Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Reel Thing Catfish Cafe - Allen, TX

When you have a hankerin' for some good catfish, I highly recommend a short drive up to Allen,
TX to the Reel Thing Catfish Cafe! Driving up you seem to get mixed signals of what to expect because it is located in the end of a little strip center. A lot of times, the little strip center places are "also rans" who are there to throw together a bite for shoppers who are wanting to grab something quick while they shop. With that in mind, we decided to give it a try anyway, since we had come up from the other side of Plano to get there. Happened to find it listed in Jill, the GPS, and since Sharon wanted a little drive, we came up with no notion of what we would find, quality-wise!

When I rolled Sharon in, the waitress came out and opened the door for us and welcomed us in. A quick look around gave a comfortable feeling and that really set the pace of the rest of the visit. The decor, that could have looked contrived, fell into place with the first bite of catfish! Yup, it was authentic "catfish house down by the river" plain good fish and the bobcat skin on the wall across from the boar's head and deer on the wall WERE the real deal!

First, the fish! The menu listed one, two, or three piece dinners and also an AllYouCanEat selection for a couple of more bucks! Given normal standards of sizing of portions, I was almost ready to go for the AYCE. I asked the waitress how big the pieces were and she indicated that they were larger than her hand! Yeah, I thought, sure they are! OK, then, bring me the three piece filet meal with coleslaw, fried okra and some of that green tomato relish. As a side note, Tennessee catfish houses haven't discovered how well that tomato relish goes with catfish. More's the pity! It just needs to be done! When the food was served, I was shocked! The plate seemed HUGE and the presentation was, well, almost gourmet-like! The fish was stacked in the center of the plate and the sides were gently placed appropriately around. OK, NOW the fish! The flour/corn meal coating was perfect! Not to thick, not too mealy, just right! She did NOT exaggerate! The pieces were very large and were cooked to perfection. It would have been easy to have pieces this size either cooked to very dry or slightly under done. Not the case. Was as good as any anywhere and much better than most. It gets a 5-star in my book! The three-piece meal filled me to the very comfortable level and I can put a way some catfish! One more piece and Bulli would have gotten to share some with me!

The sides were pleasant compliments to the fish. The tartar sauce just HAD to be homemade! Far better than some of the school-paste with lumps served at lot of places. It had good body, great flavor and was suitable for a quick dip of the fried okra, as well! The okra was prepared and cooked just right. I can't get enough fried okra and this surely did not disappoint! The coleslaw, while good with a great flavor, was a little "dry" to my taste. Not bad slaw, just not as outstanding as the rest of the meal. Coleslaw is the one item on anyone's menu that is alway different. No one makes it like anyone else! (chain-restaurants aside, and for this comparison, they don't count!) That fact alway leads to a little adventure when tripping to different locations and ordering slaw!

Overall impression - great meal, well prepared and presented! A lot of food for the price! One of the repeaters! There are other things on the menu, including BBQ. Would like to try the Q, because it is likely as good as the fish, but probably won't! Why, because I've had some fabulous catfish here! Good Q can be had in many places, but great catfish is a lot harder to come by!

Real Thing Catfish Café
600 E. Main Street
Allen, TX 75002

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cowboy Chicken, Carrollton, TX

Cowboy Chicken has been a favorite of ours since the early '90's when we found them down on Greenville Avenue just north of Love Airport. While Sharon was in Presbyterian Hospital, Dallas down on Walnut Hill, we had made the trek from Fort Worth to North Dallas numerous times at all times of the day. Many times, those runs involved lunch or dinner time. We kept noticing this little place that looked a LOT like a recycled service station that, while it didn't look really great, sure had some great smells and aromas coming from it. On one of those passes, our "hungry's" took over and we just had to see what this place was all about! One bite and we were totally hooked! This was chicken, cooked whole, that literally melted in your mouth and the flavor, totally wood smoke, had permeated the chicken in just the right amount. It would have been easy for it to have overwhelmed the tastebuds, but this chicken was just plain done right!

The first thing that catches your eye as you enter the place, is the chicken cooker! It is a masterpiece for those of us who like to "smoke a little meat" occasionally. It is a MASSIVE brick rotisserie with the fire box all the way across the bottom of the back side of the cooker. The rotary is a double carousel, rotating horizontally, that holds 8 "sticks" of 4 chickens on each side. The carousel slowly rotates while the chickens just get a nice cooking tan! That gives up to 64 chickens at a time the opportunity to become some of the tastiest morsels that ever crossed your lips. This restaurant appears to have a duplicate cooker facing away from the dining room as well. Can you imagine 128 little chickens getting their "Eat Me" degree at the same time? The only source of heat is the wood firebox in the back. None of that "let's help it out with a little gas or electric" at this place! Eat your heart out, Ron Popiel! Set it and forget is has NO place in this cooking! This is what your little cooker wants to be when it grows up!! I want one of those Cowboy Chicken cookers! But when can I serve it all from a cooking?!?!?

Notice I haven't mentioned sides. They range to something for about everyone's taste. Yesterday we both had the creamed spinach and fried okra. Both were top-notch! There is a long list of items available and I have no reason to believe that any would be second rate! We split a Peach Cobbler for dessert without ice cream. It was tasty, but not fabulous. Should have had the ice cream along with it. It is one of the "one-dish" stir it all together, cobblers and comes out a little bit like a very moist peach cake instead of the traditional crusty cobbler. Not that that's bad, just not what we expected. This is a very minor item that in no way diminshes the dining experience. Your mileage may vary on this item!

Imagine our surprise when we found this new store on Hebron in Carrolton just down the street from where we're stayin in Plano. Sharon chose Cowboy Chicken for what she thought was going to be her "Last Supper" before surgery yesterday. Last year when we left here, the ground was just being broken for the start of this building and, voila, now there's Cowboy Chicken! Located just off the west side of the North Dallas Tollway at the West Park Exit, it is in the prime restaurant row portion of town.

Drive on in, you will NOT be disappointed.

Cowboy Chicken
3450 Hebron Parkway
Suite 100
Carrollton, TX 75010
(972) 267-2000

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bob's Clam Hut, Kittery, ME

This place has been a long-time favorite of ours. Visiting Bob's (We've called it Bob's Walk-Up for years!) is a long standing tradition when we come to Maine. Located on the north side of Kittery on US Rt 1, if you're headed north on I-95, exit at Exit 3 and transition through, I believe, one stop light and Bob's is almost immediately on the left. There is a parking lot at each end of the building, and from the south, the far lot is much easier to get into.

Bob's speciality is SEAFOOD! Traditionally, Sharon will have the Jumbo Lobster Roll and I go for a small or medium order of Scollops AND whole clams. They're as good as you will find anywhere in Maine and far better than what you find at most places. He offers full meals as well, but I don't want to waste eating space on the fluff of cole slaw and french fries when I haven't had good seafood for a long time.

Bob's has been open in the same place for, I believe, over 60 years. Sharon says she remembers stopping when she was a kid and the folks were traveling between Newport News, VA and back home to Maine.

Bob's is just plain GREAT seafood! What else needs to be said!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Christina's Fine Mexican Restaurant - 10/08/07

Wow! Second time here! Fine Mexican Restaurant indeed! Had dinner here before Sharon went into the hospital and we both were impressed with the quality of food and the outstanding service. Had wanted to come back and tried to last Friday night. Crowd out the door! Too late to wait!

Lunch time today was a charm. Christina's is good enought to be busy even at lunch! I looked over their extensive menu (same for lunch and dinner with a few lunch specials listed) and settled on the daily special with a sample shown just inside the front door. The special was the Pechuga Empanizada and Chicken Enchilada served with Frejoles and rice. Flavors were spot-on. The Empanizada was lightly breaded, crisply browned and cut into bite-sized strips with a queso cream sauce topping! Sauce was flavorful without being overpowering and enhanced the chicken breast strip flavor. Great stuff!! The chicken enchilada was well flavored and covered with a little lighter queso. My only complaint about the whole meal was that the chicken wasn't shredded sufficiently and was left in large chunks, which, as happens often with chicken breast that hasn't been tenderized or fully shredded, was a little tough to cut and to chew. That was a relatively minor complaint, however, and did not prevent me from eating it. The refried beans, while flavorful, have suffered from the "healthy" attention by the removing of the bacon fat! Sorry, there are some places where there is NO substitute for that flavor! Refried beans is one of those!! "Would you please pass me the beans and, oh, hand me some of that lard!" Now THAT is what frejoles are all about!!

Both of those minor issues did not detract seriously from an enjoyable meal! Adding to that was the pleasure of having attentive wait persons serving. Both visits, with two different waiters, were top-notch! My waiter at lunch honed in on my somewhat perverted sense of humor and played off it the whole meal! Did he get a well deserved tip? Yup!

It's obvious why Christina's is always busy!

Christina's Carrollton/Plano
3432 Hebron Parkway

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Tin Star - 10/07/07

I had lunch today at a place in Plano, TX called the Tin Star. It had been recommended by some folks we had met at another local restaurant about a week ago. I had really been looking forward to trying it since it had been so highly recommended. I walked in without any idea of what to expect. It was an "order at the counter, take a number, and they bring the food" kind of place. That's not a bad format. I had seen a big sign by the front door promoting their Brunch. No one was in line ahead of me, so I paused to survey the menu to find this "Brunch" since no typical brunch line was obvious. A little flyer showed a Brunch menu of Soft Taco's of the breakfast variety. I asked at the counter about the Brunch and the young lady taking my order looked at me like I had horns. She apparently had no clue. She began describing the regular menu to me that was on the board above her head. I told her I could read that menu, what were the Brunch offerings? Again, blank stare! OK, give me a Chicken Fried Steak, no mashed potatoes, and Oh, what are my side choices? I finally settled on French Fries and Spinach.

Took my drink cup and met with a confusing choice of "Stuff" at the drink machines. There was salsa of three or four varieties, along with the usual silverware, ice and drinks. I finally figured out by observation that in a rather generic looking Stainless steel box that there were chips for the salsa. OK, tried a couple of the salsas. Excellent! I loved them. The chips were very crisp and tender. Hey, this is looking up! Grabbed the appropriate utensils and sat down and enjoyed the appetizer chips! Great flavors and texture. The salsa was light with that good "clingy" texture. I still have not figured out how one restaurant's salsa can have the apparent texture as one next door and one will drip all over you and the other is nice and clingy and doesn't spill on the table or worse, your shirt! This was the clingy variety and had a wonderful blend of flavors!

Then the CFS came! It looked really good. The Fries looked good and were spiced will but were rather generic. The spinach was fabulous. It was on a side dish and had been wilted by a hot dressing poured lightly over it. Great! Never had better spinach! (I don't ever recall enjoying spinach before! I'm amazed that I'm impressed by it!) If you come to Tin Star, get spinach as one of your sides!!

The CFS - another story! In spite of it's great looks, it was heavy and clammy! Worse, the breading, or batter, came separated from the meat when you cut into it! My impression is that of eating a piece of wet carpet wrapped around the thin meat. That is almost unforgivable in Texas!! I might expect a CFS attempt in some other part of the country to be this bad, but NOT IN TEXAS!!!! Even the flavors in it were HEAVY! The ubiquitous white gravy was served in a small cup on the side not poured over the steak! That just ain't right!!! Gravy was thin, not full bodied like I have been led to expect. And what's up with those green peppers in the gravy?? Is this gravy, or a bad attempt at creating a culinary sub-culture??

Overall, this ranks as a "Don't think I'll bother!" again since I had a much less than favorable first impression. Other items may be great! I may be missing a good thing by not returning!!