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Rolling with the Klopse at NIOSA

Rolling with the Klopse at NIOSA

Stop by most every food booth at a Night in Old San Antonio and you can get a serving of family history alongside your favorite snack.

Allison Schmidt (left) talks with her Cowboy Klopse crew.

Allison Schmidt (left) talks with her Cowboy Klopse crew.

Take Richard and Joy Slavin for example. Their family found their way to Frontier Town in the early 1970s when they worked at the chili con queso booth. After a few years, chili con queso moved out of the neighborhood, but the Slavins decided to stay on their NIOSA block. They found themselves working at the then-new Cowboy Klopse booth, where they have volunteered ever since.

Their daughter, Allison Schmidt, and her husband, Smitty Schmidt, are now chairing the booth, and you’ll find the next generation of the family, the Schmidts’ twin daughters, Jessica and Julie, joining in the fun. Allison’s brother, Rick Slavin, also pitches in where needed.

For those not familiar with the NIOSA favorite, Cowboy Klopse is the name of a meatball that’s been coated in a jalapeno batter before being deep-fried to a dark golden perfection.

Cowboy Klopse

Cowboy Klopse

According to Allison, the recipe was created by a woman named Jane Fricke, who ran the booth for a year before deciding she’d had enough. So, she left behind her recipe, which draws thousands of hungry customers over the course of the celebration. One bite will convince you why.

Throughout the duration of NISOA, the booth expects to sell just shy of 3,000 servings, Smitty says.

He’s the one who showed me how to fry up these treats. The recipe begins with a Golden Dipt Batter mix with diced jalapeños stirred in. Then you add the meatballs and get them thoroughly coated. Using a pair of kitchen tongs, you grab a meatball out of the bowl and make sure it has a thick coating of batter around it before dropping it into a fry vat and letting the hot oil do its magic. About halfway through the frying process, you shake the balls loose from the bottom of the fry basket, so they can float to the top and finish cooking.

It’s not a complicated process, but like anything you cook, the procedure has to be followed fairly closely — and you have to do it without giving yourself a grease burn. It took no time to learn how to fry them up right, but it did take me a few baskets before I got the process right. On my very first try, I managed to get the Klopse stuck in the corner of the fry basket, so I had to a clean pair of tongs to loosen it. It took a while to develop the right method of shaking the balls loose while they cooked. And I managed to splash myself with oil once. Thankfully, it wasn’t bad.

Meatballs in jalapeno batter

Meatballs in jalapeno batter

I picked up additional technique from my fellow fryers, some of whom have worked the booth for anywhere from five to 10 years. They made me feel like an old pro in no time. One of the volunteers, Bibi Nuñez, has been making klopse since 1984. He loves the work and he loves the protection that the booth offers from the sometimes overwhelming NIOSA crowds. “It’s fun being behind here, watching the people” he says. I’ve thought the same many times.

The crew fell into their jobs as if they had been frying up meatballs last week, not last year. “Everybody really knows what they’re doing,” Allison says. “It’s really in good hands.”

The finished product

The finished product

They also began to catch up with each, swapping stories about work, about volunteering for NIOSA and the San Antonio Conservation Society, the rain rock that was supposed to ward off the thunderstorms that had been forecast, you name it. Smitty told me about Caritas Ranch BBQ, which he used to make and market. Allison talked about sweating through a hot NIOSA when she was pregnant with her twin girls. And Jessica talked about heading off to Alpine with her sister this fall for college.

In the 15 years or so that I’ve worked at NIOSA, helping out at booths as diverse as Bongo-K-bobs, fried green tomatoes, Yak-i-tori, Shypoke Eggs and bean tacos as well as the no-longer-offered Maria’s tortillas and calf fries, I can’t recall a booth where the workers loved their product quite as much as the team at Cowboy Klopse. Yes, all of the booths took deep pride in their work, but these workers delighted in it, and that made it even more fun than usual.

Of course, you can’t make it through a shift of working at the Klopse booth without hearing a few jokes about the hot balls that they’re serving up to hungry customers. After all, as Allison Schmidt says, “They’re anatomically correct. We sell them two at a time.”

Three generations of NIOSA volunteers: Richard and Joy Slavin (front) with Smitty (from left), Jessica and Allison Schmidt at the Cowboy Klopse booth.

Three generations of NIOSA volunteers: Richard and Joy Slavin (front) with Smitty (from left), Jessica and Allison Schmidt at the Cowboy Klopse booth.

The sales pitch

The sales pitch


Bibi Nuñez has been making Cowboy Klopse since 1984.

And what's NIOSA with a party hat?

And what’s NIOSA with a party hat?

A Night in Old San Antonio, a benefit for the San Antonio Conservation Society, continues through Friday. For more information, click here.

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Griffin to Go: A Tribute to the Food Lover and Novelist Pat Conroy

Griffin to Go: A Tribute to the Food Lover and Novelist Pat Conroy

Author’s note: The following column from September 2009 has become all the more meaningful, to me, at least, because of the news that Pat Conroy died recently. In the years since I wrote the piece, I did finish reading all of his works, and I also managed to get a copy of “Charleston Receipts.” I’ll be making the benne seed wafers soon in his memory.

One of my prized possessions is an autographed copy of “The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life,” a collection of food stories as well as recipes from the author of “The Prince of Tides.”

ConroyI ordered the book off the Internet from a store in Decatur, Ga., that has numerous signed copies of his work (Books Again), so there’s no backstory of standing in line to meet Conroy after a reading or bumping into him at some literary gathering.

But I did meet the author once, about 15 years ago, when he made an appearance in Sarasota, Fla. I hadn’t read anything of his at the time, and that kept me from interviewing him for the newspaper where I worked. It seems Conroy’s fame had taken him to the point where he could ask that he be interviewed only by someone who had read his work.

That may seem odd, but it really isn’t. Conroy wanted to discuss his work, not what Barbra Streisand or other Hollywood types had done with it when translating his stories into movies.Yet he agreed to come to the newspaper office, which, at the time, also housed a 24-hour TV news station.

While waiting for the interview room to be set up, Conroy wandered through the newsroom, introduced himself to a couple of us and talked about how his visit was going. He was jocular and ingratiating, a sort of bear that seemed to be enjoying life, even if it meant having to sit for yet another interview.

How nice he was made me search out his books, first “The Prince of Tides,” then “Beach Music,” “The Water Is Wide” and so on. I haven’t finished all of his output yet, but I have enjoyed each volume I’ve picked up. It could be the Southern boy in me that relates to his almost poetic prose about Charleston, S.C., a city I have longed to visit. Then, there are those grand sweeping sentences that match the sweeping emotions he conveys.

Or maybe it’s just the food. Not the famous dog food scene in “Prince of Tides,” mind you. But food pervades much of Conroy’s writing. This is a man who honestly confessed at the beginning of his cookbook: “The subject of food is nearly a sacred one to me.” And that permeates his writing. I could practically taste the pasta in the Italian scenes of “Beach Music” and the Lowcountry fare in just about all of his other novels.

The food of his home state pervades his new novel, “South of Broad,” which deals with, among other things, the integration of schools in the South. Food is one item that transcends racial barriers, and it’s no wonder food is used as a way to bring people together. Here’s a short passage in which our young hero, Leopold Bloom King, is making cookies for some new neighbors:

“I opened the copy of ‘Charleston Receipts’ that my father had bought on the day I was delivered at St. Francis Hospital, and I turned it to the benne seed wafer thins, a recipe submitted by Mrs. Gustave P. Maxwell, the former Lizetta Simons. My father and I had cooked almost every recipe in the ‘Charleston Receipts,’ a transcendent cookbook put together by the Junior League and published to universal acclaim in 1950. Father and I placed stars each time we prepared one of the recipes, and the benne wafers had earned a whole constellation. I began toasting the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet. I creamed two cups of brown sugar with a stick of unsalted butter. I added a cup of plain flour sifted with baking powder and a pinch of salt, and a freshly beaten egg that my father had purchased from a farm neat Summerville. …”

Doesn’t that just send you into the kitchen to make your own batch? Well, I don’t have a copy of “Charleston Receipts,” complete with the old-fashioned term for what we now call recipes. But I did find one on the Internet, which appears below.

I also include a recipe for Conroy’s killer crab cakes from his cookbook. As he writes in the introduction, “I think I make the best crab cakes and shrimp salad in the world, and I will take on all comers.”

That’s it for now. I’m headed back to “South of Broad.”

Crab Cakes

1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over and cleaned, with all shell fragments removed
1 egg white, lightly beaten (until foamy, not stiff)
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt, divided use
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons peanut oil
Lemon wedges

Place the cleaned crabmeat in a medium mixing bowl. Pour the egg white over the crabmeat slowly, stopping occasionally to mix it through. When the crabmeat has absorbed the egg white and feels slightly sticky to the touch, sift the flour over crabmeat and sprinkle the chives, black pepper, cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon salt over the top. Lift the crabmeat from the bottom of the bowl, turning it over gently, to mix the ingredients without overhandling.

Separate the crabmeat into 8 equal portions and gently roll each between the flattened palms of your hands to form loose balls. Flatten slightly and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle both sides liberally with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cooking.

Line a baking pan with paper towels. Fry the crab cakes in two batches to ensure a crisp crust. Using a small (8-inch) heavy skillet that conducts heat well, melt half the butter and oil together until the mixture is foamy and begins to brown. Carefully place the crab cakes in the hot fat and fry until a crust forms, turning once, about 2 minutes per side. (The fat should be sizzling hot enabling a crisp crust to form before the crab absorbs the cooking fat. This is the Southern secret to perfect crab cakes.) A small pastry spatula (with a thin tongue) will make lifting and turning the delicate crab cakes a lot easier. Remove the crab cakes and drain in the prepared pan. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm while you make the second batch.

Carefully pour off the cooking fat from the first batch, wipe out the pan and return it to the heat. Prepare the second batch of crab cakes using the remaining butter and oil.

Serve hot with lemon wedges.

From “The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life”

Benne Seed Wafer Thins

1 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the sesame seeds on an ungreased baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, watching closely, until lightly browned. In a large mixing bowl mix the brown sugar, melted butter or margarine, egg, vanilla, flour, salt, baking powder and toasted sesame seeds together until blended. Drop dough by half-teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between cookies. Bake benne wafers for 4 to 6 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cookies cool for about 2 minutes on baking sheets; remove from baking sheets to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cooled sesame seed cookies in an airtight container.

Makes about 72 cookies.


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Feel Like Drowning Your Sorrows?

Feel Like Drowning Your Sorrows?

The news last week that the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,”  Harper Lee, had died was sad to all of us who loved her book as well as her iconic characters, including Scout, Atticus, Dill and Bo Radley. I first read the novel in freshman English class many years ago, and just to remind myself of its brilliance, I re-read it a few years ago, marveling once again at her storytelling abilities.

tequilaBut I was also reminded of another book — and I don’t mean Lee’s other novel, “Go Tell a Watchman.” The book I was thinking of was a slender volume from 2013 bearing the punderful name “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist” (Running Press, $15) by Tim Federle.

Yes, your favorite volumes of literature (and a few you may have hated, too) have provided the basis for some fantastic drinks. Romance lovers will lap up the liquid tale of Romeo and Julep or the Austen-inspired Rye and Prejudice. Fans of magical realism can always soak up Love in the Time of Kahlua, while a few too many Malted Falcons will give you a noir to forget.

These are not simply classic drinks with a classic title twisted to suit the occasion. Well, not all. Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margarita? does offer a fine, traditional mix of tequila, triple sec and lime without any sugary additions. The Lord of the Mai-Tais, though, starts with rum and a slice of pineapple as a garnish, but the drink also includes a winning combination of cranberry juice, orange juice, coconut rum and grenadine. Gin Eyre is an original mix of gin with mint, lemon juice, sugar and orange bitters for a refreshing summertime treat. And who would not be crazy for a drink called The Rye in the Catcher with its blend of rye, pineapple and lemon juices, and ginger beer?

tequila mockingbirdFederle has taken his gift for puns on to other fields and has produced two more cocktail books, “Hickory Daiquiri Dock: Cocktails with a Nursery Rhyme Twist” and “Gone with the Gin: Cocktails with a Hollywood Twist.” As if that’s not enough, he’s also a YA novelist who’s working on a musical version of “Tuck Everlasting.”

But back to “Tequila Mockingbird.” In writing about the original novel, Federle offers this explanation for the inspiration of his drink: “After a conclusion that leaves you both hopeful and haunted, toast to a sometimes sour justice system with a tequila shot that’s guilty of packing a dill pickle punch.” Raise a toast to Harper Lee while you’re at it. and enjoy.

Tequila Mockingbird

1 1/2 ounces tequila
2 drops hot sauce
1 dill pickle

Pour the tequila into a shot glass, add the hot sauce, and slam that bad boy back before chasing with a big chomp of pickle. No tears allowed here: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the South.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Tequila Mockingbird” by Tim Federle


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Let’s Raise a Glass to Jay Corley

Let’s Raise a Glass to Jay Corley

Word reached me late last week that the California wine world had lost one of its pioneers earlier this month. Jay Corley of Monticello Vineyards in the Napa Valley died on Jan. 11 at the age of 84.

Jay Corley (

Jay Corley (

Folks in town who frequent wine dinners at various restaurants may remember Corley, who came to town to promote his wines. Over a bottle or two of his Cabernets and Merlots, he formed lasting friendships with more than a few locals who treasure the time they spent with him as well as his wines.

I first met Corley at one of those dinners. It was at Las Canarias, and he was surrounded by friends old and new. During his talk, he was quick to issue invitations for one and all to come see his winery. That was all I needed to seek it out on my first visit to California. Having some sort of connection always helps when you have a seemingly unlimited array of choices, and there are hundreds of wineries in Napa.

Corley’s Napa Valley winery is indeed modeled after its namesake, Thomas Jefferson’s home. More than being beautiful, it proved to be a haven of peace in the wine-tourist crazed area. While walking around the place, I was able to enjoy the sounds of nature on an overcast afternoon and take in its agricultural beauty. It was here that I really came to understand that for as elevated a treat as wine is, it is the product of farming.

The tasting room was having a sale that day, and I remember sending a case of older Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs back to San Antonio to grace several holiday meals after that.

I next encountered Jay Corley in New Mexico, where he was attending the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta. I was traveling with friends Mickey and Glenn Drown, who are among the friends Corley had made over the years. Jay and his wife, Joan, had an annual party that the Drowns and the others in our group had attended for years. Once there, everyone seemed to fall back into each others’ company as if they had seem each other the previous week. Jay was especially proud that year of his Syrah, which showed off the best that his estate could produce and which was a grape that he had managed to continue to produce despite public tastes at the time.

monticelloDuring the evening, Corley mentioned to Glenn that he wouldn’t be able to make an exclusive tasting that had been set up for the governor’s mansion on the following day. He gave the tickets to Glenn, who invited me to accompany him. (It was there I met Douglas Murray, who invited me to visit his winery, Montes, in Chile. But my trip to his winery is another story.)

The day after the tasting, we went to a Corley wine dinner, which, if I recall correctly, was somewhere on the compound of the Museum of International Folk Art. During the winery owner’s presentation, he handed out several gifts. As my birthday was the following day, I received a gift of a DVD about Jefferson and the pioneering work he did with wine in this country. Corley was a part of the documentary and he was in his element, talking both about his hero and about winemaking. I treasure that gift more now than ever.

I have been holding on to a bottle of Monticello Vineyards Pinot Noir for a few years. What better way can I honor Jay Corley’s life than by lifting a glass of one of his finest to his memory? Join me.


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Griffin to Go: Scenes from Restaurant Week

Griffin to Go: Scenes from Restaurant Week

Culinaria’s Restaurant Week continues, so what better reason do you need to go out and eat?

Smoke's Shrimp & Swine

Smoke’s Shrimp & Swine

Nothing, in my book, which is why I headed out to several lunches and a dinner in the past week.

The trips started with a visit to Brian West’s Smoke: The Restaurant and a $10 lunch that was largely wonderful.

It began with a warm pork jowl and shrimp salad, also known as Shrimp & Swine, in which the meats were tossed with cabbage and bacon. One bite convinced us that it was a masterful blending of flavors and textures, and it left us with an appetite for the meaty pleasures to come.

The main course is a three-meat plate. I don’t know if the lineup changes, but we were pleased with our trio of turkey, pork and brisket. A delicate touch of smoke laced the juicy slab of turkey while letting the real flavor of the meat shine through. The brisket was tender, but the salty crust was even more impressive; the thick-cut serving also tasted good with the house chimichurri sauce, thanks to its bright garlicky base. Strands of moist pulled pork filled out the tray and provided a great vehicle to try the six pack of sauces that arrived at the table; I preferred the tangy tomatillo sauce, while you might prefer the sweeter honey mustard. Give them all a shot.

Bolo's Monte Cristo

Bolo’s Monte Cristo

Dessert was a welcome serving of banana pudding that featured firm yet flavorful slices of fruit floating in a creamy base with a vanilla wafer offering a crunchy contrast. I had a hankering for this homespun favorite before the first morsel of food arrived, thanks to a waiter who bore a tray of servings past our table shortly arrived I arrived.

The food in and unto itself made for a great lunch, especially at $10, and we were lucky to have an attentive server even though the restaurant was slammed with diners. Unfortunately, the background music was so loud that it was hard to hear my companions that day. They had asked for the music to be turned down before I arrived a little late, and while their wish was granted, that seemed to last for only a song. By turning the music back up, Smoke lost one of my friends who decided he had no need to return, no matter how good the food is. I’ll opt for the outdoors when the weather isn’t so hot.

Bolo's lemon sorbet with stone fruit

Bolo’s lemon sorbet with stone fruit

My second lunch visit was to Bolo’s Rotisserie Grill at the Omni Colonnade, a short trip from my day job.

The special menu, at $15 for lunch, began with a grilled Caesar made with smoky romaine that had been wilted and slightly charred on the grill. A light taste of oil from the roasted poblano dressing added to the fresh of the lettuce while pearl tomatoes, grown on the hotel’s rooftop garden, added a bright touch. A couple of anchovies would have been even more welcome, but I welcome anchovies with most any dish.

The main course was a Monte Cristo sandwich filled with generous slices of honey-roasted turkey and Hill Country ham as well as plenty of Swiss to help melt it all together. The French toast that surrounded the meats and cheese arrived sizzling to the touch and went from hot and crisp to a welcome warm soft state before the last bite disappeared.

Biga's snapper with pappardelle and bacon

Biga’s snapper with pappardelle and bacon

Dessert that day was a lemon sorbet instead of the advertised mango, and that was perfectly fine with me as it arrived over a medley of plums and peaches in a passion fruit and honey sauce (the honey was also harvested from that rooftop garden). It sent me back to work with a sweet smile.

By Saturday night, I was ready for more, and Biga on the Banks happily delivered.

My friend and I were able to split most of the Restaurant Week options even without quibbling over who would try what.

She wanted the advertised soup choice, a chilled bowl of potato cilantro soup, which was refreshing after a hot day even as it excited with a drizzle of chile oil on top. I opted for a special that evening, a warm soup with roasted mushrooms and cauliflower, which proved earthy and bold; one spoon convinced me it would be hard to top, no matter how good the rest of the meal proved to be.

Biga's mousse bar

Biga’s mousse bar

And it turned out to be quite good indeed.

A Kobe beef burger (with a slab of foie gras for a $15 supplement) was practically perfect, thanks to a juicy slab of meat matched by a bun loaded with the flavor of caramelized onion. The bread overwhelmed the foie, so we merely removed it and enjoyed it by itself. The burger and fries were bolsterd by a robust Simi Cabernet Sauvignon.

I’ve been trying somewhat to increase my seafood intake, so I ordered the seared snapper over pappardelle pasta. The fish was firm and fresh, complemented by the dill in the sauce, and truly satisfying. I just won’t tell my doctor about the bacon that also appeared in the sauce, sending the dish into a whole new realm of texture and flavor.

We finished off the evening with a chocolate-raspberry mousse bar topped with melted orange marshmallow, which was dense and rich, but somehow couldn’t eclipse the brilliance of lemon custard with blueberries and coconut ice cream.

Add in Biga’s always excellent service and inviting ambience, and you have the perfect illustration of why Restaurant Week is such a favorite of diners. I hope your adventures are proving to be as rewarding.

Biga's lemon custard with blueberries and coconut ice cream

Biga’s lemon custard with blueberries and coconut ice cream

Smoke: The Restaurant
700 E Sonterra Blvd.

Omni Colonnade – Bolo’s Rotisserie Grille
9821 Colonnade Blvd

Biga on the Banks
203 S. St. Mary’s St., Suite 100

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Griffin to Go: Restaurant Week Brings a Welcome Mix of Old and New

Griffin to Go: Restaurant Week Brings a Welcome Mix of Old and New

Kirby's Angus New York strip

Kirby’s Angus New York strip

Culinaria’s Restaurant Week, which is actually two weeks this summer, offers the chance to see what some old friends are up to while introducing us to new places on the city’s dining scene.

Kirby's braised lamb shank

Kirby’s braised lamb shank

And so it was with visits to the new Alberico Fine Wine and the reliable Kirby’s Steakhouse on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Let’s start with Kirby’s, which has long gotten into the spirit of Restaurant Week by offering a varied menu and by being the first to extend the special an additional week.

This year’s special menu, available for $35, begins with an extra appetizer, available for $7 — and it’s worth every penny. It’s a chorizo-stuffed quail atop a bed of smoky jalapeno coleslaw, both of which are as fine as you can imagine. The spicy sausage offered a nice contrast to the moist fowl while the slaw had the right balance of heat and creaminess to make each of want more.

The menu begins with starters that included your choice of two bacon-wrapped scallops with spinach, fried artichokes or a baked Caprese, a kind of Napoleon of tomato slices topped with a Boursin-stuffed portobello mushroom. All disappeared quickly.

Kirby's baked Caprese

Kirby’s baked Caprese

Then arrived the real star of the evening: a rustic braised lamb shank in a meaty rosemary thyme au jus that was pure comfort food, tender perfection in every bite. A 10-ounce Angus New York strip lacked the velvety nature of prime, but the beef flavor won out. Glazed salmon topped with pecans was a little sweet for my tastes, but one of my friends enjoyed it as well as the red bell pepper risotto that came with it. There’s also a prosciutto-wrapped filet that might call us back for a second visit.

Dessert options included butterscotch chocoflan, which was a little on the dry side, and a strawberry mojito sundae that hit all the right buttons on a sweltering August evening, thanks to a lively combination of berries, whipped cream, mint and a touch of rum.

We forgot that Sunday was half-off wine night at Kirby’s, so imagine our surprise when we got the bill and noticed that our bottle of 2008 Ridge Lytton Springs was listed at $27.50, instead of the usual $55. It was just the right note to end the evening on.

Special mention must be made of the excellent service, which made the visit all the more special.

Alberico Fine Wine's tuna

Alberico Fine Wine’s tuna

We were looking forward to our first visit to Alberico Fine Wine, and we were impressed with the wine program as well as the help we received from the sommelier. The restaurant and wine bar, located in the Yard next to Olmos Perk, offers all of its wines by the glass and at a good price. Plus, you can enjoy it in your choice of environs: a light and cozy bar area; a cool, spacious dining area; or in the inviting wine room.

It’s too bad that the food largely failed to match the wine experience. Dad’s Salad was a single leaf of romaine lettuce topped with diced unripe tomato, a few paltry cubes of avocado and strands of red onion. The watermelon and feta salad with arugula was far better, in fact the refreshing combination was the best dish of the evening.

Duck medallions were served in a sauce that was far too sweet, throwing off the pleasantness of the dry Barolo we’d ordered. Just-seared tuna with grilled vegetables were good, but they were served atop a mound of risotto that was gummy and cold.

Alberico's watermelon and feta salad

Alberico’s watermelon and feta salad

A salt grilled peach struck the right note, but it was atop a nearly flavorless sorbet while a pair of creme brulees were a little too gritty when they should have been silken and creamy.

It didn’t help matters that our waiter was indifferent to his job duties and seemed to avoid our table, one of only three or four occupied in the place.

In the end, it was all a part of what makes Restaurant Week special. Here’s to more adventures in eating.

Kirby’s Steakhouse
123 N. Loop 1604 E.
(210) 404-2221

Alberico Fine Wine
5221 McCullough Ave.
(210) 320-VINO (8466)


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Griffin to Go: Are You Ready for Some Green Eggs and Ham?

Griffin to Go: Are You Ready for Some Green Eggs and Ham?

I ran into an H-E-B the other day to pick up a couple of things and started wandering through the store. Before I was finished, I picked up more than I had planned to, including the most highly anticipated book of the summer.

what petNope. It wasn’t “Go Set a Watchman,” the first novel from Harper Lee in more than a half-century.

I loved “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but I’m waiting for her new work to come in on CD at the library, so I can listen to it in my spare time.

The new book I grabbed was “What Pet Should I Get?” from the one and only Dr. Seuss, who left this life in 1991.

We want a pet.
We want a pet.
What kind of pet
should we get?

I won’t spoil the wonderful surprise in store for readers, but I will say that it got me thinking of my favorite Dr. Seuss books. Head and shoulders above the rest is “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” followed closely by its brother volume, “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.” They were tandem favorites of my childhood, thanks to the good doctor’s fine sense of storytelling and illustrations.

Dr. Seuss knew his food, too. From the roast beast in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to the Truffula fruits in “The Lorax,” he had a keen taste for when food played a part in his impeccable rhyme scheme. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tale of the pickiest of picky eaters, “Green Eggs and Ham.” Or “Huevos verdes con jamón,” as it is known in Spanish.

Don’t know this version? It’s a great way to learn the language, though a few names have been changed to protect the innocent – and the all-important rhymes.

¿No te gustan
los huevos verdes con jamón?

no me gustan nada,
Juan Ramón.

huevos verdesAll this Seussian delirium also got me thinking of a scrapbook of recipes my sister Linda once made for me. It featured recipes she had culled from numerous publications, everything from Katharine Hepburn’s brownies to Senegalese Deukhine, a stew with meat, fish, mussels, peanut butter and fiery chiles. At the very beginning was a recipe for Green Eggs and Ham.

It ran under the headline “Invite Dr. Seuss to brunch,” but there is no other marker telling me the source of this recipe. Nonetheless, I’m sharing it with you in an effort to raise a toast to Dr. Seuss, who has been entertaining me for decades.

The recipe, which is reprinted here verbatim, is an obvious relic of a time in which margarine and non-fat milk were thought to be healthy and the nutritional information of a recipe failed to include a carbohydrate count. We know better now, so modify the recipe as you see fit.

The important thing is to enjoy it as well as some new Dr. Seuss, no matter what pet you eventually get.

Green Eggs and Ham
En Croustade

1 loaf whole-wheat bread, unsliced
2 tablespoons corn oil margarine, melted
4 eggs
8 egg whites
½ cup non-fat milk
½ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh chives or green onion tops
½ teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
½ teaspoon salt, optional
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon corn oil margarine
1 cup chopped cooked lean ham
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives or green onion tops, for garnish
Parsley or tarragon sprigs, for garnish
Fresh cranberries, for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Slice the top crust off the loaf of bread. To make the croustade, carefully hollow out the loaf leaving walls ¾-inch thick. (Save the breadcrumbs to use in another recipe.) Using a pastry brush, evening apply the melted margarine to the entire croustade. Placce it on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until it is well toasted. Remove to a serving platter and keep warm.

Put the eggs and egg whites in a bowl and beat them until they are frothy. Put the milk, ½ cup parsley, ¼ cup chives, ½ teaspoon dried tarragon, salt and white pepper in a blender and blend until smooth in texture.

Pour the “green” mixture into the eggs and mix thoroughly.

Melt the tablespoon of margarine in a large skillet and heat the skillet well before adding the eggs.

Add the egg mixture and reduce heat, stirring the eggs constantly until they are almost set. Add the ham and cook until eggs are desired consistency. Be careful not to overcook the eggs as it makes them too dry.

Remove eggs from the heat and spoon them into the croustade, which has been placed on a serving platter. Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon chopped chives over the top of the eggs and decorate the platter with sprigs of parsley or tarragon. Garnish with cranberries, if desired.

Makes 4 servings. Approximate nutritional value per serving: 300 calories, 228 mg cholesterol, 16 g fat, 864 mg sodium.


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Griffin to Go: Paging Through Some Texas Culinary Treasures

Griffin to Go: Paging Through Some Texas Culinary Treasures

It’s hard to break some habits.

When I was a kid, my idea of shopping nirvana consisted of visits to book stores and record stores. All these years later, I haven’t changed much, though wine shops and groceries of all varieties have made their way onto the list.

One of my recent obsessions has been in building a collection of Texas cookbooks. In the past year or so, I’ve gathered more than 125 volumes of everything from chefs’ collections to books produced by various community groups, such as the Junior League, symphony societies and arts guilds. A few are filled with family treasures, but many offer a look at the culinary riches produced in the Lone Star state.

Texas cookbooksA recent visit to a Half Price Books not on my usual path resulted in my picking up nine new volumes, including more than a few found in the clearance rack and marked down to $3 or less. The variety was wonderful. Some offered nothing but recipes, others offered stories and a few some history lessons; all of them create a savory picture of the vast treasures to be found in kitchens from as far afield as Odessa, Rockport, Dallas, Houston and beyond.

Let’s start on the coast. If the world of Gulf Coast Crab Cakes, Mexican-Style Crab Meat Salad, Texas Coast Clear Gazpacho with Chili Garlic Croutons and Jicama Salad sounds as good to you as it does to me, then seek out your own copy of “Texas Maritime Museum: Marithyme Treasures, The Cuisine of the Texas Coast.” It was a 2003 Tabasco Community Cookbook Award winner, and for good reason. The recipes in this collection, whether they feature seafood, beef, chicken or vegetables, are mouthwatering treats. Some, such as Lobster Spinach Pancakes, are for the gourmands among us while  even the most beginning cook make the Basil Walnut Garlic Soup.

“South of the Fork” was the 1987 offering from the Junior League of Dallas, which was printed at a time of culinary change in that city. As the flap on the book states, “While those of us who were used to plain cookin’ discovered that sole was not soul or ratatouille just a fancy dance step, these pioneer chefs learned to speak in several ‘tongues,’ from Southern to Spanish, Texan to Tex-Mex, Anglo to Italian, to name a few.” So, yes, there are recipes for Phyllo Triangles with Sausage-Mushroom Filling and Venison Game Tournedos, but there are also down-home treasures, including Sausage Black-Eyed Peas and Cold Avocado and Green Chile Soup.

Courtenay Beinhorn’s “Beinhorn’s Mesquite Cookery” from 1986 is a valentine to the wood that grows wildly across West and South Texas. Mesquite lovers know its charms with brisket made right, but how about using the woods on Cabrito with Cumin and Pequin Chiles? Or Venison Steak with Ancho Cream? The writer even uses mesquite with seafood in dishes that sound as wonderful as Oysters with Shallot and Cilantro Butter and Lobster with Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce.

The wild wild west“The Wild Wild West” comes from the Junior League of Odessa with plenty of hearty dishes, from Chicken and Avocado Casserole to Pancho Pie, which you can make in a cast-iron skillet over a campfire. The Texas-style chili calls for a Texas beer, of course, and there are three variations on pecan pie to be sampled: traditional, one with a Ritz cracker crust and the last a crustless version with crushed graham crackers folded into mix.

The 1989 “Texas Hill County Wine & Food Festival: A Cookbook” shows the haute cuisine of the period from chefs, winery owners and writers, many of whom still carry weight on the state’s culinary scene, including Stephan Pyles, Ron Bechtol, Anne Lindsay Greer, Susan Auler, Patsy Swendson, Bill Varney and Paula Lambert. There are recipes from California wineries and chefs as well; of interest is noting that the executive chef of Chateau Souverain at the time was Gary Danko, who offers several recipes including Chicken Breast in Mustard Pistachio Sauce.

Marilyn Romweber’s “Under the Mushroom” is a self-published collection of recipes from the Dallas restaurant known as The Little Mushroom and the only spiral-bound book in the lot. It was first printed in 1977, a time in which you could find dishes like Burgundy Beet Molded Salad or canned pineapple chunks with Velveeta in a Hot Pineapple Salad on a menu. They may not seem like the most appetizing creations today, but the book is also filled with easy-to-make creations that include Baked Pork Chops with Apple Brandy, Sour Cream Shrimp Enchiladas, Quick Carrots with Wine, Pumpkin Rum Cake and an Orange Gin Fizz with ice cream, orange and lemon juices, and of course, gin all in a blender.

under the mushroom“Dining in-Houston” from Rona Abbott and Ann Criswell is a 1978 collection of recipes from Houston’s top restaurants, including Brennan’s, D’Amico’s, Maxim’s and Tony’s. Ninfa’s Frozen Margaritas, with no added sugar or sickly sweet-and-sour mix, is a keeper, as is the Guacamole Salad recipe. Fresh Spinach and Squash Soup with Orange from Ouisie’s Table was earmarked by the book’s previous owner, making it as good a place as any to start.

The members and employee partners of Barton Creek Country Club near Austin put together the recipes in “Beyond Bar-B-Que,” which features stories of each of the contributors. It’s an oddly designed collection that features recipes in no certain order. So, you can find Mum’s Irish Christmas Pudding on facing pages with Muy Caliente Grits Soufflé Casserole, or Coach Hannon’s Smoked Turkey and Coconut Cream Pie. And, yes, there are several barbecue recipes included for good measure.

It helps to pay close attention to any book you may be buying. Ibbie Ledford’s “Hill County Cookin’ and Memoirs” was included among the Texas cookbooks and the name makes it seem like a great fit. Plus, it’s filled with stories as well recipes for the likes of Debby’s Nacho Main Dish Salad with Catalina dressing, Flapjacks and Hot Blackberry Jam, Mountain Dew Cake and a mix of black-eyed peas and okra. Sadly, the Hill County of the title is in Tennessee, not Texas. I’ll still be using it, though I doubt I’ll be making Squirrel Stew with Potato Dumplings anytime soon.

When all was said and done, my treasures cost less than $30. I’m ready to go shopping again.



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Getting a Taste of Hawaiian Barbecue

Getting a Taste of Hawaiian Barbecue

To understand Hawaiian barbecue, it’s necessary to discuss the lunch plate first. This is a traditional meal presentation, served throughout the day, consisting of two scoops of sticky rice and a scoop of simple macaroni salad before the serving container is finished off with a generous portion of protein. You’ll find this setup whether you get a barbecue lunch plate from a roadside stand or from one of the open-air restaurants that draws you in because of its fabulous aromas.

Never miss a roadside barbecue stand.

Never miss a roadside barbecue stand.

Your choice, then, is what meat you want to order. It could be ribs, cut across the bone, or perhaps marinated chicken straight from the grill. My favorite turned out to be Kalua pig roasted in an imu, an underground pit dug perhaps in someone’s backyard or even on the beach.

Sure, we’re a far cry from Texas-style barbecue with its mouthwatering array of smoked meats. It’s far closer to Chinese barbecue, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the Asian influence on island cuisine. But take another bite of that Kalua pig and revel in how the smoke subtly complements the refreshing flavor of fresh pork. It’s that special, whether you eat it by itself, cooked with cabbage or served on a bun with mayo, onion and lettuce.

It’s also simply prepared, which may be why I like it best. There’s no marinade, just roast pork with some salt and the flavor of the ti leaf, which is the green part of the plant that produces the taro root. If you can’t find one of those, then a banana leaf will do.

A Kalua pig sandwich

A Kalua pig sandwich

That’s far cry from the sweet, sticky barbecue sauce used on chicken and beef ribs alike, which you can get a taste of in San Antonio at L+L Hawaiian Grill, 1302 Austin Hwy. Most recipes for this style start with shoyu, a dark soy sauce that has undergone fermentation, before adding sugar, garlic, ginger and onion. You then let the marinade and the meat rest until you’re ready to grill. Throw some buttered pineapple on the grill for a side dish that’s irresistible.

On a recent trip to Maui, I found that barbecue holds fast to tradition, but there are the occasional attempts to broaden it.

At Fat Daddy’s on South Kikei Road, burnt ends and brisket were both on the menu, a tough choice when you’re from Texas. I was expecting something more like what we’d get back home, so I ordered the burnt ends. I certainly got what I ordered, fatty bits of meat with tender strands under a well-done exterior, but I also discovered that the meat had been covered in sauce, which is more of an East Texas style than I was expecting. They were served with truffled mac and cheese and blue cheese coleslaw on the side, both of which are from a barbecue tradition I have yet to discover, though the slaw was excellent.

Burnt ends from Fat Daddy's in Kihei.

Burnt ends from Fat Daddy’s in Kihei.

On the road to Hana, we our driver zipped past a roadside barbecue stand that I would have loved to have visited. He stopped instead a little further down the road at another roadside stand, one that promised Aunty Sandy’s handmade banana bread, which was truly exceptional and featured, no doubt, bananas grown on the nearby plants. But it was the Kalua pig, advertised a little lower on the sign (below “hot dog” even) that caught my attention. One bite of my sandwich was enough to convince my traveling companions to get their own. We were all taken in by the fresh pork flavor with a touch of smoke well balanced by the mayo. It quickly became one of my favorite flavors of the entire trip.

I wanted that flavor again when I stopped by King’s BBQ and Chinese Restaurant, again on South Kihei Road, a couple of days later. It was not to be. Instead, I ordered up a combination of luau pork wrapped in ti leaves and Kalua pig sauteed with cabbage. Both boasted fine flavors; I especially like anything sauteed with cabbage.  But it missed the clean, straightforward beauty of that simple pork sandwich from a roadside stand.

Kalua pig joy

Kalua pig joy

It made me remember another lesson from the global barbecue trail: No matter the style of ‘cue you’re talking about, don’t pass up those roadside stands; you’ll never know what culinary treasures you could be missing out on.

John Griffin and Bonnie Walker are authors of “Barbecue Lover’s Texas” (Globe Pequot Press).

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Sandy Oaks Olive Leaves — Try Tea From the Bountiful Olive Tree

Sandy Oaks Olive Leaves — Try Tea From the Bountiful Olive Tree

By Saundra Winokur
Owner, Sandy Oak Olive Orchard
Founded 1998

ELMENDORF –For centuries, olive trees have been valued for the medicinal properties of not only the fruit and oil, but also the leaves.

When I started my orchard in 1998, I read every article I could find about the virtues of olive oil.  In the process, I learned that the ancients brewed a medicinal drink from the leaves, using it to treat various ailments and fevers.

Sandy Oaks Olive Leaf Tea

Olive leaf tea tastes good, and has health benefits, too.

That piece of information piqued my curiosity so I brewed a cup for myself, only to discover that the healthful tea is also quite tasty.  I served some to my crew at Sandy Oaks, and from that point forward, we drink it hot every winter and iced every summer.  During the exceptionally cold winter of 2015, my staff and I consumed buckets of hot tea to help alleviate the aches and discomfort that accompany colds, allergies and sinus infections.

Sandy Oaks Olive Leaf Jelly a popular item at Sandy Oaks' store.

Sandy Oaks Olive Leaf Jelly a popular item at Sandy Oaks’ store.

In 2002, I used leaves to make a unique olive leaf jelly.  The recipe is obviously a closely guarded secret.  When you taste it, you are definitely in for a treat. We use it in a number of ways in our restaurant, The Kitchen, which we opened in 2009.

It was so good, we began serving the olive leaf tea to our customers.  We also serve it for special events and offer a sample in our gift shop and at the Farmer’s Market. Not surprisingly, our customers prefer olive leaf iced-tea to the traditional iced-tea that we also offer.

Sandy Oaks leaves are used in several of our products because olive leaves contain twice the antioxidants found in green tea and 400 percent more vitamin C then other sources of that vitamin.

All of our skin care products are made using the leaves in one form or another.  Our creams are made with extra virgin olive oil, infused with olive leaves.  Our soaps are made with olive leaf tea as the liquid in the manufacturing process, and some of them also contain the ground up leaves in the bar.

So, celebrate the leaf with us!  Buy fresh leaves from us at our booth at the Pearl Farmers Market, in our store at the orchard, or from our on-line store.  Better yet, come dine in our restaurant at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard or stop by our booth at Pearl Farmers Market to taste our freshly brewed olive leaf tea.

Editor’s note: Check out Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard’s website here for a thorough preview of the property just a 25-minute drive from downtown San Antonio at 25195 Mathis Road. If you love the olive leaf tea — you can buy it by the bagful at the store or grow your own — from a tree at the olive tree nursery, also carefully managed at Sandy Oaks.








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