Saturday, October 4, 2014

Stillwater Barbeque--Good but Overhyped

People have been raving about Stillwater Barbeque for a while. They used to be a food truck. Now there is a permanent location, mainly open only for lunch though recently they added dinner hours on Friday and Saturday. I tried their brisket nachos at the local fair last month but there wasn't enough meat and it was covered up with an odd garlic sauce so I couldn't get a real sense of the flavor. 

I judge barbecue based on the brisket. Today I ordered a chopped sandwich. No sides, no chips, just the meat, bread and sauce I added with a few pickles. Cost was $7, better be dang good for that price. 

When I walked in there was a line at the counter. People were placing large orders. I was concerned that they would be out of brisket as it was almost 1:30pm and they close at 3pm or when they run out. Ambiance--think BBQ in Austin. That's the vibe they seem to be going for...odd to put hipster and smoked red meat together but it seems to be a thing.  I was tempted to get a sandwich plate that would have included two sides; brisket beans, potato salad, or brisket macaroni and cheese but it was $11. Sides cost $3 each or $6 for a large. No cole slaw but I could get a bag of Ruffles for $1. They also has some pecan pie/cobbler. The mac and cheese looked intriguing, I almost went for it especially since they had just brought out a new batch.

The brisket had a nice crust and a well-defined smoke ring. The guy gave the brisket a rough chop put it on a bun and slipped it on a piece of pink butcher paper. I got several apologies for the wait. Other meat options were beef ribs, pulled pork, pork spare ribs, and sausage (a couple of varieties). Sometimes they have turkey and chicken. Tell the first person your meat, the second your sides, then order your drinks and pay the third person. 
Chopped brisket sandwich
The brisket was peppery and smokey but for my taste the fat to meat ratio was too fatty. The meat was drier than expected with all the fat too. There were two sauces to choose from at the table. One was mustard-based, I assume because of the pork options.  The other was a sweet oily thin sauce. I liked the mustard one. To be honest I was expecting a mouthwatering experience and I just did not get one. Perhaps my I set my sights too high.

I need to have my husband try the ribs and I'll get some pulled pork and we can split a large brisket mac and cheese but at their prices we may have to save up for out next trip. The guy in front of me spent $60 for his family of four. Hopefully they had leftovers. 

3365 S 14th St (River Oaks shopping center in the old Quizno's)
Abilene, TX, 79605
(325) 518-5071

Friday, September 26, 2014

Big Country Wraps--Middle Eastern food on a budget and vegans rejoice!

Big Country Wraps is the newest entry for Middle Eastern food in Abilene. The seating area is fairly small so you may want to get your's as take-out. I like that it is close to my house. When you live in the northwest part of town, dining choices in the area are primarily fast food chains. It is refreshing to have another choice.

Menu board
Falafel pita with desi fries.

I had heard about Big Country wraps from a friend so I talked the hubby into trying it for dinner. He ordered the beef shawarma pita and I had the falafel wrap. We both added fries and drink for $3.00 extra. The fries are seasoned with a "desi" spice that my husband loved. I wish the fries had been hot when they came out but we did get two extra falafels for free on the side because they forgot my husband's fries and put them on the plate instead. The fries were brought out after we pointed out the mistake. He enjoyed his wrap a lot and said the flavor was good. My falafel wrap was tasty but could have used one more falafel on the pita. It came with two of them, lettuce, onion and pickle.

There are several vegetarian/vegan options which can be difficult to find in restaurants in Abilene. The falafel, pakora, and somosas (I believe) are made without animal products. There is also hummus served with pita bread and the fries as well.

Service was attentive and friendly. They were very patient answering any questions we had about the food. The place was nice and clean. There were only two people working (the owners--brothers I believe) and several folks in the restaurant so it took a while for the food to come out but we were not in a hurry. Our neighbors had the chicken bowl dish and it looked very tempting. Prices were reasonable.
Pistacho baklava--yum!

Now my favorite part--pistachio baklava! I'm not a fan of walnuts but have made exception in the past for regular baklava but now that I can get it with pistachios, I won't go back to walnuts.

We will return to try some other items and we heard they deliver too!

3514 N 1st St, Abilene, TX 79603
(325) 701-9997

Monday, September 22, 2014

Casa Herrera--An Abilene Institution

I have long lamented the lack of really top shelf Mexican or Tex-Mex food in Abilene. We have many adequate places and some have a few dishes that stand out but there isn't a place that I would tell the world was the best. Lots of people pick Casa Herrera as there favorite spot in Abilene to quell a quesadilla craving. It has been in its current location by the Mall of Abilene for many years and before that it was located in Burro Alley (we are talking about 25 years ago) on S. 1st so it truly is one of the longest lasting places in town. Casa Herrera is locally owned so I give them points for that because the other most popular Mexican food in town is a chain called Abuelo's.

Last Friday night was date night for me and the mister. We were craving some Mexican food so we decided to go to Casa Herrera as we hadn't had dinner there as a couple before. I ordered the deluxe nachos and he had a carne guisada (beef chunks in a flavorful gravy) plate that came with beans, rice and flour tortillas. The meal started with complimentary chips and hot sauce. The hot sauce is quite spicy and has the consistency of taco sauce rather than a chunky salsa, as if you mixed tomato sauce and Tabasco sauce together. The chips came unsalted and were reasonably fresh though they had an aftertaste that was a bit odd. My husband really enjoyed his carne guisada and I liked the nachos with the lettuce and tomato though the meat was under-spiced. The meals ran about $7-8 each...not overpriced for what you get though the portions were not huge. The food is much like your average taqueria but the surroundings are classier and the service is better. As you read other online reviews of the restaurant you will find that people tend to either love it or hate it.
Deluxe Nachos
Casa Herrera also serves a weekday and Sunday lunch buffet that people really seem to enjoy.  The lines are long to get in during those times and on Friday and Saturday nights. I have found the buffet to be rather hit or miss. Buffets just tend to be unimpressive in my book, everything gets soggy under the heat lamps.

Our server was very attentive and professional. We could tell that he had been working in the business for years and he was great at anticipating our needs. He asked if I needed jalapenos for my nachos before I had a chance to request them, kept our glasses topped off and promptly took away the dirty dishes. This fact alone helps to elevate Casa Herrera above a lot of the other Mexican restaurants in town.

4109 Ridgemont Dr, Abilene, TX 79606
(325) 692-7065


Friday, September 19, 2014

CLOSED--Sweet Meat Bar-B-Q

Sweet Meat Bar-B-Q (what a name) is one of two new entries in Abilene serving your barbecued meat favorites. The other is Stillwater Barbeque which is only open for lunch and on the opposite side of town from where I work so I haven't had time to try it.  Sweet Meat is located in the old Noodle House/Crystal's Pizza location on S. 1st.  Recently, I went there to celebrate a birthday with some friends.

For an appetizer we got the chicken-fried bacon with gravy. Lot of pepper in the breading and gravy and it was more like Canadian bacon than regular bacon. If it was regular bacon it would have been under-cooked. Flavor was good, if over peppered, but a bit expensive at $6.99.

I ordered my favorite thing to get at a BBQ place--a chopped brisket sandwich--served with homemade fries. I went with their regular sauce instead of the spicy one. At $8.99, I was expecting a generous-sized sandwich and what came out wasn't too terribly big. Average at best. The flavor the brisket was pretty good, sweet and smokey, but the meat was kind of dry and the sandwich wasn't hot, neither were the fries.

Picture from Sweet Meat's Facebook page--but this is how mine looked too.
Others at the table ordered the sliced brisket & sausage plate, the brisket/sausage sandwich, a hamburger, and a sliced brisket plate. Food being lukewarm was a problem on everything but the fried bacon. It was right out of the fryer.  Wait time on the food was too long and though the service was friendly, it needed some polish. Our split check had to be calculated and then recalculated twice.

With the long-standing barbecue places in town, I just don't know that this place will be able to stand up to the competition. I plan to give them another shot soon as they have some good lunch specials but if they can't get it to me nice and hot, I'll be headed back to my usual standbys for brisket.

2201 S. 1st St.
Abilene, TX 79605

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sweets du Jour--Bakery and Breakfast/Lunch Spot

My friend and I decided to try out a newish local bakery because I had heard some buzz about their cinnamon rolls and the sandwiches served on house-made focaccia bread. They have been around for about 3 years but for some odd reason I've never tried them out probably because they close at 3pm. The situation changed yesterday when I had the afternoon off and a burning craving for some fresh focaccia. Yum!

The lunch menu gives you five sandwich choices, one of which is a build-your-own.  The meatball sandwich is only available on Friday. The chicken-berry salad is the one sandwich that comes on a different type of bread--a croissant to be exact. There are 3-4 daily rotating soup choices as well. There is also quiche if any is left over from breakfast, a generous slice is $5.00. The small sandwich is $5.50 and that is indeed what you get...just the sandwich. You can add a cup of soup for an extra $3.50 or a bag of chips for .75 cents. A large sandwich, which is basically two small sandwiches, is $8.50. They also have breakfast sandwiches on croissant in the morning for $3.75, along with various pastries. 

There are about 10 tables in the place. It is decorated in a black & white theme with a touch of red. Very quaint. The picture below is of one of the cases with some sweets. I was greeted promptly but they warn on their website that it may take up to 15 minutes to get your sandwich so this isn't a place to eat if you are in a rush.  They told the truth as it took about 12 minutes to get our food and there were only 4 other people in the place, two of which ordered after we did. They do have an online ordering system if you want to take advantage of it for a meal or for ordering a bakery item.

I requested the salami, provolone and olive-relish sandwich with a cup of the chicken gnocchi soup (they 3 soup choices from leftovers earlier in the week).  My friend had the mozzarella, basil and roasted tomato sandwich and chips. Drink options were coffee, iced tea or water. No sodas. Bummer. 

The bread was delicious and the toppings were very good quality if not overly generous. My soup was well worth the price. Very flavorful. My friend enjoyed her sandwich as well. All in all, not a place to go if you have a big appetite but enjoyable for a light lunch. Just remember it isn't $5 foot long subs here but a gourmet bakery. 

I bought some peanut butter toffee cookies (.76 cents each) for dessert and they were delicious, just a tad too salty.  I plan to return and try some quiche, a spinach artichoke dip sandwich or order a cake/pie.

Sweets du Jour
726 S Leggett Dr. (SW corner of Leggett and S.7th)
Abilene, TX  79605

10:30 a – 3:00 p Tuesday-Friday
9:00 a – 2:00 p Saturday
Closed Sunday & Monday


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Trip to Cambridge, Mass.

I recently spent a week doing some professional development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so I thought I would share my eating adventures with anyone who might be traveling there. Actually, I wasn't that brave as I tended to stick pretty close to my hotel (The Charles) since I was so pooped from class each day.

Legal Sea Food 

Dinner Saturday night and Tuesday night. I had high expectations since I was on the coast. The first dinner being Saturday night they were slammed so I just ate at the bar (full menu). Ordered clams strips and a cup of lobster bisque. The bisque was creamy, well-seasoned and the lobster meat was fresh. The fried clams were huge! It was an enjoyable meal and the bartender took good care of me but the price was steep ($40). A couple of nights later, I ate at the bar again though they were not as busy. I had the baked stuffed shrimp casserole and though it was tasty (how could something with that much butter not be?) it was also very expensive ($26). I would have liked more than 6 shrimp at that price. Service wasn't quite as attentive, though still okay. I guess I should have gone with some New England specialties like crab cakes or fresh lobster. As, it stands, I am just as happy with Pappadeaux seafood.

Henrietta's Table

Breakfast Sunday morning and lunch on Friday. They are known for serving very fresh and local ingredients. Breakfast was awesome, huge mushroom and cheese omelet with potatoes (with a seasoning I couldn't place but it reminded me of German potatoes) and an English muffin with real butter ($9 a bargain, no doubt).  It was the fluffiest omelet I have ever seen! Impeccable service. Lunch was a huge salad with smoked turkey, bacon, avocado, tomatoes, a small sprinkle of bleu cheese and greens ($15).  I also had some broccoli cheese soup ($6). There was a sweetness to the soup, maybe nutmeg? It was all delicious but the server was a grump.

Dinner Sunday evening. Fancy hamburger with provolone and prosciutto, served with homemade fries ($15). A little undercooked. I ordered medium-well and they were out of their regular buns so it was served on brioche. I meant to go back another time for a dessert, the menu looked very tempting, but never made it.

The Taco Truck
Supper Monday evening. Fast food. Two carnitas pork tacos with green salsa, cilantro and onions and a Jarritos mandarin soda ($8). Pretty tasty, much better than expected. I was impressed.

The Shake Shack 
Evening snack, Monday.  Strawberry milkshake ($5). Not any better than any other strawberry milkshake I've ever had...too expensive even at tourist prices.

Supper Wednesday evening. I had house-made gnocchi with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and lots of garlic (around $17).  It was a little mushy and bland, except for the garlic. The bruschetta ($9), however, was very tasty. Complimentary bread and olive oil. Loved the open to the street seating and the service was superior. Very close to the theater so it was quite busy, reservations are recommended. No cream sauce options though. Guess I needed to go into Boston to get some really hearty Italian food.