BERNIE’S BURGER BUS “COOL KIDS TABLE” DINNER

Last night we went to a fun dinner at Bernie’s Burger Bus, located at 5407 Bellaire Blvd.  Bernie’s began as a popular food truck in 2010, and opened its brick-and-mortar establishment in 2014, featuring hand-ground burgers, homemade condiments, and breads baked by a local artisanal baker.

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Inside, the restaurant is schoolhouse themed, with menus that look like composition notebooks, school desks, and of course, a school bus:

But last night we weren’t there for burgers.  We were there for Bernie’s monthly After Dark “Cool Kids Table” dinner.  At the back of the restaurant, tables were set aside for 18 diners — the “cool kids.”

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This month’s theme was Mardi Gras Style, and was done in collaboration with Anthony Calleo of Pi Pizza Truck and Matt Toomey of Boomtown Coffee and The Honeymoon Café & Bar.  I liked the premise–a multi-course dinner in a casual setting, without the stuffiness that tends to accompany similar wine dinners.  Beer, wine, and soft drinks were available for purchase.

The first course, which might have been everyone’s favorite, was called “Remoulade,” and consisted of butter-poached lobster, romesco, and fractured remoulade:

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Next up was “PoBoy,” a crispy oyster panzanella with greens and warm andouille dressing.  These oysters were plump, spicy, and crunchy:

“Gumbo” was different than any gumbo I’ve ever had, and was served “Lyle” bento box style (a tongue-in-cheek reference to Underbelly sous chef Lyle Bento who is in the process of opening Southern Goods in the Heights):

The fourth course, “Quail,” was a tasty fried, lacquered quail atop duck-laced grits, with pickled greens and a creole vin:

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For dessert, we were treated to “Beignets,” which was made up of two sweet potato beignets with a really decadent creole cream cheese ice cream, accompanied by a New Orleans style café sua da, a strong rich coffee that went well with the dessert:

So did I feel cool, sitting back there at the Cool Kids Table?  Yeah, kinda.  We really enjoy these special dinners, and as a bonus, we usually meet like-minded foodie types at them, which makes them all the more interesting.  If you’re interested in dinners like these, you’re in luck, because there are scores of them going on all around the city, all the time these days.  To keep up, I follow Eater, Culture Map, Houston Press Eating Our Words, and My Table on Facebook, all of which do a great job of posting events.  Try one and see how much fun they are!

RETRO DINING: STAR PIZZA

Over the holidays, I took a little break from blogging.  Turns out my plan to count down to Christmas with daily posts was a little ambitious, and I abandoned it on December 14.  I had some fun giveaways planned, but the elves at Etsy and ebay were not exactly busting their asses to get stuff shipped, so those giveaways will have to wait until next year’s countdown.  The Post Office was in on the conspiracy too.  I had to go to mail a package and buy some stamps for our Christmas cards.  You know why they are called “forever” stamps, don’t you?  It’s because that’s how long you will have to wait in line to buy them.  It is also, coincidentally, how long it will be before I go back there.  I saw a little sign posted at one of the employees’ stations that said “Remember, we have competition.”  That sign must have been written when the Pony Express was still in operation.  With a quill.

But it’s a new year, full of promise and hope.  And for my first post of 2015, I say out with new and in with the old — time for a Retro Dining post.

Star Pizza was founded in 1976 by two Chicagoans who relocated to Houston.  There are two locations — one near the Upper Kirby District at 2111 Norfolk, and another, which is the one I frequent, in the Heights at 77 Harvard.

The dining room is homey and bright:

IMG_4426The menu offers a variety of salads, sandwiches, and pasta, but it’s the pizza that keeps ‘em coming.  Although it might not seem earth-shaking now, when Star Pizza opened and began offering hand-tossed pizza with a whole wheat crust option and vegetarian toppings, this was gourmet pizza.  Joe’s Pizza, for example, with sautéed spinach and fresh garlic, was and is still one of my favorites.  I think of the crust as Goldilocks crust — not too thick, not too thin, just right.

The lunchtime pizza and salad buffet is one of the best deals around, and a great way to sample Star Pizza.  For $9.25 you get iced tea and all the salad and pizza you can eat.  If you are one of those folks who likes to eat for sport, this is the buffet for you.  The salad bar is small, but has a nice assortment of fixings (including chopped hard-boiled eggs and real bacon).  Although it often looks like a bunch of 10-year olds just finished rooting through it (looks like the salad bars at every boy scout camp I’ve ever been to), the ingredients are always fresh and regularly replenished.  But the best reason to stop first at the salad bar is the thick, tangy, herby house-made Italian dressing.

IMG_5660There are lots of pizzas (almost too many) to choose from on the buffet, including Joe’s Pizza.  During the height of the lunch hour (at which you can expect a short wait to be seated), the pizzas come out fast and hot:

Be sure to leave room for a bite or two of the dessert pizza, which is like a deconstructed apple strudel, with apples and pecans, a dusting of powdered sugar, and will make you happy you wore your stretch pants to lunch.

The secret to Star Pizza’s longevity is clear — fresh and ample toppings, a great crust, and a solid value.  Despite a proliferation of pizza restaurants, Star Pizza continues to have a loyal customer base.  Including me.

Star Pizza 2 on Urbanspoon