More Creamy Spinach, Please: Then and Now at Fusion Grillerz

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

fusion_grillerz_sized.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Blessedly fusion-less.
April 2013:

I've spent the past few months locked in a cycle of pain. The pain of eating three pounds of fried rice for lunch every day, regretting it, and comforting that regret with more fried rice. It's a vicious cycle, really, and one conveniently fueled by a lunch hour that isn't, and a relative dearth of nearby options that I haven't gotten sick of. Including the fried rice, I guess, but that's not the point.

The point is, when a new lunch option opens up in the food court under my office in Four Houston Center, meaning I don't have to do much more than turn around at my desk in order to get there, I get excited. If only I could safely ride the escalator while seated...

Sorry, I got lost in a reverie of fatassening languor. Right. New lunch spot. So, it's called "Fusion Grillerz," which apparently means that they grill stuff, and also serve some Indian food. So far, I've not seen much in the way of fusion per se, but I don't really feel the need for a chole burger or hot dogs dressed with saag and raita. Actually, strike that; the Saag-Dog sounds kind of great. Somebody do that.


More »

Tunnel Explorer: Brooklyn Meatball Co. Needs More Balls

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

bmc1.jpg
Photos by Nicholas L. Hall
Likely the only time I've found myself wishing for a third ball (cue groans).
It's very difficult to predict the half-life of a tunnel restaurant. In a certain respect, it's the perfect arrangement. Fixed hours, captive audiences, little competition. I have no doubt the rents are high, though, the restrictions many, and the notion of "little competition" is a rather assumptive assumption, based around the general lack of quality food to be had underground. So, I guess, it's also a very dicey proposition.

Still, I'm convinced that if you can find your niche down there, you can have a real shot. Although there are certainly many things stacked against you, it's hard to get away from the allure of that captive audience. There's a reason so many subpar restaurants thrive in the circuitous rabbit-run under downtown, after all, even while charging excessive prices for their mediocre fare. When places down there do it right, even if the prices are a little steeper than maybe they should be, I think they stand an even better chance. Anything to save us from the never-ending feedback loop of chicken salad --> submarine -->crappy burger --> taco salad (repeat).

That brings us to Brooklyn Meatball Co. Apparently, it used to be called Saucy Balls, and is the brain child of erstwhile reality TV personality Joseph Galluzzi. I don't really care that he was on TV, or if he wants to have an entendre entrée. I just want it to taste good. It does. For $5.40 after tax, though, I'd have liked more balls.


More »

Tunnel Explorer: Deli Deluxe

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

Deli Deluxe.JPG
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
It just occurred to me that the previous occupant warned me of spicy food, too. Theirs was an empty threat. This one was pleasantly valid.
I do most of my tunnel exploring blind. Figuratively. Though the low light is beginning to take its toll. What I mean is, I typically just stumble around down there until something looks interesting, or until I've walked far enough that my breadcrumbs are nearly used up. The thought of getting turned around down there, wandering aimlessly like Link in The Lost Woods, is terrifying. North...West...South...West...

Where was I? Oh, yes. I mostly find my own way down there, but am occasionally given a tip by another Downtown Daniel Boone. My most recent suggestion came by way of a former coworker, Palak, who pointed me toward Deli Deluxe.

More »

All Day Desayunos, Sans Daylight, at Poblano's

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

nicktaco.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Not bad for a bunch of mole-people.
I love breakfast. I also love sleep. These two conflicting concerns often result in hunger, crankiness and disappointment.

You see, I have figured out, down to the minute, exactly how late I can wake up and get to work on time. This does not allow for breakfast. It barely allows for basic hygiene. This leaves me with a daily quandary: either consume a somewhat sad bowl of instant oatmeal at my desk or descend to the tunnels and return with a sad foil packet of instant breakfast tacos. I usually opt for option three, which consists of six or so hours of hunger, followed by an enormous and (usually) ill-advised lunch. I think this vicious cycle can be roughly blamed for the 40-some pounds I've gained in the seven years since taking this job.

Of course, my quest for a decent tunnel breakfast isn't driven by a desire to eat more healthily or shed a few pounds, but by a more immediate, visceral and sensuous set of interests. Basically, I want something in the morning that will take the edge off of the fact that I have to be in the office before my kids have to be at school. Were it socially acceptable, I would ensconce myself in velvet love a caffè corretto, but since it's not, I don't think a decent breakfast should be too much to ask.

Awhile back, one of my readers took note of my plight, offering the suggestion of Poblano's. It took me awhile to get down there, but it led to the discovery of an entirely new subterranean chamber of Tunnel Explorer options. I had, apparently, never turned left at the end of the food court underneath McKinney Place.

More »

Tunnel Explorer: Pastabilities

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

Pastabilities.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
This would probably taste better after a few dozen beers.
I used to work with a guy who looked a bit like Franklin the Turtle. He was slightly narcoleptic. You always knew when "Franklin" was going to drift off, because he would bring his right hand up to his left shoulder and start massaging his collarbone. Within minutes, he'd be out. Franklin was a good guy.

He was also a tunnel-dining trailblazer, having charted an impressive mental map from his years of working downtown. Back when we worked together, he used to go on and on about Pastabilities. I never made it down there to check it out back then, so when the name popped up in the comments below a recent post, I decided to give it a shot, finally.

Once I made it down there, I wondered how I'd missed it so many times. Located underneath the Esperson Building, Pastabilities is right around the corner from my chiropractor's office. Had I known, I might have stopped by sooner, consoling myself with a slice of pizza after being attacked by the crazy lady with the belt sander who does my adjustments. Just kidding. Sort of.

More »

Tunnel Explorer: Star Chef Dumpling House

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

Star Chef Dumpling House.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
There are others like them, some good, some evil. In the end, there can be only one.
In the battle for downtown dumpling supremacy, there can be only one. For years, the hotly debated rivalry has stood at a relative impasse between Doozo and Baoz, each with its own adherents, locked in a timeless struggle for dumpling immortality. None had risen to even attempt a challenge. Until now.

Star Chef is tucked into the the food court underneath McKinney Place, at the end of what is fast becoming the underground's closest thing to a Restaurant Row. I'm not sure how long it's been there, but I started noticing it a few weeks ago. It's had a line every time I've passed it, and the majority of its patrons seemed to be Asian. Politically incorrect or not, I generally take it as a good sign when I see a bunch of Vietnamese customers tucking into plastic bowls of phở, even in the tunnels. Maybe especially in the tunnels.

I wasn't there for phở, though. I was there for dumplings. I think it's been said before that, when the name of the joint is a particular dish, that's what you should be eating, and I took that advice. I'm glad I did.

More »

Tunnel Explorer: Zaytona

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

Zaytona Crepe.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Pale and sad, isn't it? Maybe the result of sunlight deprivation? Mole-Crepe.
While my forays into the tunnels occasionally reveal bright spots, signs that, perhaps, someone is trying to make good food underground, I'm still overwhelmed by the sheer mass of careless, pointless dreck foisted on us tunnel dwellers.

It's our own fault, I suppose. Certainly, we could come above ground, brave the weather and the cross-walks, and have an actual meal. Still, I don't think it's too much to ask that I be able to find, for example, a decent breakfast down here. That's what I was looking for a few weeks ago when I found my most recent ray of sunshine.

In this case, I suppose I should have known better. Expecting the bright personality, lively flavors, and attentive execution of, say, Melange Creperie from a dimly lit tunnel stall is practically begging for disappointment. Still, it shouldn't have been too much to ask that my breakfast be competently prepared. Sadly, that was exactly the case.

Off-the-beaten-path options are always a bit of a crap-shoot in the tunnels, but I tend to see someone doing something different as a sign that they're trying, at least. So when I saw crepes listed on Zaytona's menu, and a round crepe griddle on its counter, I decided to give it a shot.

More »

Tunnel Explorer: Rico Mexican Food

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

Rico's Mexican - Indian Version.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Halalelujah!
The tunnels never cease to amaze me. While the preponderance of crap is a constant, there's a spirit of endless possibility there. Every once in a while, I stumble upon a small diamond amidst all the rough, something unexpected to make me smile, and to give me hope. Recently, it was the discovery of a little shop putting out sandwiches. Funny, then, that my most recent fit of optimism should be found right next door.

I stumbled across Rico Mexican Food while beating a path in search of a decent below-ground breakfast (still looking). Zigging through one of the many mini-hallways that stitch together the tunnels, I nearly ran into the sign, then walked right past it. Something, though, caught my eye and turned me back. Halal. While there are many parts of Houston in which storefronts so emblazoned are a dime a dozen, the tunnels are not usually so worldly.

A quick investigation revealed that this unassuming Mexican joint is totally halal, and is now serving a modest assortment of Indian dishes, alongside food-court Mexican mainstays like taco salads. Among the offerings are several vegetarian plates, centering around chickpeas and cauliflower. I can only imagine that interesting vegetarian tunnel fare is even more difficult to come by. I continued on my breakfast hunt, but returned for lunch.

More »

Tunnel Explorer: Howdy Burger

Howdy Burger - Cross Section.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
A perfect example of the iPhone's ability to take inexplicably good photos.
I probably should have known better. In fact, my better instincts were telling me to keep moving when I stumbled on Howdy Burger while exploring the tunnel section stretching underneath the Esperson building. The glossy signage and faux-kitschy decor, heralding all of the same canned touchstones that have Top Chef pissing off food loving Texans, were out in force. The menu was confused and confusing, ranging from the expected burgers to New York-style hot dogs, with an odd swerve toward Mission-style burritos and a perplexingly pan-cultural array of salads and sandwiches bringing up the rear.

Howdy Burger Menu.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Remember the clip art you used to play with in Windows 3.1? Yeah.
It's one of the amusing idiosyncrasies of Tunnel Dining that I've learned to be leery of any place that seems too well put-together, as if the corporate-style, homogenized packaging is a harbinger of the food. Such was the case with Howdy Burger. Take a look at the menu photo and graphics: it's like some PR flack took the first stock images available for "burger" and "Texas," superimposed them on one another, and called it a franchise concept.

Figuring I should go with their advertised strengths, I ordered the "Howdy Ultimate Bacon Cheddar Burger" (emphasis theirs), sided with onion rings. Preparation of my meal took forever, which had me (momentarily) hopeful that perhaps I'd gauged Howdy Burger all wrong. Scenes flashed before my eyes of a cook hand-shaping my burger, slicing and battering onion rings while I waited amidst the bucolic photos of cows and over-size wooden six-shooters that lined the walls. The reality was somewhat different.

More »

Tunnel Explorer: Top Taste Asian Subs and Grill

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

Top Taste Sign.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Thankfully, not quite as "fusion" as you might be expecting.
One of my first tunnel explorations had me hopefully sampling Vietnamese food, resulting in something of a lukewarm response. Funny, then, that I've found myself missing Cafe Basil since my office moved to the other end of downtown. When I noticed a new stall in the food court under McKinney Place, promising "Asian Subs," my interest was cautiously piqued. I could swallow a whitewashed euphemism for bánh mì, as long as the taste held true.

Top Taste Asian Subs and Grill opened back in August, as far as I can tell, but I only stumbled upon it recently. As expected, this isn't a wholly authentic take on Vietnamese food. As long as you go in with that understanding, though, it will do in a pinch (as seems to be the theme in so much tunnel dining).

More »

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...