The Locker Room
I'll be honest, I don't usually like sports bars. But when I saw a Groupon for this new place in Sugar Land and I saw they served Canadian poutine...and the Olympics were on TV...I said "Let's go!"
Inside The Locker Room!
Don and I grinned when we walked in the door and realized this place was connected to the Sugar Land ice rink. Not only were there 4 or 5 flat screens (mostly showing Olympics) but we could actually look out the window and watch some hockey on the ice! This would be fun!
We started with some Molson's on draft and took a look at the menu. It was a little before 7, just in time for the Olympic coverage to start up. It was also about time for a youth hockey team practice, so the atmosphere was starting to change.
If we lived somewhere north of Texas, this might not be quite as thrilling, but I got a kick out of watching the big machine get the ice ready for the kids. (The pic is a bit blurry because of puck dents in the plastic!) While the kids near the rink got ready to burst onto the ice, the bar/dining area inside began to fill with a curious mix. There were some men with beer at the bar, but many of the tables had kids and moms. There were some young boys eating pizza (they call them ringers on the menu) and moms with laptops. Some kids were doing homework while they ate and I had smile when I saw two little girls arrive, carrying their American Girl dolls, who seemed to be wearing ice skating outfits!
Two years ago Don and I were in Ontario and didn't have time to try out the Canadian favorite called poutine. So I was excited that we finally got to sample the decadent treat of French fries with gravy and cheese! The order we shared was huge! (And this was before our hamburger and salad arrived!) We were both impressed by the tangy flavor and the fresh cut potatoes. (At least they looked and tasted fresh!) Winding the oozing mozzarella on the fork, made the whole poutine experience fun and messy! A big thumbs up for our poutine experience!!
Adults on Ice
I guess we'd been seated an hour when we noticed the kids flying off the ice and the goals being moved out of the way. Zamboni did it's work again and then it was time for an adult league to take over the ice.
We had just about finished our poutine when Scott, one of the owners came over to introduce himself. He seemed pretty amused that we were so excited about the Canadian items on the menu. We told him we were equally thrilled to have the novel experience of dining with view of the ice rink. It was fun hearing about how Scott got into hockey. He is the one non-Canadian in the trio of owners. He laughed about the difficulties they had getting some of the candy and chip products that Canada won't sell to the US. He talked about some of the complications of opening a bar/restaurant connected to an ice rink.
It must be hard catering to so many different crowds throughout the day and evening...when the rink draws children and families, adult hockey and sports crowds and figure skaters. It sounds like they have found a pretty magical way of making the place comfortable for all kinds of visitors. I'm sure the little boys who were playing air hockey in the back room were replaced by adults hours later, when the hockey players came off the ice.
Tim Horton's and Lay's Ketchup
Luckily we stayed long enough for another one of the owners to arrive, carrying in a box of Tim Horton's coffee. Tim Horton is the name of a famous hockey player and donut/coffee shop hugely popular in Canada. Don and I have had the coffee before, but we needed to try the Lay's Ketchup chips. They taste just like you would expect, but still it's a bizarre surprise to the tongue. Evidently the local Canadian's crave these. They were sold out of the Old Dutch brand ketchup chips.
As soon as David put down the heavy box of bagged coffee, Scott introduced us. As David's shirt suggests, he is from the Toronto area. We heard some stories about his hometown, Mississauga. David and Scott sort of chuckled about the fact that the big train derailments of 1979 was the town's main, claim to fame.
We got off on many tangents as well as the fact that I do a dining blog. Scott was quick on his phone and found it, knowing just our first names. He is very quick. Scott and David couldn't have been more welcoming and fun. I know this business has got to be work, especially since it's only been open a half a year, but both seemed upbeat and good humored about this odd world of food, drink and ice
Skating on TV
Don and I finished up our dinner, (Excellent burger by the way) and enjoyed a little Olympic ice skating on the TVs. Funny that they showed a glimpse of Tara Lipinksy on the screen. The young gold medal figure skater of 1998 actually lived in Sugar Land back then.
When we first moved to Sugar Land in '98, there was a big Congrats to Tara banner near this rink!
Off We Go
Around 9, we said good-bye. Scott said he was heading onto the ice with his league at 9:30. We didn't ask Ryan, our high school aged waiter if he had homework, but we did inquire about his lacrosse tee shirt. (Yes, he plays...and football, too) We wished Ryan good luck with his college plans and headed out, passing a welcoming patio with big TV, bar-b-q grill and heaters for cold weather. No heaters needed on this balmy February evening. In fact a number of people inside, who had been enjoying the rink and Olympic viewing were wearing shorts! I had to laugh as we headed to the car.
As I already said, I don't usually care for sports bars, but I left wishing I could lift up this place and transplant it to a corner in my neighborhood. What a fun place!
Yesterday was cold and gray and uninspiring. That is the perfect kind of day to go on a food adventure. This cute little spot recently opened in a shopping center in Pearland. It's tiny, but it's packed with food!
Dining with Brenda and Suzanne
Sometimes I experience new foods with friends who are as clueless as I am. But it's always great going with "food experts" like Brenda and Suzanne! Suzanne (r) and I met about 15 years ago, and I've been lucky enough to sample a bit of her Filipino cooking. But yesterday I had the fun of sampling at least 15 different foods with Suzanne and her friend Brenda.
Ready to go!
It was before noon when we arrived and there were quite a number of diners already eating. We grabbed plates and got ready to hit the buffet. I've eaten Filipino food once before, but I didn't recognize one thing. Suzanne and Brenda were more than happy to point out the various dishes and explain away. Mostly I just grabbed a little of everything and hoped for the best.
The Food Kept Coming
Even after we filled our plates, steaming dishes kept arriving to the buffet. The owner and staff were all welcoming and eager to point out new dish arrivals. They all seemed excited to know that I (a first-timer) was enjoying the food!
As you might notice, there are two plates in front of my empty chair! And that was before I added some more bar-b-q chicken and desserts.
One More Photo
Before digging in, Suzanne grabbed the camera to get me in a photo. I look like I'm leaning in, ready to dive into the plate...and that wasn't even my plate. I hadn't eaten breakfast, so I was starving!
It's a little hard to remember everything I ate, but I tried to be pretty daring. Brenda showed me how to break the cod in half and peel out the bones. I was surprised to find the salty fish pretty tasty. I'm not usually so brave about having tails on my plate. I had no problem at all loving the Tinola soup with melt-in-your-mouth-chicken, or the calamari or the noodle dish!
Clean Plate Club?
It took a little more courage to try the Dinuguan which was a sort of stew with a gravy of pork blood. I just focused on the strong ginger flavor and ignored the word blood. The Kare-Kare was another sort of stew made with oxtails and a great thick peanut sauce which I liked. The Lechon or pork belly was pretty much like eating a square chunk of fatty bacon. I like bacon and had a sample that was more meaty than some. And I had to laugh when I found out my Sisig dish was chopped pig snout. The tiny pieces mixed in with chopped peppers and onions (I think), reminded me of what you might eat rolled in a lettuce wrap at an Americanized Asian restaurant. So it wasn't that daring after all. I can't believe how much I ate and then I sampled some desserts. I liked the sticky rice with sweet, chewy bites and the warm bananas soaked in a brown sugary sauce!
We had one more pose before we left. As I said, the staff was wonderful and offered to take a few photos.
Suzanne and I dropped off Brenda and made the drive back to Sugar Land, jabbering the whole way...to stay awake. I figure the "buddy system" is important for Filipino Feasting. I would have fallen asleep if I'd driven myself home after all that food. It's taken me about a day to get hungry again, but now I'm ready for another bite of that noodle dish or some Tinola soup!
Here is yet another little discovery in a cute small town about 90 minutes west of Austin. There's not a whole lot in Llano, but they have a lovely old courthouse, a river with a bridge, some antique shops, a hotel in an old bank and The Juan Burrito!
When Don and I recently found Juan's we weren't looking for a big food outing. We were just hungry and heard this little place just off the square had great burritos.
When we stepped inside we saw a line at the burrito bar. That was a sign of good food. But it was also a little worrisome, because there were only two 4-tops and a window "shelf" with a few chairs.
Not to Worry
We ended up getting a table, but there was such a buzz of friendly chatter in the small crowd waiting to order, that I'm sure table sharing would have been fine. The friendly duo behind the counter worked quickly filling burritos to order while they answered some curious customers with questions about their new restaurant, not yet a year old.
I hadn't planned on doing a write up or I would have taken a photo of my pork burrito personalized with my choice of cheese, fresh veggies and guacamole inside a steamy tortilla. It was gone way too fast!
Even though I got the Little Juan (small) I was still stuffed. I actually loved the simplicity of choosing from 3 meats and pointing to all the yummy toppings. No burrito pic, but I was able to get a photo of the colorful assortment of sodas. I had never heard of the Dublin Bottling Works, but the owners gave us a brief history about the nearby company that has been bottling beverages since 1891. Now we're eager to go for a tour. I love it when a dining adventure leads to another kind of adventure.
As we sat devouring our lunch, I began to notice the framed photos on the wall. Each had an image of a little sombrero wearing figure on a burro, that matched the logo. This little figure was very much reminding me of a 2-inch stuffed bear I use in photos when I travel. So I was curious.
Who is this Little Guy?
There were some other clever creations like this one, using the same man & donkey with a special "Juan" quote.
As I pondered these images, I saw a number of customers come and go with carry outs. All were greeted like friends by the owners. When there was a lull in the activity I seized the moment and went to the counter with my questions.
Becky and Patrick
The owners, Becky and Patrick sort of chuckled when I asked about the mysterious figure in the photos. First of all, I learned that the figure was named Pancho, not Juan. And yes indeed, this little figure traveled with them and posed the same way my bear has posed for years.
When I asked the obvious question "So where is he?" I detected an uneasiness. Maybe I wasn't supposed to ask. Becky showed me a small plastic cutout of Pancho and admitted that this silhouette is the stand-in for the original. The first little guy was lost for good when they sold a car... and forgot Pancho was in it. I cringed at the thought. But Patrick and Becky were far too busy and excited about their new business to fret over the original Pancho. They were eager to share a few details of how they ended up here in Texas after living in Oregon. "We were camping and eating burritos over a fire and we just laughed about how we should start a business selling burritos."
We have to go back because I still have questions about how they exactly ended up in Llano and how they can possibly run a business 6 days a week alone. I think they even have a few kids! When we return I'll ask those questions while I try another burrito. And I'll be sure to have my camera bag, which holds the little bear. I'll have to get a photo of Little Bear and the Plastic Pancho!
Once again, I discovered the fun of International dining in Houston. No plane ticket needed! I can hop in my car, drive a few minutes and feel like I've taken a trip around the world.
And where do you eat?
This ornate building doesn't look like Texas. It holds the shop/grocery/cafeteria on the grounds of Houston's BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. or Hindu Temple. The dining part of the adventure came after a pretty an impressive and chilling tour of the temple.
Worst Day to Visit
On Friday, the temps were in the 30's with a chilling breeze and drab skies. The fountains weren't flowing, the larger trees were bare and scaffolding covered much of the exterior, which at least was a clue that work was being done to whiten up the 10 year old stone that showed signs of mold. Nevertheless, it was a great visit.
This was the only day that my friend Kristi and I could go and neither of us let the weather stop us. We met in the parking lot, bundled up and kept our fingers crossed for no rain. We wanted to tour the temple before lunch skies were gray and we'd heard they close to visitors when the marble gets wet and slippery.
Walking to the Temple
The wind (as seen in flag) moved us briskly towards the temple. We paused to take in this intricately carved set of arches. How odd to see the apartment complex on the other side of the golden gates. This whole complex of beautiful buildings, sits so oddly in the middle of a Stafford neighborhood, right outside of Houston.
Marble and Limestone
The entire structure is covered in intricately carved designs. Italian marble and limestone from Turkey were shipped to India, where craftsmen created 33,000 individual pieces before shipping to Houston where they were pieced together using no iron or steel. After viewing this amazing carved wall of images, Kristi and I turned right towards the women's area, for shoe storage. Cameras and shoes needed to be put away before climbing the marble stairs to the temple.
Inside the Mandir
This is what we discovered after climbing the steps. (postcards are available. I didn't sneak photos) The cold air blowing through the space made it seem like we were walking through a maze of pillars and domes carved in ice. Luckily we were quietly welcomed by Mr. Patel, a Mandir volunteer, since really didn't know where we were allowed to walk. He told us that 10 years ago when this temple was built, it was the very first traditional Mandir built in the North America. He shared some history and made us feel comfortable enough to ask some sort of silly questions. Then he guided us to sit in the center of the carpeted area (in the women's area) so we could experience a very brief ritual that would be happening shortly.
Before long the carpet was scattered with others, some sitting and some kneeling down, doing a variety of bowing gestures. A few men did a yoga-like move that looked rather like a push up. A few of the women began to gather near Kristi and me. I think they sensed our confusion because I saw a few give us welcoming smiles. In the next few minutes there was a swirl of peaceful activity. Bells were rung and the gates before us opened to reveal colorful carved statues. There were men in saffron robes and lighted sticks of some kind. A metal plate was carried around with a flaming center. We watched while men first, donated to the plate then waved their hands over the flame then towards their faces. Having grown up in a Catholic church it seemed a bit like the offering and communion combined and there are rules about who takes communion... But the woman carrying the flaming plate in our area seemed happy to show us how to move our hands over the flame in sort of a blessing. Now, I can't even remember if I took my gloves off, but I do remember that glorious moment of warmth. I'm not sure the full meaning of our bit of participation...but how could there be anything wrong with a shared moment of warmth!
Warming with Food!
An icy drizzle had picked up by the time we descended from the temple. By now our feet were numb, but not enough to keep from feeling our socks soaking up the wet puddles on the marble. When we reached our shoes, I whipped off my socks before putting on my shoes. We rushed through the drizzle toward the warm food shop...with my wet socks in my pocket. Here is Kristi, with a Styrofoam plate of steaming curry dishes. We were the first diners to take a seat in the eating corner of the store.
This vegetarian display of curry dishes and rice does not look appetizing in the photo. But it was amazingly good and cheap. ($7.99) We had to be patient, though. The aisles of the little store had a number of shoppers, who seemed to be regulars buying packages of sweets, vegetables, even soaps and candies. Our cashier was doing double duty and rushed over to get the small buffet ready between checking out customers. Then Mr. Patel, our kind guide from the Mandir entered in his wool cap and big smile. He made sure we got some "Indian donuts!" and "sweet cake" that tasted like sweet cornbread with cilantro.
Kristi was quite intrigued by the sweets that were available in the shop. She busily read labels and seemed excited about curious ingredients. Her enthusiasm made me think I needed to buy a whole box of Gulkand Sandwich. I'm not sure why I need a large container of these sandwich shaped treats. I guess I was a little intrigued by the peanut butter and jelly appearance...or is that salami and cheese? Anyway, I'm having one right now with my coffee as I write. They are filled with cashews, almond, locust bean gum, ricotta cheese, saffron and Gulkand...which has something to do with rose petals. They taste like European marzipan candies...which I'm afraid I don't care for. Oh well. Everything else was good about the dining adventure. I plan to return on a warm, spring day!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.