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.





Spice Asian Bistro

29 11 2008

rollThere are a lot of lame oriental restaurants in town. You know what I’m talking about – you’ve eaten at them. Spice Asian Bistro is not one of those. I’ve eaten there twice and been happy both times. For the most part, the menu is comprised of Thai dishes. There is also a comprehensive sushi menu as well as a few Chinese dishes as well. However, I went for the Thai food.

To be clear, I am not one of those newspaper food critics that goes in to an establishment with three other people who order and share numerous appetizers, entrees, and desserts…and again on a second or even third visit. On the other hand, I’m just a regular joe who can afford to eat out on a not-so-frequent basis. So, my wife and I order two entrees, and maybe an appetizer as well. However, those two entrees should be emblematic of the restaurant as a whole. If the food I’ve ordered is made well and tastes great, I can be fairly confident to expect the rest of the food to be just as satisfying.

And that’s exactly what I have found at Spice. Read the rest of this entry »





Zinc – upscale lounge

6 03 2008

My wife and I are not into the club scene at all. We do enjoy an occasional drink, but don’t enjoy the places that normally serve them as they cater to decadent youth focused on competitive imbibing. Not so with Zinc, located in the heart of downtown San Antonio within a short walk of the Riverwalk or the Alamo. This place has a more elegant and upscale feel than many other places do. The clientele seems different, too. At least when I’ve visited, the patrons are more subdued, enjoying the company of a small group of friends. Although the tv’s are usually showing a game, the volume is normally muted so as not to compete with the music or conversation. This is not the type of place you will need to raise your voice at to be heard.

The menu is lengthy with a good selection of wines, spirits, and specialty mixed drinks. Although I’ve never had their food, they also offer panini’s, pizza’s, and a couple of desserts as well. There is ample seating in the main bar area, as well as the adjoining lounge. On nice evenings, the outdoor courtyard is an excellent place to relax.

If you want to get away from the ordinary and step into a relaxing, adult environment, make sure to visit Zinc.





Boudro’s on the Riverwalk

6 03 2008

I wish I had gotten the jump on San Antonio’s Express News review of Boudro’s, but sometimes life gets too busy and things go by the wayside. However, I have pictures! Here’s my two cents on a recent visit.

Boudro’s prime ribWhereas the writer of that article did not mind being shoehorned into her table, that is the first thing I noticed when my wife and I met my parents and my aunt and uncle at Boudro’s this past weekend. I expected this upscale restaurant to be crowded (this is on San Antonio’s Riverwalk, after all), but I’ve never seen a more worthy attempt at cramming tables and chairs into such tight spots. The small table couldn’t hold all of our dishes at once, the guacamole cart just would not fit between my uncle’s chair and our neighbor, and I think I actually rubbed hair with the person sitting behind me several times. Yes, it was also loud, but you sit so close to your tablemates that it doesn’t really matter.

My first impression was not good, and neither was my second. Read the rest of this entry »