Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Famous Big Texan Steak Ranch on I-40 in Amarillo

Big Texan Exterior
My husband finally talked me into eating at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. If you have ever traveled on Interstate 40 during the past 55 years across the Texas panhandle you must have seen the billboards for it. There have been numerous travel and food shows that have featured the Big Texan and their "eat a 72oz steak and sides and get it free" challenge. The place is so over the top Texas kitsch that you almost have to see it at least once if only for the gift shop and the opportunity to watch some carnivore take on that eating challenge.

Interior--clock and stage for those taking the challenge
The food is pretty average overall and overpriced. The interior is cavernous. A busload of teenagers were seated not long after our party of three. The service can be unpredictable. In other words, it caters to the tourist crowd.

I ordered the lunch special half-pound burger and fries ($9) and a Dr. Pepper ($3) served in a plastic souvenir cup. My husband ordered the 30oz Trail-boss T-bone with cowboy beans and mashed potatoes ($36.00). His cousin went with a Dallas cut 18oz rib-eye ($25) also with beans and mash. As an appetizer we got a full order of fried mushrooms ($12), which tasted great with their slightly spicy breading, and they were served with ranch dressing but something about them did not agree with me later. I ate more of those than anything else.
Fried Mushrooms

My hamburger was nothing special but I liked the steak fries. If they had been hot they would have been even better. The men loved their meals but I'm not sure if it was because the steaks were especially tasty or the guys were just really hungry. Either way they want to return and my husband thinks he could eat the 72oz steak. I think it is $72 if your don't finish it in the allotted time. Unfortunately, when we were there no one even tried.
30 ounce T-bone

Our server was good but we heard another couple say they were leaving because no one ever came to take their order. Most of the workers looked kind of "done" with the whole dress up like a cowboy and be Texas-friendly to folks.

We did enjoy the singing cowboy who was walking around with his guitar performing for tips. He sang Abilene and London Homesick Blues for us.

If you are passing through, at least go in to take a look around, snap some pictures and maybe have a beer (from their brewery) or even a steak if you so desire. It is the reason they are famous after all.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Rancho Pizzeria in Coleman--So worth a road trip!!!

The owners of the celebrated Rancho Loma in Valera have opened a contemporary pizzeria in downtown Coleman called Rancho Pizzeria. As Rancho Loma is one of my all time favorite dining experiences, you know I had to make the 100 mile round trip to try some of their pizza.
Exterior--no outside signage at the moment

The decor is industrial chic with some West Texas nostalgia mixed in. Inside there are about 8 high backed booths, 3-4 tables for two, a large group seating area at the front and a private dining room in the back. All this to say, it isn't all that large of a restaurant. Peak times may mean a wait, especially as word spreads about them. A bar with some additional seating runs along one sided adjacent to the chef station and brick oven. Service was friendly, prompt and professional.
Art above the bar

We ordered the olive tapenade with goat cheese ($7) as an appetizer. It was served with toasted bread. Loved it!!! My favorite item of the night. I believe that Chef Trueblood, that owned the now shuttered Bonterra Blu in Clyde, where I adored the olive tapenade on his salads is part of the Rancho Pizzeria team...pretty sure it was him making the pizza when we were there. Yes, you can see them preparing the food which is fun. One of the owners was also around chatting with customers.
Olive tapenade with goat cheese

I also got a small Cesare salad and my husband ordered a small house salad. Both were very good made with super fresh, high quality ingredients.  The Gorgonzola cheese on the house salad was gorgeous and plentiful. The dressing on my salad was super flavorful, if a bit heavy on the capers. The romaine was crisp. Both a bargain at $5 and $4 each. Larger entree sized salads are also available.
Caesar salad

The 12" pizzas are wood fired in a brick oven and are big enough for two to share, particularly if you have an entree and a salad as we did but we tried two of them anyway.  My husband got the carne pizza with  crushed tomatoes, prosciutto, Italian sausage, pepperoni, fontina cheese, and Calabrian chiles ($18).  It was the highest priced on the menu. It also had fresh shaved Parmesan on top.  I had the fungi ($14) pizza that was topped with roasted shiitake mushrooms, bechamel sauce, fontina cheese, roasted garlic, and white truffle oil.

Carne pizza

The crust on my husband's pizza was crisp yet tender and the taste of the meats really popped with the addition of the peppers. It was simply delicious. The mushroom pizza had an expected earthy flavor, with the shiitake and tuffle oil, and the unexpected arugula. The garlic was subtle. However, the crust was just a little underdone. You need to really, really like mushrooms if you order this pizza. I like mushrooms but shiitakes are not my favorite. The surprise arugula topping was too bitter for me and, admittedly, I missed the tomato sauce. Maybe if the roasted garlic had been more pronounced I wouldn't have missed it as much. The menu also includes a classic Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil) on the menu as well as the pepperoni, sausage, and arugula with prosciutto. Next time, I'm getting the Greek salad, a pepperoni pizza and my husband is hankering for the meatball appetizer.  There will DEFINITELY be a return trip!

Fungi pizza
The meal was certainly worth the drive from Abilene and if you are passing through Coleman on a Wednesday-Sunday during their open hours, you should eat there. You won't regret it. We had leftovers for the next day.

Please note that substitutions are not allowed on the pizzas and there is no "create your own" option. However, at times there are specials for the lunch or dinner service such as lasagna or steak if pizza is not your favorite. Check their Facebook page for current offerings. Reservations are not accepted, unless booking the private dining room.

There is a small but thoughtful beer and wine selection available and occasional live music. The do takeout if not slammed with dine-in patrons.

  • Monday: Closed
  • Tuesday: Closed
  • Wednesday: 11am2pm, 5pm9pm
  • Thursday: 11am2pm, 5pm9pm
  • Friday: 11am2pm, 5pm10pm
  • Saturday: 11am10pm
  • Sunday: 11am3pm
If you are traveling on 84 between Abilene and Brownwood, you will need to make a detour to get to Commercial which is right off 153 and 206.

414 S. Commercial
Coleman, TX 76834
(325) 726-9307
Facebook: www.facebook.com/rancho.pizzeria/timeline

Friday, April 17, 2015

Miguel's Mex Tex Cafe--a new Abilene favorite

Miguel's has been one of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings that I can ever remember for our fair burg of Abilene. Citizens have been watching the remodel and additional building on to the old Famous Dave's Barbecue location for over a year. It opened for business five days ago and has been packed ever since. The husband and I went last night. We got there at 5:30pm and the parking lot was almost full. Once we got our names on the list, we were told it was a 45 minute wait. Larger parties I'm sure had a significantly longer wait. We went to sit in the bar since it was open seating and you could order dinner in there if you wanted. As is happened, we struck up a conversation with a man who had been there every night since they opened and eaten in the bar every time. He gave us some tips on what was good and raved about how great the service had been. The bar was hopping with people.
Cool fixtures and art
The atmosphere at Miguel's is very colorful and I loved the blown glass light fixtures and the tile. This a place that cares about the details. The owners have made a HUGE investment in this restaurant. Abuelo's (formerly the fanciest Mexican/Tex-Mex restaurant in town) is in trouble.

The chef is the same gentleman that used to own Bonterra Blu in Clyde. A former favorite before they closed. When I heard that news, I was suffused with happiness because as I have mentioned on this blog before there isn't (wasn't) any truly outstanding Mexican or Tex-Mex in Abilene and Chef Trueblood has the talent to change that.

One of several dining areas
Once we were seated, we were brought chips and three kinds of salsa/dip. There was the traditional freshly made tomato salsa, which was a bit too citrus-y for my taste, an avocado-pineapple salsa, and a creamy black olive dip that was my absolute favorite. My husband thought it too salty. The photo below is out of perspective. The tortilla chips were light and crispy.

Chips and dips
The menu is big. Brunch is served on the weekends. That is a future must try. Dinner was a difficult decision but I went with some classics; a San Antonio style puffy beef taco, a spinach/portabello/avocado enchilada, and a white cheese chili relleno. For sides, bacon and cheddar refried beans and Mexican fried rice. There was also a little bit of steamed cornbread which was really sweet. The relleno was the best I have ever eaten outside of New Mexico. Not oily at all and the pepper had a kick to it. The enchilada was delicious. I actually become too full to eat the puffy taco which had a fry bread shell and another crispy blue corn shell. I had to give it to my husband. The sides were super tasty. I enjoyed the fried egg twist on the rice. The beans were super flavorful. It is so disappointing at other places when I can tell they came out of a can or when the cook doesn't add enough seasoning.  No problem with that at Miguel's.

Classic combo--enchilada, chili relleno, puffy taco
My husband decided on one of the specialties of the house, the #14 which was carne asada steak and bacon wrapped shrimp...surf and turf Tex-Mex style. For a few minutes, we were told they were out of steak but it turned out that wasn't the case. The shrimp were fresh and delicious. The steak was topped with cheese and a cilantro pesto. He wasn't asked how he wanted his steak cooked and in the end he didn't finish it because he wasn't fond of the toppings and the steak was a bit overdone. However, he raved about the shrimp, beans and rice. He also got a side order of the corn on the cob which was topped with chipotle crema and some spices. He wasn't a fan but it looked pretty yummy to me. I didn't taste it because it is impossible to eat corn on the cob with any grace in a public setting, much less corn with a cream sauce on it.

I was stuffed but he wanted dessert when he heard they had  fried bread pudding on the menu.
  It was topped with vanilla bean ice cream. I managed a couple of bites, superb. 

Fried Bread Pudding
Service was outstanding. One of the owners came by our table, as did one of the managers. Our server, Leslie, was excellent.

Now for the skinny on cost. Our bill was almost $60.00 not counting tip. That being said, it was worth it. They have only been open for less than a week and the quality was awesome and the staff very well trained. However, it isn't going to be a cheap meal when you eat at Miguel's. The entrees start at $7 (one classic item and rice/beans) and go up from there. I highly recommend trying it as portions were generous, even if you have to wait a while. There are very few places in town I would bother to wait 45 minutes for a seat but this is one of them.

A word about seasoning. Nothing we ate was particularly spicy but it was spiced. If you are a person who prefers food to be simply seasoned, like how my husband likes his steak without any extra toppings, this probably won't be your place.

Update 8/9/2015

I have been back several times and MOST of those occasions were still a good experience but my visit this past weekend demonstrated some of the issues that others have encountered such as inconsistent service and skimpy portions for the price charged; i.e. only six medium-sized shrimp in my shrimp fajitas at a cost of $17 with less than generous amounts of toppings and sides. One of my companions hated the salmon tacos, said they tasted "off". Still happy with most other entrees I've tried and the appetizers and desserts have all been excellent. 

3001 S. Danville Dr.
Abilene TX 79605

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A few of my yelp reviews of late--Salathai, Moe's Southwestern Grill, The Toasted Traveler

Salathai--Mom and Pop Thai in Country Hearth Hotel

Moe's Southwest Grill--semi-fast burritos and such

Toasted Traveler--food truck

Taylor County Taphouse--Super Popular New Wave Comfort Food and BeerGarden

Taylor County Taphouse is the hoppin' place in town right now and they do live up to their name with a gargantuan list of beers to try both on tap and by the bottle.  The atmosphere is loud when the place is full (and it definitely was on a Friday night) but that goes along with the vibe they are cultivating.  We were seating within 10 minutes when we arrived at 6:30pm but shortly thereafter the small waiting area was overflowing. The dining room is average sized with tables close together. Not really a romantic date place but great for a fun night with friends. 
Thick cut chicken-fried bacon with mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy
We began with the deep fried thick-cut bacon, biscuits and gravy ($7). It was scrumptious! 
For dinner, my husband had the chicken fried steak ($15) and I ordered the green chile shrimp and grits ($14).  The portions were average but we weren't hungry when we left. The hubby enjoyed his CFS. The ingredients were top notch, though my grits were a bit on the clumpy side. There were about 6 good sized shrimp in my dish. They are still refining the menu, so what you see on their page online may not be what you see on the menu when you get there. Also, expect to spend some money. The starters range in price from $5 for deviled eggs to $15 for a charcuterie board (meats and cheeses with crackers and a honeycomb). Entrees start at $9 and go up to $32. Salads and soups also available for lighter appetites. If you are into craft and imported beers you could rack up quite the bill before it is all said and done. 
Chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and stir-fried green beans with garlic
Our server was knowledgeable and attentive despite the place being jam-packed. The decor is dark wood and there is a large patio (curretly enclosed due to temperatures) that will be great in warmer weather.  The only blip during our visit was the fire alarm going off a couple of times. New cooks in the kitchen?

I think for me it will be apps and a cold beverage on the patio with my compadres once springtime gets here.

4002 Catclaw Dr.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hashi Teppan Grill--Fast and Flavorful Japanese

3388 Rebecca Lane
I think I have found my "go to" place for quick Japanese food.  Hashi is tasty and reasonably priced...just wish it was closer to my house! Me, my husband and son went by for dinner while out Christmas shopping. I had the hibachi shrimp with fried rice and grilled vegetables, my husband had the steak with double fried rice and my son had the salmon (he raved about it) with fried rice and veggies.  They also have chicken and Hashi steak which I believe has sauce on it. 

Steak with double fried rice
We also ordered a California roll for an appetizer. The roll was pre-made. They do not make the sushi in front of you, my only complaint. They do have a variety of sauces. The ginger sauce seemed to be homemade and was quite good. The fried rice reminded me of the now closed Fuji which made the BEST fried rice in town.
Meals range from $6.50 (hibachi vegetables) to $9.50 (Hashi steak). On the menu it states they you have a choice of a starch OR a vegetable but when we went they gave us two sides but then again they had just opened the week before and probably wanted to build up good word of mouth.

Salmon with fried rice and vegetables
The set up is that you go through the line and order. Pay the cashier and they will bring out your food packaged in take-out containers. Seating is limited, so you may not find a table during peak hours.

Service was very friendly and efficient. There is a cook at the hibachi making the meats after you order. The rice, veggies, noodles and appetizers are already made and you can see them dishing them up behind the glass barrier. There are also Asian salads and soups.

The decor is minimalist and the restaurant is very clean. I'm sure we will go back since it is less expensive and quicker than the sit-down hibachi places. However, the sushi won't be a draw since it is similar to what I can get at the grocery store.

3388 Rebecca Lane
Abilene, Texas 79606
T: (325) 704-5388
FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hashi-Teppan/1462333737380977

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Heff's Burgers & More--Best Hamburger in Abilene

Heff's Burgers started out as a grill in the back of a convenience store in Potosi, TX. They were very popular with the folks in the area. The owners decided to move into "town" and open up a store south of the mall. That place was packed all the time so they opened a location on S. 1st, which has since closed because they built a brand new building off of 351 (Albany highway) that is very cool with the 1950s soda shop theme, purple and teal decor and fancy drink dispenser.  They have also opened a restaurant in San Angelo, TX. Heff's is a true success story. I think Heff's may expand even more in the future.
The small 1/4 lb burger (kid/senior menu) with twister fries.
 The owner told me that they only use fresh hamburger meat delivered several times a week, never frozen. They make their own fries, either the regular kind or twister fries which are more like homemade potato chips.

The price for a regular 1/2 lb. burger combo (fries and drink) runs a little under $8 with tax but I promise you won't be hungry after you finish it.

The burger patty is made in-house and grilled to perfection, juicy but not greasy. I appreciate that the buns are always soft and the veggies are fresh. The burger is the only thing I have ever ordered but they also have steak fingers, a chicken sandwich, chicken tenders, a BLT, and even a salad. You can have one of two kinds of fries or onion rings as side dish options. The onion rings are handmade as well but tend to be a bit greasy. 

Service is always excellent but can be a slow if they are crowded but quality takes time. There is no-drive through. I heard that they build another location on the far south side of town. Since I live in the middle of the city, it is a bit of a drive to any of the locations since they closed the one on S.1st but they are worth the travel time.

Abilene Locations:

3374 Rebecca Ln. (325) 691-1930

2642 East Lake Dr.
(325) 437-3006
Find them on Facebook.