Eating Texas

And you probably thought I ate like a madwoman in Tennessee – hah! That’s nothing!

So how do I come back from a vacation? By going on another one, of course!

I visited two dear friends from several years past in Waco and San Antonio. It was a trip that was very long past due, and a total blast. I miss them already. Anyone have any cheap plane tickets laying around?

Any way, enough of the sentimentalism, what did I eat??? Now there’s what you’re moderately interested in!

Now, thankfully my friends are as into eating as I am – otherwise it would have been one… interesting trip.

I started off my 8 hour flight(!!!) by getting off of the plane and being picked up by my girlfriend and her fiancé. He had to get back to work, so we were going to go to Whataburger for lunch.
Now, let me preface this by saying that the south has REALLY good fast food. Or maybe I’m a nostalgic fool, but WhatABurger has ridiculously ginormous burgers that are seriously filling, and milkshakes that I dream of. The fries aren’t bad either, and they even microwave well. It is SUCH a good place.

Anywho, we hopped in her car, and had to get gas. The car hadn’t been used in months and we could NOT find the thing to open the gas tank. It wasn’t just a pull open type deal. No, it needed some button or SOMETHING because it was not budging. We were sitting there in front of the gas pump for about 10 minutes before we gave up and got some southern pizza and wings. Which is to say they were nothing remotely close to what New Yorkers would be familiar with, but was totally used to for Texas pizza food. And, hey, when is anything fried ever bad?

So my quest for WhatABurger was still unfulfilled, but along came our other friend from San Antonio to pick us up! Yay!!! Thank you for picking us up out of Waco, which pretty much had nothing to do, and I was only there for about 3 hours, so you KNOW it’s bad. We drove another 3 hours down to San Antonio. Yay! San Antonio! We settled in his house and then went out to the River Walk.

The River Walk( is located in downtown San Antonio. It’s a man-made canal with tons of restaurants and bars located all around it in addition to the Rivercenter Mall and Hilton and Marriot Hotels. The River Walk also has no railing, so it’s a wonder no one really falls in. It’s a great place to walk around, but unfortunately the Rivercenter Mall has stopped free parking if you shop there, so you have to pay for parking anywhere you go. It SUCKS! You will never find a meter, so just pony up the $8 and go into a lot. Ah well.

We walked around for a while and I took a bazillion pictures. Let me tell you, it is SO awesome to be out there now that I’m over my I’m-too-cool-for-school attitude that I used to have when I lived there. The nightlife was really relaxed and fun. After walking for a while, though, we got thirsty.

So we hit up Pat O’Briens. It’s just above the River Walk and it’s famous for it’s New Orleans theme and hurricane drinks. It came in a hurricane glass!!! (If you couldn’t tell, I was excited about that). We ordered a few and drank them. I was excited for an icy drink, you know, the frozen margarita type ones. Well, this just came on crushed ice and was from a mix. It tasted like Kool-Aid. With lots of rum. But I was still pretty disappointed – they said on their website it was ‘award winning’. Who the hell judged it? Were they big Kool-Aid fans or something? But, it was only $6.50, so not a total loss. I’d probably pay double for the same thing up here. A shot or two of Bailey’s Caramel (and one tongue lashing from my girlfriend for introducing her to said nectar), which were $3 each(!) and we were off.

To WHATABURGER!!!!!!! Oh, that was SO awesome! I got a WhatAChicken, which is pretty much a fried chicken sandwich. I forgot to ask for the mayo off, but it was inoffensive. I still don’t get why people do like mayo though. I couldn’t even taste it in my sandwich even though there was a ton there, so I just don’t get the point of having it on sandwiches.

There is also a local place called Cheesy Jane’s located near the University of the Incarnate Word and Ft. Sam Houston. It’s a retro diner that served up burgers, fries, milkshakes and one or two salads.

Kidding, they sell more than one. Maybe four. But you go there for the burgers. And the fries.

My girlfriend and I split the Bean Burger($6), which is not a veggie burger, but a burger with refried beans, Fritos, salsa and cheese on it. It wasn’t bad, but I’m glad there were all the toppings there to spice it up. I remembered it as being different. It had a little je ne sais quoi, which I didn’t get this time around. Maybe it’s because I eat a lot less meat than I did when I lived there.

My guyfriend ordered the jalapeno burger, which was massive, and I’m guessing spicy.

We also got the chili cheese fries($4.50), which I had to push away since I ate, oh, HALF of them. They’re HUGE and really, really addictive. Hence, the pushing away. They also had tots, which are really popular and equally tasty.

We went to the Botanical Gardens afterwards to walk off the burgers and saw very pretty flowers, waterfalls and all sorts of flora.

Later that night we went out to Sultan’s a Mediterranean food and Hookah lounge. We got a bowl of rose shisha(a honeyed tobacco) and placed an order for a combo plate, gyro and chicken wrap plate. The combos were $8.99 and came with rice, side salad, hummus or baba ghanoush and a drink. The gyro was $4. They eventually brought out the hookah and gave us our own little mouthpieces – yay sanitation! Unfortunately we’re not really smokers and they put a crapton of coals on the top of it, so it was kind of burned the shisha. Eh, oh well.

We waited FOREVER for our food and drinks, which sucked because the place was hot and packed because the Spurs game was on.

The food finally came out, and it was really good! The combo plate had a lamb patty, spicy chicken, ‘regular’ chicken, but I thought for the price they could have tossed in some flatbread or something more, since it was kind of paltry. The chicken wrap was ok, but pretty bland for my tastes. It was good, but nothing spectacular. The gyro was tender and moist – a wonderful surprise after the chicken wrap. The hummus was amazing, though! They used a spicy paprika that really added a lot of flavor to it and a good portion of lemon and olive oil. I don’t know that I’d go there again, given the wait and all, but it wouldn’t have been bad if it weren’t busy. (Yea, that top picture is of the sampler platter, and the bottom is the wrap. I could NOT get the lighting right in these pictures, as I am cursed with wobbly camera hands as well – too bad Albany John couldn’t come and snap y’all some good pictures!)

The next day we went out for – SUSHI! They had never tried it before, and me being me, well, we had to get sushi. I heard about Godai as being a good choice – they won some local awards, and they looked authentic enough. We ordered 7 rolls, and I’m pretty sure I ate three or four of them. The only problem was that, aside from the 2 traditional rolls, these were way too big. I mean, sloppy, big. The ingredients were great, but really, Ichiban serves them smaller than this place, which really says a lot if you know Ichiban.

Anywho, rolls were(bottom left corner): Philly Roll, French Roll, Eel Roll, Tuna Roll, Hamachi Roll, Spicy Salmon Roll, (not pictured because I forgot) Spider Roll and Salmon Skin Roll.

The Philly roll ($6.50) was really good, but ‘too fishy’ for the sushi novices. Suckers – more for me!
They both liked the French roll ($6.75), which was a tempura shrimp with massago and ‘special sauce’ which I’m guessing was some kind of mayo. This was a bit easier to eat since it was a bit closer to ‘normal size’
The Eel roll ($6.75) was another hit – I tried to get a good balance of cooked and raw sushi to wean them on to it.
Tuna($6) is usually a good choice for sushi beginners as well, and my girlfriend really liked it. It’s a meaty sushi so it doesn’t get the usual ‘too fishy’ report.
The Hamachi roll ($6.50) was a touch fishy, so, it wasn’t the greatest.
Yet another hit was the spicy salmon – the spice covered up any ‘fishy’ flavor of the fatty salmon, but got a bit too spicy for me near the end. Phew!
The Spider Roll($9.95)was Great! My guyfriend really liked it but wussed out on eating the leg pieces. So I helped him out. So good. My girlfriend doesn’t like crab, so that left her out of the loop on that one.
The big letdown was the salmon skin($6.50). The roll was entirely too large and unwieldy, but worst of all was that it was soggy skin with salmon still on it. Bleh.
Since it was lunch, they also gave us miso soup and salad when we came it. Touché, Godai, touché, but I would have preferred the miso with the sushi.
We also had hot tea and lemonade, which were $2 each.

Godai also had the worst soy sauce I’ve ever had. It was light Kikkoman, and some off brand of regular soy. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. Just plain gross.

The interior was quite nice, though. It’s like a high-roofed Japanese teahouse with lots of woodsy touches. The sushi bar was against a far wall – rather unassuming, but beautifully decorated. I was also very pleased to see the sushi chef there at lunch too, with a Spurs hat on, natch(it’s a cult down there). All too often, it’s some trainee on lunch duty. I would go back again, since I think that the sushi still tasted very fresh without the soy sauce, with the exception of the Yellowtail.

For lunch the next day, we went out to Tomatillo’s, a Mexican joint, since I was eager to get my Mexican food before I left Texas. The funny thing is – I went there once years ago! Hah!
My girlfriend and I were VERY tempted to get an ‘award winning’ margarita (and they were frozen! Aww!) but decided not to.

Instead I ordered the Enchiladas Dos Colores, which were two spinach and veggie filled enchiladas covered in two sauces. One was a tomatillo verde sauce, and one was a red tomato sauce.
It also came with nachos with a neon yellow cheese on top and a bean soup that tasted worse than anything else I’ve ever eaten. Dear god, I know I ordered a vegetarian plate, but vegetarian doesn’t have to mean flavorless. The enchiladas were ok, but packed with green peppers (which I hate and picked out). I probably should have gotten something else, but I really didn’t feel like beef or chicken at the time. The salsa was really fresh, though and was a highlight of the meal for me – I thought it had a nice balance of spices.

We drove back to Waco later that day, and by then, it was time for dinner. Well, it was way past the hour normal people would eat dinner, so we got… WHATABURGER!!!

*happy dance*

I got the #1 (a burger) and subbed the soda for a vanilla milkshake.

Look at that shake. That’s a medium. Now bow to the glory that is WhatABurger.

I woke up the next morning realizing you shouldn’t eat a burger so late, and then eat the remaining 2/3rds of your friends gigantic burger RIGHT before going to sleep, because, honey, you are not going to be a happy camper at 4 am when you get up to catch your 6 am flight out. I didn’t even know food could give you a hangover.

I spent my 8 hours traveling back to Albany, New York by sleeping, reading and sleeping some more. I snacked on some sesame bran sticks at some point, then fell asleep again.

By the time I got back to Albany I was excited to see Albany John. We picked up a bottle of White Zin (come on – it IS refreshing, don’t give me that look!) and calamari from Mercato’s. Their calamari rocks so hard I can’t snap a picture quickly enough. It also comes with their outta this world red sauce, which can’t be beat.

I was out like a light by 8.

Are you from Tennessee? Cause you’re… really chowin’ down

You know the saying – when in Rome…
Or Tennessee.
I went down to Tennessee this past weekend for my brother’s wedding to a rockin’ chick.
I flew from Laguardia International Airport to Nashville International Airport at 8 am on Friday. Do you know what godawful time you have to wake up to make an 8 am flight, even if you already were in Queens the night before because of said flight? REALLY, really early. Especially if you’re traveling with my Dad, who likes getting places even earlier than I do. But the traveling wasn’t bad and it was a direct flight.
So we end up in good ole Nashville, Tennessee around 9/10 am. Picked up the rental car (which was WAY awesomer than we thought a compact should be – no complaints there!), and were soon on our way to tour around Nashville for a little bit before heading to Clarksville, TN for hotel and wedding goodness.

Of course, we had to hit up the Grand Ole Opry. It was ole all right. We opted for the more economical (cheaper) touring of just going in their free museum of country hall of famers. Dad liked it, I was getting hungry.
Seriously, where is the food, dude?
There were a lot of chains in the mall surrounding the Grand Ole Opry. We didn’t go into the mega mall, but it pretty much looked like chain restaurants, an RV/Outdoor sales place and other things of mass size. Tennessee has a lot of chain restaurants, so I wanted some local joints.

Dad was on a mission for some Tennessee barbeque, ribs to be precise. We ended up hoppin’ back in the car and driving into downtown Nashville, where we eventually stumbled upon Logan’s. It looked chain-y. But it was a barbeque joint, Dad wanted to go, and hell, I was starving, so anything looked good to my snobby stomach.

There was a barrel of peanuts you could eat, and toss the shells on the floor!!! Yes! And they were really good peanuts too. We waited around, eating peanuts, and then we got a table. Dad got ribs, of course. He wanted to split a whole side, but I was kind of skeptical.

They started us out with a plate of fresh buns. They were really sweet, fluffy buns. I liked the texture, but they really had no flavor other than sugar.

I ordered grilled tilapia with chipotle salsa. They both came with 2 sides. Dad and I both got grilled veggie skewers. He also got broccoli, while I got a house salad. The house salad was… covered in cheese and bacon. Not bad, but just a general salad thing. Hey, I was trying to keep it moderately healthy!

Those ribs were freaking AMAZING! Holy crap, they were smokey, they were moist and they were fallin’ off the bone goo-ood! And they had the inner pink, which equals tasty in smoking land. I had plate envy.

My tilapia was equally good. It was moist, and really well cooked. I was expecting 2 tiny fillets grilled to death, but I got 2 plump fillets that were cooked juuust enough. That said, what is up with this chipotle salsa? Doesn’t salsa usually involve tomatoes? Or just not ranch/creamy sauce? I ate around that part, since it really didn’t appeal to me. The veggie skewers were outta sight! There was good flavor to each one.
Now, I might be blowing this place out of the water since, well, I was starving, and I had really low expectations.
Then we drove to Clarksville, checked into our hotel rooms, and went to the rehersal.
The wedding rehersal dinner was at this really good Chinese buffet in Clarksville. It’s China Grill or something like that (If you know/were there, fill me in) and had great sushi. Which was a great surprise, but also kind of bummed me out to know that Tennessee has some of the best sushi I’ve had (philly roll!), and places in Upstate New York have worse quality. Sure it’s a bias, but, when I think Tennessee, I don’t think Chinese buffet sushi. Touché Chinese buffet, touché. Anywho, it was really good stuff.
The owner ended up sending out a pot of special tea to my Dad and me. We were basically sucking the stuff down anyway, Asians that we are. O.M.G. This was the best tea I have ever had in my life. It smelled like delicate, fragrant jasmine. It tasted clean, smooth, and just a hint of flower. It also felt like it brushed my teeth just by drinking it. Oh, it was good, and now I’m dying to find it on my next Chinatown excursion, except I know it’s going to cost a pretty penny.

The next day, we picked my brother up to drop him off at the church on time before the wedding. We happened to go grab some brunch at Kelly’s Big Burger, a little hole in the wall diner my brother loves.

The prices were dirt cheap.
I started off with a sweet tea. It was cold, sweet tea. That’s about it. I still don’t get what all the hubub is about, unless you add some lemon. And maybe a smidge of vodka.

My brother got biscuits and gravy. They were tantalizing, but the biscuits were a bit pre-fab and had a fakey aftertaste. But still, that white gravy… it mesmerizes me!

He told our Dad he had to try the brains and eggs. So Dad got the brains and eggs. They were scrambled together, so it really resembled ham and eggs. It tasted like ham with 99% of the flavor sucked out of it, and really blended in with the eggs. Well, at least it wasn’t an ‘eww gross’ kind of thing.

I decided to order the grits, since, hey, it’s a southern thing. They were SO good! Imagine a combination of couscous-oatmeal-cereal, and you’ve got grits. Except, grits come smothered in butter or cheese. Then again, most people have had them. I’ve only had bad instances of grits before this, but oh, baby was I glad I ordered it!

The reception food the next day was a bunch of finger foods. You KNOW I love finger foods! Meatballs, chicken fingers, mini egg rolls (ok, how can you not love mini food?), shrimp, deli meats and cheeses, crudite and bread. Mmmm. Also, their cakes were awesome, especially my brother’s groom’s cake:

A Guitar!

The reception ended around 6 or 7 pm. We chilled in our hotel rooms, when suddenly… I needed a sandwich. Not just needed. NEEDED a sandwich. Dad was down for a fooding expidition. There was a Logan’s by our hotel, and he was on the border about it, but decided he didn’t want anything heavy late at night. He’d never eaten a slyder from White Castle before, so we went there and ordered a pair. Evidently this does not happen very often, since the counter girl gave me a wierd look and said: ‘Just two??’

They were White Castle slyders alright. Dad liked them, cause really, you can’t hate anything in mini form. Except maybe mini Hitler.

After White Castle, Dad had decided he needed to bring some of Logan’s ribs to my Grandfather and Uncle back in the city, since they HAD to have some Tennessee ribs. I won’t venture how authentic these are, but they were good, and my family does love good food. So, yes, here we are at Logan’s with a take-out order for a rack of ribs. And also a bucket o’peanuts.

The open grill was fun to watch while we were waiting and shelling peanuts. However, for my Dad… this just increased meat temptation.
“Ooo, that steak looks good. Did you see that steak?”
“Hunh, yea, Dad, it looks fine,”
“Man, I kinda want a steak now…”
“Well, we just ordered ribs…”
“Yea, but that’s for bringing back for Grandpa and my brother to try,”
“Well, maybe you could flag someone down and put in an order again…”
“Hey, let’s split it!”
“Dad, I do NOT want a steak at 9 pm,”
“C’mon… it looks SO good. We can try some Tennessee steak. Mmm, man, that looks good!”
That went on for the entire space of time until we received the ribs. My Dad was really hell bent on having that steak. I guess I know what I’ll be grilling up for Father’s Day.

So after we pick up the ribs, I decide to check out Captain D’s. It’s a local-ish fast food seafood type place, but anything with ‘seafood’ on it’s door will get me in. It seemed like they type of place where everything is fried, but they had some sandwiches for $4, so I gave the tilapia sans cheese a whirl. Seriously, who decided tartar sauce PLUS cheese had to be on there.

Dad was still talking about steak, and seeing as how Logan’s was still just across the street, I opted to hightail it back to the hotel. It wasn’t very far, but still, I really didn’t want my Dad pining over steak until I ate my sangwich.
As soon as we got back, we took a bite of the ribs (hey, they were good before!) and my brother called us. He and his new wife wanted to meet us at the local Waffle House for a quick bite before we left and they went on their honeymoon. God, they are such good people. But, my sandwich was still in it’s wrapper. I took a few bites, and wow – they know how to cook their tilapia here – Moist, and full of flavor. I wouldn’t mind a Captain D’s here. So after trying it, I chucked it in the mini fridge and watched some Food Network until we went to Waffle House.

Waffle House, if you don’t know, is a big time chain in the South. Kind of like an IHOP. I’d never been into one before, so it was time to see what the big deal was. My new sister-in-law and I ordered the mega-super-gigundo waffle meal. Oh, you know that seals the deal. My brother got a burger/melt type thing and some chili. My Dad split with me, which was a surprise since ALL I’d heard before was about getting a steak. Oookay.

So this meal came with: waffle, toast, 2 eggs, hash browns or grits and bacon or sausage. The eggs were really good, but the hash brown things were like mini spaghetti sticks made from potatoes that were overcooked. And only one side was crispy and browned. The bacon, however, was perfectly crispy and just salty enough. The waffle was rather disappointing for being the namesake of the restaurant. It just tasted like a waffle shaped pancake, with no crispy outside bits. Awww, seriously, Waffle House, what gives? However, if you ate a piece of egg with bacon on said sad waffle, your mouth danced with happy flavors all they way down to your belly.

Our plane ride back held a great surprise – we were supposed to have one connection, but got bumped to a direct flight! When does this happen?! Freakin’ awesome! So what did we do when we got back? Ate some more of course. We went to Flushing for a lunch of hollow veggies(which were way too oily), beef chow fun, shanghai rice noodles, ginger chicken, and jook/congee.

Nashville and Clarksville were a great time. The wedding was wonderful, as were the people who were married. Guys, I wish you the best life possible from here on out.And it’s not just because I want to come visit you and eat southern food again.