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2012 Was a Year of Eating Well


The Pearl has become a food lover’s center for festivals as well as restaurants.

Bliss is aptly named.

As we approach the end of 2012, it’s time to look back on the many great flavors that we sampled. The list is lengthy, thanks to a decided upturn in culinary offerings across the city, both on the dining scene and for the food lover in general.

One of the biggest food stories of the year was the continued growth of the Pearl Brewery, which saw the opening of three praise-worthy eateries and a trendy bar. It also was the location of an increasing number of food festivals, meaning thousands from all over the city were showing up on a regular basis for cooking demonstrations at the Saturday farmers market, for paella, burgers and barbecue or tamales, and for the restaurants, all in the quest of good food.

A glimpse into the kitchen at the Granary.

The list of new restaurants includes the Granary ‘Cue and Brew, which restored beer making to the premises. Artisan barbecue, fine brews and an irresistible condiment known as ‘cue butter all made this a welcome addition. The Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden delivers on the belief that quality grilled meat is prerequisite in the Lone Star State, and the massive setting, covering two stories, is epic enough to complement chef James Moore’s ranch-style fare.

The most intriguing addition, though, is NAO, the Culinary Institute of America’s full-service restaurant, which has provided San Antonio with its broadest and most authentic taste of South and Central American cuisines to date. These exciting flavors, from seafood stews and roasted meats to an inviting cocktail program, have somehow not been able to secure a foothold before in a city that values its Tex-Mex above all; yet in just a few months, NAO has developed a local following, and its client base should grow as word continues to get out to the rest of the country that the school has a campus and a destination restaurant here. When the visiting chef series returns, with culinary stars from countries as diverse as Brazil, Peru and Argentina, you’d be wise to make your reservations as soon as possible.

The CIA’s flagship restaurant in San Antonio.

NAO is also built on the concept of small plates, which has also not been widely popular in San Antonio. Yet Bite in the Southtown area and a revitalized Nosh on Austin Highway are joining in the effort to break that mold.

Southtown continued to attract diners from across the city, as Mark Bliss returned with a new restaurant, the aptly named Bliss. The warmth of the place, the impressive setting and the comfort of the food, especially when enjoyed at the chef’s table in the kitchen, all help place it among the city’s best.

Johnny Hernandez opened two distinct venues in the Southtown area, if not Southtown proper. They include the Frutería at the Steel House Lofts, where you can get everything from market-fresh fruit for breakfast to an impressive array of, you got it, small plates for dinner, and Casa Hernán, an airy catering facility and brunch spot in his own home.

Another welcome addition to the Southtown scene was the Alamo Street Eat Bar, a food truck park that featured crazy good burgers from Cullum’s Attaboy, the Peacemaker combination of pork belly and fried oysters from Where Y’At and the DUK Truck’s duck confit tacos. Add Zum Sushi, The Institute of Chili, Wheelie Gourmet and a few other visitors, as well as a great beer lineup, and you’ve got some wonderful fresh treats. And what do food trucks provide but small plates, albeit from different plates, giving you the feel of being on a tapas trail?

An “Eat Street” crew films at the Point Park & Eats.

Another food truck park that opened up north in Leon Springs was the Point Park & Eat, which also offers a great beer selection and a wide array of foods from a lineup that has changed in the months that it’s been open. The culinary confections come from trucks such as Skinny Cat, Gourmet on the Fly, Blazin’ Burgers and Say-She-Ate.

Television continued to discover may of these culinary gems. Say-She-Ate was one of four food trucks filmed for the TV series, “Eat Street.” The others include Rickshaw Stop, Tapa Tapa and Society Bakery. Meanwhile, PBS celebrity chef Ming Tsai came to town to film segments of “Simply Ming” with Diana Barrios Treviño from Los Barrios, Elizabeth Johnson of the CIA, John Besh of Lüke (visiting from New Orleans) and Johnny Hernandez at La Gloria.

Sustenio, with Stephan Pyles’ blessing and David Gilbert’s gifts, made people realize the Eilan Hotel Resort and Spa off I-10 was not just a pretty façade. Its menu, with much of the dishes derived from local meats and produce, features an exciting array of ceviches that captured the freshness of the sea and a number of dishes using South Texas Heritage Pork products.

The $13 Burger at Knife & Fork.

The gastropub movement continued with the opening of Knife & Fork in the Stone Oak area. An outgrowth of the Bistro Six food truck, it offered a $13 Burger worth every cent, an extensive cocktail program and a laid-back atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the bistronomy craze — a hybrid of “bistro” and “gastronomy” — could be found in Laurent’s Modern Cuisine on McCullough Avenue. Next door to the still-vibrant and dependable Bistro Vatel, it proved that a segment of San Antonio does love its French food.

For those who enjoy a meal every now and then at home, the number of gourmet groceries grew, thanks to the addition of Trader Joe’s in the Quarry Extension and a second Whole Foods on Blanco Road, north of Loop 1604. The food warehouse Gaucho Gourmet expanded its hours to the public to six days a week, while Groomer’s Seafood reeled in even more seafood lovers, especially when lobsters hit a mouthwatering low of $5.95 apiece.

Classic cocktails have made a comeback.

San Antonio lifted it spirits high during the year. Distilled spirits, that is. Mixed drinks, both shaken and stirred, got a huge boost from the first annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. But it didn’t stop there. The Blue Box in the Pearl and the downtown Brooklynite joined the likes of Bar 1919 in the Blue Star Complex and the bar at NAO as havens for hand-crafted classic cocktails. A rye sour shaken with traditional egg white, a real martini made with gin and a pisco sour bright with freshly squeezed citrus were all incentives that made exploring these nightspots fun.

Expect beer’s popularity to soar in the new year. Beyond the excellent brews at the Granary, we await Alamo Beer’s ambitious plans for a downtown complex that will feature a restaurant as well as a brewing facility as well as the launch of Branchline Brewery.

What else can we expect? The Pearl will continue to expand with the openings of Jesse Perez’s Arcade Midtown Kitchen and an as-yet-unnamed venture from Steven McHugh as well as the move of Green Vegetarian Cuisine, all of which will add to the draw of the campus. Culinaria has announced plans for a community garden center offering food and agricultural education for the city. Andrew Weissman is taking over the former Liberty Bar site on Josephine Street.

With these strides forward on so many fronts, the city’s culinary scene should continue to offer some enticing new flavors for anyone with a healthy appetite.

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‘Eat St.’ Meets Say.She.Ate at Point Park & Eats


Sarah Buell (second from left) talks with fans of Say.She.Ate during filming for “Eat St.”

It was a great day to spend in the Hill Country foothills at the Point Park & Eats. The Eat St. crew, which has spent the past string of days filming the food truck scene in San Antonio, had a hot but breezy afternoon to work outside and even cozier conditions inside as they invaded the mobile kitchen of Say.She.Ate to film the cooks in action.

Say.She.Ate is one of city’s most popular food trucks, which brought its signature version of chicken and waffles, justly popular Akaushi beef sliders and duck fat french fries out to the Point. This happy picnic menu was rounded out with roast corn on the cob smeared with aioli, seasoned, rolled in Parmesan cheese and served with fresh lime.

Customers were curious about the goings on at Say.She.Ate, but it didn’t stop them grabbing a weighty mushroom and Swiss cheeseburger from Blazin’ Burgers, or fried rolls from Kitchen Fusionz or spicy pork-laden arepas from Texasana Mexican Street Food.

The Park visitors, including us, stayed in the shade on the comfortable deck, a short distance from the walk-up bar. We sampled  beer from Alamo Beer Company and a Real Ale Lost Gold IPA and bestowed our blessing on the not-too-sweet white Zin sangria that was being served at the bar. Plenty of cold bottled water, dogs to pet, and discussions with neighbors gave the day a homey feel. It was only natural to settle in to a discussion or two about the general appeal of food trucks.

Brandon McKelvey of Say.She.Ate at the Point Park & Eats.

“I think one of the reasons we’re popular is that we move from place to place a lot,” says Say.She.Ate cook and co-owner, Brandon McKelvey. (And really, when you think of it, why have a moveable feast and park it in just one place?)

Akaushi beef sliders

One of the “Eat St.” crew, Austin resident Taryn Hall, mentioned the casual factor involved in the burgeoning truck scene. “I don’t have to dress up for dinner,” she said. No need, when you’re going to sit at a picnic table under a string of lights outside, and trek from one truck to the other. Austin’s food truck scene is more pervasive, spread around “all over town,” she said.

We think San Antonio is doing a good job of establishing its own food truck identity.

For us, the fact that each truck limits its fare to a few items that the crew does very well, plus the fact that hot food has a much shorter distance to travel from the cook’s hands to the customer’s, means your choices will be good and hot. You get to know your cooks; you can get to know their regular customers, too, if you like.

We were awaiting some camera time ourselves, and our turns came after the crews moved outside the truck to get some shots of the waiting line and to talk to customers. We lucked out and got to stay in the shade to chat a few minutes about what we liked about the menu at Say.She.Ate.

Customers line up at Say.She.Ate.

Say.She.Ate’s chicken and waffles wrap marinated, breaded and fried, boneless chicken wrapped in the “waffle.” This is, as San Antonio truck foodies know well, a waffle cone. This, says Brandon, came about when instead of getting the waffle machine they’d ordered, they got a waffle cone maker. They took a look at it, looked at each and said, “This can work.”

The cone is sweet and crisp, but they add herbs, such as rosemary, to the batter. Traditionally, waffles and chicken is served with maple syrup, but the maple sauce Say.She.Ate makes is thick, a little ice cream sauce. It’s made with cream, butter, maple syrup and some Wild Turkey 101. The chicken is spicy from cayenne pepper in the breading, but if you want hot sauce with it, Say.She.Ate will provide a dab of the fiery sriracha. With a cool sip of beer between bites, the dish is a taste and textural treat.

The Akaushi beef sliders come with hand-cut duck-fat fries. That duck fat doesn’t really lend a “ducky” taste to the fries, but seems to lend an extra bit of oomph to the richness.

In the end, it’s comfort food, only it’s not the way Mom ever made it. And it will leave you satiated, no matter how you spell it.

“Eat St.” will be filming Rickshaw Stop Sunday at the Boardwalk on Bulverde, 14732 Bulverde Road, starting around noon. The food truck park is also the scene of the second annual Food Truck Throw Down, featuring more than 20 trucks. On Monday, Society Bakery has its closeup, also at Boardwalk on Bulverde.

 

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It’s ‘Eat St.’ at Alamo Street Eat


A customer gets her order from Tapa Tapa.

Rudolfo Martinez takes orders at his truck, Tapa Tapa.

“Eat St.,” the Cooking Channel show that celebrates the fabulous and fanciful fare of food trucks across the nation, has been in town the last few days sampling the best the city has to offer.

On Thursday, a crew trailed Jason Dady and the DUK Truck as they set up in Main Plaza for lunch. On Friday, they sought out what Rudolfo Martinez had to offer at Tapa Tapa, which is parked most every night of the week at Alamo Street Eat + Bar, 609 S. Alamo St.

Watermelon Pop Rocks

His menu included two of his usual favorites, Grown A*$ Macaroni and Cheese, which is made with eight cheeses, truffle oil and cheese crackers, and Watermelon Pop Rocks, with chunks of watermelon and mint leaves topped with the carbonated candy treat.

Specials for the evening included Chicken and Waffle Balls, deep-fried, of course, and a real foodie treat: Foie Gras Oatmeal Pie. Yes, this tribute to our friends in California who are currently deprived of the delicacy, featured a deep-fried oatmeal cream pie with peanut butter spread over the top to melt into the dough. Grape jelly, blackberries and a touch of smoky olive oil added to its considerable charms, but the crowning glory was a 2-ounce slab of seared foie gras somehow bringing everything together in one sweet, savory, silly and superb treat.

The “Eat St.” crew interviews diners about the food from Tapa Tapa.

The crew asked me to say a few words about the foie gras, which meant I had to get another order to eat while on camera. The sacrifices I sometimes  have to make in order to promote the wealth of culinary options in this town can seem monumental, but I’ll always up fro the challenge of taking an extra slab of foie gras for the team.

Tapa Tapa’s Foie Gras Oatmeal Pie

The crew moves on to the Point Park & Eats, 24188 Boerne Stage Road, to film Say.She.Ate on Saturday, starting at noon. At noon Sunday, Rickshaw Stop will be filmed at the Boardwalk on Bulverde, 14732 Bulverde Road. On Monday, Society Bakery has its moment, also at Boardwalk on Bulverde.

So, come out, support the city’s food truck scene, enjoy the food and possibly get on “Eat St.”

 

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2nd Food Truck Throw Down Set During ‘Eat St.’ Filming


Say.She.Ate is one of the trucks to be filmed for “Eat St.”

“Eat St.,” the Cooking Channel show that celebrates the food truck business, is coming to San Antonio, and the folks at Boardwalk on Bulverde are celebrating with their second annual Food Truck Throw Down and Music Festival.

The show will be taping around town July 19-23, while the Throw Down is set for July 20-22. Last year’s Throw Down featured more than two dozen food trucks from the throughout the region serving up their finest while live music filled the air. Participants voted on their favorites.

“Eat St.”  won’t be at the Boardwalk during their entire filming. The crews will start at Jason Dady’s DUK Truck on July 19 for lunch at a spot yet to be determined.

On July 20, crews will be at Alamo St. Eat Bar, 609 S. Alamo St., to focus on Tapa Tapa.

Filming moves to the Point Park & Eats, 24188 Boerne Stage Road, on July 21, where footage of Say.She.Ate will predominate.

Tapa Tapa Shrimp Ceviche

On July 22, “Eat St.” meets Boardwalk on Bulverde, 14732 Bulverde Road, during the Thrown Down, while crews go to the Rickshaw Stop.

July 23 closes out the filming at Boardwalk on Bulverde for a spot on Society Bakery.

The public is invited to the filming, so this is a great chance for you to support the city’s burgeoning food truck scene, enjoy some fine eats and maybe get your face on TV.

For more information on the Thrown Down, click here.

 

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The Food Trucks Roll In and the People Turn Out


People wait patiently -- and in the shade -- for Culinaria's inaugural food truck event.

Crystal Dady takes orders at the Duk Truck.

The tickets said it started at 6 p.m. So did the announcements. And yet the tantalizing aromas arising from an array of food trucks in the parking lot of the Alon Market on Northwest Military Highway drew people much earlier than the starting time.

They waited patiently until the gates opened for Culinaria’s inaugural food truck gathering. And while they waited the crowd grew, and it kept growing long after people were granted admission into the area.

Pork sliders from 41:10 Mobile Kitchen.

Who knows how many thousand people showed up for the event? Not Suzanne Taranto Etheredge, CEO of the food and wine festival, which runs through Sunday. She was out front helping get customers in as quickly as she and her staff could, so that all could enjoy some fine wine, beer and meals from about a dozen mobile kitchens from the area.

Spice Runner offered a variety of spicy sandwiches and pocket pies as well as some irresistible Thai chicken wings with a peanut sauce flavored with coconut, lime and, of course, a bit of heat. Crepe Nation had both savory and sweet crepes to tempt your taste buds, with flavors ranging from shrimp and avocado to several featuring Nutella.

Guests throng Say-She-Ate.

Flour Power Cafe didn’t have wheels, but they had a table with cake balls, while Jason Dady’s Duk Truck offered pork tacos crowned with pineapple, cilantro and jalapeños. Those willing to stand in a lengthy line were rewarded with the likes of cochinita pibil tacos or mealtloaf and mashed potato sliders from 41:10 Mobile Kitchen or Akaushi beef sliders and duck fat fries from Say-She-Ate.

Even the dogs waited patiently for some treats.

Erika Prosper did what many at the event did. She stood in one line while her husband went to another. They swapped bites whenever they got served. She enjoyed the event, but she hopes that the trucks would add to their staff to alleviate a little of the wait.

The weather cooperated and even made things pleasant with some welcome breezes and comfortable temperatures. Even with the lines, the area was large enough for breathing space to enjoy a glass of J. Lohr Wildflower or Buena Vista Chardonnay.

Culinaria continues Friday with the Best of Mexico tasting at La Villita. For a full list of events, click here.

 

 

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Saturday Brings a Burger Battle to Determine the Best in Town


Akaushi beef sliders from Say-She-Ate

What’s better than a juicy burger? How about a half dozen of the best burgers on wheels in all of San Antonio?

This Saturday, six food trucks will be competing in the city’s first Burger Brawl, which is being held at the Point Park & Eats, 24188 Boerne Stage Road.

The food truck park is hosting the competition featuring Burgers from Grills on Wheels, MARS Mobile Kitchen, Say-She-Ate, Gourmet on the Fly, Chillin N Grillin and Skinny Cat, all of whom will be battling to see who serves “the best food truck burger in town,” according to the poster for the event.

The event begins at noon and runs until 11 p.m. with two awards being handed out, one from diners and one from the judges’ panel. Judges for the event include Jason Ard, owner of Branchline Brewing Co. and co-sponsor of the event with the Point, as well as John Griffin and Bonnie Walker from SavorSA, food truck enthusiast Shawn Gordon (@safoodtrckstlkr) and Express-News assistant Jessica Elizarraras.

Chris Taylor, Sol Surfers, Stefan Heuer and Matt Adler are all scheduled to perform.

For more information on the Point Park and Eats, click here.

 

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