Category Archives: TX

Houston Pizza (Bagel) Review

Doesn’t a good pizza bagel just make your day?!?! It’s warm and gooey with a chewy, salty, dense bagel underneath! What’s not to love?!

Side note: I always choose a salt or everything bagel for my pizza bagels, but my sister says this is “gross” and that one should only get a pizza bagel on a plain bagel. You decide.

Did you know that originally bagels came in only plain or salt? Then they started branching out into all sorts of other flavors in the 1950s. And with the rise of Lender’s – prepackaged and frozen bagels – so too more flavors and more diverse consumers across America, for instance, the cinnamon raisin bagel, which was created to appeal to the non-Jewish “breakfast food” market.

I just got done reading Maria Balinska’s The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread which is a fascinating look at the creation and rise in popularity of the bagel. Bagels have a fuzzy origin story, in that many ethnicities and countries have similarly shaped bread products so it’s hard to pinpoint one beginning point for the bread with a hole phenomenon. But it’s also a food whose history is intertwined with stories of political, economic and labor battles. The book is a quick read for anyone interested in food history and/or Jewish food history.

But anyway, back to the pizza bagel at hand. This particular pizza bagel was procured at New York Coffee Shop, a crowded Jewish bagel and coffee joint in the Braeburn neighborhood of Houston Texas.

“Decorated” in the 1980s, walking in reminded me of the formica counter top diners we would go to as children, perhaps after Hebrew school on Sunday for a matzah ball soup and pickles.

My mom did indeed have the matzah ball soup which looked traditionally delicious. And I of course had the pizza bagel, on an everything bagel, with a cup of coffee.

pizza bagel

It was all really good. The coffee was above average and totally came in above expectation. They definitely knew how to do a good pizza bagel with toasted bagel, fully melted cheese and not too much sauce.

Personally, I don’t see how one could mess up a pizza bagel, but you’d be surprised.

If I had it to do over, I’d choose a salt bagel just to kick things up a notch.

And the personality of the place was charming and nostalgic too. Would I want to lick the table? No. Did we run into people our in-laws knew from the community? Yes. And isn’t that really what these old-school Jewish diners are all about in the end? Thumbs up.

make-your-own veggie pizza

Houston Pizza Review: BLAZE

My mom and I visited my sister in Houston a few weeks ago and took a lunchtime trip to Blaze Pizza on Westheimer. Blaze is a fast-casual pizza chain, where you stand in line and either choose a standard personal pizza from their menu or do a create-your-own pizza from a smorgasbord of ingredients, Chipotle style. The staff assembles the pie and then rapidly cooks it in their huge wood-fired oven and calls your name when it’s ready to get at the counter.

There was a Blaze in Royal Oak when we were living in Michigan that I always wanted to try but never got around to it, so I was happy to go there in Texas!

I ordered the off-the-menu Red Vine pizza which is red sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes, and I also added shredded mozzarella to it.

red vine pizza with extra mozzarella
red vine pizza with extra mozzarella

My sister did a make-your-own with lots of veggies including mushrooms and arugula.

make-your-own veggie pizza
make-your-own veggie pizza

Both pizzas were delicious and we devoured them both. The ingredients were fresh and flavorful and the crust was pretty good – not dry or cardboard-like, which can often be the case.

The only issue I had (which is unfortunately pretty standard these days at this kind of restaurant) was that I was SUPER parched afterwards. Even after drinking lots of water, I could still feel the effects of the saltiness from the pizza.  They were yummy going down though 🙂

The staff was very friendly and knowledgeable about the ingredients and food prep. My mom has a lot of dietary restrictions, and they were incredibly helpful directing her in terms of what she could or couldn’t eat. For instance, they don’t use cornmeal on the bottom of the pizza to prevent sticking; they use semolina, which she can eat. They also swapped out her Italian salad dressing for oil and vinegar and made her salad fresh, instead of directing her to the case of pre-made salads, to ensure no cross-contamination with items she can’t digest. I thought the customer service was excellent, especially for a fast-casual establishment whose business model is based on volume, standardization and quick turnaround.

In terms of fast-casual chain pizza, I would definitely rank Blaze near the top.

Blaze
Blaze

 

Pizaro’s Pizza: Houston TX

A few weeks ago, my mom, aunt and I went to visit my sister in Houston to work on some of her wedding to-dos (um, yes, cake tasting).  Craving some pizza (obviously), I searched online for Houston’s best pizza, and while many came up, we chose Pizaro’s Pizza Napoletana (http://www.pizarospizza.com/), for the sheet fact that we would be driving out towards the burbs rather than into the city on a Saturday night.

It’s a wood-fired brick oven fast casual concept, where you stand in line to order, pay and take a number. And very quickly afterwards (the pizzas only take 90 seconds to cook in a 900 degree oven), your piping hot pizza arrives at the table!  BYOB.

photo 1 The oven is that mosaic dome in the back. It was made in Naples and shipped to the US, according to their website. The guy up front is making dough.

photo 2The interior – not anything spesh, very crowded, very kid friendly.

photo 3

photo 1The dough rounds being prepped for pizza!

Okay, let’s start with the negatives.  It was crowded (a given on a Saturday night in the city that is known for eating out). It was cold – since we couldn’t be picky about where we sat, we grabbed the only available table, which happened to be right underneath a very blowy AC unit. Brr. We scarfed that pizza down – it was cold by the last slice.

The good news: the pizza was really tasty!! Crust that wasn’t soggy and not burnt either – perfect chew, with a few good dough bubbles. (My sister claims I always wanted the slices with the bubbles growing up, but that was actually she.) Fresh ingredients, and the perfect size for a personal pizza.  My sister and I split a classic cheese (always a good baseline) and an arugula and parmesan white pizza.  Both were delish and we demolished most of them before my mom and aunt’s pizza even came out to the table.

photo 3 photo 2The cheese pizza was really more of a Margherita minus the basil.  I was a bit put off by seeing the chef squeeze oozy mozzarella out of what looked to be a giant pastry tube, but it did seem to be quite fresh and milky and tasted like homemade mozzarella. Definitely different than the dry pre-shredded part-skim bagged mozz I get at the store.

All in all, a good choice; I would do carry-out next time though to avoid the shiver.

TX Pizza Review: Coppa Ristorante

This past weekend in Houston, we went to dinner Coppa, an Italian restaurant that seemed to me to epitomize much of the Houston restaurant scene.

Clearly I don’t live in Houston nor have I spent copious amounts of time there, but I’ve eaten at a my fair share of establishments on my semi-annual trips.  Here are the broad generalizations I’m going to make, and feel free to disagree (but please cite examples):

1. Lots of upscale or “finer” dining restaurants (notches above fast casual and family friendly) are situated in strip malls.  They could be very nice, new, stone strip malls, or they could be run-of-the-mill.  Either way, you may not realize that there’s a nice restaurant tucked on the side next to Kroger.  You pull up to the parking lot thinking incredulously, “Huh, where are we?”  Then you open the trying-to-be-historic-but-is-really-a-new-restaurant-trend obligatory heavy wooden door and boom! you’re in a white tablecloth restaurant.  Surprise!

2. Once you enter said strip mall fine restaurant, the dining room(s) will be large, potentially cavernous, and have an eerie similarity to lots of other restaurants, and you may think that you have actually been to that place before.  However, while the placement of the bar, bathrooms and kitchen may be reminiscent of other establishments, the decor will vary, and hopefully, as in the case of Coppa, be warm and inviting.  When I walked into Coppa, I thought I had been there on an earlier trip, remembering the large wall of windows lined with long tables and the placement of the entryway and bar.  I had in fact never been there.  The bar was welcoming with large framed mirrors hanging over yet another mirror mounted on the wall, and I liked how the opposite back wall and secondary dining alcove were lined with the wine selection.

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3. Tables will be crowded together and it will likely be loud.  Because these dining rooms tend to consist of one very large room with high ceilings (and maybe a secondary room like at Coppa), there’s not much in the way of interior structures, such as half-walls, pillars (there were a few at the far end of the room at Coppa) or other alcoves in which to sit.  Everyone is in one large room, where the tables are placed apart at the minimum socially acceptable distance.  You think your waiter is walking away after only having placed half your party’s order, when you realize he’s just making his away around 12 other tables to get to the opposite side of your table to be able to hear the rest of the orders.

These are the sweeping stereotypes I’ve gleaned about the set up of many Houston restaurants.  But on to the food at Coppa specifically:

I ordered a pizza margherita (as you can see, this is my go-to for assessing the true quality of pizza….crazy toppings may be good, but can you make a deliciously simple pie?) and the burrata appetizer.  I thought both were done very well.

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The pizza was well-balanced in terms of ingredients, and I liked how the crust under the toppings was stiff and didn’t flop.  I don’t have much else to say other than I ate the whole thing and will let the photo speak for itself.  I also enjoyed that they brought the condiments over on a small plate from which you could take a pinch (or hand-full) and sprinkle it on to your heart’s content.

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The burrata was also delicious.  It was served with arugula, coppa (an Italian cured pork, that was thinly sliced), campari tomatoes (bright, sweet and juicy), olive oil and sea salt.  The sea salt stuck to the cheese via the olive oil and added some crunch to the bites.  I liked how it wasn’t uniformly salty, but here and there you would get a little kick.  The fresh arugula and tomatoes laced with bits of coppa gave those bites eaten with the burrata a slightly bitter, sweet and salty taste and some added texture.  Delightful!

I can’t speak for the meals of my dinner companions, but I would definitely recommend the pizza here, and wouldn’t mind getting some carry out from Coppa next time we’re in town.