Saturday, May 23, 2009

Michelada Me, Baby: The Genesis of a Throwdown

The story of how an offhand remark on Twitter resulted in a Michelada Throwdown at Anvil Bar & Refuge.

Micheladas in a Row
Not Bobby Heugel

One of the more interesting developments in the last few years is how people use social media sites like Twitter to discuss common interests and then meet IRL (in real life) to explore those interests.

A recent event organized by a loose group of Houston foodies, chefs, bartenders, and bloggers is a perfect example. The genesis of this event is a fascinating look into how social media can be used in a seemingly haphazard and impromptu way to create a snowball effect of buzz and interest. And with most social media-generated events of this type, it began with a completely offhand remark.


Offhand Twitter Remark. Snowball Effect. Meme Created.

The event is a "Michelada Throwdown" that will happen at Anvil Bar and Refuge in Houston at 5pm on Sunday, May 24th. The event will feature well-known bartenders and chefs creating their own versions of that venerable Mexican adult beverage, the Michelada.

The genesis of the event occurred at 10:17pm on May 11th, 2009. A local Houston food blogger, @ruthiejsf, submitted the following offhand remark/tweet to her Twitter feed:


14 minutes later, @psandalio, the pastry chef at the acclaimed Textile Restaurant in Houston (@TextileRest), responded the way any self-respecting beer lover would when someone (even jokingly) mentions Michelob beer:


The next morning, @ruthiejsf replied back:


And with that seemingly innocuous tweet, a Twitter meme/movement was born.

Over the next few days the snowball effect took over and the Michelada convo gained traction. Other Houston food tweeps joined the conversation: @viva_victoria, @esandler, @theoshu, @treelight, @EatingOurWords, and yours truly @houston_foodie.

@ruthiejsf would eventually write a blog post Michelada Me, Baby documenting a trip to Taqueria Arandas to satisfy her Twitter-inspired craving for Micheladas.

Undoubtedly the foodie community in Houston is an eccentric and lively bunch — a fact which can almost explain this eruption of Michelada-envy on Twitter. But other factors were involved in fanning the flames of the growing Michelada-madness, as I mentioned in one of my tweets during the convo:


The New Flea Market.

For a small group of Houston food lovers, Micheladas and the New Flea Market hold a special place in the pantheon of Houston food adventures. And it all started with a taco truck crawl some months before.

Taco Truck Crawl. New Flea Market. The Dead-Enders.

The New Flea Market on Long Point Road in Houston is a wild-and-wooly bastion of Hispanic American-inspired capitalism. Housed in a gigantic barn-like structure in an even more gigantic parking lot, the New Flea Market specializes in selling, among other things, lots of jewelry sold by Asian Americans to Hispanic Americans, garish T-shirts, belt buckles, cowboy boots, DVDs and music CDs, haircuts, tires, and the occasional fake ID. Along the back wall of the building is a string of Mexican restaurants and churro stands which seem to be a favorite target of the city health department.

And that is just inside the Flea Market. Outside in the parking lot is an even more chaotic atmosphere where homemade goodies and products of questionable provenance (CDs and DVDs primarily) are hawked with the fervor of a Middle-Eastern bazaar.

Back in February, the Houston Chowhounds, a group of food lovers dedicated to exploring the culinary delights of Houston, organized a crawl of several prized taco trucks. The final stop was the well-known El NorteƱo taco truck which is actually a big blue bus and is known for pollos asados — roast chicken — rather than tacos. It also happens to be parked in the New Flea Market parking lot.

A wonderful time was had by all and everyone left stuffed to the gills with tacos and roast chicken. However, as often happens with a Chowhounds event, there will always be a small group who stay long past when the others have left. I affectionately refer to this rotating group of members as the dead-enders (I'm usually one of them). We refuse to go home. We refuse to give up. There is always one more dish to eat, one more restaurant to visit, one more drink to swill. "I dare you to eat one more taco" is a typical challenge. It is a hilarious, dizzying culture of culinary one-upsmanship. And for those in the know, it is indeed only after the official event is over and only the dead-enders are left that the real fun begins.

Only a few hardcore HouCHies left

For this event the dead-enders were myself, @viva_victoria, @esandler, @collierchin, and @jodycakes. After a final round of tacos, chicken, churros, and raspas, we ventured inside the Flea Market for the final adventure — authentic Micheladas at one of the restaurants lining the back wall of the building. It was a Saturday so the places were packed (everyone Mexican American) and soccer games were blaring from overhead flatscreens. All of the customers were sipping Micheladas.

New Flea Market + Somebody's Cool Car Who figures an immigrant's going to have a pony? New Flea Market Entertainment Churro Acquisition Micheladas in a Row Michelada @ El Oceano in New Flea Market

We picked a place called El Oceano that had Michelada glasses lined up on the bar. We ordered a round. The waitress and owner were very accommodating. They even sent over a batch of complimentary seafood tostadas which we ate heartily, health department reports be damned.

As for the Micheladas (which we can only assume to be completely authentic considering the surroundings), they were, let's just say, memorable. The flavor of the Tabasco, Clamato, and/or Worcestershire sauce was intense and completely overwhelmed the beer. Some in our group sipped tentatively, others gulped it down. Either way, we were all hooked. Micheladas were in our future.

As we left the New Flea Market for good, we got an order of churros to go.

Double Dog Dare. Twitter Harassment. Challenge Issued.

So back to the current Michelada mania on Twitter. The New Flea Market Michelada veterans ratcheted up the pressure like any true Chowhound would. @esandler fired the first volley. Invoking the wildly popular new bar Anvil, he wondered if the Anvil mixologists could come up with an artisanal version of the Michelada. Anvil is known for making old-style, Prohibition-era cocktails, made from scratch and with an obsessive attention to detail and craft.


@psandalio, perhaps smelling blood (or at least Worcestershire sauce), immediately dared @esandler to order a Michelada at Anvil.


Later that day, @viva_victoria cheekily pushed the action by calling for a Twitter campaign to get @bobby_heugel, one of the owners of Anvil, to come up with his own version of the Michelada. A possible visit to the Flea Market was indicated.


After two days of intense lobbying and convo, @bobby_heugel enthusiastically agreed.


But that wasn't the end of it. In true Houston foodie and Chowhound fashion, @bobby_heugel threw down the gauntlet to @psandalio to come up with his own version of the Michelada and bring it to Anvil for a side-by-side comparison.


It's on! @psandalio agreed to the throwdown.


In the following days, as the snowball kept rolling and the buzz kept building, several other notable Houston chefs/bartenders signed on to bring their own version of the Michelada.

And of course the Chowhounds, led by @esandler and not content with just one stop on a Michelada Sunday tour, organized an all day Michelada crawl to several of Houston's best known Michelada sources — Connie's Seafood, Teotihuacan, and Taqueria Arandas. But the real question is, where will we go after Anvil?

Below is the threaded Twitter discussion documenting the genesis of Michelada Throwdown. Scroll to the bottom to see the earliest tweets. It is by no means comprehensive and may have left out a few participants, but it is a good timeline for reviewing the overall discussion. Of course it is still ongoing...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

JB's BBQ in Orange, Texas

Top notch BBQ joint in deep Southeast Texas? Do tell.

All in the Family

If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Similarly, if a Texas BBQ joint is not listed in the yearly Texas Monthly BBQ issue, can it possibly make good BBQ? Questionable analogy, but you get the point.

Until this past weekend I've never experienced a Texas BBQ joint that I felt was incorrectly left off the list. There are lots of middling BBQ joints in Texas.

I also grudgingly condone TM's central Texas bias with the 2008 top five all within a north-south corridor just east of Austin (Taylor, Lockhart, Luling, et. al.) generally referred to as the Texas BBQ Trail.

So it was with raised eyebrows and watering mouth that I welcomed a surprise southeast Texas BBQ recommendation from my friend Jim Gossen, CEO of Louisiana Foods here in Houston. There are probably few people who have traveled the I-10 corridor between Houston and Louisiana more than Gossen. Having founded the Landry's seafood restaurant chain with his Lafayette (LA) high school classmates Billy and Floyd Landry, Gossen and the Landry brothers would eventually pepper south Louisiana and southeast Texas with popular restaurants such as Don's Seafood, Willy G's, and Magnolia Bar and Grill.


On a recent drive to Lake Charles I decided to stop by JB's to check it out for myself. The restaurant is just off of I-10 but located in such a way that it is not easily noticeable when driving by.

After a brief detour due to an incorrect Google map, me and fellow foodie/LC poker player @collierchin pulled in to JB's parking lot.

A Decorated Shed

The joint was quiet on a late Saturday afternoon — we were the only guests other than a large group of locals occupying a private dining room.

Gossen had specified that the brisket was the dish to get here. Certainly high praise considering that brisket is the cornerstone of the central Texas BBQ joints. Gossen mentioned they prepared the brisket in a special way that removed the chewy connective tissue and only left the most desirable collagen that breaks down into gelatin when slow-cooked. It's this gelatin that is both flavorful in itself and drenches the meat in fatty, rich goodness.

I ordered up a plate of brisket doused in BBQ sauce with beans and dirty rice, onions and pickles, and a dinner roll (nice substitution for the usual slice of white bread).

Brisket, Beans, Dirty Rice

After placing the order, the ceremonial slicing of the brisket commenced. I've stood in the smoke rooms of the central Texas BBQ joints and damn near saluted when I watched the pit masters slice the buttery brisket into thin, long strips, dump the result on to butcher paper, weight it, and hand it over to me.

The traditional cross section of a brisket slice is of course: meat, smoke ring, fat cap.

So it was with great interest and provocation that the brisket at JB's is not sliced but rather chopped. Sacrilege you might think. But this plate of big brisket cubes drenched in an above-average BBQ sauce was oustanding. Some chunks were pure falling-apart meat, some a succulent combination of tender meat and buttery gelatin. There was not a stringy, tough, or dry piece in the batch. Gossen was right — this is Texas-class BBQ brisket with a southeast Texas twist.

The side of beans was simple and flavorful and not mucked up with alot of onion or bell pepper chunks. The dirty rice was on the dry side but still good.

@collierchin got a plate of ribs and sausage. Both were excellent. Ribs were tender and tasty if a bit dry. Sausage was spicy and rich, with a finer texture than the chunky sausage you get at most BBQ joints.

Ribs, Potato Salad, Dirty Rice

I have no idea if JB's is going to make an appearance in the impending 2009 TM BBQ issue. If it's not included, it should be. I highly recommend visiting JB's BBQ the next time you are passing through Orange, Texas.

5750 Old Highway 90
Orange, TX 77630
(409) 886-9823

View JBs BBQ in a map

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Barbacoa Tacos

Sometimes a food pic is just too damn sexy not to have its own blog post.

Barbacoa Tacos

Such is the case here. Meet the barbacoa tacos from Noemi's Tacos in Houston's East End neighborhood.

Barbacoa tacos are (not quite literally) a dime a dozen in Houston. They are a specialty of the many taco trucks and taco stands that adventurous Houston foodies have been blessed with.

A barbacoa taco is a simple construct. Two (layered) corn tortillas, a generous heaping of barbacoa de cabeza, onions and cilantro. On the side, two sauces — traditionally red and green.

And if the taco itself is the canvas, the sauces are the paint. Taco vendors often stamp both their personality and their family background on the sauces they offer.

For a gringo like me the barbacoa taco is the default taco for those taquerias where the staff speaks no English. No matter how much I stumble through Spanish when ordering, they always seem to hand me a barbacoa taco. Another barbacoa taco? OK, I'll eat it if I must...