I’m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Houston, Texas.
Greetings from Houston, Texas
N 29° 54.9661’ W 095° 36.8655’ Elev. 128 feet
I’m learning to love Houston. It’s 70° here as opposed to the -20° (with the wind chill) I gleefully left behind in Davenport, Iowa two days before. And although the wind is blowing here I can actually walk upright! It’s a veritable tropical paradise by comparison.
I was able to drop the box (trailer) and bobtail over to a Staples to get some binder clips. These are the best devices on the planet for keeping snack food bags closed. If you fold the bag correctly — burp the air out, fold it over like a paper airplane wing, double it back on itself, and then roll it down — these clamps will all but reseal chip/cereal/cracker bags and keep the product fresh nearly indefinitely. (Ah, the things you learn when you’re on an endless campout.) At 10 for $3.49 they’re a real bargain. And they come in electric colors! Why people use those useless plastic “bag clips” instead of these little gems is a mystery to me.
After coming out of Staples I fired up the GPS to look for something to eat. I decided to try Johnny Carino’s Italian Grill since it turned out to be less than 50 yards away. I went in knowing I wanted pasta but couldn’t decide what to get. So once again I relied on the server to steer me (moo) in the right direction.
The server, Jessica, suggested I get one of Carino’s Signature Dishes, Italian Pot Roast ($12.99). It’s described in the menu as “Pot roast sautéed in red wine marinara with parmesan, onions, carrots and peppers. Served with spaghetti or roasted rosemary potatoes.” It also came with soup or salad and bread.
I already had a $1 Side Salad from McDonald’s floating around in the trusty Coleman Thermo-electric Cooler, so I opted for soup. The soup offerings that day were Chili — Chili is a soup? I thought chili was more like a stew. — Minestrone and Potato. Jessica recommended the Potato, so I got that.
The soup was pretty good, with nice chunks of potato and chopped green onion. I thought it could’ve been a bit thicker but it had a great somewhat smoky-bacon flavor. The next time, however, I’m going to try the Minestrone just because.
Jessica gave me two mini-loaves of French bread, along with two little containers of olive oil with garlic for dipping. The bread kind of freaked me out at first: It had speckles in it. I was afraid that it might’ve been specks of rosemary. I hate rosemary, especially in bread. I think rosemary bread should be called Rosemary’s Baby Bread because it’s the spawn of the Devil. Rosemary always tastes like mold to me. Thankfully, it was just regular French bread, warm and pretty good.
Conversely, I got kind of excited by the olive oil. Unfortunately, it was a fairly flavorless olive oil and contained dried, roasted garlic which was really crunchy and sort of bitter. Good oil, fresh garlic and a little parmesan would have been much more fun. Throw in a splash of Balsamic vinegar and you’d really be cooking with gas. Still, it was nice to have.
The Italian Pot Roast was nothing short of amazing. It was a generous amount of slices of meat in a mildly spicy marinara. I’m not sure how to describe the flavor; it didn’t taste a bit like run-of-the-mill pot roast. The meat was fork tender while, and I didn’t expect this, the carrots were still slightly crunchy. It made for a great contrast of textures. For reasons you can probably guess, I passed on the roasted rosemary potatoes and got penne pasta. I wish I had the culinary knowledge to describe the flavor of this pot roast. It was really different and quite delicious. It didn’t taste of wine per se but had a very distinct flavor. I’ll definitely be having this again. It’s a keeper. And it’s reasonably priced.
This meal was so good, and I was so pleased by Jessica’s recommendation, that I called Carino’s the next morning to tell the manager. I like calling and complimenting people for work well done. Not enough people do it. It’s also kind of fun to do because it usually catches managers off guard as, more often than not, people only call them to complain.
As we spoke, Tonya, the manager, told me about a special the corporate-owned Carino’s are currently running: After 4 p.m. on Mondays you can get any of the Family Platters (designated FP in red on the menus in the pictures) for the price of a single entrée. And they come with soup or salad and bread! What a crazy, great deal!! Tonya recommended the Spicy Romano Chicken ($13.99; $30.99 for the FP), “Bowtie sautéed with sliced chicken, cayenne pepper Romano cream sauce, mushrooms, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and green onions.” Yum. The Family Platters feed four people and normally range in price from $31-$35. Sadly, the Italian Pot Roast isn’t one of them. Bummer, man.
Speaking of bummers, I heard on the radio the forecast calls for freezing rain and then up to 3” snow. Geez, Looo-eeez. This is freakin’ Houston! So much for tropical paradise. But I don’t care. I’ll be well over 600 miles away by then. It is, however, yet another reason to hate Houston. As if I needed one.
And so we roll.
Carino’s Italian Grill, 19820 Northwest Freeway, Houston, Texas
and 29 other states
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.