sweet, unbelievably delicious bun.  Yeah sure, you can get a plain old burger, but the other options peak your curiosity... cream cheese with jalepenos.. pepper jack cheese with guacamole and sour cream...sliced jalepenos with bacon and ranch... mother goose, which do you try?  How about the one with homemade chili?  BBQ burger?  Sauteed mushrooms with grilled onions?  Here's and idea for you, bring 3 friends, get 4 different burgers and cut them into quarters and pass them around.

But just as you feel that you are ready to make your selection you look around and see the guy at the table next to you is eating chicken fried steak, which comes with as many sides as you wish, mashed potatoes and gravy...  macaroni and cheese...  green beans... and a piece of Sweet Potato Spice Cake with cream cheese icing and pecans scattered across the top.  Oooooo. 

Take my advice and stick with the burgers.... "Pardon"?  "I said. what side with that, honey"?  Steak Cut french fries, curley fries, onion rings or fried okra?  WILL THE MADNESS NEVER END?  "Ok, I'll have the onion rings" you finally say, which I whole heartedly agree with my friend.  Hand battered, sweet, crispy onion rings.  Magnificent.

When the burger arrives you are stunned into silence by the magnitude of the feat you will soon be undertaking.  "That damn thing is a big as a hubcap", you think to yourself.  Oh yes, a delicious, juicy, messy, wonderful hubcap.  And as you pick this monster up, trying to figure out the best way to stuff it into your face you remember that you have to save room for the pie.  Luxurious, rich homemade pies as thick as your fork is long.  Which of the 13 will you have?  Oh.  My.  God.

Luckily the downtown of Hico has enough interesting shops and things to see to keep you interested for a couple of hours while you wait for the mass that you just devoured to move a bit so that you can drive home before you fall into a food coma.  So put on your best camoflage t-shirt and your buffet pants and make the drive deep in the heart of Texas and join the Allen family at their Koffee Kup Family Restaurant.

Koffee Kup Family Restaurant
300 W. 2nd St.
HWY. 281 & HWY. 6
HICO, TEXAS, 76457

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Heart Attack of the Month - Jumbo Chili-Cheese Hotdog Breakfast

Jumbo Chili-Cheese Hotdog Breakfast at Norma's Cafe Farmers Branch

Definition of Irony [ahy-ruh-nee, ahy-er-] –noun, incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.

I admit to being slightly confused by the existence of Norma's Cafe on Beltline in Farmers Branch.  There are other Norma's Cafes in the metro area, with the same basic theme (that of a 50's diner) but not the same.  The menu's are different, the quality of the food is different, so I chose to visit this version out of convenience.

Adventurous eaters are willing to take a risk by eating foods of questionable quality in hope of finding a gem.  Tacos from a street cart in Tijuana, meat on a stick from a vendor in a street market in Shanghai, Bbq roadkill from a bubba in West Virginia, but after seeing this conglomeration of goo I declined to attempt culinary suicide.  So I enlisted my brother, Kirby Hoover, who is well known far and wide for vaccuuming up anything vaguely edible and storing it in his cast iron gut. 

Let me describe this beast (the meal, not my brother)...start with two grilled weiners (all beef?  who can say? at least they are probably all meat) smothered with their 'home made' chili.  Top that with strong, raw onions and cheese.  Yummy, right?  But hells bells, that's not breakfast food, so they added hashbrowns to the mix.  Still not breakfast enough?  Ok, then they add 2 eggs cooked just the way you like them...greasy.  Something is missing....hmmmm...what ever could it be?  Oh yeah..hotdogs need buns!  But this being breakfast and not lunch, they just give you toast on the side (make it wheat to take away the guilt) but you can just as easily get biscuits, after all it is breakfast.

Now as I watched 'the vaccuum' destroy this lovely dish, I ordered a normal, simple breakfast...biscuits and gravy with a side of sausage and watched the show with morbid fascination.  Dry biscuits with not too bad gravy and some rather odd tasting sausage.  Here is the irony...Kirby pushed the plate back and proclaimed that the Jumbo Chili-Cheese Hotdog Breakfast was superb and he was happy that he was able to help while I was blessed to have gotten food poisoning from the rather odd tasting sausage and spent the next two days in misery.  The gods of Karma were saying that I should have been the adventurer rather than the observer.  Point taken.

I cannot in all good conscience recommend Norma's Cafe in Farmers Branch and will not return.  But if you wish to be a culinary Indiana Jones give it a try.

Norma's Cafe
3330 Belt Line Road
Dallas, TX 75234

Friday, February 11, 2011

Attention Fellow Beer Snobs

As you Texas beer drinkers know (or should know) Texas has some of the most archaic and backward beer laws in the country.  Among the multitude of ridiculous beer laws were those written to protect the big brewers from incursions by small brewers and allows the people running the TABC to collect large re-election donations from the big brewers that they are trying to protect.  Representative Mike Villarreal is introducing a bill to shake those complacent asses out of their stupor and gives some breathing room to the little guy for a change.  I implore you to go to the link below and sign the petition that could open the doors to allow more and better micro-breweries into our cultural desert.  It reads as follows:

To: Texas Legislators

Texas House Bill 660, filed by Representative Mike Villarreal in the 82nd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, would be a game changer for Texas Craft Beer.

Currently Texas brewpubs are not allowed to sell to wholesalers, distributors or retailers for resale. That means you can't find beer from any of Texas' amazing brewpubs at your local grocery store, restaurant or bar. Meanwhile, out-of-state brewpubs are free to have their beer distributed all over the state.

HB 660 would finally allow Texas brewpubs to play on an even playing field. The exact specifics of the bills are:

*Would allow Texas brewpubs to sell to wholesalers and distributors for resale
*Change the existing 5,000 barrel/year limit to apply only to on-premise sales to the ultimate consumer
*Lift the overall production limit to 75,000 barrels/year
*Allow brewpubs to self-distribute to retailers so long as their total annual production is less than 10,000 barrels.

The law will not only help our state's brewpubs (which are almost all independently owned small businesses), but it would give distributors incremental sales volume, allow retailers to highlight local products, and give consumers access to the products they desire.

Facing a $27 billion budget shortfall, HB 660 also benefits our State by increasing the tax base as breweries grow.

Please go to the site now and sign away.
Thank You.

Beer Review - Swamp Ape IPA

Florida Beer Company Swamp Ape - 10% ABV

This may be one of the most interesting, odd beers that I have ever tried.  Florida Beer Company in Melbourne, Florida is the largest craft brewer in Florida, which means that they sell lots o' beer.  Never heard of them?  Neither had I, but a bit of research revealed that they have slowly been buying up other small breweries statewide.  My kind of sneaky bastards right there.

So we tried some of their Swamp Ape IPA one day just because that is the only microbrew that was being served.  Damn fine luck there.  I am not typically a big fan of IPA's due to the fact that most breweries are more interested in how many *I.B.U.'s they can get instead of producing a drinkable beer.  But this being the east coast I was pretty sure that the hops would be lessened to the point of drinkability. 

The cloudy yellow brew arrived and I do what I always do, I stuck my nose in for the big sniff and clue what that is.  The beer had an unidentifiable smell that smelled, let's say...beerish.  I took a drink and held it in my mouth.  "That's no frigging ipa" I thought, "it's slightly sweet, balanced, delicious.....nope, definitely not an ipa"  Then I swallowed and was almost stupified by the explosion of familiar bitterness that appeared a couple of seconds after the beer was gone!  "Yep, that's an ipa".  Very strange and yet wonderful.  I drank it down quickly and was reminded as I picked myself up off the floor that it had 10% alcohol.  I do so wish it was available here in Texas, and maybe someday it will be.

*For instance a lager has a typical IBU (International Bitterness Units (yes children, it is measurable)) of 4 and an imperial stout would be about 138.

Florida Beer Company
2500 S. Harbor City Drive
Melbourne, Florida, 32901

Addendum;  Response from the brewer:

 Bon, Thanks for the note and thanks for the review. I’m glad you found Swamp Ape interesting. The complex balance we achieved of alcohol and hops is lost on most IBU-heads. This beer weighs in at about 90 IBU. It is continuously hopped during the 90 minute boil and is also dry hopped. It is very drinkable. We introduced it at Savor in Washington, DC last year and I fell victim to it’s bite. An evening of sips turned into a morning of grog.

We are trying to crack Texas distribution right now. Hopefully it’ll be there sooner then later.

Thanks again.
Jim Massoni
Florida Beer Company
Melbourne, FL

Beer Review - Cigar City Brewery

Cigar City Brewery - Tampa, Florida

Mucho ado has been made lately about the Cigar City Brewery located in Tampa, Florida.  From plugs on beer geek websites to whispers heard around the GABF all saying "Ya gotta try it", so...we made our *hic* visit and tried all *hic* their beers in one *hic* sitting.

Beers reviewed are shown from right to left

Jai Alai IPA - 7.5% ABV
As that the CCB brewers are hop heads, you can assume that most, if not all, of their beers will be quite hoppy.  The color is a cloudy golden yellow and smells of citrus and pine.  The head is perisistant and leaves nice lacing.  The hops smack you at first sip with the citrus and pine flavors following.  This one floats somewhere between an IPA and a west coast double IPA.  Very typical of the genre and nothing special.  HOWEVER, the cedar aged version of this IPA is magnificent.  Strange that the simple act of aging could add such complexity, but that is why this version has won so many awards.

Maduro Brown Ale - 5.5% ABV
This brown ale is made using oatmeal to give the beer a bit more depth and creamy texture.  It is a cloudy reddish-brown color smells of roasted malts, maple and earth.  The taste in leads you more in the porter direction than a typical brown ale.  It tastes much like it smells but without being sweet and with a bit of dryness and a coffee, hoppy ending.  Nice session beer.

Asian Saison.- 7.0% ABV
This saison uses chinese 5 spice and nori (the green seaweed used to wrap your sushi rolls) to give a wonderful complexity.  It pours as a slightly cloudy yellow with a minimal head that rapidly dissappates leaving no lacing.  The smell is quite interesting with spices, flowers and citrus in the forefront.  We found it dry with really complex flavors with the citrus and flowers appearing first and the spices and hops following.  You will also notice a bit of sourness in the background.  This was our favorite offering but saison?  C'mon guys.

Warmer Winter - 10% ABV
Producing a winter ale in Florida is kind of silly and the fact that the brewers were not all that interested shows.  This dark brown winter warmer has the smell of chocolate and dark fruits and has a medium head.  Thick, sweet, heavy, cloying, velvety, and a bit of coffee in the back ground.  Oof.

Apalachicola Oyster Stout - 6% ABV
Some brewers use oyster shells in the brewing to soften the water which gives the beer a different texture.  The brewers at CCB decided to use the whole oyster which sends this stout over the top.  The brew is a very dark, almost black and cloudy and smells...well...the almost non-existent smell is that of a stout.  The initial flavor is slightly sweet with minerals, the dryness and hops really kick in at the finish.  You will also notice the brine from the oysters in the background.  Not bad.

Vuja De Farmhouse Ale - 10% ABV
Are brewers misnaming their beer styles on accident or doing so to mess with our minds?  For instance this brew is listed as a farmhouse ale.  No frigging way, Jack.  The use of black currants, lemon leaves, elder flowers and hibiscus makes this one is more like a lambic to us.  Smells sour, tastes fruity and sour.  Me no likey.

Improvisation Oatmeal Rye India Style Brown Ale - 9% ABV
Wow, that is a wordy name, isn't it?  Oddly, the name says it all.  Mix a brown ale with an IPA and add oatmeal to sweeten it up a bit.  Slightly sweet, but quite dry with a bitter finish.  Not bad, not great.

Cigar City Brewing
3924 West Spruce Street Suite A
Tampa, FL 33607
Phone (813)348-6363 ext 206

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Road Trip Dining - The Search for the Perfect Gumbo, Part 4

K-Joe's - New Orleans

Many of us seasoned travellers take the time to research dining and drinking options before we leave so that we are not stuck eating Pizza Hut and drinking Lite beer.  My favorite tool?  Trip Advisor.  Now TA is not fail proof because a great many of our fellow travellers really like the aforementioned Pizza Hell, or IHOP or ....   While researching  New Orleans eateries I kept stumbling across enthusiatic patrons raving about how wonderful K-Joe's is, but as that the restaurant has been around a short time I was a bit wary, until a friend and former NOLA resident confirmed that it was indeed as good as the reviews claimed.  We are ecstatic at our decision to give them a try.

Chef Joseph Faroldi was born and raised in the French Quarter to an Italian mother which gives him an inborn understanding of what fine food should be, but then he added to his knowledge by attending the Culinary Institute of America.  He prepares wonderful Cajun and Creole dishes with a bit of Italy thrown in for good measure at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

The Gumbo was a veritable melange of wonderful flavors with the chicken and andouille finely chopped and lots of other spices and floaties evident.  It was the only restaurant that we tried where we felt that the gumbo was truly homemade.  The heat was insidious and the spice burn slowly increased as the soup level went down and it perhaps could have used a bit more salt, but delicious nontheless.  The Red Beans and Rice accompanying was thick and rich and had quite a spicy kick.  The Etouffe was more of a marinara sauce with a rich tomato base as was the Jambalaya, both a nod to his Italian heritage and all for less than $18.00.

Our other entree was a juicy, tender filet mignon with mashed potatoes infused with butter and garlic.  The only downside of the evening was the accompanying vegetables which had been cooked way beyond the point where you could still identify them as veggies.  $19.95!  Hell yeah!

Find out for yourselves why K-Joe's was packed while the venerable Antoine's, located across the street, was empty.  This is my recommendation for great traditional creole and cajun cuisine with superb dining options at reasonable prices and the finest Gumbo that we found in New Orleans.

K-Joe's Restaurant
720 St. Louis Street
New Orleans, Loisiana
Tel. 504-566-8900