Sugar Land, Texas
When Heidi visited Sugar Land in February, we gave it a try, arriving on a busy Sunday night.
Eating at the Counter?
There were table options as well as counter seating. It was tempting to sit facing the parade of food, like these folks. But I wasn't sure we would get the full experience.
Food and Toys
Yay! We got a corner table. I sat with the food prep behind me and the conveyor belt beside me. I could also see some little eyes, peering at the moving food.
You Like, You Grab
Heidi let Don and me sit by the exciting revolving belt that wound around the restaurant. Don skillfully grabbed a plate of Soy Sake Marinated Salmon Nigiri. The lid popped up properly and he neatly placed the little $2.25-dish right on our table.
Not everything was available on the moving belt. Sake, Udon, Ramen, Tempura and desserts could all be ordered from a food screen. A waiter initially greeted our table for any special requests.
Quick and Fresh
After our 25 minute wait, it was nice not having to wait for food. We saw what we liked and grabbed.
It was also nice to learn that Kura serves all organic foods, free of additives and MSG. I also was pleased to find out that there's a system for automatically disposing of the uneaten food plates, that for some reason don't get picked. So no worries about picking a food that's been lingering.
Eating with Pros
I was the only one at our table who has not eaten sushi in Japan. Don used to travel on business. Heidi and her husband Jamie, were engaged in Japan. Also, Don and Heidi share an odd college experience, 30+ years apart. Both spent a period of time at University of Michigan, eating dorm food only with chopsticks. I love dining with pros.
It's hard to pass up some bright salmon and fresh tuna, when it rolls on by. We ended up eating lots of basic nigiri, but the rolls were tasty as well. The green plates were all $2.25, which seemed like such a bargain, but it's also easy to get carried away with the fun. That's kind of how I remember cafeterias as a kid. It's so easy to grab a lot!
A Giddy Diner
I obviously loved the little box that held my food. I was pretty excited about the whole concept of this place. I also seemed to be the only one looking around and snapping pics, like a tourist.
In fact I felt like I was a tourist on a trip. We live in Fort Bend County, which is ranked the most diverse U.S. county, in many studies. When I looked around, I could easily imagine that I was actually eating a meal in Japan. None of the other diners seemed to make a fuss over the exciting vibe. No one else seemed to be "learning the ropes".
I turned around in my booth to peek at the "sushi makers" now and then. They seemed pretty laid back in the festive atmosphere. I should have paid closer attention to observe the system for adding and removing plates from the belt. For a moment, I amused myself with a thought of the iconic I Love Lucy episode. Except I pictured Lucy, stuffing her mouth full of salmon and shrimp, instead of chocolate!
This was my first dining experience that involved a little game-like fun, at the table.
Above our table and the belt, we had our own colorful screen. There was a little animation first and then some words, encouraging us to "defeat him" by inserting more plates. Below the moving belt was the slot, where we inserted our empty green plates. Our plates became tokens to keep the story moving on the screen.
Above the animation screen, was a clear box that held the round prize holders. I was glad we had 3 people since it took 15 plates to earn a prize. I felt like I was in Vegas when we inserted the 15th plate and the Bikurra-Pon released a red & green ball! Down the slide it came, landing in the plastic tray! Oh boy, a little stamper. It was pretty lame for over 35 dollars worth of sushi. But I didn't care. I was the kid that bought Cracker Jacks, just for the prize.
Share the Prize
It's close enough and that add to the playful dining theme. I could also leave the prize behind, like one person did. I pity the families with kids, begging the parents to purchase 15 more plates for another prize! Yikes.
Heading for the Sign, on Cinco de Mayo!
Don and I live only 5 miles from Larry's, so we decided to head over for a festive lunch on Cinco de Mayo. We parked beneath another Larry sign and headed for the front door.
Not much has changed since we moved to Sugar Land and visited Larry's, almost 20 years ago. I'm pretty sure these red lamps were here then and probably when the restaurant opened, in 1960.
We passed by a few more festive lamps, before opening the door. I read the sign above the glass and was glad I did't see the words, "No Costumes" added to the list.
I sort of felt like I was wearing a costume, when I put on my festive Mexican dress with colorful embroidery. "Please don't be embarrassed." I begged Don. "I have to wear this, because it's Cinco de Mayo and when else..."
Not Busy... Yet
It wasn't even noon yet, so there were plenty of open tables with colorful chairs. A little mariachi music made my outfit seem just right. But the serious waiter who motioned for us to be seated, made me suddenly feel self-concious. Clearly this restaurant was open for business as usual. No whooping it up for those Americans who love to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
Our waiter was efficient, delivering our menus, chips and salsa. I never felt rushed, but I could sense that his energy was already geared up, for a crowd. Sure enough, by the time my chicken taco salad and Don's chicken enchiladas and soft tacos arrived, the place was filling up. Our waiter's pace suddenly fit.
Better than before?
I already looked out of place in my silly dress, so I figured I'd just wander around and study some of the artwork and old photos and learn some history. There was a photo of the original Larry, who died over 10 years ago. His son took over for a number of years and now his grandson, Eberardo Guerrero III manages the family owned restaurant. Elenor, the daughter-in-law of the Larry Sr., works the cash register.
Elenor was seated with friends at a table near the candy-covered counter. As I wandered over, she popped up and was happy to answer my questions. I'm not sure when she met her husband, (the son of the first Larry) but she said she first ate at the restaurant when she was about 19. She laughed about how little had changed. "If we try to change anything, people get mad. They like it just the way it is."
Good People Encounters
By the time our waiter brought our check, he had slowed down to laugh with us a bit. He chuckled about Don's name. "Don Don!" Don gets this a lot, since Don is a courtesy title that goes before the name. He was confused by my name Beth, until I said it was short for Elizabeth. He seemed to think that was very royal and told me the Spanish word for crown. I wish I had a photo of our waiter!
Posing with Elenor
After a little more chatting with Elenor at the cash register, I convinced her to pose with me for a photo. She was quite a good sport, saying she doesn't usually do photos.
I had one last people encounter, just as we stepped out the door. A blond woman wearing a purple version of my Mexican dress, was headed inside. "Oh! I like your dress!" I laughed, as I held the door for her. "I like yours, too." She added.
To bad I didn't get her to pose with me!
Sunday for Brunch
This April I celebrated with an early birthday brunch, when my daughter came to town. Luckily the rain held off as we hiked up to the rambling building, now called Brenners on the Bayou. I have no idea how this restaurant began, but it looked like an old house with numerous additions and renovations.
Old and New
We arrived at 11 and the restaurant was just preparing to open. It gave us time to look around. I spotted an old staircase that lead to upstairs bathrooms. This must have been an old house... but no one around looked like they had time for my questions. A space to the right of the door, must have been a closet. The mirrored floor and illuminated art felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. I was tempted to step into the art!
The Small Bar
I loved the green walls and colorful art in the smaller, inside bar. The space looked much cozier than the swanky, Blue Bar at Brenner's, which seemed to wrap around the whole back of the restaurant.
Into the Dining Space
When the hostess was ready, she guided us through the bar, which opened to some elevated seating and a view of glass enclosed tables below. I looked at the space to the right and remembered eating up in the loft, when the kids were 9 and 11. Our son was excited about ordering the special, which was bison. We were not so excited when the bill arrived and realized his half eaten bison was about half the total of the entire bill.
From Our Table
Attacking the Beast!
Chicken Fried Filet Mignon and Eggs!
We decided one of us needed to try this ridiculous pick, even if the idea was sinful. Usually I don't put anything at all on a filet mignon. It's good all on its own. But this baby was fried and smothered in sausage gravy with pickled garlic and jalapenos. Yes, it was incredibly yummy, but I'm thinking it's a one time deal.
French Toast and Omelet
These options were a little more standard, but the French toast was far from ordinary. I could hardly make a dent in the corn flake crusted Brioche French toast, with Chantilly cream! The fresh berries helped ease my guilt. Don's spinach and provolone omelet was a little on the dry side for my preference. But at least it was a less rich option for the table.
Our waiter brought our doggy bag and then seemed a little rushed when I asked if he'd snap our photo. I wish I could say that someone ended up eating the leftover French toast or cinnamon roll. What a waste.
Only later did I see this photo and realize it was kind of odd that there had never been some kind of birthday acknowledgement after our first waiter. Oh well, thank goodness I don't care about that at all. Maybe our expressions spoke out to clearly... "We're full. Don't put anything sweet with a candle on this table!"
After brunch, we were delighted the predicted rains had held off. We wandered the grounds a bit. I don't think we even burned off the first bit of cinnamon roll.
Oldest Steakhouse in Houston
Don and I arrived and valet parked for lunch in mid December. As we headed on the walkway towards the entrance, I tried to figure out the building. The flagstone and wood shingled exterior looked a little mid-century modern. But once inside, I studied an old photo. The hostess said the original building pictured, had been located down the road a bit. When they began construction of the Katy Freeway, the Brenners had the building moved to this location.
Maybe just a portion of the old building was saved. I'm confused.
When we moved into the main dining room, it felt very 1960's to me. The vaulted ceiling, picture windows, wood paneling and flagstone fireplace took me back to my childhood. It even had that smokey, comfy aroma... not as in cigarettes.
White Cloth Lunch
The white tablecloths and men dressed in jackets for lunch, also gave the place a retro feel. But mostly my eyes were drawn past all that, through the wall of glass to the garden beyond. I'm a big fan of a table with a view and pretty much all tables had one.
Surely this light fixture was not from 1936. I imagine it was a pretty grand feature when they added it. The clock hiding behind, also made an impressive decorative statement!
Champagne at Lunch
Don and I don't usually have champagne at lunch, but we were celebrating. It was December 13th and I had just completed my final radiation treatment an hour earlier. We were toasting the end of a long 7 months, which included surgery, chemo and radiation. But actually, the bread in the basket was enough to make me offer a toast! It was fabulous!
Someone had to order steak, since we were at Houston's oldest steakhouse. I let Don order the prime rib, since I knew we'd end up sharing. I ordered the Texas Fried Chicken with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and smoked bacon gravy. It felt as decadent as dessert and I loved every bite. It was about as healthy as dessert, too.
Through the Bar
The cozy bar was actually packed with lunching customers by the time we finished eating. We took a walk through it, to take a closer peek at the garden we'd been enjoying from our table.
There was a sort of corny "stage set" feel to the buildings, which created a wall around the garden. The Brenners supposedly created the garden to remind Lorene of the gardens she remembered from her childhood in Germany.
There were a few tables beside the koi pond and waterfall. The water sounds helped mask the noise of the nearby Katy Freeway. The wall of cottage images masked the view of the freeway and some not so lovely buildings.
Walking the Path
We wandered the path over the pond and checked out the well and waterwheel. The garden was just the place to ponder the news we had just learned about the restaurant's new ownership. Landry's owner, Tilman Fertitta now owns Brenner's! Don and I rolled our eyes at that news. He seems to be taking over all of Texas and beyond. But Mrs. Brenner needed to retire a few years ago.
It was nice to learn that Fertitta had more of a connection to Brenner's than money. He evidently has fond memories of coming as a child, with his family. He was able to work with Mrs. Brenner (who shared family recipes) to help preserve the history and character. In this day and age of tear-downs, I'm sure this oddly located landmark would have disappeared had Fertitta not jumped in. So I guess I'll toast to that!
Facing Highway 6
The boat shape of this crazy looking place, is hidden behind lots of wood and metal. I'm not sure when they added the outdoor deck, but it hides the image that I remember. Now the "fishy" words have the job of luring guests to this place, that looks like an old Florida seafood joint.
There were no cars in the lot when we arrived yesterday, but we heard music playing and the neon was lit. We parked and took some time studying the cluttered image. The bow of the original boat-building was behind the green speed boat. The green boat held a picnic table and opened up to the bar deck.
From the Back
From the back, the boat shape was a little more visible. The tall palm tree added a tropical touch to the upper bow deck. Don was having a good time recalling this place, since he ate here in the early 80's when visiting Houston on a business trip.
In the Boat
Amanda greeted us from behind the bar and welcomed us to sit anywhere. We seemed to be the only early diners, although she assured us they were coming.
I was pretty intrigued by the boat decor and the curious windows. The line-up of windows in the front looked out on the patio and Highway 6. A back room had a porthole with a view of the parking lot and the levee. No ocean, but there might have been a little water out there somewhere.
Amanda told us to feel free to take a peek at the upper level, even though it wasn't "set up". We walked by the strange monkey statue and headed up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs we found a curious display of boat motors. Inside the "party room" we found some scattered tables and a lovely mannequin. I would have had Don pose with her, but there was a sign reminding us not to touch. We didn't venture out on the bow deck. It looked a little weary and worn in broad daylight.
The rounded walls and well worn floors did make us feel like we were on some kind of ship. When we asked Amanda if any of this really was part of an old boat, she just laughed. Evidently the owner always answers, "Of course." to that question.
Time to Eat
My shrimp, fries and hushpuppies were very decent. Don had his shrimp with fried oysters and slaw. He was pleased with the oysters expecially.
I forget how you can sometimes judge a place by the customers. I wonder if we would have liked the place more or less, if we'd been surrounded by others?
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.