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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lunch Report: Texas Land & Cattle...

One cannot live on Texas Road House alone, therefore we have to switch things up a bit from time to time just make sure we aren't missing out on something as good or possibly better. This is the same reason why, even though we already know where to find the best burger in San Antonio, we don't mind trying other places to give them a shot at the coveted Tasty Treat seal of approval.So with an idea for eating something different than TRH, we decided to hit the Texas Land & Cattle on I-10 between Wurzbach and Huebner. I knew ahead of time that I wasn't going for the steak. Instead, I had my mind fixated on a huge hunk of chicken and a baked potato. I figured my wife would get some steak and I could try some of hers just for tasting purposes.

We went around 3PM and for a Saturday, that is usually early enough to still get in to places without any sort of wait. Sure enough, the hostess met us at the outer door and seated us without delay. The place was fairly empty which really surprised me considering times that I have driven by there, the place was pretty full.
Once seated, our waitress was quick with menus, drink orders, and some bread to munch on. Aside from one minor slip-up, the service was excellent. There seemed to be more than enough staff for the people dining because I seriously think there was a different waiter for each table. I'm sure they will be busier later tonight. Inside, the place looks like a restaurant that would be named Texas Land & Cattle. Standard longhorn steer mounted on the wall, wagon wheel lighting, saddles, chaps, boots and rodeo pictures to let you know you are in fact, in Texas. Unless of course you are at one of their locations in another state.I ordered the Wood-Roasted Chicken which really sounds good. It is marinated, then smoked, then finished on the grill. Now there is no way to marinate, smoke then grill chicken to order, so as you might expect, I get the feeling that my chicken may have been prepared sometime yesterday. I'm sure the people who order Wood-Roasted Chicken later this evening will get the more recently cooked version that won't be nearly as dry or overdone. The taste of the chicken was flavorful and I suspect that a few hours earlier, it would have been really juicy.As a side, I got the baked potato, loaded. I could be wrong, but I think it might have been from way earlier in the day too. I'm a huge fan of how TRH presents their baked potatoes, so it is easy for me to be disappointed. If you notice in the picture the two lines of stuff dripping off to the side, they look like maybe hot butter or even sour cream, right? Well, they were actually hard as if they had dried in place. Look, you can go into Wendy's and get a well cooked, well presented baked potato, so why not at a place like TXLC?

Oh, and don't even suggest that I even think of sending something back to the kitchen. I don't care if you are dining at some high class place like Luby's; if you send something back to the kitchen, it is coming back with spit, boogers and potentially fecal matter on it, so that just isn't an option.

And of course when my wife decided to give up chocolate for Lent, she also gave up potatoes. This was very specifically why when she ordered the Country Fried Chicken, she asked for the House Salad as a side.
And this is her Country Fried Chicken and mashed potatoes. The waitress was immediately sorry for the error and even offered to let us keep the mashed potatoes and she wouldn't charge us for them. How generous is that? At least it made me laugh.But she did bring my wife a salad right away and the salad was very good. I had some of the croutons and they were as good or possibly better than TRH.

The Country Fried Chicken was easily the highlight of our experience at TXLC. Unlike my Wood Roasted chicken which arrived approximately Luke warm, my wife's CFC was piping hot and it was juicy and really tasty.

Oh, this seemed a little strange to me. Since I only ate a small part of the chicken and about a third of the potato (I figured I could bring it home, slather on some Stubbs on the chicken and a bucket of sour cream, a pound of cheese and a few dollops of butter on the potato and reheat it), I asked for a to-go box. Instead of giving me the box, the waitress came out with a full tray and then asked me which items on my plate I was going to take. WTF? She then took my plate from me and placed the declared items into the box then gave it to me. I find this utterly disturbing, though it probably is the sign of some place ritzy.

TXLC and specifically this location has a good track record with most of the people I know. I can only guess that either we hit it at a crappy time or maybe I have become so spoiled by consistently good vittles at TRH that any variation from that at a competitor is a let down. We had great service, but for the price, I would have been happy with a visit to the HEB where they sell those rotisserie roasted chickens for $4.99. Maybe we should have ordered steak considering they are primarily a steak house, but honestly, don't put chicken on your menu if you can't pull it off each and every time.

Have you had a better experience at Texas Land & Cattle? Tell me about it or leave a comment.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tavern Report: Rams Head Tavern, Savage, MD

I hope you won't be offended, but I'm not one for company dinners and the like. In fact, more often than not, I come up with some excuse like, needing to wash my hair or do my toenails - clip them anyway - so that I won't have to join colleagues in such outings. There are multiple reasons for my anti-social behavior, the least of which is that I don't like to have to make small talk with people I don't really know.

But, after bailing on one dinner during my recent trip to Baltimore (hey, I had already invested in some Chicken McNuggets), I got a company e-mail informing me of of another opportunity to excel, but this time it included a link to the dinner location. Turns out, we would be dining at a tavern called Rams Head only about twenty minutes from the hotel. And since I wasn't doing the driving, I had two Yeunglings and said, "Yes, by all means; include me in this festive dining experience."
Rams Head seems to be a chain of Taverns in the area - in fact, if you fly into or out of BWI, you can have a lunch and a pint right there in the airport. The tavern we visited was built in a repurposed mill of some sort.Inside, the place looks like a tavern. (ya think?) We had a group of six, seated at tables pushed together just in front of the bar. It was great for seeing all the locals around us enjoying the place. The crowd was everything from young families with diaper aged children to professionals having a pint after work to hip 20-somethings being hip. It would be fair to say that our group was a bit older than the standard crowd. We left about the time that music - perhaps a live band - was starting to play in the upstairs portion of the place.

One of the guys in our group is apparently quite the beer aficionado. I don't mean that in the "wow, that guy really puts away a lot of brew" way, but in the way that he actually sniffs the beer like some people sniff the cap of a box of wine to see if it smells good. Or maybe I mean the cork of a bottle, who knows?

The rest of the group was already there when we arrived so they already had their drinks. I started talking to our expert about what would be good and I told him I was more of a light beer drinker (though, I'm sure I didn't specifically mention Milwaukee's Best Light by name), but that I occasionally enjoy something a little darker. And then I noticed that a lady in our group had a really dark beer, almost like a Guinness. I asked her how it was and she said, "Oh, this is very good". But I told our host it was probably a little too dark for my tastes. That's when he told me she was drinking root beer. I guess I could have played it off by saying something snobby like, "Oh yes, I'm a fan of their summer pilsner" but I figured to pretend I didn't realize how goofy I was.
Several people told me that a seasonal Harvest Ale called Close Encounter was worth a try, so I had a pint, and it was in fact very tasty. I thought it had some sort of fruity taste to it - almost raspberry or something, and everyone agreed, but we couldn't pinpoint it. Finally, iPhones and Blackberries were racing to scour the Internet for the answer (as opposed to us just asking the bartender) and somebody found a description of this beer as having a hint of chocolate. I suppose. Chocolate filled with raspberries or something.Rams Head offers a full menu of pub fare but for me, it had to be the Funky Town fish and chips. I had these visions f when I lived in England walking home with greasy fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. I wonder if they still do that? It can't be healthy. Or, maybe it was just a trick they played on us Americans. Anyway, the breading is not crisp like kind of stuff you get at Long John Silvers. This fish tasted good and it may have even been healthy. The fries - chips - were fine and I certainly cleaned my plate (except for that piece of lettuce or whatever it was).

At any rate, I was extremely pleased with the Close Encounter Harvest Ale, the fish & chips, and surprisingly, in spite of the dinner being sort of work related, it was a really enjoyable time.

Feel free to e-mail me about your favorite tavern, fish and chips or Close Encounter, or leave a comment. And you can see more pictures from my trip over on Flickr.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Views of Baltimore...

Not really all of Baltimore or even a lot of it, but these are a few pictures that I have taken around my hotel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.These are views of the Inner Harbor from the 11th floor of my hotel at night.The ship is called the Constellation.When it gets really cold, you can see steam from below the streets.I'm a total cheapskate. They put one of those mini-bars in my room. Hey, I like a cashew or peanut as much as the next guy, but not for $6.00. I enjoy a cold beer on a hot day, but unless there is some form of entertainment like a rodeo or a concert, I'm not paying $6.00 for a 12 ounce can of Bud. How about a Tonic Water? $4.50; I'll pass.The TV in my room is nice, but apparently it is somehow computer operated. This series of pictures shows what happened when I turned it on for the first time. I better not get charged for any pay-per-view movies or informercials!The homeless folks here are nice. The last time I was here, a guy insisted on providing entertainment in the form of singing and jokes before he would accept any donations. I spotted this mobile-homeless-home just across the street. I can only assume the owner was engaged in a performance.

And this is the ride up to my floor.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dinner Report: Five Guys, Inner Harbor...

Before I tell you about this burger place conveniently located across the street from my hotel in downtown Baltimore's Inner Harbor area, I need to give a big shout out to the man sitting in seat 13b on my flight out of San Antonio this morning.

Sir, really, it was extremely thoughtful of you to stand up, open the overhead bin where your brief case was stashed, and pull out the bottle of Beano without a care in the world. The fact that you calmly opened the bottle and tossed not one, but two Beano tablets down your gullet without water was testament to your recognition you in fact were probably the guy who left most folks in the small plane reaching for that little air conditioner jet next to the stewardess call button. I would like to point out that, under normal circumstances, it would be a lot more helpful if you took the Beano before you fastened your seat belt and placed your tray in the upright and locked position. Thanks.
And following that little adventure, I was in Baltimore and hungry. A co-worker and I started to walk over to the ESPN Sportszone (I have eaten there before and it is pretty good) but when we considered the nippy nature of the breeze along the water, I pointed up to a sign for Five Guys Burgers and Fries and we quickly opted to cut the walk short.The first thing we noticed was that the place was packed with kids of the Miley Cyrus age group. I told my friend that in this crowd, we looked like either Cops or Perverts. Two middle aged men in a restaurant full of 14 year olds just doesn't look right, but the alternative was to go back out into the cold.

The menu is pretty cut and dry: burgers, fries, hot dogs and drinks. The cool thing is that the burger you order comes with just a patty and a bun. You give them the list of toppings you want (no additional charge) and they build it to order.
I ordered a regular size fries and it was enough for two people, and then they tossed in more in the bag. I soaked mine in malt vinegar and they were wonderful.The bacon cheese burger comes with two handmade patties on a soft and fresh bun. I had them slather the bun with mayonnaise and mustard, added pickles, jalapenos, grilled onions, lettuce and tomato. The whole thing is a pretty messy affair interrupted only to toss a few more fries in the mix.

So I wondered if this was some local thing only known to tweeners and tourists and come to find out, they are a chain. And upon further inspection, it looks as though they are headed to San Antonio near the Quarry.
Good burger, low price; I'll want to check out the one in SA just to see if they are consistent.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Breakfast Report: El Tropiko...

Is it physically possible for us to eat another taco? Well, apparently so. And in fact, this morning, my wife suggested that I forgo a healthy breakfast of blueberry Activia and a banana, and join her at a hole-in-the-wall taco place called El Tropiko on Guilbeau at Tezel.Of course, I had already consumed the aforementioned Activa and banana, so it was purely in the spirit of journalism that I indulged in a second, equally healthy breakfast, just closer to lunch time.The place is small. In fact, my wife thought it was just a drive through taco shack until one of her friends told her they could eat lunch inside. There, she found that you could have a seat and enjoy the food without having to drive with your knee.

Did I mention the place was small? Oh sure, we have dined in tighter spots, so don't let it stop you from giving El Tropiko a try.
My wife ordered up a barbacoa taco on corn with some guacamole, and a bean and chorizo with cheese. She would have preferred home made corn tortilla's, but really, in such a small place, don't count on it. The flour tortillas are made on site, and they are good.I took one for the team and ordered my standard array of tacos in order to gauge things for you, the reader. Country and egg, chorizo and egg, and of course, the ol' stand by, carne guisada with cheese, all on flour.I must report that the country and egg was as good as I have ever had. I have thrown down some C&E in my time, and I was extremely happy with this one.The chorizo was not as good. I submit that every restaurant makes a choice as to who will come through with the big chorizo, and in this case, El Tropiko went with a lesser provider. It was not nasty or anything, but I have had much better.The carne guisada with cheese was very acceptable. The tortillas are cooked the way my wife likes them - sort of crisp, but I'd be happier with a softer, bigger, Tink-a-Taco like version. The meat, gravy and cheese were all good. I'd be happy to order another any day.

Best of all, the price was great. The nearest competitor to El Tropiko is just across Tezel in the form of the new Tink-a-Taco. I'm a fan. But you should know that El Tropiko is cheaper by quite a bit. That probably explained why the drive-thru was jam packed during our entire visit.
By the way, special kudos go out to the owners for great service and friendliness. Aside from me (having never been to the place), they seemed to know every person in the dining room and went out of their way to chat and such. Oh, and you gotta love a place that finds a tortilla with a cross on it, and instead of putting it up for sale on E-Bay, simply frames it and counts their blessings. I would have so called the local news and sold it for fifty bucks.

You won't find that in the bigger taco places. Need some vittles? Give El Tropiko a try the next time you are nearby.

Yard Work Report

It can be a bit unnerving to have someone yell your name from across the lawn mower section at Lowes; especially when you look and you have no idea on earth who the lady is calling your name. Note to self: Less personally identifiable pictures on the blog!

But in fact, my wife and I were really glad that blog readers Lea and her husband Matt caught us stimulating the economy at Lowes this afternoon. You may recall that Lea sent me her recipe for wings and I promptly screwed them up, requiring a second effort to make them Tasty! One of the great things about living here is the nice people you can run into. We chatted for a while about the neighborhood but then had to run off and purchase some things for the yard.

I had this idea in my mind that I would go home and cook some vittles on the grill but my wife had a different plan. She wanted me to "assist her" with tilling up part of the back yard to make it suitable for laying down some new grass.

We have great neighbors, and M&M brought over the tiller and showed my wife how to use it. Which meant I had to bust out my camera and capture the excitement on film (or digital card, anyway).
Do we look like regular farmers, or what? Anyway, I don't know if we are doing the right thing or not, but we have some seriously unacceptable portions of the yard with no recognizable grass. We plan to drop a few pallets of new grass on top of the area, but my wife insisted we motivate the soil to perk up or something.

This is her doing a little motivating. I love the fact that if you look over the fence behind her, you see our neighbor climbing up on the swing set to see what all the excitement is. He's a nice man but we don't know him that well. He is probably thinking that I'm a total jerk for making my wife till the yard while I take pictures. Honestly Mister, it's just a photo op!

We had some spectacular weather in San Antonio today. I hope you got out and saw something good.

Strange in 78250: Things I saw Yesterday...

I sometimes can't help myself when I see things that catch my eye. I whip out the camera (or in some cases, the camera phone) and proceed to record the object of my fascination for future giggling in private. And on some occasions, like today, I share these little tidbits with you. Of course, they aren't always strange.Like at one garage sale we were at yesterday, I happened to see an old Atari for sale. I suppose I might have inquired as to the price or even if it worked but that might have led to a conversation about Pong or Space Invaders or something beyond my technological ability to discuss. Before I joined the military, I worked a brief stint at K-Mart in Brandon where, after graduating from being the guy in the toy department who had to go around and pick up all the toys that little brats played with while their parents shopped, I moved up the ladder to the Electronics Department. I sold Ataris and some other thing called Intellivision. I guess I just didn't get it. Video games have never been my thing. But if you need an Atari, I can tell you where the garage sale was and you can go see if it is still for sale.We went to another garage sale and in addition to several items For Sale, they had an old GMC Fore Sale. I did not see any golf clubs.While we were at the Pig Stand, I looked out the window and saw this car. Something in the window caught my eye and I just found it to be a little strange. Who keeps a cooking pot on their dashboard? Do you suppose they were trying to boil something in the sun? It was a nice day yesterday, but certainly too chilly to boil an egg. Perhaps they had a leaky windshield and the pan pot was left there as a place to collect any water dripping. Who knows?And on our way home, I drove right by my downtown office and saw this panhandler who I have seen at the same off-ramp of I-35 at McCullough many times during the week. I said to my wife, (considering it was Saturday), "Do you suppose in this economy, even the homeless people have to work overtime?" Strange.

About Your Host

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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