Verts Introduces Houstonians to Germany's Most Popular Street Food: The Döner Kebap

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Chicken kebap on the left, veggie kebap on the right.
Schwarma. Gyro. Trompo. Döner.

The popular fast food has many names, but only one of them is taking Houston by storm: The döner kebap, a German street food staple brought to the Bayou City by two Austinites who own the restaurant Verts. Sound complicated? It's gets more tangled.

The Germans claim the döner kebap was invented in Berlin in the 1970s by a Turkish immigrant named Mahmut Aygun. According to an obituary in The Telegraph from 2009, Aygun was born in Turkey and moved to Germany at the age of 16. He opened a snack stall there and sold kebab meat cooked on a rotating spit and served over rice. After noticing drunk people struggling to stumble home with the food in tow or reticent to sit at his counter and eat, he decided to invent a more handy means of edible transport. He stuffed the meat into a pita and sent diners on their merry way.

The Telegraph reports that the first such sandwiches--if you can call them that--was served at Aygun's restaurant, Hasir, on March 2, 1972. Today, Verts Kebap is serving the same sort of meal right here in Houston. The first location on Yale north of Washington opened last week, and the owners are planning on opening at least four more locations in the coming weeks and months.

But Houston has Turkish food. We have trompo and gyros. What's the big deal with the döner?

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2014 International Festival Celebrates Australia...But Hold the Vegemite, Please

Image courtesy International Festival
This year's poster was designed by local artist Carlos Hernandez. You can buy one online!
I'm excited about this year's International Festival highlighting Australia for two reasons: One, it gives me an excuse to post the music video for Men At Work's brilliant 1980 song "Land Down Under" (see the next page), and two, I honestly don't know much about Australian food.

Being that the festival is hosted here in Houston, a number of local chefs will be coming out to showcase their cuisine, but there will also be Australian chefs and vendors introducing Texas to the wonders of food from Down Under.

Hot on the heels of Houston's Second Annual BBQ Festival, the International Festival is hosting a "Texas vs. Barbie Cook-Off" competition on May 1 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Hermann Square Park featuring local chefs and restaurants. The festival will also have a concession area with food from more than 40 restaurants, some of whom will be trying their hand at Australian cuisine.

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Hallelujah! Kirby House of Pies Reopens

Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Been missing your Bayou Goo? Well, all is back to normal now at House of Pies, which was damaged in a fire in November of 2013.

It happened back in November of 2013: A fire damaged the beloved House of Pies on Kirby, and it was forced to close its doors, giving untold numbers of Bayou Goo addicts severe anxiety attacks.

Well, after much construction and renovation, a new and improved House of Pies has reopened, so you can now make your way over there and sit for a spell with your favorite slice. And be sure to tell the staff hello, because most of them are back as well.

The owners of the restaurant carried out extensive work on the interior space, and have even added a patio for outdoor dining. In addition, the kitchen is home to new and improved appliances and equipment. (But don't worry, the pies will still be the same ones you fell in love with all those years ago.)

Bloody Good: Where to Partake of Palatable Plasma

Photo by Emmanuel Boutet
Boudin noir before being cooked.
When I order steak at restaurants, I tend to make tired jokes about how rare I like it.

"I want my meat black and blue," I'll say. "Bring it to me still bleeding."

Though I don't literally want my steak bleeding onto my plate, there are some instances where a little blood in my meal makes it all the better. No, I'm not referring to when chefs season a dish inadvertently (see our October piece on horrific kitchen injuries). I'm talking about blood soup, blood sausage and any other dish that benefits from a little bit of the sanguine sauce.

In Houston, there are a number of restaurants at which you can get your fix. Just, maybe, don't bring your squeamish friends along. Cubed blood is not for the faint of heart. Or stomach.

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Salade Niçoise: The Perfect Hearty Meal When All You Want Is Salad

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
There's a lot of protein packed in this healthy salad.
My family and I spent a lot of time in France when I was a child, and though I was never a picky eater per se, seven-year-old me wasn't super-enthused about foie gras or bouillabaisse. I was, however, a fan of salad, and my parents and I immediately managed to discover one that was available at pretty much any corner bistro pretty much anywhere in Paris and many places beyond. Salade niçoise.

I couldn't tell you how many platters of salade niçoise I've eaten in my life; let's just go with a lot. The beauty of salade niçoise, though, is that it's hugely variable; almost no two iterations are the same. This makes it very difficult to tire of my favorite salad.

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Boheme's New Lobster Pizzas Are Unlike Any Pies You've Had Before

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Some pie: The Lobster-ita, left, the Lobster Verde.
Since Rishi Singh took over as executive chef at Boheme, the food has gone from microwaved bar fare to truly top-notch. The inventive chef is constantly dreaming up ways to elevate the cuisine at the space that's better known for being a bar than a restaurant, and he's doing it all from a food truck.

That's right. Boheme still doesn't have a kitchen. Singh and his crew are able to feed as many as 600 people on busy nights exclusively out of a food truck parked behind the bar, and the quality of what they put out under those circumstances is pretty darned impressive.

Take, for instance, the lobster pizza. Singh recently replaced the crab and shrimp pizzas on the menu with ones specifically designed to highlight the flavor of lobster claws. 'Cause go big or go home, right?

The pizza menu now features four different lobster pies, each one totally unique from the others. They're all served on Boheme's signature lavash crust, which is so thin that it mainly serves as a crunchy vessel to get the gourmet toppings from cardboard platter to hungry mouths.

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The Most Underrated Restaurant in Houston Is...

Photo by Nicholas Hall
The pizza from your number 5 pick is totally underrated.
Well, friends, more than 1,300 of you voted on the most underrated restaurant in Houston. Thanks for letting your opinion be known. Some of you weren't happy with the poll choices, but remember, those came from you, not me. So you have only yourselves to blame.

But really, I thought all of the options were pretty solid.

Only five of the choices got more than seven percent of your votes, but they're pretty darn good choices in my opinion. Here are your top five most underrated restaurants in Houston.

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5 Authentic Chinese Dishes, Plus Where to Find Them In Houston

shanghai peking.jpg
Photo by Mai Pham
Crispy-skinned Peking duck is served with steamed buns at Shanghai Restaurant.
Despite what the Master Wok in the food court may tell you, authentic Chinese food does not consist of ten different types of orange-tinted, deep-fried chicken. In fact, what is commonly considered "Chinese food" in the West actually originated in 1950s San Francisco, when Chinese cuisine was adapted to suit the American palate. This meant the use of white meat instead of dark meat and small bones, vegetables as sides or garnish rather than the emphasis of the dish, and use of local produce like tomatoes, broccoli, carrots and onions instead of Chinese broccoli, bok choy and daikon.

While some dishes that are popular in America -- like moo shoo pork, chow mein and egg foo young -- actually are native to China, there are plenty of other authentic Chinese dishes that deserve our attention.

Here are five great ones that can be found locally:

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No Ren Fest? No Problem! Gratifi Brings More Mead to Houston

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
These are just a few of the many meads on the market today.
When I hear "mead," I think of the Renaissance Festival.

So I was surprised earlier this week to be contacted by Kevin Strickland, the owner of a newly revamped Gratifi, saying he had just gotten in some mead, which is essentially honey wine.

"Do people actually drink that?" I wondered. I mean, when they aren't dressed like bar wenches and knights in shining armor? Didn't mead go out of style, oh, I don't know, back when we discovered the world isn't flat?

After doing a little research, I learned that mead is still very much a thing. I have friends who are home brewers who dabble in mead. Spec's carries a wide variety of meads--if you consider five different brands a wide variety, which, by mead standards, I do. Flying Saucer currently has a mead for sale by the bottle, and Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant stocks tej, a traditional Ethiopian honey wine.

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Avoid These 10 Foods If You Want to Get Lucky on Valentine's Day

Castle Rock Entertainment/Columbia Pictures
Order what she's having, but not any of this other stuff.
I've never been one to shy away from any meal when I am on a date, regardless of how unattractive the consumption may make me appear. I've slurped soup and spaghetti, virtually unhinged my jaw to chomp down on a burger, inhaled more garlic than a vampire hunter and cracked shellfish like a caveman without ever worrying what the fella across the table would think as he watched me eat.

I've always believed that truly reveling in a good meal is pretty sexy.

That said, I'm one of the few who feel this way. I know girls who won't eat salad on dates for fear they'll get lettuce stuck in their teeth and guys who won't chew on ribs because it might make them look uncivilized. I say, "Who cares?" But I guess I can see where they're coming from.

So, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday (you know, that one that celebrates the lives of martyred saints love), here are some foods that are sloppy, smelly, unwieldy and, um, digestively challenged. Eat them at your own risk.

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