Does Chuy’s Deliver on Good Tex-Mex?

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Guest Post by Jim Rassinier
Ah, Chuy’s. That amazing place we consistently go back to for… their creamy jalapeno sauce. My dining critic even posted the best response ever regarding such: “Best thing on the menu. Literally. The best thing in this place is literally on my menu.”

Alas, the Southwest is starving for anything Tex-Mex these days, so Chuy’s, which started in Austin in 1982 (Same place where Torchy’s started. Culinary folk … you’ve been warned.) has branched out to 12 States already, most in the past decade.

Now, my ex-wife being from Tennessee when we were together, I knew how desperate y’all were for any, literally, ANY kind of decent Tex-Mex. We went to a grand opening of what equated to a Chipotle and they were out the door. It was at least a 30 minute wait for a Chipotle wannabe. I knew then that Taco Cabana would go gangbusters in these areas. Unfortunately, Taco Cabana wasn’t willing to expand or franchise (I tried), so now you all are stuck with what people outside of Texas consider “Tex-Mex.”

Well, pardner, that’s like saying that Taco Bell is true “Cali-Mex” (Btw, it is, much like Chuy’s is true “Tex Mex.”)

Point is, you would have all been better represented by Taco Cabana being represented as your true Tex-Mex than Chuy’s; which nobody outside of Austin considers Tex-Mex at all.

That damn creamy jalapeno sauce…

You see, Chuy’s is far more about New Mexico food. Sure, they try to say they incorporate South Texas and Mexico flavors, but nobody outside of a true Texan buys it.

And the decor. Looks like Chili’s, Bennigan’s and Elvis paintings vomited on each other. Not exactly a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup moment.

But the worst part was that I had gone to a Chuy’s in Central Houston and had the chile relleno. It was one of the best I’d ever had, and I advised my dining partner about such.

And then when it came to the table on my recent visit to the Woodlands, Texas location, it didn’t taste remotely the same. It is nearly impossible to recommend something when it tastes so different at two separate locations. I totally understand that certain chefs are better than others, but at the end of the day, standards have to be met. Mine was lacking in flavor, and honest to Pete, do they have to pour sauce on everything?!? Kids! When you’re serving fried foods, sauce on the side!

My dining partner had to say this about her own meal: “The chicken got most of its flavor from the Boom Boom sauce. The breading and chicken was actually a bit bland, and of course everything is better with an over easy egg. This would have been just as good with just grilled chicken, but I’d order it again considering it’s one of the few things I’ve eaten from Chuy’s that I halfway liked.”

So… what am I to say to the Little Rock folk? I can say this: You are being denied of great Tex-Mex. Yes, Chuy’s is mildly good, and probably better than most out there, but anyone who has ventured into Texas knows there is not only better Tex-Mex. There is FAR better. And even if you only make your way to Dallas (ugh) you can enjoy a TRULY good Tex-Mex place: Pappasito’s.

Until then, enjoy the creamy jalapeno dip. It really is the shit.

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The Junkie: Burger King’s Almighty Yumbo

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Guest Post by Jim Rassinier
To preface this, I wrote an article a couple years ago about discontinued fast food items that I thought should be brought back. I felt all were good options, but never did I think that I would actually see one make a comeback. (C’mon cheesarito!)

For those unaware, Burger King created the Yumbo in 1968, and, sadly, only stayed on their menu until 1974. (I was only 2 at the time…) It was a great idea; simply put: a hot ham and cheese sandwich. Well, 40 years later, they decided to put it back on the menu, albeit slightly altered by placing it in their chicken sandwich bun and serving it with authentic black forest ham for those who might think BK is cutting corners. I’m personally not a fan of these being served on this particular sandwich bread. (Does Burger King still let you have it “your way?” I may have to go back and see. I think this would go so much better on a burger bun.)

Regardless, in honor of this resurrection, I chose to try Burger King once again and purchase an almighty Yumbo, along with their Big Fish sandwich on the “2 for $5 menu.”

First off, this is a damn good sandwich for the normal price of $3.69, much less $2.50. It’s always great to be able to go into a drive through and get something actually different than the typical burger or chicken sandwich.

My biggest issue was the bread: It wasn’t awful, but I’ve never been a fan of the bread. I went twice with two other folks and we all agreed it was a tad “bready.” Otherwise, spot on. I’m thinking I’ll have to do an update to see if they’ll switch the bread out, and if there will be an extra cost.

As for the Big Fish? Pretty good and better than Wendy’s current iteration. I’m still a huge fan of Chick-fil-a’s, if you’re curious about which drive-thru to go to during Lent. But all that said, you’re not going to get a better fish sandwich for $2.50, period. I’m a fan of this current strategy, especially since Subway ended their $5 foot long campaign. I’m also really impressed with their new “10 nuggets for $1.50.” Not sure where you’re getting your meat, BK, but it’s working for ya.

Overall though, I’d say that the new Yumbo is a must try these days for folks that are tired of the same old, same old. It’s new, it’s refreshing, and it’s actually pretty damn good!

Now we just need to get other fast food franchises to follow suit.

And fun fact: Burger King franchised off to Australia in the 80′s. Only one problem: there was already a “Burger King” there. (small mom & pop store.) So Burger King had to come up with a different name over there. They Let their Aussie partners choose amongst a litany of their “franchise names.” Their choice? Hungry Jack … yes … the biscuit company.

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Mighty Good Recipe: Herbed Egg White Omelet with Tomatoes and Six Pepper Jelly

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I recently received samples of The Jelly Queen’s jams and jellies and will be incorporating them into some recipes over the course of the next few weeks.

Whether successful or not, I’m constantly looking to cut calories from my daily diet. Some days are obviously better than others, but when I stumbled upon this Herbed Egg White Omelet with Tomatoes recipe, I knew it would provide a delicious, quick, low-cal breakfast dish. From start to finish, you’re looking at about 10 minutes in the kitchen, so this is certainly a breakfast you can prepare during the week when time is sometimes limited.

I ended up using three egg whites (instead of the suggested five) and found this made a sizable omelet, perfect for one person. Follow the directions precisely, paying close attention to your oven rack. It really does need to be on the closest level to the broiler. This will enable the eggs to fully cook in about 30 seconds, while yielding a perfecting fluffy omelet filled with earthy, flat-leaf parsley and tangy grape tomatoes.

Right at the end, top the omelet with a hearty spoonful of the tomato/olive oil/red wine vinegar mixture along with The Jelly Queen’s Six Pepper Jelly. It adds beautiful color to the presentation, while also providing a wonderful balance of sweet, spicy, and acidic flavors.

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Exciting Times in Little Rock’s Food Scene

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By all accounts, 2014 was a damn good year for Little Rock’s food scene. We added some excellent new establishments like The Pizzeria at Terry’s Finer Foods, Good Food by Ferneau, Butcher & Public and Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co. We even saw seasoned restaurantuers like Scott McGehee, Tomas Bohm and Jerry Barakat expand their footprints with the already successful ventures of Lost Forty Brewing, The Pantry Crest and Kemuri, respectively.

Our beer scene has exploded. We have a baker turned chocolatier (and still baker). Heck, we even have a bakery that makes crazy things called kouign amanns.

Hidden gems like Zaffino’s, Super 7 Grocery Store, Mike’s Café and La Regional impressed.

And places that have been around forever, including The Faded Rose, Scallions, Milford Track and Brave New, all continue to delight customers.

I was cautiously optimistic this time last year on what the future would hold for Little Rock’s food scene. Good things were happening, but not enough to cause genuine excitement. With 2015 quickly approaching, it’s obvious that things have improved tremendously over this past year. Will we ever be a New Orleans, Dallas or even Memphis? No … but Little Rock is slowly making strides to becoming a true dining destination.

I say “slowly” because it really does take time.

So, what needs to take place for the culinary scene to continue to move forward? In my humble opinion … it would be great to see these things happen:

We need places like Natchez, South on Main, One Eleven and Capital Bar and Grill to keep churning out great food and to step outside the box every now and then. These restaurants are so important, as they not only house some of our top chefs, but also are quite popular with tourists/out-of-towners.

The Southern Gourmasian must transition from being Little Rock’s best food truck to an elite brick-and-mortar. Chef Justin Patterson is truly one of our best chef’s in town and I’m guessing his passion and creativity will only expand with a permanent home.

The old Starving Artist spot needs a new tenant. Capeo, Mugs Cafe and Good Food are all strong, but the Argenta District could use another shot in the arm with a dynamite eatery in that space.

Whether it’s for the development of a limited edition product, the coordination of a charity function or just a couple of talented folks sharing ideas, we need the collaborative efforts between chefs, bakers, ice cream makers and brewers to continue.

We need a chef/restauranteur to take a chance on Park Hill. The neighborhood is charming, beautiful, historic … and, most importantly, is close to the epicenter of Little Rock. For all those reasons, it has the potential to be the next “big thing.”

Most (not all) local restaurants must step it up on social media. Even something like a simple webpage and a decent presence on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook go a long way in connecting with an audience and potentially improving sales. The excuses of not having the time and/or money to do these things are tired and weak.

Food writing, in all honesty, must continually strive for improvement. Those of us writing- myself included- should challenge ourselves to cover all places–new, old, popular, and hidden gems–and not only praise but provide constructive criticism when warranted.

In general, Little Rock diners need to not only be willing to support local restaurants, but also do so by getting out of their comfortable neighborhoods every so often, driving an extra 10-15 minutes, and “spreading the wealth,” so to speak. Does this sound familiar?

“I live in Midtown. When are we getting a Local Lime, because I hate driving all the way out to West Little Rock.”

or

“North Little Rock? I’m not driving all the way up there for dinner.”

or

“You drove out to Benton?”

The fact of the matter is that almost no place is too far, especially when you take into account that Little Rock has minimal traffic most of the time. If we want to see these restaurants thrive, it’s going to take a conscious effort on diners to, at times, literally go the extra mile.

Finally, adding more and more ethnic cuisine restaurants will only help improve the diverse offerings in Little Rock. Just in the past few months, we’ve added two new Thai restaurants (Oishi and kBird), and it would be wonderful to see more of this in 2015.

Did I miss something or am off base with any or all of my opinions? Please let me know in the comment box below.

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