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Scenes from the Cowboy Breakfast

Scenes from the Cowboy Breakfast

Crowds fill the parking lot of the Cowboys Dancehall.

Crowds fill the parking lot of the Cowboys Dancehall.

The 37th Cowboy Breakfast drew tens of thousands of people out on a cool but clear Friday morning. The annual event, promoted as the world’s largest cooked breakfast, is always a draw, even when it rains, but in the right weather, the crowd can be fierce. And so, by 5:30 a.m., lines waiting for a free taco or biscuits stretched all the way across the parking lot of the Cowboys Dancehall.

Keeping the coal fires burning so the cooking can continue.

Keeping the coal fires burning so the cooking can continue.

By the end of the event, organizers were planning on having served:

  • 12,000 Kiolbassa Chorizo and egg tacos
  • 10,000 Pruski’s sausage and egg tacos
  • 10,000 Rudy’s BBQ beef tacos
  • 8,000 Pioneer Biscuits and Kiolbassa Sausage
  • 8,000 bacon and egg tacos
  • 5,000 potato and egg tacos
  • 5,000 Kiolbassa Sausage wraps
  • 5,000 pastries from Flowers Baking Company/Buttercrust
  • 5,000 pints Oak Farms milk and orange juice
  • 2,500 servings of Pioneer Biscuits and gravy

No one knows how any cups of coffee McDonald’s would be served or how many Mission Tortillas would be used.

It takes a team to wrap the sausages.

It takes a team to wrap the sausages.

The event is sponsored by Jordan Ford, which provided the vans that transported people from the parking lot at the nearby Rialto movie theater to the breakfast site.

On Thursday, the Cowboy Breakfast showed its appreciation for wounded warriors, their families and support staff by delivering tacos and biscuits and gravy to the Warrior Family Support Center at Brooke Army Medical Center.

How did all this get started? A press release on the event offered a little history: “Paying homage to the trail riders of the Old West, the Cowboy Breakfast began in 1979 with a handful of cooks and grills in the parking lot of Central Park Mall, its home for 23 years, as the sendoff for trail riders beginning the annual trek to the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.”

 

That cooler full of taco filling will empty quickly.

That cooler full of taco filling will empty quickly.

A hot cup of coffee and a taco are worth the wait.

A hot cup of coffee is worth the wait.

The action behind the scenes is non-stop.

The action behind the scenes is non-stop.

Warm tacos and a friendly smile to start the day.

Warm tacos and a friendly smile to start the day.

It's never too early to ride a mechanical bull.

It’s never too early to ride a mechanical bull.

Waiting for the rest of the day to begin.

Waiting for the rest of the day to begin.

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A Super Bowl of Red

A Super Bowl of Red

No two chili recipes are alike, even in Texas, where people debate endlessly details such as whether you should include beans, whether you should use tomatoes or whether you should use chiles besides chili powder.

chili bowl of red2Even when you do find a chili recipe you like, it’s almost impossible to make it according to the very last letter. If you do, you somehow miss out on the fun of chili, which is to make it your own, the way you like it, even as you’re making it.

But there are chili recipes and there are chili recipes. Some are so complicated that they become irritating, asking for some Asian spice blend, maybe, or peanut butter, in other words, ingredients no self-respecting Texan would ever include in his or her bowl of red.

But if you’re still looking for that great recipe, here are three options from various Texas cookbooks in my collection. Each is different, but all are simple to make. They can also be done ahead of time, which is great because the best chili, no matter the recipe, always tastes better a day after it’s been made because the flavors have had time to coalesce.

My favorite is the strict simplicity of Pedernales River Chili, which comes from Lady Bird Johnson and has appeared in numerous cookbooks. When I made it recently, I used a mix of hot Italian pork sausage and grass-fed beef; instead of water, I used beef stock; and I used hickory-smoked salt, but I followed the directions fairly closely, all to good results.

Melissa Guerra’s Chile Con Carne San Miguel is for those who chipotles to chili powder and a good dose of Mexican chorizo, not to mention beans. Plus, you can use ground venison in the mix in case you’ve had good luck hunting deer this season.

By the way, all of these recipes will work great with Frito pie or the toppings of your choice, making it a perfect dish for your Super Bowl party or any cold night this winter.

Pedernales River Chili

4 pounds chili meat (coarsely ground round steak or well-trimmed chuck)
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 tablespoons chili powder or to taste
1 1/2 cups canned whole tomatoes
2 to 6 generous dashes hot sauce, to taste
Salt, to taste
2 cups hot water

Saute meat, onions and garlic in large heavy fry pan or dutch oven until light colored. Add oregano, cumin seed, chili powder, tomatoes, hot pepper sauce, salt and hot water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer about 2 hour. Skim off fat during cooking.

Makes 8 servings.

From Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson, LBJ Ranch, Stonewall/”San Antonio Cookbook II” from the San Antonio Symphony League

Chile con Carne San Miguel

“I love this chili recipe because it is so Texas,” Melissa Guerra writes in her 1997 cookbook, “The Texas Provincial Kitchen.” “And it is a real time saver because the chorizo already has the proper flavors and spices for chili. Most chili making sessions turn into chemistry labs; mixing, stirring, brewing, etc. … If you enjoy spending hours in the the kitchen, go for it. But this recipe takes about 20 minutes to mix up. Try it.”

5 dried chipotle chiles
1 (28-ounce) can diced or whole tomatoes, divided use
Salt, to taste
12 ounces Mexican-style chorizo, casing removed
1 medium onion, chopped
4 pounds ground beef or ground venison
3 cups whole pinto beans, cooked (homemade or canned)

In a small sauce pan, boil about 3 cups of water. When boiling, add the chipotle chiles. After about 10 minutes, check chiles to see if they are soft. Take out a chile from the water (you may want to use rubber gloves to handle chiles), and remove stem and seeds. Remove stems and seeds from remaining chiles, and rinse well. Place all seeded chiles in a blender, and add half of the can of tomatoes. Puree well and salt to taste. (Note: Leaving the chile seeds will make your chile con carne spicier!)

Brown chorizo and onion in a large stew pot. Add ground beef or venison. When meat mixture is fully browned, add the rest of the can of tomatoes with its juice, beans and pureed chiles. Salt to taste.

For best results, make a day ahead.

Makes 12 servings.

From “The Texas Provincial Kitchen” by Melissa Guerra

Mother’s Chili

This recipe, from the 1973 Junior League of Corpus Christi cookbook, “Fiesta,” uses flour to thicken the chili. Masa harina mixed with a little water is another popular thickener you might use. You’ll notice, too, that there are no tomatoes, in the form of paste, sauce or chopped. But there is lime juice to brighten the flavors.

2 pounds chili meat
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder or more, to taste
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 cups hot water
Juice of 1 lime

Brown meat in oil; add garlic and onion. Mix together chili powder, flour, salt, pepper, oregano and cumin seed and add to meat mixture. Add water and lime juice. Simmer covered for 1 to 2 hours.

Makes 8 servings.

From Mrs. A. Jackson Ashmore (Gay Griffith)/”Fiesta: Favorite Recipes of South Texas” from the Junior League of Corpus Christi

 

 

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Griffin to Go: At the Alamo Star Ball, It’s Dance First, Then Lunch on the River

Griffin to Go: At the Alamo Star Ball, It’s Dance First, Then Lunch on the River

Joy Lee and Rudolph Rene, front left, dance at the Alamo Star Ball. Ly Box and Aaron Alvarez dance to the right.

Joy Lee and Rudolph Rene, front left, dance at the Alamo Star Ball. Ly Box and Aaron Alvarez dance to the right.

For the last three or four months, I’ve indulged in a passion of mine that goes beyond the world of food. It’s ballroom dancing. It’s not a new habit. I’ve been dancing off and on for more than 16 years now, but I had to take off more than a year because of a number of projects, including working with Bonnie Walker on our book, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas,” and finishing my master’s degree.

Studio One owner Esteban Cardenas hands out paletas during the Alamo Star Ball.

Studio One owner Esteban Cardenas hands out paletas during the Alamo Star Ball.

So, when a friend of mine and fellow student, Joy Lee, offered to help me start all over again and get rid of some of my bad habits in terms of technique, I gladly accepted.

We’ve spent many nights and Sunday afternoons since then slowly going over the basics of foxtrot, waltz and tango, cha-cha, rumba and swing. My learning curve isn’t great at my age and there were times when my feet went into total revolt. But we also had our eyes on something greater: We wanted to compete in the first Alamo Star Ball, which was recently presented by Studio One, which is where we have practiced and take lessons.

The competition was a daylong event in which more than 275 heats were presented. Joy and I started in heat No. 1, a waltz, which happened precisely at the announced starting time of 9 a.m., and we finished our 17th and final heat, No. 265A, sometime in the early evening. Joy had quite a few other heats with one of her instructors, Rudolph René, who danced with his various students more than 100 times over the course of the day.

After all of Joy’s sequined gowns had been stored in her garment bag and my all-black outfits had been changed for something fresher and slightly more colorful (gray!), it was time to do some celebrating. All of our hard work has begun to pay off, as found out later that night that we’d won both of the championships in which we had competed.

The Wyndham RIverwalk's barge salad.

The Wyndham RIverwalk’s barge salad.

Sure, there was a party at the Wyndham Riverwalk, where the competition was held, but even better was the closing event of the three-day weekend: a late Sunday lunch on a river barge.

I am a sucker for barge rides, whether there’s food or not. Add food to the menu and you have a whole new layer of fun. I wasn’t alone in feeling excited. You could tell the rest of the locals, not to mention a charming Westie named Moroni, were ready to enjoy a sunny trip down the San Antonio River.

We boarded where the river meets the Pecan Street hotel. We were greeted with a lively Southwestern salad when we took our seats. The mix of freshly plated greens also featured crispy tortilla strips, corn and roasted red pepper. The main course was a chicken-stuffed chile relleno with rice, beans and a generous sprinkling of cotija over the top. An over-sized slab of tres leches cake polished off the meal. Margaritas flowed freely, adding to the fun.

A waiter prepares dessert while barge diners enjoy their chile relleno.

A waiter prepares dessert while barge diners enjoy their chile relleno.

A manager who was helping oversee the service told me that the Wyndham doesn’t cater many barge dinners, but you’d never know it from what we enjoyed. (You can actually book a barge dinner with any restaurant along the River Walk. Just speak to the manager of your preferred place about what you need to do to set up a dinner.)

But the afternoon was special for more reasons than the food. One of the places we passed on the river was the site of Joy’s old Chinese restaurant, which has sat empty for too many years now. Back in the day, she used to organize an annual holiday boat ride for the dance students and instructors from various studios in town who knew each other, and we would spend an informal evening during the Christmas season sailing under the lights. This is the first time many of us, including our host, Studio One owner Esteban Cardenas, had been on a barge ride together since then.

Add the gorgeous, sun-dappled weather Sunday brought as well as a laid-back and genuinely funny tour guide, who took us on a couple of not-t00-common stretches of the river, including a trek past the Southwest School of Art. His humor proved infectious. As we passed a barge without food, we let the other sightseers know they, too, could have been drinking margaritas and eating cake if only they had paid the $2 upgrade. “What? You didn’t know? Well, you should get after your boat guide,” we said rather smugly. (Yes, it was slightly mean, but most of them laughed along.)

A dense slice of tres leches cake.

A dense slice of tres leches cake.

There was a sense of pride, too, in showing off some of San Antonio’s finest to the out-of-towners in our group, which included a mother and son from El Paso as well as some of the guest judges from Houston and beyond. When the locals are as excited about playing the tourist in their own hometown, you know it’s special. When was the last time you indulged in a passion for spending a lazy afternoon along the river?

Thanks go to all of the organizers of the Alamo Star Ball. Finishing off the event on such a high note has us looking forward to next year’s competition. Here’s hoping my dancing improves enough by then.

A Westie named Moroni makes a friend, dance judge Kasia Kozak, aboard the river barge..

A Westie named Moroni makes a friend, dance judge Kasia Kozak, aboard the river barge.

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Calling All Carnivores: Meat Week Is Upon Us

Calling All Carnivores: Meat Week Is Upon Us

meatweekMeat Week begins Sunday, and you know you’ve been hankering for it.

The fun starts at Big Bob’s Burgers, 4553 N. Loop 1604 W., with the 50/50/50 burger. Get there after 4 p.m. and enjoy a promotion with Alamo Beer Co. As a promotion for the event reads, “Bob has his famous Meat Week San Antonio 50/50/50 burger to help us celebrate — that’s BEEF, BACON, PORK BUTT oh my!”

The weeklong series of events includes:

  • Monday — Smoke Shack, 6:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday — B&D Ice, 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday — B-Daddy’s BBQ, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday — The County Line on 1-10, 6:30 p.m.
  • Friday — The grand opening of Dignowity Meats with Alamo Beer Co., 6-9 p.m. RSVP required.
  • Saturday — The Point Park & Eats food truck extravaganza and tap takeover.
  • Sunday, Feb. 1 — A bike run to Taps y Tapas is at 2 p.m. followed by a Super Bowl Party at the Bungalow with kickoff at 5:30 p.m.

For more details, email local hosts Denise or Noel at deemaagu@gmail.com.

 

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Tales from Culinaria’s Winter Restaurant Week

Tales from Culinaria’s Winter Restaurant Week

It’s no good feeling less than your best during Restaurant Week.

A Waygu burger with pesto, bacon aioli and fig jam at Tribeca 212.

A Waygu burger with pesto, bacon aioli and fig jam at Tribeca 212.

An overdose of allergies left me feeling blah with one to go on Culinaria’s first winter round of the popular promotion, but I was feeling anything but blah about two specials the week had to offer.

First up was a lunch trip to Tribeca 212.

Promise people a bowl of Champagne-Oyster Bisque with a fried oyster on top, and they’ll show up with an appetite in tow.

That’s  how it seemed Wednesday as a large group filled the spacious bar dining area at the Olmos Park restaurant.

That soup was sublime, with its mix of briny oyster and creamy tart soup base with plenty of black peppercorn stirred in. A garnish of a fried oyster with a touch of caviar just made the whole dish all the more luxurious.

Tribeca's mushroom pizza

Tribeca’s mushroom pizza

A mushroom pizza and a Wagyu burger cooked medium rare as ordered made for a substantial midday meal. The slightly sour taste of the thin pizza crust offered a pleasant complement to the creamy denseness of the cheese and the earthy richness of the mushrooms. The patty arrived with a series of toppings that seemed to reveal themselves in different bites; they included bacon aioli, fig jam and mozzarella.

Dessert was our choice of gelato flavors, so we tried one of each available: vanilla, wild berry and coconut. The vanilla was easily the best, with its creamy texture bursting with flavor. The coconut appear to have been made with coconut milk and had a nice layer of ice crystals adding to the delight of each taste. Whatever worked for the vanilla was missing from the dry, powdery wild berry mixture, which had frozen far too hard and was even a problem to spoon out of the Mason jar in which it had been served.

Thai Topaz's Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Thai Topaz’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Thai Topaz on Northwest Military Highway offered one of the best dishes I sampled during the week, a entree that could stand up with Tribeca’s Champagne Oyster Bisque. It was an entree of Emerald Salmon served in a tamarind-coconut milk sauce with a fan of avocado slices and asparagus on the plate. It was gorgeously plated and tasted every bit as good as it looked.

An appetizer of Thai Lettuce Wraps (Miang Kai) with a touch of fresh ginger on top was welcome, as was a fried banana with coconut ice cream. But I’ll be dreaming of that salmon until the next visit. It was well worth the $25 price for three courses of food.

Tribeca 212
4331 McCullough Ave.
(210) 320-0698
www.tribecadiolmos.com

Thai Topaz
2177 N.W. Military Hwy.
(210) 290-9833
http://thaitopaz-sat.com/

 

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A Day Made for Dining on the River

A Day Made for Dining on the River

The terrace at Zocca Cuisine d'Italia.

The terrace at Zocca Cuisine d’Italia.

Dining on the terrace of Zocca Cuisine d’Italia is one of the most peaceful joys of living in San Antonio — and it almost doesn’t matter what the quality of the food is like.

The antipasti plate

The antipasti plate

As my colleague Bonnie Walker said during our lunch there Tuesday, during Culinaria’s Restaurant Week, it’s the perfect River Walk spot for introverts. That’s because you can be close to a particularly peaceful stretch of the water and not be bothered by throngs of tourists passing by. As we sat there for more than an hour, it seemed as if fewer than a dozen people walked by, and a couple of those were guests looking for the best place to enter the restaurant.

We were richly blessed during our visit, too. The menu was a comfort food feast. The weather was practically perfect. And we found ourselves entertaining several guests who were glad we’d invited them to partake of part of our lunch; I refer to a pair of ducks who gladly scooped up bits of flatbread left over from our antipasti plate.

Italian sausage pizza with wild mushrooms.

Italian sausage pizza with wild mushrooms.

If you head to Zocca this week, you can taste a prix fixe lunch menu for $15 that begins with an attractive array of antipasti, including slivers of prosciutto, salami and other meats, Gouda and a variety of soft and hard cheeses, and giardiniera as well as the ducks’ favorite flatbread.

We complemented the arrangement with a thin-crust pizza from the regular menu. It featured Italian sausage, wild mushrooms, roasted peppers and grilled onions sealed together by a finely melted blend of Italian cheeses, and each bite revealed new and wonderful flavors.

The main course featured fettuccine in an Alfredo sauce filled with peas, mushrooms and pecorino romano. Grilled chicken had also been added, but it was the least interesting of the dish’s treasures, as the meat was just a little too bland and tough to compete with the rest of the sauce’s riches. Thankfully, the portion was not so large as to induce a carb coma later in the afternoon.

Our lunch companions.

Our lunch companions.

That might have resulted if we had finished off the entire dessert instead of taking half of it to go. Here was another pizza, but this time it was made with chocolate. Both white and dark chocolate melted together atop a fairly savory cocoa crust. A sprinkling of irresistible streusel crumbs and a splash of caramel added to our enjoyment, though a sprinkling of fried parsley or something green was a rather odd garnish. After one taste, it was easily removed and no damage was done.

As we were enjoying the last minutes of peace before heading back to the reality of our work day, the pair of ducks came waddling over from the water to seek their fair share of the food being served. After all, we had enjoyed watching them as they swam around the passing boats, why shouldn’t they get a little something in return? I doubt feeding the fowl is encouraged at Zocca, but we sneaked the beautiful, brown lady bird a bite or two while tossing a few other crumbs over to her green-headed mate anyway. It made us feel like tourists in our own hometown, and I’m always grateful for that feeling.

Culinaria’s Restaurant Week continues through Saturday. Zocca is offering a three-course lunch for $15 and dinner for $35.

Zocca Cuisine d’Italia
Westin Riverwalk
420 W. Market St.
(210) 444-6070

Chocolate pizza

Chocolate pizza

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Good Food, Strange Service Mark the Beginning of Restaurant Week

Good Food, Strange Service Mark the Beginning of Restaurant Week

Culinaria’s first winter Restaurant Week began for me with a lunch trip to Mariposa at Nieman Marcus. It had been a while since I’d eaten in the store’s airy, sunlit dining room, so I was glad for any reason to make an overdue return.

White Bean Chicken Chili at Mariposa

White Bean Chicken Chili at Mariposa

I was even happier when our server presented us with an amuse bouche of warm chicken stock with a bright saltiness that went straight to the heart of my comfort zone. Too bad we didn’t see that server for another 15 minutes after that.  Yes, it was a holiday and the restaurant was full of families, shoppers, Restaurant Week diners and even a tiara party for young girls, but it was never seriously overcrowded.

Yet we overheard a manager, in almost exaggerated tones of exhaustion, bemoan to another table about how pressed they were. I’m sure those diners were suitably impressed that they had somehow earned his confidence. Yet they had been seated long after we were and were somehow served long before we were. Or should I say, loooooong before we were.

When we finally got our first course, we dove right in and practically inhaled the smoked duck risotto with strands of meat stirred into the rice, and a white bean chicken chili with a light but welcome touch of spice balanced by plenty of Monterey Jack over the tender bites of chicken.

Smoked Duck Risotto

Smoked Duck Risotto

The kitchen was already out of the red fish featured on the Restaurant Week menu, so I opted for Chicken Paillard served over mashed potatoes, a touch of fennel and a few bits of vegetables. The serving could not have been hotter, which was most welcome, and the breast meat was moist and accented by a chicken jus.

Two of my friends were served their short rib plates while I was presented my chicken. The short rib plate meant for the fourth of our group never appeared and the waiter, of course, was nowhere to be seen. Eat or wait until all were served? Our friend gave us permission to go ahead, but we still felt as if our table had been jinxed.

She finally got the her short rib as our plates were being cleared, and she did enjoy the tender meat atop jalapeño polenta.

At this point, the restaurant had largely cleared out and our service finally turned the corner. I had ordered the chocolate bread pudding, while my friends ordered what was billed as the “Culinaria Chocolate Chip Cookie Box.”

Short Rib with Gremolata

Short Rib with Gremolata

What I received was an attractive slice of warm white (not chocolate) bread pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of chocolate sauce and berries, while my friends received, well, a rather sad, dry looking cookie with a smudge of powdered sugar on top. No, they didn’t want that cookie, so our waiter brought them bread pudding instead. They did manage to get the chocolate bread pudding, which they didn’t mind in the least.

After all was said and done, we paid our $15 for our three courses, glad to have helped Culinaria and glad to have been back to Mariposa. If you go, and I would recommend that you do, make reservations first. Then just be glad you won’t be visiting on a holiday.

Mariposa at Nieman Marcus
The Shops at La Cantera
15900 La Cantera Parkway
(210) 694-3550

The not-so-chocolate bread pudding.

The not-so-chocolate bread pudding.

 

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Restaurant Week Is Here. Have You Worked Up an Appetite Yet?

Restaurant Week Is Here. Have You Worked Up an Appetite Yet?

In a few short years, Culinaria’s Restaurant Week has become an August fixture that food lovers look forward to with hunger.

Bite is on the Restaurant Week menu.

Bite is on the Restaurant Week menu.

Now, Restaurant Week is happening in the winter, and it’s shaping up to be as full-flavored as its warm-weather counterpart.

Enjoy it now through Saturday, you can dine at a series of restaurants across the city — new places like Starfish and El Machito are taking part alongside old favorites, including Boudro’s, Tre Trattoria, Restaurant Gwendolyn and Fig Tree. Plus, you’ll find your favorite steakhouses, including Bob’s, Perry’s, Kirby’s, Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris.

Visit Culinarsa.org for a full list of participants and special meals.

I’ve already planned out a few visits, including Zocca Cuisine D’Italia, Mariposa at Niemann Marcus and Tribeca. What’s high on your list?

Here are a few background details Culinaria sent out in advance of this tasty week:

What: San Antonio Restaurant Week benefits all of Culinaria’s community outreach programs, making each dining experience a charitable one. It is truly a masterful culinary adventure, as well as an opportunity to try new restaurants and support many local favorites. With each meal ordered specifically for San Antonio Restaurant Week, participating restaurants will donate $1 from each lunch menu and $2 from each dinner menu ordered to benefit Culinaria.
Top Money Makers: The three restaurants who raised the most money for Culinaria during August’s Restaurant Week are all back for January. They are Arcade Midtown Kitchen, Bliss and Bob’s Steak and Chop House.
El Machito is serving up Restaurant Week specials.

El Machito is serving up Restaurant Week specials.

The Menus: Participating restaurants will offer an array of prix-fixe menus— encompassing both three-course lunch menus and three-course dinner menus within two different pricing tiers.

 
* Tier 1 establishments will offer $15 for a three-course lunch menu, and $35 for a four-course dinner menu.
* Tier 2 establishments will off $10 for a three-course lunch menu, and $25 for a four-course for dinner menu.
 
How to Participate: Reservations are encouraged and you can contact each establishment directly, for the complete list, please visit culinariasa.org.
When: January 19-24, 2015.
So, what will it be? Bite, Biga or Boiler House? Scuzzi, Speisen or Stella Public House? Winners all. By the end of the week, you’ll probably be like me wondering why there wasn’t time to visit more.

 

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Get to Know Chef David ‘Bully’ Page and His Rasta Pasta

Get to Know Chef David ‘Bully’ Page and His Rasta Pasta

Cibolo resident and St. Philip’s alum Chef David “Bully” Page is one of the chefs who’ll be cooking at the Taste the Dream Gala on Jan. 17. 

Chef David "Bully" Page will be cooking at the Taste the Dream Gala.

Chef David “Bully” Page will be cooking at the Taste the Dream Gala.

He’s adding Caribbean flair to the diverse cuisine planned for the event, which takes place at the Institute for Texan Cultures. (For details on the savory fundraiser for San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside, click here.)

Prior to moving to San Antonio six years ago, Page lived in Brooklyn. Married for more than 29 years to Stephanie Page, the chef is the proud father of four daughters and a son. He studied at the culinary arts school at St. Philip’s College, where he maintained 4.0 GPA.

Page recently won a $10,000 cash prize for his PB & Jellumbo Po’boy creation on the show “Frankenfood,” which airs on on Spike TV. Prior to winning that, he had won several smaller cooking competitions, including he “So You Think You Can Cook” contest and the annual Central Market Thanksgiving  Turkey Cookoff while in culinary school.

With his private chef work and catering here in San Antonio, Page is venturing into the food truck business. He also serves several out-of-state clients, shipping them meals on a regular basis.

Here’s a recipe for Rasta Pasta, one of the Caribbean-influenced dishes he’ll be serving. This is easily adaptable to a variety of tastes. Leave out the chicken, for example, and you have a hearty vegetarian entree. Best of all, Page lays out the recipe in six easy-to-follow steps.

Rasta Pasta

2 cups penne pasta
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 bell peppers (1 green and 1 red), seeded and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil or 2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2  to 2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon jerk seasoning (such as Walkerswood or Grace)
Ground pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
2 to 3 cups cooked jerk chicken, cut up

Boil penne pasta until cooked but still firm then drain.

Next, sauté minced garlic with chopped onions and bell peppers in olive oil or butter in sauce pan over medium heat until onions are translucent, about 7 minutes.

Add jerk seasoning, then heavy cream, (paying close attention to prevent from burning), adding a bit of salt and ground pepper to taste.

Add Parmesan and Gruyere and slowly stir in cheese until completely melted.

Add penne pasta and thoroughly mix until it has thickened.

Toss in cut up jerk chicken off the grill or grill pan.

Makes 4 servings.

From David “Bully” Page

 

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Getting a Taste of Kentucky’s Own Style of Barbecue

Getting a Taste of Kentucky’s Own Style of Barbecue

Kentucky loves its barbecue, but outside its borders, it really isn’t thought of as a barbecue destination. With the exception of Owensboro, that is.

Old Hichory now has six generations of the same family working in the barbecue business.

Old Hichory now has six generations of the same family working in the barbecue business.

The state’s fourth largest city bills itself as “BBQ Capital of the World” and has an international barbecue festival each May. All this is thanks to the city being home to the state’s only unique style of barbecue: mutton.

You read that right. Not some form of brisket, pork ribs or even pulled pork. Not sausage or chicken. Not even baby lamb, but older sheep meat that’s been turned into a smoky dish many would swear to be good enough to merit a lengthy car ride.

I, of course, had to find out for myself. While visiting my old hometown of Louisville recently, my dad and I headed west shortly after the morning rush hour traffic with the plan of having enough time to get to our first stop in time for lunch.

No one knows exactly why Owensboro or Daviess County would choose mutton as their meat of choice for their barbecue, but a local study of the subject did turn up the fact that there were 11,000 sheep in the area during the Civil War. So, there was a supply of mutton on hand.

Burgoo is on the menu.

Burgoo is on the menu.

If you read up on the subject, in information provided by the area’s top two restaurants, Moonlite Bar-B-Q and Old Hickory Bar-B-Q, you’ll discover that the tradition grew out of the local Catholic churches, who staged fundraising barbecues dating back to the 1870s.

“Mutton is simply mature sheep, much the way veal is young cow and beef is mature cow,” says Moonlite’s website. “The idea that mutton is ‘old’ sheep is one of the reasons it gets a bad rap, so let’s clear that up right now: there are definitely sheep that are far too old to be tasty, just as there are cows that are far too old to be tasty. Mutton is sheep that is just old enough to be really, really tasty. We call it ‘lamb’ if it’s less than 12 months old, and ‘mutton’ from 1 year to 5 years.

“Mutton is one of the best-tasting meats around, and there’s nothing like a good barbeque to bring it out.”

In 1918, Charles “Pappy” Foreman was sold on barbecue mutton, so he opened Old Hickory, and it has been in operation ever since by six generations of the same family. Foreman wasn’t the first in town to do that, but his has lasted the longest.

Mutton, mutton ribs and chopped pork at Old Hickory.

Mutton, mutton ribs and chopped pork at Old Hickory.

We decided to head there first. My phone’s map app sent us in the wrong direction a time or two, but we managed to arrive in time to be the first two sit-down diners of the day. There were plenty of people in line, though, to get to-go orders of some fine meat and some good looking sides.

It was a cold December morning, and the warmth of our waitress’ hospitality as well as her freshly brewed coffee made us feel right at home. Soon, she brought out a steaming hot cup of burgoo, a Kentucky specialty stew that can feature anything from squirrel to chicken. Old Hickory’s used lamb and pork in the mix bolstered by corn, tomato and more vegetables.

All of that had us primed for the three-meat plate that we were sharing, heaped high with mutton, mutton ribs and chopped pork. It was a beautiful sight, with one meat practically flowing into the other on the crowded plate.

I couldn’t wait to dig into the mutton ribs, almost hoping for a taste of something that would remind me of those served at Gonzales Food Market back in Texas. It didn’t, and that’s not a bad thing. Texas’ version of mutton ribs is often so laden with fat, you often have to work hard to find the meat in them. That was not the case here. These ribs were bright and tangy, thanks to a sauce made with a healthy dose of Worcestershire sauce in it, and there was plenty of meat to sink your teeth into. The hickory of the restaurant’s name was not too evident, but there was a slight smokiness integrated into the overall eating experience. The same was true of the chopped mutton.

The buffet line at Moonlite Bar-B-Q.

The buffet line at Moonlite Bar-B-Q.

The pork was a little sweeter and a little more Southern in style, with the hickory flavor a little more pronounced. My dad grabbed a couple of pieces of bread from the plate and, in no time, had himself an old-fashioned sandwich laced with a few slivers of pickle, which came with onions on the plate. It was like old times for the Alabama native.

Yes, this was barbecue well worth the trip. The locals seem to love it as well. All of the tables were filled by the time we left, and praise was flowing freely from all corners.

My dad had not been with me as I drove across Texas in recent months to work on my book with Bonnie Walker, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas” (Globe Pequot Press, $21.95), so he wasn’t used to sitting down to a full meal and then heading out for another full meal or two — or eight — over the course of a day.

He’s also not used to driving two hours in a given direction just to eat, so it surprised him a little that we were simply heading from one restaurant to the next. Following the map app, we got lost again as we headed across town in holiday traffic, but at least we got to see some of Owensboro, which one friend said really is all about the food and not much more. We passed plenty of shopping centers and a few residential areas as proof of that statement, before we landed in a traffic jam in front of Moonlite Bar-B-Q.

Actually, the traffic jam wasn’t in front of Moonlite, it was in front of the neighboring Big Dipper burger stand, but more on that in a bit.

Love those corn muffins at Moonlite.

Love those corn muffins at Moonlite.

Somehow, Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn has earned the tourist status of being the barbecue destination in Kentucky, with hundreds, if not thousands, of hungry diners piling in every day to get their fill of whatever is on the buffet. There’s also a gift shop with everything to commemorate your visit, from hats to jars of their sauce.

But if our visit was any indication, you should skip Moonlite altogether. Maybe I was asking for it by ordering brisket along with the mutton and the chopped pork on the three-meat plate. Or maybe I should have just gone through the buffet like everyone else. Instead, I was served brisket that was so desiccated, it was almost sawdust. The mutton was flavorless to the point of leaving no impression whatsoever. And the pork was merely sweet thanks to an excessive of the tomato-based barbecue sauce that swamped it. The two cornbread muffins on the plate were far and away the best item we were served.

I will say that we appeared to have been in the minority, as most of the people around eagerly heading back to the buffet for numerous visits.

The side dishes at both places were a little underwhelming. Kentucky may have fought for the winning side in the Civil War, but it’s still a Southern state to most cooks, which means their sides are going to be sweet. Expect plenty of sugar in the coleslaw as well as the baked beans. You’ll even find it in the potato salad, where Miracle Whip is often used instead of mayonnaise; that just adds more sugar to the equation, not to mention corn syrup. No thanks.

My dad approaches the order window at the Big Dipper.

My dad approaches the order window at the Big Dipper.

While dining at Moonlite, I received some text messages from a friend warning me about the place. If I wanted real Owensboro barbecue, I should head to Old Hickory. I messaged back that we had already done that, loved it and wondered what else we should try while we were in town. She said to stop at the Big Dipper for a burger “through the garden” and a shake.

My dad couldn’t eat much at Moonlite, not that he wanted to anyway. But I wanted to see for myself if there was a reason for all that traffic waiting to get into the small parking lot of the walk-up burger joint. There was. The Big Dipper gives you a fine, thin, old-fashioned patty – it reminded me of the Burger Chef chain from my childhood days – with fresh, ripe tomato, onion and lettuce, and it carried a price tag of about $1.80. I took a bite on the walk back to the car and finished it off before we arrived.

The shake was the real treat, however. You could mix and match flavors, so I got a chocolate shake with orange in it. It arrived with a nice malty flavor that helped the barbecue settle and send me home happy. Dad didn’t have room for a single taste.

Old Hickory Bar-B-Que
338 Washington Ave.
Owensboro, KY 42301
(270) 926-9000
oldhickorybar-b-q.com

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
2840 W. Parrish Ave.
Owensboro, KY 42301
(270) 684-8143
www.moonlite.com

International Bar-B-Q Festival
bbqfest.com

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