CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 13

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to give up date night.  In the crush of holiday parties, end-of-year deadlines, shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking, there’s something very satisfying about turning your back on all of it while you enjoy a night out with your spouse or sweetheart.

This weekend we decided on the spur of the moment to go out for dinner, just the two of us, at a nice restaurant.  A little time-saving tip for last minute dining — instead of searching for reservations by checking restaurants one at time, you can go to Open Table, select your city, number of people, and time of desired reservation, and it’ll provide you with a list of available reservations.  In Houston, which regularly tops the Zagat list of cities where residents eat out the most (in 2013, Houstonians ate out an average of 5.5 meals per week), reservations are a necessity if you’re looking for something a notch above a burger or fajitas.  We saw on Open Table that Lucille’s had openings, made a reservation, and headed out for a relaxing meal.

Lucille’s is located at 5512 La Branch, catty-corner from The Children’s Museum (and thank heavens, my days of going there and chasing my kids around the van from Mexico exhibit are behind me).  The restaurant is named after Chef Chris Williiams’ great grandmother and “Texas culinary legend” Lucille Bishop Smith, who according to the website, “has been named the first African American business woman in Texas.”  She was famous for her chili biscuits, which were reportedly served at the White House and on American Airlines.

Inside, the dark-paneled restaurant has a neighborhood feel, with a well-attended bar.  But it’s Lucille’s charming patio, which must be one of Houston’s best kept outdoor dining secrets, that we really  look forward to.  On a cool evening, enjoying the restaurant’s clever takes on classic southern dishes under the stars, it feels almost like being on vacation.

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Start with an order of Lucille’s famous chili biscuits — tender little chili and cheese-topped bites:

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Fried green tomatoes are crisp and tangy:

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And even if you don’t think you like oysters (like me), you’ll flip over these fried oysters:

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One of my favorite entrees is the restaurant’s version of shrimp and grits, with big plump shrimp, savory smoked sausage, and a few roasted cherry tomatoes, in a delicious broth:

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Another standout is pork and beans, which is a huge braised pork shank with a caramelized exterior, sitting atop a colorful medley of fava beans, lima beans, peas, and tomatoes:

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On this occasion, my husband enjoyed a special of striped bass with shrimp, lentils, and broccolini:

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Other offerings currently include salads, fried yardbird (chicken), seared duck, braised lamb shank, and a juicy burger — something for everyone.

We had a great meal and a great time, and stepping away from the holiday stuff for a few hours was decidedly a good thing.  If you haven’t tried Lucille’s, consider it for your next date night, or lunch with friends, or birthday dinner . . . .

Lucille's on Urbanspoon

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 11

Whenever I need a dose of holiday cheer to boost my stressed holiday spirits, I take a little drive through the neighborhood on my way back from wherever, to look at the holiday decorations gracing my neighbors’ yards.  Although I can appreciate the megawatt displays that some of my neighbors have paid to have installed, those are not the decorations that delight me the most:

I always get a kick out of any decorations that are Texas-themed, like this cowboy snowman and cactus: IMG_5534 Maybe not unique to Texas, but this shotgun-toting camo penguin is pretty amusing: IMG_5508 It’s always fun to come across vintage decorations, like this plastic Santa and his evil twin, that were just a few houses apart on the same block:

I dare you not to grin at these Christmas Star Wars characters: IMG_5505 I give this house an “E” for effort and exuberance: IMG_5506 I do a double take every time I drive by this festive flock of geese with their holly collars: IMG_5532 These pretty ornaments seem to float in the air like bubbles: IMG_5536 I know what you’re thinking.  Just say it — big red balls: IMG_5509 A little flamingo whimsy: IMG_5514 A reminder of what Christmas is about: IMG_5535 Finally, at this house I just wanted to get out of the car and applaud, yelling “Bravo, well done, well done”: IMG_5513 If you need a little break from the holiday hustle and bustle, take a quick trip around the neighborhood, and you are bound to come back grinning.  Are there any special holiday decorations in your neighborhood that you really enjoy?