Review: AC and Really Good Food Have Been Added to The Boot

Categories: Cafe Reviews

Photos by Troy Fields
Seasonal seafood and flavorful bowls of red beans and crawfish étouffée make up the small but mighty menu at The Boot.
The plywood walls and rickety shelves are gone, replaced by eggshell-colored paneled siding and sleek black wall mounts holding rows of Southern beer and half-empty liquor bottles. There's a new coat of paint on the outside, though years of chipped layers are still visible under the facelift. The perpetually open garage doors have been closed to keep the cool air from the newly installed AC unit in the building as much as possible, and a large OPEN sign has been hung outside, lest people assume the shuttered doors mean the joint is out of business. But the double-parked cars in the small gravel lot are a sure indication that the place is hopping, and the smell of late-season boiled crawfish and sinus-clearing red beans with sausage is more than enough to lure in any patrons unsure of the bar's status.

It's back, it's open and it's better than ever.

Better is a matter of opinion, of course, since some are bound to see the new and improved Shady Tavern Ice House, now called The Boot, as an unfortunate upgrade from the gritty neighborhood watering hole it once was. The original 1939 structure was so hidden among the towering pecan and oak trees on West 20th that to many it felt like a weather-worn oasis, an escape from the hustle and bustle of Houston and a return to a simpler time when everyone shared a complimentary bowl of peanuts and only classic rock poured forth from the ancient juke box.

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First Look: The El Cantina Superior Is Not So Super

Categories: Local Spotlight

Photo by Molly Dunn
The skinny margarita at The El Cantina Superior tastes more like sugary juice than a tequila-based drink.
Screaming children, smoky fajitas and weak margaritas basically sums up The El Cantina Superior. This new Tex-Mex spot opened just a few weeks ago in the Heights at the corner of White Oak and Studewood. Based on the hype, it seemed to be the new place to be. Unfortunately, it has got some serious work to do if it wants returning customers.

Dining during happy hour on a weekday (4 p.m. until 7 p.m.) seemed like the opportune time to visit, as certain margaritas, domestic and draft beers are $3, and premium beer bottles are $3.75.

This could be a much better deal if discounted appetizers were included, but as of now, happy hour only applies to drinks. There might be a nacho bar happy hour special on the way, though.

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Viral Craigslist Post Says Smartphones Are Ruining Dining Out...But Are They?

Categories: Food Nation

Photo by Jacob Davies
Put your phone away and eat, for God's sake!
About two weeks ago, an anonymous commenter posted a diatribe to the Craigslist "Rants and Raves" section that has actually made people pay attention (as opposed to recent Houston posts about kids at Starbucks and the stupidity of Craigslist readers).

"We are a popular restaurant for both locals and tourists alike," the post reads. "One of the most common complaints on review sites against us and many restaurants in the area is that the service was slow and or they needed to wait a bit long for a table."

In order to determine why service was slower than in the past in spite of adding more staff and training the staff better, this restaurant supposedly located some surveillance footage from 2004 and compared it with recent surveillance footage from the same day of the week approximately ten years later. The result? According to the post, diners spend an average of 50 minutes more now than they did ten years ago, and smartphones are the culprit.

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First Look at Dosi, A Korean Small-Plates Restaurant and Soju Bar

Photo by Mai Pham
The Korean fried chicken, sweet and spicy version, at Dosi.
It would be tempting to visit Dosi just for Korean fried chicken. The tempura-battered free range chicken comes to the table tantalizingly stacked in a mound of tasty, bright orange, spicy-sweet gochugang (Korean red pepper) glaze, without a doubt the best version you can find in Houston at the moment.

But Dosi, the new Korean small plates concept on Shepherd just south of Westheimer, is about so much more than just fried chicken. If the sleek concrete facade doesn't do the job of cluing you into what the place is all about, the colorful wall of liquid-filled jars that greet you at the entrance might give you a hint.

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Seasonal Special at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Seasonal Saint Arnold Burger. Why not make it a double?
If children were allowed legal access to cars and could drive themselves to dinner, JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers would be the most profitable restaurant in town. The combination of cheeseburgers, ice cream, cookies, a wall-length chalkboard ready for doodlin', and a Coke Freestyle Machine pretty much make this place heaven for kids...and young-at-heart adults eager to binge on beef and strawberry-flavored Sprite.

With two locations (West University, The Woodlands), JerryBuilt is easily accessible to families with a fair amount of disposable income, which is why they can charge $9-10 for a single-patty sandwich and include sides such as truffle macaroni and cheese alongside more traditional options like crinkle-cut fries without most people batting an eye.

Is the elevated pricetage worth it? You betcha, as these burgers are far better than Whataburger to say the least. The foodstuffs (grass-fed beef, organic produce, Three Brothers rolls, etc.) are fresh, minimally processed, and locally sourced, which makes even the plain cheeseburger, classic "greasy" fare, taste lighter and maybe even healthful? More reasons why, perhaps, so many parents seem comfortable taking their kids there and even letting them round out dinner with a house-baked chocolate chunk or cow-shaped cookie.

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Handicapping Houston Restaurant Weeks 2014: Your Guide to the Best Bets

Every year we bring you a guide to the best meals and deals of Houston Restaurant Weeks, and this year with more restaurants participating that ever before, we had a heck of a time choosing our best bets. We've scoured every menu for the most interesting dishes, largest quantities of food and best values, and we've compiled this list to help you navigate the multitude of eateries vying for your patronage.

Searching for some southern food? Aching for Asian cuisine? Want some entertainment with your dinner? Feeling frugal? We can help.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 76, Parrillada Platter at Tinto Grill

Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Smoky, juicy and incredibly reasonably priced!
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

First there was Pampa Grill in Spring Branch, known for its juicy, sizzling parrillada platters filled with all sorts of meat and bright green, peppery chimichurri sauce.

But something happened that led to a rift between the owners of Pampa Grill, and they parted ways. Some remained with the Argentinian restaurant, while others moved down the street a few blocks and opened their own incarnation, Tinto Grill, a small, homey space that smells of grilled meat and garlic. I happened upon it during a tour of the Spring Branch area, looking for new restaurants and was drawn in by the smells.

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Bartender Chat: Brandon Ricks of Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge

Categories: Bartender Chat

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Tattooed and clad in plaid, Brandon Ricks holds down the fort at Bad News Bar.
When Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge first opened, there was an ongoing list on the chalkboard of fellow industry professionals who had broken glasses and were being publicly shamed for doing so.

That list has been replaced by a list of hashtags in colorful chalk. There's #CampartiLife and #NotaSpeakeasy. Below that, two instructions for how to enjoy the bar: #Don'ttouchthelamps and #MyNameisn'tHeyBro.

It's a place known for rules and order, as well as bartenders who enforce said rules without being assholes. They're stern, but they make a mean drink.

Bartender Brandon Ricks isn't an outwardly talkative fellow. He likes to make drinks and get his job done without necessarily listening to you chat about your day. Give him a chance to mix up something special for you, though, and he'll be swift, and the result will be delicious.

Pro tip: Order something with Campari.

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Food Fight: Gỏi vịt (Duck Salad)

Thumbnail image for thienanducksalad.jpg
Minh T Truong
Thien An's version of Goi Vit
If you're looking for the perfect summer meal, something light, cool and flavorful, gỏi vịt, or duck salad, is the way to go. This Vietnamese dish embodies summer and is exactly what you'd want to eat on a hot day.

Shredded cabbage and red onions are the traditional base for the salad with tender duck meat topping it off. The dressing for the salad is a tangy concoction of nuoc mam, or fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Along with the base ingredients, additional fixings such as carrots, bean sprouts and cucumber can be tossed in according to taste to make different variations of the salad.

For this food fight we take a look at the two different versions offered at Thien An and Huynh. Both distinctly their own and both very good.

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Preview of Delights at Kata Robata's July 29 Eel Extravaganza

Categories: On the Menu

Photo by Wyatt Dowling
Fresh water (left) and salt water (right) eels.
As reported on Friday on EOW, Kata Robata is set to celebrate Doyo-no-ushinohi, Tuesday, July 29, with a one day-only special menu of delicacies featuring freshwater eel. The holiday marks the first day of the period of the Ox and tradition dictates consuming foods whose names begin with a "u," i.e. unagi (freshwater eel).

Acclaimed Chef Horiuchi gave the Houston Press a preview of some of the dishes set to be available as well as a brief tutorial on the difference between fresh-water and saltwater eels and a demonstration of fileting techniques.

First came a palate-opener in the form of a smoky, citrus soup whose broth included succulent pieces of freshwater eel liver. Its warm ocean flavors prepared our mouths for a second course of grilled unagi accompanied by razor-thin slices of Japanese cucumber and seaweed tossed in an aromatic vinaigrette.

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Grilled unagi

The buttery fish flesh laced with just a hint of charcoal spice left a most pleasant carbon footprint that only intensified a craving for more eel.

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