Local Coffee

4 10 2012

For all you coffee snobs out there: if you have not visited Local Coffee – shame on you! I strip thee of thy self-appointed “snob” appellation.

Our American culture has forced every industry to meet our “give-it-to-me-now” expectations, including our morning coffee. To be sure, Starbucks has stepped in to fill that need to the point of saturating every market available. Starbucks will always have its staunch apostles, and vociferous critics. Regardless of your position, its dominance around the U.S. has established that cup of nasty and bitter Pike’s Peak as the standard.

I’m here to tell you that Local Coffee stands above and beyond any coffee house I have ever been to because of their dedication to a quality product, brewed with precision, and presented in an artistic fashion.

It all starts out with Cuvee coffee from a roaster just outside of Austin (you can read more about the roaster by clicking the link to their website). First of all, the coffee is directly sourced from their farmer-partners with a focus on specialty coffee. But that is just the beginning. Cuvee is so committed to providing a quality experience that they even provide barista training to ensure that the high quality extends all the way down to the cup of coffee.

Just about everything here is made through a French Press (press pot). Although there is an espresso machine on hand, it is rarely in use to actually brew the coffee. According to Robby Grubbs, the owner, nothing goes through a drip machine or any paper filters to ensure that all the flavors from the essential oils are captured. The barista’s attention to detail allows them to develop a “microfoam” from their milk. The precise angle and depth at which the steam wand is inserted into the milk draws out its naturally sweet flavor. If you think I’m joking here, wait until you try it and you will be a believer.

Like yourself (surely), I’ve had a lot of coffee from many different places. But it is rare (like never) that I am really surprised. Local Coffee does that. The flavor of the coffee itself has a natural sweetness to it, and the mouth feel of the foam is smooth and creamy, adding another layer of sweetness from its lactose lusciousness (sorry, had to do that). The only problem I have with the coffee here is that I finish it too damn quickly and that I want more!

Now, don’t expect to wiz through one morning for your regular 20oz. cappuccino. They only serve traditional capps here – so 8oz. only (one part espresso, two parts milk). My favorite? The latte is served in a 16oz. portion with your very own latte foam art (typically a flower or heart). So delicious its almost a shame to adulterate it with sugar.

The decor at both locations (Stone Oak and Alamo Heights) is decidedly industrial constructed from “green” materials with unique detailing throughout. Expect to find either location fairly busy, even during the middle of the day, filled with a wide demographic of people. Baked goods are available as are micro-brews and wines, which makes this coffee house a unique and attractive place to visit.

Trust me on this one.





Magnolia Pancake Haus

27 09 2012

pancakesWhen my wife and I pulled into the parking lot where the Magnolia Pancake Haus, I was tempted to go elsewhere. There were gobs of people waiting in front of the establishment and out in the parking lot. At any other restaurant, this looked like a 1-1/2 hour wait. But I had been wanting to try out Magnolia for quite some time since I had read numerous reviews on the place, and was determined to make a go at it (as long as the wait was not too long). I don’t get to go out for breakfast very often. When I do, my wife and I like to go to the Guenther in the King William district, just south of downtown San Antonio. But, Magnolia was closer to where I needed to be later on that morning, so we decided to give it a try. (They recently opened a 2nd location on Huebner Rd.)

There’s a lot of hype about this place. In addition to several framed newspaper articles about the restaurant, the waiting area boasts numerous plaques awarded by the Express News and Current newspapers for Critic’s Choice and Reader’s Choice for best breakfast. The restaurant has received accolades from SA360, CitySearch.com, AOL City Guide, and the Texas Highways Magazine. In fact, LocalEats.com has recently named it one of the top 20 Best Breakfasts in the US. For the most part, the praise is deserved.

I only waited 30 minutes to be seated (exactly what the host said it should take). There is a tremendous amount of seating in this place and the staff turns tables efficiently. The place is very clean, and the bathrooms were practically spotless.

My wife and I decided to order a few things. We ordered the morning’s special, which consisted of a ham and cheese omelet and a side of pancakes for $7.99. For an extra $1.99, we upgraded the small side pancakes for a short stack. We also ordered biscuits and gravy, hashbrowns, and coffee.

The omelet was huge. Three eggs are folded over several slabs of what tasted like smoked applewood ham. We chose cheddar, although three other cheeses were available. The eggs were a little bland, but the ham was delicious. The hashbrowns were a little disappointing. Although a little firm, they tasted slightly overcooked in oil. Personally, potatoes taste much better cooked in butter. The biscuits and gravy were good, but not nearly as good as the Guenther’s. The menu says they are flaky biscuits with a side of Oma’s gravy. The biscuits were anything but flaky, yet lacked the density I prefer in biscuits. The gravy was a little thick, and lacked a hearty sausage and pepper flavors I would have liked. Surprisingly, the coffee was better than expected. We are hearty coffee snobs. This coffee was much better than what most places serve.

But let’s get to what Magnolia is known for – its pancakes. In fact, they boast that they make the best pancakes in the world. For me and my wife, they really are the best pancakes we have ever tasted. They have a very slight nutty and buttery aroma and flavor. But for us, the texture was what made them stand out. The pancakes were moist and spongy, with just the right density and consistency. It is very difficult to describe other than they did not have any of the negative characteristics associated with a bad pancake: doughy, airy, flat, flavorless, dry, rubbery – none of that.

Granted, the trophy for best pancake in the world most certainly is esoteric. I can just hear you now: “My grandma makes better pancakes than that!” Yeah, yeah, fine. Want the next best thing? Try Magnolia. Just be prepared to wait.





Jacala Mexican Restaurant

27 09 2012

gordita-jacalaI really can’t remember the first time I went to Jacala Mexican Restaurant. There are probably a lot of residents of San Antonio who can’t remember either. What they probably do remember is that they can’t remember a time NOT going. Jacala has been around since 1949 and boasts that it is the oldest originally owned restaurant in San Antonio. I don’t think I have ever gone to the restaurant and not seen one of the owners there, greeting and seating. Jacala is one of those restaurants that has withstood the test of time, whose patrons bring their children and grandchildren to enjoy the food.

Granted, in my opinion, Jacala does not serve the most delicious and outstanding Mexican food in town. What they do serve is consistently good food at a good price. Even with long lines, you won’t wait long before you are seated. Restaurants serving poor food do not stick around as long as Jacala has. That, in and of itself, should be reason enough to check it out.

I recently went to Jacala with my family, my parents, and two second cousins, one of whom will be moving to San Antonio soon. One of my cousins, Carlos, had the guts to try the chicken enchiladas with mole sauce. Mole, to the uninitiated, can be a daunting dish. Made poorly, and you will forever swear off Mexican cuisine. Made well, and mole is an extremely complex sauce (Rick Bayless has an excellent description here). Although its base is stock (normally chicken), chili paste (usually from a non-spicy pepper like a pasilla), and bitter chocolate, most recipes can include upwards of 20 other spices and ingredients. In general, the mole flavor is pungent and sweet (like chocolate and raisins) all at the same time. Everyone has a different recipe for mole, some good, some bad. This one was good (not great, but good). Carlos loved it, and I respect anyone who will at least try something new (heck, he didn’t even know what an enchilada was).

The gorditas here are pretty good. The masa (or dough) is not overly grease-laden and the ground beef is not undercooked (which is a pretty common way many restaurants save money by not allowing so much shrinkage). They come two to a plate and are about 5-6 inches in diameter. As you can see by the picture, they are fairly messy to eat. The puffy tacos, although a little small, are pretty tasty. And the enchiladas, whether smothered in cheese, or topped with green sauce or mole, are pretty good.

Personally, I can’t get enough of the table sauce. If you can’t either, you should be able to find a jar with the restaurant’s name on it at your local grocer (assuming you live in San Antonio). If you have not checked out Jacala, I would recommend that you at least drop in to see why the rest of San Antonio loves this place.





Puerto Rican Heritage Festival

17 12 2008

jibarito-plateEvery two years, the Puerto Rican Heritage Society (Sociedad Herencia de Puerto Rico) organizes and hosts a festival that features food, music, and cultural art. This year’s event was held at a different location than in past years and seemed to attract three times the attendance.  My favorite part of the event, of course, was the food.

We got there about an hour after the start and the line for food was already long. Several vendors were hawking food and the longest line was for La Marginal, a local Puerto Rican restaurant. Two lines formed at their booth to get one of two plates. The “Jibarito” (directly translated as “hillbilly”) consisted of roasted pork, rice and pigeon peas, small salad, and a choice of either tostones (fried plantains, aka “patacones”) or amarillos (baked sweet plantains. The other plate was fricaseed chicken with the same sides. My plate, shown here, was the “Jibarito” with both tostones and amarillos, and a chunk of potato stewed with the chicken. I also opted for the white rice and beans instead. Very yummy.paella

Each line was about 30 minutes long. My opinion is that they were just serving slowly. But the wait was worth it. While waiting, I hopped over to a booth run by Azuca, a restaurant serving Nuevo Latino cuisine. They offered a Spanish Paella and two desserts, a tres leches cake (three milks) and a flan (custard). My wife and I inhaled the Paella before I could get a picture of it. It was absolutely delicious. The rice was tasty, although overcooked just a tad, but it was full of seafood, peas, and carrots. For just eight bucks, I got a heaping plate of Paella that Azuca would probably charge about $24 for at the restaurant.

The Paella was made in a giant pan, probably about 36″ in diameter. It was gone in about 2 hours. La Marginal ran out of food seven times. The owner had to get his restaurant to keep bringing more food. My estimate is that the owner made in excess of $25k that afternoon. La Marginal also ran another booth out back serving fried food and roasted pork sandwiches. As much as I wanted some of this, too, I didn’t have the patience to stand in line again. There was another restaurant serving tapas, and a couple of other minor food sources, none of which I tried. The coffee was decent, the music was good, and the food was great. Maybe you’ll join me next time.





To cheat, or not to cheat

11 12 2008

cheatingI recently posted a blog about my upcoming pig roast in which I asked my readers to identify a few pop icon pigs. It really was not that difficult.  But if you are socially inept and culturally unaware, even Pigs in Space would have been difficult for you.  Oddly enough, it was my dad who was the first to respond.  Yes, with all the correct answers. I immediately smelled a pig.

You see, although my dad may be somewhat of a neophyte when it comes to pop culture he is, nonetheless, a very astute individual. I did not realize that when I had Read the rest of this entry »





Who wants some eyeball?

10 12 2008

Its time to claim the eyeballs!

The roast pig we are serving up on 12/20/08 is sure to offer a bonanza of meat and crispy skin.  However, there are several parts of the pig’s anatomy that can only be savored by a few.  Therefore, those need to be claimed ahead of time.

There are only two eyeballs on this pig, and they really can’t be shared.  Its like popping a jaw breaker in your mouth. To be honest, I’m not really that interested. However, whoever claims an eyeball also needs to agree to be featured in a video of you enjoying a taste explosion. C’mon now, don’t be squeamish. I once convinced my daughter, Isabel, to eat a fish eye. I’m not really sure how I got her to eat it since the usual enticements like encouragement, threats, bribes, or outright deception just don’t seem to work anymore on the kids. Yet, she popped it in and crunched. She didn’t say it was good, and she didn’t say it was bad – its a texture thing, you know?

However, I am willing to share the brain. Anyone?  Anyone?

While you’re thinking about it, take a look at this Man vs. Wild video.  Man, I love Bear Grylls.





Oh, Divine Pork skin

7 12 2008

I recently consulted with a Puerto Rican restaurant owner about roasting pigs.  He is well-known in the San Antonio Puerto Rican community for his food and caters pigs often. So, I figured I better consult with an expert.  He said that roasting such a large pig for a get-together like mine, or as a hobby, should be a great experience. As a restauranteur, however, roasting large hogs is unprofitable. So, he normally sticks to the smaller variety (25-40 lbs.).

His explanation as to why, however, befuddled me (you like that word, don’ cha?). A hog this size has more fat than a smaller pig. Leonel said that people are very concerned about their health these days (hmm, this is San Antonio, one of America’s fattest cities, remember?) and thus, the large hog is not as popular. I’m not totally convinced of this explanation. People who order roasted pig are probably not so conscientious of their diet. I mean, goodness gracious, San Antonio is built on corn tortillas and refried beans. I mean, a bean and cheese taco is nothing more than lard inside lard (with cheese on top).

But even more disturbing was his assertion that non-latinos (my term, not his) are not very interested in the crispy pork skin produced by these larger hogs.  Can this really be true?  One of man’s greatest achievements to food-kind is the ability to turn pork skin into something crispy and delicious and succulent and…and…oh, I’m out of breath and I can’t think of any appropriate enough adjectives. If Anthony Bourdain was there he would have had a heart attack (that’s probably coming anyway, if you are familiar with his show).

Well, for those of you who have eaten at my home, you know that I’m all about pushing people’s paradigms about what they like or dislike, or what they THINK they like or dislike.  But maybe I shouldn’t let the cat out of the bag (or the pig off the grill, if you like). The more people that enjoy the skin, the less I get to eat.  That’s ok, I’ll get mine.

[So, first one to correctly identify all pigs in the pictures above gets an extra helping of pork skin. If you're lucky, I'll give you a cheek. Just leave your answers in the Comments.]








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