Monday, June 29, 2009

Kettle Restaurant - Houston, TX

Let me start by saying this: all you can eat chicken fried steak. Interested?

Kettle is a thematic mix between Dennys and IHOP – a more diner style Black Eyed Pea. The inside (sorry no picture) is simple with wood tables and benches. There was an eclectic mix of locals and travelers (since the restaurant is located pretty near Bush Intercontinental).

The menu is pretty diverse. But, after glancing for a few minutes, our waitress turned us on to the buffet. The buffet, that is, which included CFS. Other items (none of which looked too good) were a large roast, lasagna, rolls and some like of lo mein noodle.

The CFS: Pretty good. The steak was a little overdone and a little on the dry side but was still tasty (cube steak). But, even though it wasn’t the best I’ve had, the neverending tray certainly made up for it.

Breading: Southern style – thick and very crispy. The CFS held up remarkably well despite being in a bin with his cousins all morning.

Gravy: A pretty standard white cream gravy. A little bland. It wasn’t on the buffet line, so you had to ask for it.

Knife: Kitchen knife. Something larger would have been more handy, given that the steak was a bit tough and the breading formed a thick shell.

Sides: Just grab a ladle and scoop. Greens, mushy corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and a few other goodies. Nothing great here. The mushy corn on the cob was…mushy. The mashed potatoes were good – tasted like instant but the flavor was good and they were moist and warm.

Cost: $ 6.99 for the buffet. A good deal for the quantity, even if the quality wasn’t spot on.

Service: Skilled and friendly. There’s something about a good waitress in a diner that screams “efficient” to me. Our waitress kept the cups of gravy coming and the drinks full.

Music Selection: none.

Look, you’re not going to find gourmet food here. But if you want to strap on a feed bag, you now know the place.
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15360 John F. Kennedy
Houston, TX 77032

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hickory Hollow - Houston, TX

Tucked away behind the Sam Houston Race Track on Houston’s northwest side is Hickory Hollow (note the backwards ‘k’ in the name). Hickory Hollow is a great little roadhouse style BBQ place with a wide menu.

Unlike other places that try to approximate a Texas-style café, this place makes the details count. The meals are served on large pizza pie trays (which are hard to cut on but big enough to hold the mass amount of food you get). The flatware is held in bins alongside napkins from a holder. The iced tea is served in glass mason jars.

The accolades are impressive. The website lists a few on the CFS alone:

The Houston Press says it’s the Best Chicken Fried Steak in Houston. The Houston Business Journal Gourmet Choice agrees. Oprah Magazine says it’s the Best Value. “Just look at the size of those chicken fried steaks!”

I must say I agree.

The CFS: She was big (and I didn’t even order the largest size). I ordered the Medium Hired Hand (the third largest) and it was huge. The steak (cubed sirloin) was nice and juicy but was a bit chewy, suggesting it could have been tenderized a bit more or cooked a bit more. It didn’t detract from the taste, but there were bites where the steak was a bit stringy with the connective tissue.

The Breading: Southern style and crunchy. It was flaky and had a good balance of butter, pepper and possibly butter milk. One nice thing was that it was so big and there was so much breading that I was able to manufacture my own tasty bites with a great amount of gravy, extra crunch from the breading the and the soft and chewy steak.

The Gravy: They call it “River Bottom Gravy” – it was tasty stuff. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the gravy is a yellow color, and it has notes of corn and chicken, along with a good amount of buttery, creamy flavor and pepper. It wasn’t heavily glopped on, but given the size of the CFS, there was a great deal of it.

Knife: Too small! The knife was a standard dinner knife, which was too small. Something larger was necessary.

Sides: You can either get a salad and mashed potato or a salad and baked potato. I went for the mashed and it was good - great balance of flavor and a good creamy texture.

The Price: $9.79 for the Medium Ranch Hand with salad and mashed potato. Given the amount of food, this was an excellent deal.

Music: None, except for Court TV (which I turned off so I could read about the Rockets’ latest injury report in the Chronicle).

Service: Walk up counter service. Your order is sent out to you from the kitchen through a little window (they’ll call you number). Everybody was friendly and efficient. Although they weren’t busy at the time, my guess was that they always move that efficiently.

If I could, I’d have Hickory Hollow cater all of my meals. I wouldn’t live another 10 years but at least they’d be a good 10 years.

8038 Fallbrook Drive
Houston, Texas

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