Sunday, January 11, 2009

Messing (Around) with Texas

On my way to Northwest Texas this past week, I read a fun little memoir of sorts about Chinese food in America. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles tracks an American-Chinese woman's search for the roots of Americanized Chinese cuisine. It was pretty fascinating--you probably know that fortune cookies aren't really Chinese, but did you know that they are probably Japanese in origin? And, that the soy sauce in those little packets you get with the carryout Chinese dinner aren't really soy sauce, but more like colored salty water? And yes, Virginia, there really was a General Tso, but that ain't *his* chicken.

I love reading about food--research, memoirs, etc.--but the downside is that I get totally consumed by wanting and craving that food. A few years ago, on a trip to California, I picked up Candy Freak by Steve Almond. It's a funny read, but I was dying for candy bars for days afterward, and some of those candy bars didn't even exist any more.

Being as I was in a smallish town in Texas, about 45 minutes from Fort Worth, which is more of a meat and potatoes kind of place, I wasn't sure if I could satisfy my craving for Chinese without going to a giant buffet. Luckily, there was a local place that wasn't too bad--had both Thai and Chinese--so I could calm the beast that was my appetite.

Unfortunately on this trip, I did not make it to any barbecue joints. Ate a lot of Tex-Mex stuff that was pretty good...tried a new dish for me called "migas." Migas are usually a breakfast food in Texas, and this place serves egg dishes all day. The migas consisted of scrambled eggs mixed with corn tortilla strips, roasted chicken, peppers, onions, and tomatoes, and served with refried beans, rice, and tortillas. Pretty fine stuff.

In my driving around town, I noticed that there were a blue million donut seemed that there was one on every corner, sometimes two. I've seen this in other Texas towns, and just have to conclude that Texans love donuts...a whole whole lot...over a 1000 hits on Google when iI looked up "donut shops in (Texas town)." And, they weren't national chain places either. Alas, no Tim Hortons....sigh.

The last night I was there, I hit the fine dining spot in town, where I had truly wonderful meal. It was located in the downtown area, and according to the owner, was a brothel about a 100 years ago...gotta love the repurposing of old buildings. I started with an appetizer of grilled jalapenos wrapped in bacon that had been stuffed with chipolte cream cheese and shrimp. I made it through 3 of the 4 peppers before I had to cry "Uncle," if I wanted to have any tastebuds left for the main course. My entree was a lovely pan-fried rainbow trout encrusted with locally grown pecans. I'm not usually a freshwater fish eater, but the local pecan thing in the description piqued my curiousity. It was piping hot and encrusted with a generous coating of pecans, with a little butter sauce on the side. Very nice.

I also got a real idea of the actual size of a Texas ranch, as we drove to some of the libraries...there's a reason for that old saw about everything being "bigger in Texas." And, I saw a longhorn cow. Yep, just one. Lots of horses, though. This area is the cutting horse capital, and lots of champion horses come from here. Also, every single time I go to Texas, I am wholly overwhelmed with the desire to get boots and something with fringe. I managed to stamp down my inner cowgirl and leave without anything, but it was from the lack of her trying...coupled with my unwillingness to pay $1700 for a pair of Lucchese boots that screamed my name as I left the store. It was hard to leave them, I tell you...hard.

As I write this post, I am halfway paying attention to a show that is new to me on Food Network, called Cooking for Real. The hostess, Sunny Anderson, is making chicken wings with 3 sauces. I like chicken wings as much as the next person, and as usual, I'm kind of persnickety about my wings. So, I'm listening with half an ear as she is making a hot sauce, and she mentions how spicy the wings are at Hooters. My head snaps up and I really begin to pay attention to what she is saying. Anyway, she's going on about how when they brought them to the table, the smell almost singed her nose hairs (eeewww! do you really want someone who's cooking for you to talk about her nose hairs? NO!), and burbles on for a few more seconds about Hooters..

Hooters? Seriously? She was in immediate danger of losing her credibility with me. Don't think I'm going all conservative on you, because I have no problem with the concept of Hooters exploiting women--hah! It just proves that men are willing to pay for anything, including crap food served by pretty women. : ). Personally, I have plans for when I win the lottery to open my own version of Hooters called "Jewels." The decor shall be very opulent and cocmfortable, and the hosts will be incredibly good looking men who dress like Chippendale's dancers--tight tuxedo pants, no shirts--just collars and cuffs. Of course, the servers will have to wear a little more, because I'm sure there's some health department reg about shirtless food servers...maybe some tight t-shirts and bike shorts? Tight jeans and t-shirts?

What I have a problem with is the FOOD at Hooters. The couple of times I have been strong armed into eating at Hooters, the food has just been plain mediocre at best, and their wings were really bad. Honestly, how hard is it to make chicken wings?'s wings that you can fry or bake, covered in hot sauce and served with bleu cheese dressing (never ranch!!! Hate ranch with the fury of a million suns--the most overused and abused salad dressing ever) and a celery stick or two. You can go sub-atomic if you like with the various levels of heat in your sauce, but let's face it, chicken wings are not hard to cook, but so many places get them wrong, and I could write blog posts for 6 months on the badness of wings. However, her wings do look tasty, and the Red, White & Blue Mashed Potatoes sound and look pretty awesome--bleu cheese, bacon, heavy cream, and potatoes--what more do you need?

Back to Hooters...I search on "food at Hooter's," and the first hit I get is this article on Chowhound. The author is having a little rant fest about this article in the Newport Daily Pilot that posits the idea that people actually like the food at Hooters. I kind of agree with the Chowhound author in his/her disbelief that Hooters rates a featured review. One of the comments to the Pilot critic's review sums it up best, "Anybody can review. Not everybody should. " (We could probably say that about bloggers to, and I probably fall into that category!)

Seriously, the Pilot's critic starts out by telling us that "the reason it [Hooter's] is popular is the food. For what it is, Hooters does it well." Really? Then he tells his readers that "the chicken parmesan platter is one of the better selections. It is a fried chicken breast smothered with provolone cheese and marinara sauce." (I'm betting that Stouffer's does it better in the frozen food section.)

I don't think chains are inherently wrong, or that it's a bad idea to review chain places, because sometimes I am extremely grateful that there is a chain place in a small least I can get a grilled chicken salad of some sort after traveling all day and just wanting to eat and head to the hotel. And, there's chains that I really like--Claim Jumper and In & Out Burger in California, Longhorn (you get a consistenly decent steak and salad; pricey, but consistent), and Carraba's (would kill for the recipe for the herb mix they put in their olive oil for dipping bread.) to name a few.

What would have made the Pilot article better was if the "critic" had decided to review a selection of wing/sports bar places, and maybe ranked the best and worst things about each place. Surely, he could have found something a little better than Hooter's, and maybe he would have expanded his and his readers' collective minds about the local offerings.

Next week's adventures should be rather entertaining...I'll give you a hint--goats will be involved!

1 comment:

J said...

I remember when Hooters opened in Huntsville. Some friends invited us to go insisting that it was the only place to get raw oysters in Huntsville. I think at the time they were right but I've never wanted to go back.