Why I Love Greenling

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Photo by Phaedra Cook
Made from a Greenling meal kit: vegetarian tortilla soup with black bean, cheese and salsa quesadillas on the side
It's always lame to hear about people talk about how busy they are. We're all busy these days. With that being said, as someone who's currently juggling a dual career as a writer and as an IT consultant, I'm probably busier than most.

My days usually start between 4 and 6 a.m. I get up, write for a few hours, then put on my consultant garb and go downtown to take care of my IT clients.

Lunchtime is almost always a "working" lunch. I may interview a chef or check out a new restaurant. Houston's dining scene is so incredibly active that there's almost always some kind of event or review visit in the evening. To retain some personal sanity (and get to see my college-aged kids who are still living at home), I try and stick to a rule that I only go out on assignment every other night.

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From Dangerous to Delightful: Uchi's Moss Dish

Categories: Here, Eat This

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Photo by Phaedra Cook
The Matsutake dish at Uchi Houston includes a lichen (referred to colloquially as "reindeer moss") that requires special preparation to transform it from dangerous to delectable.

The string of text messages began with a photo. It was a plate of lovely, unidentifiable green puff balls accented with slices of mushrooms, grilled so precisely that there were criss-cross grill marks, just as one might see on a steak.

The photo and subsequent message were from an exuberant friend in the restaurant industry. We'll call him "Gordon." Gordon is, in fact, made of exuberance. He texts me only when he's excited about something, whether it be a costume party or a something else he thinks is fascinating. I shall paraphrase the conversation:

"This moss dish is at Uchi! It's poisonous if prepared incorrectly! Total delish!"

I search my feelings to find my motivation to eat poison. I am unsuccessful.

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Eat This: The Salted Caramel Peanut Tart at Tout Suite

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Photo by Molly Dunn
The Salted Caramel Peanut Tart at Tout Suite is a work of art.
Before Tout Suite opened in East Downtown, I knew the cafe would be serving incredible desserts and pastries, like those delicate macarons and beautiful cupcakes sold at the sister bakery, Sweet in CityCentre, along with a savory menu served throughout the day. But, the tarts and treats were a surprise.

As I stared at the gorgeous display of bright yellow mango passion tart cakes, matcha green tea chiffon cakes and lemon yuzu tarts, one of the employees approached me asking if I had any questions about the offerings at Tout Suite. I told him I was interested in purchasing the "Paris Houston," a chocolate almond cake with a fruit filling and a generous topping of swirled frosting, but he advised me to choose a different pastry, the Salted Caramel Peanut Tart.

He said it is one of the best offerings in the display case, and that he was one of the chefs who makes the pastries at Tout Suite.

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Eat This: Summer Salad and Crawdads Biscuit at Punk's

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Crawdads Biscuit

The calendar says September, but it still feels like summer in Houston, so why not indulge in some warm-weather fare as long as it's on offer? See Punk's Simple Southern Food, where one of the best things on the current menu is the "Summer Salad." Although most patrons go to Punk's for the fried chicken (despite its high price tag), you will be just as satiated (in a different, less bloated way) by ordering this sweet, refreshing assemblage.

With a spinach and romaine lettuce, over-sized candied pecans, mandarin orange slices, strawberries and avocado bits all dressed in a strawberry poppyseed vinaigrette, the salad might verge on cloying if not for the earthy salt from the pecans and creamy botanical flavors of the avocado.

Ask for the dressing on the side to fully appreciate the salad's "naked" flavor, which is arguable as just as good plain as dressed. Also know that the Summer Salad is certainly enough for one at lunchtime but also great to split at dinner, especially as a precursor to richer dishes. And speaking of which...

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Eat This: Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Cakeballs & Macarons at Petite Sweets

Categories: Here, Eat This

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Photo by Molly Dunn
It may be hot outside, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a pumpkin spice latte with macarons and cakeballs at Petite Sweets.
The first official day of fall is Tuesday, September 23, and you know what that means: pumpkin, pumpkin and more pumpkin. Throughout this autumnal season, recipes for pumpkin breads, muffins, cakes and pies will flood the Internet (or more accurately, will continue to) through a variety of social media outlets -- I'm talking about you, Pinterest.

Don't be like the rest of the world and frequent Starbucks for a PSL. Instead, visit Petite Sweets for a creamy, scrumptious pumpkin spice latte paired with one or a few of their delightful miniature pumpkin-flavored treats.

After seeing a post of a large frothy pumpkin spice latte surrounded by pumpkin pie macarons on the Petite Sweets Facebook page this past week, I couldn't help but stop by the West Alabama dessert shop this weekend. Aside from pumpkin pie macarons, Petite Sweets also carries miniature pumpkin pies, whoopie pies, cupcakes and cake balls, along with honey apple cupcakes for the fall season, too.

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My Preferred Hangover Cure, and More, at Juan Mon's International Sandwiches

Categories: Here, Eat This

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Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
Outside Juan Mon's, at the intersection of Taft and Webster.
Juan Mon's is unassuming. Driving down Taft Street, you could easily miss it, and probably have already: From that vantage point, the view of the restaurant is mostly that of an alcove evidently once intended as a drive-thru, where a food truck which has clearly fallen out of use resides, and weeds have sprouted in the cracks in the driveway. From that view, it'd be easy to mistake the location as a restaurant that closed long ago.

That's a shame, because that view conceals a restaurant that boasts one of the biggest and best sandwich menus in town-- and all of them an affordable $6, a refreshing change from the trend of delis and cafés offering sandwiches that cost twice as much but don't merit it.

At the corner of Taft and Webster, Juan Mon's International Sandwiches seems nearly invisible from the vantage point described above. From Webster, though, the entrance and outdoor patio can be clearly seen, and inside is a small but festively-decorated restaurant with several televisions and a full bar in addition to the sandwich menu.

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Eat This: Dry-Style Beef Chow Fun at House of Bowls

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Photo by Mai Pham
House of Bowl's dry-style beef chow fun is hearty, inexpensive and delicious.

Driving on Bellaire Boulevard to get to the majority of Chinatown eateries has been a challenge for some time now. The construction on Bellaire Boulevard in areas with the densest concentration of good eats has been ongoing mercilessly for at least a year, and traffic, not to mention safety issues arise for those planning to venture to this part of town.

The hardest restaurants to reach are the ones where there is no stop sign or signal, requiring cars to stop traffic in order to turn left or right to reach the parking lots housing the restaurants. Enter House of Bowls, located off the main Bellaire drag in a small strip mall on Corporate Drive. Reaching the restaurant is relatively easy because there's a lighted signal onto Corporate, and then navigation into the parking lot is a cinch.

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Torchy's Tacos Challenges You to Earn the Burn

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Photo by Molly Dunn
Start with The Barn Burner, then work your way up the heat chart.
This month, Torchy's Tacos features four spicy tacos of the month. Each week, the fast-casual Tex-Mex spot releases a special taco, and as the weeks progress, each one gets spicier. And when we say spicier, we mean hot as hell.

The first week, Torchy's unveiled The Barn Burner. It's a simple taco filled with strips of grilled beef fajita, chunks of bacon, crumbled goat cheese, cilantro and manzano chile salad, plus a generous drizzle of Avocado and Diablo sauce. On the burn scale, it's ranked a "4."

The next week, things got a bit spicier with the Firecracker Shrimp. It's twice as hot as The Barn Burner with habanero-battered shrimp, cabbage slaw, candied jalapenos, small chunks of cotija cheese, cilantro and Diablo mayo.

We decided to try these two tacos to see if we could "Earn the Burn," and because we are a little fearful of the next two tacos featuring ghost peppers in the form of a sauce and stewed with pork - that's just craziness right there!

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Take a Vacation to Budapest With Summer Hungarian Dishes at Kenny & Ziggy's

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Photo by Paula Murphy
The most refreshing summer dish this side of the Danube River.
In all, I've probably spent close to five months of my life living in Hungary.

When I was a child, my family vacationed there several summers in a row, and upon graduating high school, I toured the country with my mother, taking a train from Budapest southwest into Croatia, stopping in small, quaint towns along the way. And everywhere, though I have always been a fairly adventuresome eater, there was one dish I could never pass up: Cold fruit soup.

It's an Eastern European dish also found in some Baltic and Middle Eastern countries, but largely absent from Asia and the Americas (unless you count gazpacho and a few Asian dessert soups) that's served as an appetizer, even though it's sweet like dessert. Across Hungary, the hot, humid summers are tempered by cold fruit soup in nearly every restaurant and nearly every seasonal flavor.

The most traditional version is meggyleves, cold sour cherry soup, but I also encountered peach, raspberry, strawberry and mixed fruit soups in cafes across Budapest. There was the creamy raspberry soup at Marcello Étterem, the tart cherry soup at Café Kor and the sweet, silky peach soup at Centrál Káveház.

And here in Houston, there's sour cherry soup at Kenny & Ziggy's, our own little outpost for Hungarian cuisine.

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The 5 Best Hidden Restaurant Gems in Galveston

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Photo by Allen Sheffield
Get off the beaten path and explore some lesser-known Galveston restaurants.
The time for the great exodus has arrived.

Every summer as the temperatures rise and the oppressively hot days stretch into muggy nights, Houstonians escape the confines of the city for tropical paradise Galveston. No, it's not the loveliest beach in the world (or even in Texas), but it's our beach and our charming seaside neighbor.

Fortunately for those who make the drive to relax on the sand or stroll the Strand, Galveston has a pretty great selection of eateries to choose from. Whether you're looking for upscale dining or a hole-in-the-wall beer and shrimp shack, Galveston has the restaurants to satisfy either desire.

Instead of doing a roundup of the best restaurants in Galveston, though, we thought we'd take a look at some of the great spots that aren't as popular. If you're a Galveston resident, you might already know these places because, well, the island just ain't that big. But if you're planning a day trip, consider checking out one of these great spots off the beaten path.

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