Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Breakfast at Lola (preview)

I normally don't post anything about a restaurant until it's been open for a few months, but Lola has been getting a lot of publicity recently, so why not? Consider this posting more of a one visit observation. There's been a lot of chatter over the world wide interwebs about Lola, you would think it's the most significant restaurant to open in the Heights in the last year. I won't quite go that far, but consider this: its shtick is the woefully under-represented mid-tier food market and it's smack dab right in the middle of the Heights. None of this Washington Ave nonsense. 11th and Yale: doesn't get much more definitively "Heights" than that.

The wife and I visited for breakfast last Sunday. I ordered the chicken and waffles and my wife ordered the skillet (chicken fried steak and eggs). Order at the register, pay, receive your drink cup and number on a stick and go grab a table. In a few minutes, your food is delivered to your table for consumption. Much has been made over the prices and how this doesn't jive with the counter service model. Didn't bother me. Coffee was decent, and juices looked fresh squeezed.

We experience some highs and lows. First, the chicken and waffles were a huge disappointment. The chicken (breaded and fried boneless chicken breast) was incredibly salty and inedible, although incredibly juicy (no small accomplishment with white meat). The waffle itself was soggy and depressing as it lacked a crunchy exterior. Included extras (bacon and fruit) were actually quite good.

While the chicken and waffles were left half eaten, the chicken fried steak is probably the best in the Heights area at that price point. Think about that for a minute: Barbecue Inn, Triple A, Hickory Hollow. I know it's a bold statement, but they're all inferior. Included cheese grits and eggs were nothing special, so I'm thinking the dinner serving of the CFS is where it's at. Both the breading on the CFS and chicken looked eerily similar, so I'm a little perplexed how the results could be so different.

All in all, I think Lola shows promise (lots of people appeared to be enjoying the pancakes; anyone have them?). We look forward to eating here again in the future and hope the mentioned execution problems get rectified. Remember folks, it's still a young pup.

1102 Yale St.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Call for Entries: Notable Heights Burgers

I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

I was in Las Vegas for a conference last week and had dinner one night at Burger Bar at the Mandalay Bay Casino. For those not familiar, Burger Bar serves a large variety of burgers, many obscenely expensive (there is a Kobe burger with foie gras on the menu for $60; only in Vegas!). Burger Bar is a favorite of mine for its beer selection; however, the burgers are pretty good. We ordered the American Classic (cheese and bacon), medium please. On the plus side, the burger was cooked a perfect medium, with a pink center. On the minus side, the fries were pretty terrible and there was no mayo on the bun or in the condiment trays on the bar, although they did eventually bring some when we asked.

Here in Houston, we are both blessed and cursed on the burger front. Blessed, because we have a ton of quality burger shops who understand how we like it. "All the way" means what we all expect. Cursed, because the number of places that will cook a burger to order is the rare exception rather than the rule (no pun intended).

A Hamburger Today has come up with a much more extensive categorization for burger styles, but for simplicity sake, I've come up with two categories: thin and thick. Note to all burger shops, if you serve a big thick burger and either refuse or just plain fail to serve it under well done, you're really screwing up.

I also judge a burger place by its container (the bun, extra points for a slight griddle crunch) and its fries. The french fried potato... why is it so hard to get a good burger AND fries? Consider this list: Lankford, Christians, and Hubcap. All serve crappy fries. Why? Why?!?!

I know there are some great burgers out there in the Heights. What are your favorites? Pros and cons? There are quite a few great burger spots just north of 610, so I'm adding that area to the discussion, but let's keep it somewhat close (note the gradient).

I'll start. Stanton's. Pros: Great hand formed burger, bun, and condiments. One of Houston's best. Cons: was cooked past requested medium rare and the fries are awful.