Top 5 Restaurant Freebies

benjysbasket.jpg
Photo by Brooke Viggiano
Cheesy shortbready cracker things, come to mama!
Sometimes, I find myself drawn to a restaurant not for what's on the menu, but for what is placed on the table in front of me before I even open the menu. You know what I'm talking about. It's sometimes even the best part of the dining experience: the pre-meal freebies.

Plenty of restaurants are well-known for their free offerings, like Outback's Honey Wheat Bushman Bread served with a giant steak knife and whipped sweet butter or The Olive Garden's infamous breadsticks. I tend to avoid loading myself up on bread or chips to the point where I can't enjoy the meal I've ordered, but in some instances, it's totally worth it.

Since Houston has no shortage of restaurants serving up complimentary chips, breads and dips, I'm rounding up a list of the best of them. Here are my Top 5 favorite restaurant freebies around town:

5. La Griglia's Bread Basket
I've been to La Griglia over on West Gray a few times. The menu is pretty decent and the atmosphere can be quite pleasant. I enjoy sitting outside on a nice, crisp night, glass of wine in hand as the white lights sparkle down the palm-tree-lined street and the fountain drips harmoniously in the background. I enjoy it even more as soon as the server brings over the bread basket.

It's filled with all kinds of goodies; different kinds of bread, garlic twists, and...wait what's that? Is that...pizza? Yep, that's definitely pizza. Why? How? Where am I? I have to remind myself to stop questioning and start eating, because I'm not talking about some lame bread baked with tomato sauce here - it's a straight-up slice of cheesy, saucy pizza cut into tiny little heavenly strips. I can't lie, it's not the best pizza in the world, but just the fact that it's pizza...sitting there, peering out from the other breads in the basket...calling out at me to eat it...for free. That alone warrants it a spot on my top 5.

4. El Tiempo Cantina's Chips & Salsas
There are plenty of awesome chips and salsas around town, but there is just something about El Tiempo's take on the classic that really gets me. It could definitely be the three frozen margaritas (which I've confirmed are stronger than their non-frozen counterparts) that I never fail to down while waiting for a table at the always-packed Montrose location, but that's beside the point.

Crisp, hot and slightly salty, El Tiempo's freshly baked chips are accompanied by not one, but two salsas. The red roasted-tomato salsa is sweet with just a hint of heat, the perfect way to ease into the meal. The green dip is creamy without being too thick, a cool and mild touch to the warm, salty chip. Both salsas are good in their own right, but combine the two and I've reached salsa nirvana. Be careful not to fill up on margaritas and chips alone because the portions here are HUGE. Try to order fajitas for two, and you'll be faced with a mountain of shrimp, chicken or beef and veggies, served with fresh tortillas, all the fixings, beans and a delicious veggie spiked rice (which for some reason also has bow-tie pasta in it - the Italian in me really digs that).

3. Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits
I didn't want to include any massive chain restaurants in this list, but I have a weakness for Red Lobster's biscuits. A serious, serious weakness. One that even forced me to partake in the restaurant's Endless Shrimp promotion a few weeks ago. After much deliberation, I just couldn't leave these delicious, fluffy, cheesy biscuits behind.

Luckily, the miracles of modern technology have allowed for the recipe to be immortalized on the interweb, so these little guys can be made without having to actually step foot in a Red Lobster. Despite that, being the old-school bitch that I am, I still prefer them from the chain itself, piping-hot and fresh from the oven, served alongside some mediocre seafood and a Shirley Temple.

2. Branch Water Tavern's Biscuits, Butter, & Red Pepper Jelly
As you know, I love me a good biscuit, and BWT makes a damn good one. Again, I have a serious weakness; I eat one and immediately need more of its buttery, flaky deliciousness. The biscuits here are truly good enough to eat by themselves, but they come served with creamy, fluffy whipped butter and a killer red pepper jelly. Sweet and spicy, these delightful spreads bring the biscuit to a whole new level.

1. Benjy's "Bread Basket"
This is really less of a bread basket and more of what I can only call a goody box. The restaurant serves up three pre-meal treats. THREE! I start off with the candied nuts, sweet and crunchy, with a light sugary punch and slightly salty undertone. Then, I take a bite of a thin, incredibly crisp sesame wafer, blander but a nice change of pace from the sweet nuts.

After another round of both, it's time to fight till the death for my favorite of the three offerings: their insanely delicious cheddar cheese and parmesan shortbread cracker things. Seriously, try to fight me for these, you'll lose. They are perfectly buttery and soft, with a sharp bite from the cheddar and a nutty hint from the parmesan. I could eat an entire basket of these if I were given the option. (Thankfully, for the sake of my health and well-being, that hasn't happened.)

What are some of your favorite restaurant freebies around town?



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Location Info

La Griglia

2002 W. Gray, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

El Tiempo Cantina

1308 Montrose, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Branch Water Tavern - CLOSED

510 Shepherd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Benjy's

2424 Dunstan, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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45 comments
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online games

very good and tasy article.i liked it.thanks for sharing

'stina
'stina

I feel very strongly about the chips at Maria Selma.  Those things are delicious.  

Lily
Lily

Smith and Wollensky's has a bread basket that can feed a small village. It has tons of different breads, cornbread, wheat, white, rye, pumpernickel.. unless they cut back because of the econmy. i haven't been in a few months.

Corey
Corey

When the bbq isn't as dry as wood, it's actually pretty good. Though baker's potato salad is tasteless, looks nice but tastes like air..

Corey
Corey

El tiempo is a downright a bore, mediocre and very over priced.. $20 for skirt steak uhm no thanks.. Chips are good salsa is mediocre, and often burnt with a soapish after taste, hardly anything to write home about.  I'd venture to say I've had better chips and salsa at El Chico..

Greg
Greg

The amazing Parmesan bread bites you get at Samba Grille! 

Mag
Mag

coconut ice cream at the Thai Spice buffet

Khoa N
Khoa N

Second the creamy jalapeno dip at Chuy's, and also the pralines at Brennan's.

stanphelps
stanphelps

Great post Brooke.  I have a Project where I'm collecting 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe. I just included your 5 examples as numbers #919-923. Food is a natural for what I call a Purple Goldfish.  

My favorites in the Project are as follows:1. Five Guys Burger & Fries (National) - free peanuts and bonus fries

2. Izzy's Ice Cream (St. Paul) - with each scoop, you get a free mini scoop called an Izzy

3. Toy Boat (SFO) - buy a pint of ice cream to go and they throw in a couple of cones

4. Besito (Long Island) - they hand out churros and Guatemalan 'worry dolls' at the end of the meal

5. Lolita (Boston) - the extra at this Tequila joint is cotton candy. Sweet!

6. Pot Belly Sandwiches (Chicago) - each drink comes with a straw that has a mini chocolate chip cookie on it

7. Caribou Coffee (National) - a chocolate espresso bean with every coffee

8. Alligator Lounge (NYC) - free pizza with every beer.  Not a slice, a wood oven cheese pie

9. Stripsteak (Vegas) - sinful french fries cooked in duck fat with 3 types of dipping 

Best,Stan@9INCHmarketing

'The longest and hardest nine inches in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer'

Robin
Robin

I desperately miss the shrimp crisps/chips basket at the long-defunct Saba Blue Water Cafe downtown!

H_e_x
H_e_x

Pao de queijo at Brazilian churrascarias.

Christopher
Christopher

I've been to Branch Water Tavern and cannot remember having a biscuit basket with red pepper jelly! GAH I need to go back.

Fred
Fred

I'll tell you what lagniappe was totally disheartening, the supposed "endless food and pizza" at Piola. I sat there and ordered two drinks over a period of at least 45 minutes and was only presented with one limp slice of pizza while some fruit on a tray sat out next to me and I chomped on cold breadsticks with no marinara. Totally underwhelmed. 

Big Lance
Big Lance

Fried Okra & Green Tomatoes, Hot Blueberry & Chocolate Chip muffins at Potatoe Patch.

Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick

Chuy's.  I really like their chips and regular salsa, but the creamy jalepeno dip takes their offering over the top.

Mike N.
Mike N.

Thumbs up for Osaka.

The problem with Benjy's is that you have to eat their wretched, overrated, overpriced food to get the basket. It didn't always used to be this way.

Pm
Pm

Reef: coarse salt on top of warm rolls served with jalapeno jelly

Scott Lynch
Scott Lynch

No location specifically, but I'm a sucker for papadum and chutney.

Am28
Am28

Pao de Queijo at Latin Bites

Bruce R
Bruce R

If this list is to be taken seriously, then Number 1 should be the free bread, herbs, and feta at Kasra.

Fred
Fred

Fried wonton strips at Auntie Chang's during lunch.

FFR
FFR

I like the kimchi at Kobecue

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I love the lagniappe at Osaka: a small appetizer of some kind (usually dumplings or a little roll) and ice cream at the end.

tee-wee
tee-wee

I'm not sure how consistent execution of grilled meats is a bore, unless you're a vegetarian. It's wicked pricy, but they get the job done every time.

Brooke Viggiano
Brooke Viggiano

its true i am a big fan of bread - but add your favs to the list, love discovering new things

Caroline
Caroline

You should definitely add in the complimentary mashed potato sampler at Nobhill in the MGM in Vegas. Flavors like horseradish, basil, or lobster -- every table gets a generous sampling of four. Seriously awesome lagniappe!

Brooke Viggiano
Brooke Viggiano

love alligator lounge!! ive spent many amazing pizza an beer filled happy hours there

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

I was going to chime in with this, as well.  It makes their other mediocre fair almost bearable.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Am I going to be the benjy's apologist here? I love their food, especially at the Washington Avenue location.

Corey
Corey

Finally a worthy freebie, kudos..

Helen
Helen

Osaka! Shocked it's not on the list...

Also, the cookies and biscotti at Grotto

Poop
Poop

Doc Ricky is also Koreeahn?

Corey
Corey

So do I with $4 a pound HEB meat and a weber, it's not rocket science..

Ali
Ali

As do I. And I love that Benjy comes by and greats people all the time. Even waits on them, bringing drinks out and what not.

Corey
Corey

Agreed and douchington central..

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