A Tale of Two Enchiladas

Borunda's Bar & Grill in Marfa, TX
Borunda’s Bar & Grill in Marfa, TX

I was in Marfa, that West Texas town where Austin hipsters go to retire and the East Coast jet-set-art-set fly their private planes in for cocktail parties in rundown adobe houses. I pulled into Mando’s, a down-at-the-heels Tex-Mex joint on the main drag and stepped over two mongrel dogs sunning themselves on the steps leading up to the front door. If the quality of a restaurant’s food is measured by the health and chubbiness (or lack thereof) of the dogs “guarding” the entrance, this place was big trouble.

Fortunately, Mando’s turned out serviceable Tex-Mex. It’s one of those old-school Tex-Mex joints found in just about every Texas town; you know the one – interior decor that hasn’t changed since the 1970s and corresponding “Mexican food” sometimes referred to as “gringo-style” in reference to its lack of strong flavor and spice. Such old-school joints are often recognized by cracked leather booths and ornate ironwork, but Mando’s was outfitted with Dairy Queen-style particle board booths and concrete block. Easier for maintenance, I guess.

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Ronnie Killen Bets Big on Barbecue

Barbecue at Killen's
Barbecue at Killen’s

You might call Chef Ronnie Killen an outlier. He’s a classically-trained chef who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in London and chose to skip the high-end dining tradition of opening a stuffy French restaurant or a temple to molecular gastronomy and instead focus his formidable training and talents on something closer to home – building a classic Texas steakhouse. And indeed, Killen’s Steakhouse is consistently recognized as one of the best steakhouses in Houston.

More literally, Killen’s lies outside the geographic and cultural mainstream of the Houston food world, on a stretch of highway on the east side of Pearland, Chef Killen’s hometown. Recently, plans to bring Killen’s Steakhouse inside the loop to the Houston Heights were unsuccessful.

Along with the announcement about the defunct Heights location, Killen also let slip that he was working on a new project for Pearland – a barbecue joint called “Killen’s BBB” (for “Barbecue, Burgers and Beer”). One of Houston’s most talented chefs setting his sights on the religion that is Texas barbecue? For Houston barbecue fans, this was intriguing.

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My Favorite BBQ Joints

Kevin from the Kevin’s BBQ Joints website asked me to write a blog post for his series “My Favorite BBQ Joints.” You can see the original here.

Patillo’s Bar-B-Q – Beaumont TX

Patillos Bar-B-Q
Patillo’s Bar-B-Q – Beaumont TX

Growing up in Beaumont, Patillo’s is the first BBQ joint I ever went to. It celebrates its 100th year in continuous business this year. I went to high school just down the street on 11th St, and came here a lot in high school. Even brought a couple of dates here. The 11th St. location closed last year after the owners sold the property to Jack in the Box. It reopened in a previous location on Washington Blvd that had been around since the 1950s but closed after a hurricane a few years ago. It’s been remodeled and brought up to code. There’s a certain time-capsule quality about the barbecue here – this is by all accounts the same barbecue that’s been cooked by this family at least for the last few decades, if not the last century. And that’s a good thing in my opinion. The barbecue is unique and personal in a way.

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The Character and Soul of Barbecue

Patillos Bar-B-Q
Patillo’s Bar-B-Q – Beaumont TX

When I sit down in front of a plate of barbecue, I often ask myself, “How did this get here?” Meaning, what were the techniques, traditions, beliefs, personalities, rituals, superstitions and hardships that resulted in this barbecue coming into being?

This may come off as rather dramatic and unnecessary – it’s just food fer chrissakes – and indeed on many occasions I just want to eat my food and not think about the existential roots of its being. But for most of us, food incorporates some essence of emotion and memory, and the act of placing food on taste buds begins an involuntary fusillade of electric sparks among nerve endings and brain cells resulting in an intellectual and emotional response.

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Friuli-Venezia Giulia: World-Class White Wines from Italy

I Clivi Friulano
I Clivi Friulano

The day began with our van trundling up a steep gravel path to the top of a hill where a weathered stone house sat among vineyards sprawling down the surrounding slopes. This morning was misty and dense with fog so that when we surveyed the landscape from our heady redoubt we only saw endless rows of grape vines stretching into a gauzy grey of clouds.

We were in the northeastern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, not more than a kilometer from the Slovenian border, at the I Clivi di Ferdinando Zanusso & Figlio winery (I Clivi for short). We were met by Mario Zanusso, the son (figlio in Italian) of owner Ferdinando. Mario combines Hollywood good-looks with the earnestness of a college professor whose specialty is how to make wine.

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