Notwithstanding the name, we have limited experience with the barbecue at this long-time north Houston restaurant. This is a family run place that we doubt has changed much over its 60+ years of existence. The brightly lit booths are vinyl and the waitresses call you honey. The bread service is crackers and white sandwich bread. But, once this place started receiving national attention for its fried chicken, we had to try it. And it’s really good. Probably the best we’ve had in Houston, although we concede some could question our Houston foodie cred for not having made it to Frenchy’s. Don’t go to Barbecue Inn for the sides (with the possible exception of the homemade thousand island dressing that you might want to just eat with a spoon rather than on top of the iceburg lettuce chunks). Even though folks talk highly about the fried shrimp (yes, we tried it and it was very good), we’ve gone back just for the fried chicken. They also do a very credible version of barbecue ribs, although we’d skip the insipid sauce. And likely the chicken fried steak is pretty good. A friend suggested that you can do BYOB, which we can’t really picture (we take that back, we did see a guy arriving with a wine carrier, best to bring your own corkscrew). Perhaps better to stick with beer or iced tea. And, depending on the time of day, you may encounter a wait. At 5:30 on a recent Saturday evening, we waited 30 minutes standing up in a rather crowded, warm area. There’s counter space used by diners, so no bar area. This restaurant isn’t in the best part of town, but there are large parking lots immediately adjacent, and a security guard has been in attendance both times we’ve been.116 West Crosstimbers Road 713/695-8112 http://www.thebarbecueinn.com/index.html
As close as you get to a neighborhood restaurant for the Southampton-West U crowd, Raven Grill has been steadily busy since it first opened. Nothing about the food dazzles, but it’s consistently good, with a large variety of options served in a comfortable, casual setting. And Bill Clinton lunched here on a recent swing through Houston. Although it’s a toss up who is more of a celebrity — Bill or the Raven Grill’s resident chicken. The chicken would likely get more votes, particularly if he ran on a “Stop Ashby High Rise” platform. We drove by the other day and saw someone rush out to scoop up the chicken who had waddled dangerously near the street curb. Move over Secret Service.
The large menu leans toward comfort food — everything from grilled fish and steaks to sandwiches to salads. Not to mention Mexican plates. Nightly specials include meat loaf and chicken fried steak. Unless you just ate Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll find something to your liking on this menu. On a recent visit, a group of us enjoyed the pecan crusted chicken breast, the hamburger, and the flautas. One of us has fond feelings for Raven Grill’s hamburger, finding the patty generously portioned, with a choice of wheat or onion bun. The roasted sweet potato wedges were a nice option to fries, although the hamburger eater found the substitution only yielded 3 wedges, a sacrifice for the sake of health. The pecan crusted chicken breast had a nice overall flavor but nothing about which to write home to mom. (Unless you count the fact that Mom reads this blog.) On prior visits, the fried oysters were crisp and tasty. Prices are quite affordable. The burger with fries is only $6.95. There’s a low key bar area, but also a kids menu. Sunday brunch is served. Attire is museum area casual.
Channeling Bobby Flay, we held our own throwdown: Spinach Quesadillas. The Veteran — Ziggy’s Healthy Grill — versus the Contender — Zoe’s Kitchen. And the winner is … Ziggy’s by a knockout in the second round.
Zoe’s Kitchen, located on Shepherd near the Southwest Freeway, is the newest healthy choice entry to the Houston restaurant scene. A small franchise operation, Zoe’s offers various allegedly healthy menu items. Although fresh tasting in the sample graciously offered to us by the counter staff, we question how healthy the chicken salad and pimento cheese could be when we are told they are made with full fat mayo. We found the food fresh and o’kay tasting, but the portions were small for the price, particularly compared to Ziggy’s. Apparently, Zoe’s wants to assist us in our efforts at portion control. But value dining is not part of the deal. We tried the chicken wrap (two skinny wraps, with a few pieces of chicken), served like many of the menu items with a choice of a side and chips. We picked the pasta salad and cole slaw, which were nicely seasoned (sans mayo) and laced with feta cheese, a popular cheese at this eatery. Feta was also included in the aforementioned Spinach Quesadillas. A white(!) flour tortilla housed a small amount of chopped spinach that appeared to be frozen. Also served with salsa and a side. Not at all memorable. And overpriced at $7.45. The atmosphere at Zoe’s is clean and new but somewhat sterile.
Ziggy’s Healthy Grill, where we have dined on numerous occasions on a number of items, maintains its well deserved reputation as a great choice for healthy dining. With wider menu choices than Zoe’s, larger portions, more focus on healthy eating with lots of fat free and low fat choices, and a funkier, more comfortable atmosphere, it’s hard to beat Ziggy’s. The Spinach Quesadillas, grilled (without fat) on a large whole wheat tortilla, are chock full of fresh spinach and mushrooms, with low fat cheese, sided with rice and beans, salsa, and fat free sour cream. Although a little pricier at $9, they are more than worth the difference compared to Zoe’s version. The one of us who does not like spinach has scarfed down the chicken quesadillas on a number of occasions. Not to mention the angus beef and buffalo burgers, on whole wheat buns, accompanied by very tasty sweet potato fries.
Age and experience wins out over youth this time around.
3701 South Shepherd
2202 West Alabama/302 Fairview
This Village deli is our favorite in town. It’s been around for years, and the owner (son of the founder) is almost always there behind the tall counter, making sandwiches and doling out the occasional smart aleck comment. It may not be as fancy or have as comfortable a seating (in fact, the seating is quite limited) as Kenny & Ziggy’s or Katz’s, but the food is great, and the ambiance works for us.
The focus is on sandwiches. If you want matzo ball soup or blintzes, go elsewhere. We are pastrami fans and Kahn’s pastrami is wonderful — not as lean as some places, but that’s why it’s so tasty. Go for the classic — hot pastrami on rye with swiss — yum! Also, try one of Kahn’s specialties, the Reuben, but with pastrami instead of corned beef. Don’t bother with the Alpine Rueben, which substitutes turkey for the corned beef; although we know it’s a favorite with the health conscious who still crave deli food, it didn’t work for us.
This place does not take credit cards. And don’t assume they’ll be as understanding with everyone as one scene we witnessed in which a young woman burst into tears when they wouldn’t take her credit card. The situation was so dire that the staff offered to give her the sandwich for free. (That’s the way these folks are.) Fortunately, her mom arrived with some cash.
2429 Rice Boulevard
We hesitated to write about Cleburne’s less we lose our foodie status by commenting on something as plebeian as a cafeteria. One of us has lived in the Cleburne ‘hood for a number of years and had never tried it until recently. Now, we are regulars, usually take-out, but we eat-in on occasion. There’s nothing fancy or gourmet about this traditional cafeteria fare, but it is very well done. And the portions are amazingly generous. We’ve tried many dishes, particularly the chicken and fish items, and we’ve enjoyed all of them, with the salmon and lemon pepper cod as our favorites (better than the haddock almondine). The turkey and dressing is also great, as are the sautéed chicken livers and onions. The vegetables are all fresh and not overly sauced or buttered, unless, of course, you want one of the cafeteria classics, like spinach or squash casserole, and they’ll serve you up a great version. Don’t miss the whole wheat rolls. We haven’t tried any of the desserts, particularly the cake, as there’s only two of us, and they appear to serve six or more.
Take note, Cleburne doesn’t take credit cards — cash or checks only. Also, they close at 8:30 on weekday nights and tend to run out of several items after 7:45.
3606 Bissonnet Street
This longtime West Gray seafood destination continues to be a crowd pleaser, particularly judging by the packed place on a recent Saturday night. We recommend reservations unless you want to sit at the bar, which isn’t a bad choice, particularly for a drink and a snack.
Six of us dined on this occasion. Our initial unhappiness with a table in the corner of the room typically used for private dining (if you care, specify a seating location when you make your reservation) was quickly overcome by our very perky waiter (a little bit much at first but entertaining after a few glasses of wine) and some great food. We shared a number of appetizers — calamari (good, but skimpy serving size may cause us to remove the recommended status we previously gave it in our calamari review), fried oysters with pico de gallo, fried green tomatoes (topped with a miniscule shrimp and too little remoulade), and Mexican shrimp cocktail (okay, but not Goode Company’s campechana). Overall, the entrées were better than the appetizers. Three of us greatly enjoyed the soft shell crab (a house specialty) served a couple different ways — sautéed (with a topping of crab, shrimp and lobster) and fried in cornmeal (also topped with crab and shrimp). Two persons enjoyed a couple of the many snapper options, and the one of us who strayed from the seafood theme cleaned the plate of his veal piccata.
For seafood, this place (together with Goode Company) would get our vote for some of the best in town. We’ll be back.
1962 West Gray
We only go to the original on Kirby — not that we’re snobby, but it’s closest to where we live. You can criticize this place for the crowds and the somewhat affected scene, but you cannot beat this restaurant for consistently good food. It wins # 1 in the calamari contest. The food is always very good, although a recent brick chicken dish was way too greasy. Substitutes and special preparations are welcome. The service is top notch, whether you look and act like a member of the scene or not. The wait staffs’ Italian version of Happy Birthday can get a little over the top, but, when it’s your birthday, it seems pretty fun.