Friday, November 25, 2022

POParazzi Popcorn, Houston

Some people (like my mom), don't munch on snacks all day long.  I don't get it.  I'm an avid snacker.  And in particular, I have a fondness (er, weakness?), for one particular type of snack: popcorn.  So when I was recently in Houston, and found a local fancy popcorn maker, with a cute name - POParazzi - I couldn't resist trying a number of their very pricey popcorns.

POParazzi is a small chain, with 3 locations in the Houston area.  They make 110 flavors of popcorn.  110!  These are broken down into categories like "breakfast", "starters", "munchies", "entree's and combo's", "desserts", etc.  En extensive lineup of both sweet and savory.

$45 worth of popcorn?!
I tried 6 different flavors, ranging from savory to cloyingly sweet.  In general, I was underwhelmed.  The popcorn was quite expensive, and several flavors really didn't seem fresh.  As much as I was tempted by some of the flavors, I wouldn't get more of their popcorn.


The "starters" lineup is most of the savory ones, including a slew of different cheese options (white cheese, cheddar cheese, spicy cheese, parmesan garlic, jalapeno cheese ), puckery options (spicy pickle, dill pickle, lemon pepper, salt & vinegar), and other flavors you'll find on appetizer menus like ranch, jalapeno ranch, and hot wings.  Many of these are available in combinations as well (e.g. buffalo wings and ranch).
Smoked BBQ. Small. $7.95.
"Prepared with smoke."

I wanted a savory option, and while I could have gone with any of the cheesy ones, and nearly did, I was drawn to the bbq flavor, as I do love bbq potato chips, and I was in Texas after all.  Bbq it was.

This was a good flavor.  It was lightly smoky, slightly sweet, fairly mesquite spiced.  Basically, a mild bbq flavor, and not one that specifically reminded me of any commercial brand bbq products.  I liked that it was savory and flavorful, and not decadent, which made it a great snack popcorn, not loaded with as much sugar.


Healthy Choice

If you'd like something a bit lighter than most of the decadent popcorns Poparazzi makes, there are4 lite flavors available: butter, cheese, low salt, and caramelite, plus 2 combos, classic Chicago mix with cheese and caramel, or "Tripple Deck" with butter popcorn as well. 
Lite Triple Deck. Small. $7.95.
"Cheddar cheese, caramel and butter."

I was feeling very indecisive, and thus, the "Triple Deck" helped me not need to make a firm decision.  I could try 3 at once!

The butter popcorn was fairly average, standard butter popcorn.  Not much interesting to say about it. ***.

The cheddar cheese turned out to be my favorite, just the right level of cheesiness for me that meant I could eat the whole bag without feeling awful.  I'm curious how the regular, non-lite, version compares?  ***+.

And finally, caramel, which turned out to be really quite sweet, very coated pieces.  I thought that a "lite" version would be more akin to kettle corn, just slightly more caramelized.  This seemed just as caramel-heavy as many caramel corns out there.  It was good, but, certainly a heavy sweet. ***.

I'm glad I tried this, but, the butter popcorn really seemed like a waste to me ... I guess there is a reason the classic duo of Chicago mix is more popular, the butter popcorn just didn't add anything to this, and wasn't necessary.

*** overall.
Caramelite. Small. $7.95.
I also got a bag of just the caramelite, and it was the same as the caramel in the triple deck mix, again, more heavy and coated than I was expecting given the "lite" branding, but still good caramel corn.  ***.

Fruits & Sweets

For sweet, but not totally decadent crazy options, Poparazzi has an assortment of "Fruits & Sweets", all brightly colored, candy coated, sweet popcorns.  There are 24 to pick from, so I won't enumerate them here, but, basically every fruity or sweet flavor you can imagine (cotton candy, bubble gum, caramel, cheesecake, apple pie, and others are in this category too).  Most of these are in the same price category as the Healthy Ones.
Hot Cinnamon. Small. $7.95.
For my first sweet flavor, I was tempted by several of the fruity ones, but, worried they'd really be too sweet, and wanting something more unique, I made a last minute switch to select the hot cinnamon.  It was brilliantly red, much like a candy apple.  The pieces were all very well coated, no real popcorn white showing.

The flavor was instantly familiar to me: it tasted exactly like red hots.  100%, exactly the same.  Sweet but cinnamon-y.  And kinda fun to have red hots in a more crunchy form.  I was happy with this choice, and it was nice to have a sweet flavor that wasn't standard cloying sweet.



And when you are ready to go for really truly ridiculous popcorn, there is the dessert category, another 24 flavors, and these are all more highly priced.  Some contain mix-ins.  Nearly all of these called out to me (no surprise there right?), like Southern Praline, White Chocolate Pretzel, Cinnamon Roll (drizzled of course!), Reeses, Pecan White Chocolate, Heath Almond, Red Velvet Cake, Nutty Buddy Ice Cream (!!), and many more.  They mean it when they call these the dessert offerings!
Puppy Chow. Small. $9.95.
"Peanut butter, chex mix, and chocolate."

As I said, I wanted nearly all the dessert flavors, but I narrowed it down to one fairly easily actually.  For my first dessert flavor, I had no choice, once I saw the Puppy Chow.  ZOMG.  I *adore* puppy chow, and have asked my mom to make it for me with popcorn added in before, and here it was, my first time ever seeing it in the wild.  The mix promised to have the standard puppy chow base of chex mix and pretzels, covered in peanut butter and chocolate, and smothered in powdered sugar, but, with popcorn too.  ZOMG.

Spoiler: this was not ZOMG worthy.  First, I did not detect any peanut butter in it.  Peanut butter is a key ingredient to puppy chow.  1st strike.

Second, while there was clearly some chocolate, the chocolate taste was not very noticeable either.  The crux of puppy chow is that incredible chocolate-peanut butter combo, and this didn't deliver on either.  2nd strike.

Next, they made a pretty critical error in my mind when it comes to the base for the popcorn.  It wasn't plain, nor buttered, nor salted.  It was caramel corn.  Very candied caramel corn.  Now, I like caramel corn, don't get me wrong, but the caramel here served to mask the little chocolate there was, entirely mask the peanut butter (if it even really existed, which I still doubt), and, when combined with the puppy chow signature powdered sugar coating, which was generously applied applied (unlike the peanut butter and chocolate), just made for cloying sweet.  3rd strike.

This mix was already out, but, there is more: the ingredient distribution.  Yes, there were I think 2 pretzel rods and 2 pretzel twists, and perhaps 3 pieces of Chex cereal, the rest was all popcorn.  I know this is a popcorn company, and I love popcorn, but, this was basically just popcorn, not Chex mix.  

So, cloying sweet powdered sugar caramel corn with a modicum of chocolate, and a couple token pieces of Chex and pretzel.  NOT puppy chow.  It delivered on nothing that makes puppy chow so addicting. And at ~$10 for the tiny bag, it was certainly over priced, not that I wanted more. *+.
Sweet Potato Pie (Seasonal). Small. $10.95.
There are several POParazzi locations in Houston, but as far as I can tell, only had this flavor: sweet potato pie.  I jumped on it instantly when I saw that it did indeed have chunks of pie crust in it (as did the key lime pie flavor).   Or, what I thought was pie crusts.  It turned out to I think be hunks of graham cracker?  Mine had very few bits anyway.

But the lack of pie crust was not the issue with this flavor.  I had expected I'd love this, and at $10.95 it was the priciest flavor available, and it was the worst of any I tried, and honestly, I would have brought it back to the store to ask if it was bad if I had been closer.  It was truly awful.  It tasted stale, and rancid, all at once.  It was deeply candied, really, really candied (think: candied yams, not pumpkin pie, so that direction of sweet potato), in a way that made me teeth stick together instantly (which again, wasn't the main issue, although that wasn't great either).  It did not taste of anything I'd identify as sweet potato.  But really, the fairly rancid taste, and stale nature to it, I couldn't get past.  I tried a few pieces from deeper down in the bag, but it all tasted just as awful.

I hope this was just a very old batch, and not what they intended to serve? This doesn't really even get a single star from me ...

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Insomnia Cookies

By now you know I'm a dessert lover, in particular baked goods.  But I've never been really into cookies.  Not packaged cookies, not homemade cookies, not fancy bakery cookies.  Just, generally, not my thing.  I think my "eh" feeling towards cookies grew even more in adulthood, when I became more snobby, and thought of them as "not even a real dessert", as in, not worthy enough, as they were "just cookies", not some plated Michelin star dessert, or at *least* something warm, freshly baked, and a la mode.  Maybe an ice cream sandwich made with fresh cookies and fancy ice cream could be a "real" dessert, but the rest?  Got a big "eh" from me.

That is, until the pandemic, until I was at home all the time, and I had a lot of changes in food preference, many born out of laziness, many born out of lack of access to fancy things.  One of said changes was regarding cookies.  I didn't just come to tolerate them, I ... became a bonafide cookie monster.  I craved them.  Particularly chocolate chunk cookies, warm, dunked in milk.  Glory.  I'm not sure what took me so long.

Anyway, during early 2021, I started seeking out cookies, everywhere.  When many places scaled back their menus, cookies seemed constants.  While many places stopped making things in house, cookies seemed constants, again, even corner pizza places still baked off fresh cookies.  And thus, cookies it was, often picked up as part of daily ritual to get out of the house, enjoyed later at home warmed up slightly, with requisite glass of milk.

Which brings me to Insomnia Cookies, where I walk by frequently.  The aroma of fresh baked cookies is inescapable, and people are always coming out, boxes (pizza box style) of fresh cookies in hand.

I finally had to try them.  Insomnia is a chain, ~100 locations nationwide, and now, two locations in SF.

Cookie Bag.

One key feature of Insomnia Cookies is that their cookies are always warm.  Until 3am.  Sure, not because they are super fresh, but because they are kept in a warmer.  I guess when your entire business is cookies, you gotta nail them?  They also have a club, with a monthly fee of $9.99, the CookieMagic club, which gives you a free cookie "every day that ends in 'y'".  If you really did stop by daily, that puts your cost-per-cookie at only $0.33, which sure is a deal.  Um, if you frequent the area and really want a daily cookie.

Anyway.  Insomnia offers mostly cookies, "Classic" ones (chocolate chunk, oatmeal raisin, sugar, M&M, and other classics), a handful of vegan options, a couple gluten-free, and "Deluxe" larger sized, cookies with more interesting additions (triple chocolate, s'mores, chocolate peanut butter cup, etc).  They also have a few flavors of ice cream, and cookies are available made into ice cream sandwiches as well.

Original Review, May 2021

White Chocolate Macadamia. $2.25.
"This snack operates on island time. A coconut-y cookie with bits of macadamia nut and creamy white chocolate chips."

For my first cookie, I went for the most exciting, not caffeinated cookie: white chocolate macadamia. I was tempted to start super simple, with the sugar cookie, but, white chocolate macadamia really is my fav.

It was handed over, warm as expected.

I was a little shocked at how greasy the bag got, quickly.  Picking up the cookie, my fingers were instantly covered in grease (butter?).  It was honestly a little off-putting.

It was an ok cookie.  I appreciated that it was warm, and it was the perfect soft texture I like.  All that was great.  And it did have large white chocolate chunks, and nearly full size macadamias.  Again, good.  But it was very very sweet, very very buttery, and not necessarily in a winning way.  A bit hard to describe really, but, it wasn't quite as awesome as I had hoped it would be.  Fine, but not great.

Well made, the right texture, kudos for warm cookie, but not something I'd get again.


Double Chocolate Chunk. $2.25.
"Our dark chocolate cookie is taken to its drool-worthy peak with chunks of smooth, melty milk chocolate."

My second cookie was not any better.  Again warm, soft, looked and smelt great.  The chocolate was all melty.  Awesome.

But it was just ... chocolate.  Chocolate brownie-like base, and the melty chocolate chunks were nice, but, still, it didn't pop.  Missing something essential, like a dash of sea salt?

I didn't care for it much, although it was better with ice cream when I got home.


Vegan Birthday Cake. $2.50.

"Sweet vanilla and all of the sprinkles make this an extra special vegan treat for an extra special day."

Am I vegan?  Ha, far from it.  So why on earth would I get a vegan cookie?

Well, I mostly did it out of curiosity, but also, for the flavor.  I like sprinkles!  Insomnia doesn't have a birthday cake classic cookie (although they have Deluxe Confetti one, which is a sugar cookie with rainbow sprinkles and white chocolate chips).  So if I wanted sprinkles, I needed to splurge for Deluxe, or go vegan.  So vegan it was.

I was pleasantly surprised by this cookie.  It was warm like all the others, and perfectly soft.  The texture was quite different though, not as greasy/oily as the others, and I appreciated that greatly.  The cookie was sweet and decadent tasting, in a buttery sugar cookie way, and I loved the sweet sprinkles throughout.  

I wouldn't go out of my way for this cookie, but I did enjoy it, and would get it again.  The best Insomnia cookie I tried.


Update Review, March 2022

Since my previous visits to Insomnia always smelt and looked better than they actually were, I didn't seek Insomnia Cookies out again.  Except, um, Insomnia Cookies seems to have sought *me* out.  Yup, they opened a location on the corner of my block.  Doh.  Remember that aroma I told you about?  Yes, inescapable, really, now.

So of course, I stopped in the first day they were open.
Lemon Poppyseed. $2.
(Spring 2022 Special).
"Melt in your mouth cookies with a pop of fresh tart lemon essence, sprinkled with poppy seeds."

In early Spring 2022, Insomnia launched two new cookies, for about a month only: lemon poppyseed, and hibiscus berry.  Although the hibiscus berry looked pretty, I wasn't really interested in it.  And I wasn't really excited about the idea of a lemon poppyseed cookie either, but since I hadn't been in love with any previous cookies, I went for it, mostly out of curiosity.  How *would* lemon poppyseed, a flavor I most associate with muffins, translate into cookie form?

Like all Insomnia cookies, it was served warm, so it was beautifully soft, just a slight chew to the edge.  It tasted like ... well, an overly sweet lemon poppy muffin?  I think it would have worked better as a shortbread base, with lemon accents and poppy seeds, rather than a sugar cookie base.  Somehow, it was basically just a sweet muffin taste, but, yes, in cookie form.  In a muffin, I can usually detect the poppy seeds as textural bits, but here I never really detected them, so that crunch was lost.

Overall, different I guess, but perhaps there is a reason we don't see lemon poppyseed cookies?

Birthday Cake (Vegan). $2.
"Sweet vanilla and all of the sprinkles make this an extra special vegan treat for an extra special day."

The only cookie from Insomnia Cookies that I quasi-liked before was the Birthday Cake, available only in vegan form.  Nothing else called out to me, so I got it again, although I was tempted to try another vegan option, either chocolate chunk or double chocolate chunk.  If I didn't really care for the regular one, maybe the vegan base was better?  One of these days, I'll splurge for the Deluxe Confetti cookie, that has sprinkles and white chocolate chips, but costs nearly double ($3.50).

Anyway, the cookie was about as I remembered.  Soft and warm as always, sweet, sorta buttery tasting (even though, clearly, not butter), sorta cake batter tasting.  A good enough cookie, better with some ice cream sandwiched between it.


Update Review October & November 2022

Double Chocolate Chunk. $2.
"Our dark chocolate cookie is taken to its drool-worthy peak with chunks of smooth, melty milk chocolate."

I'll admit that I forgot I had tried this variety before, and didn't care for it.  I was really in a chocolate mood though, and this just called out.

The chips were nicely melty.  The cookie was soft and warm.  It *should* have been good, but ... I just really didn't care for it.  It was too rich, and not in a good way.  I tried dunking it in milk, I tried doing it a la mode, and it was just ... too much sweet and too much I didn't like.  I still don't understand how I dislike it so much, but, I do!

Dear self: do not be tempted by this one again.

Side: Chocolate Cookie Butter. $3.50.
"We’ve blended our ooey-gooey Classic Chocolate Chunk into a spreadable treat. Amp up the warm, delicious dessert action by adding to ice cream, brownies and your favorite cookies."

At some point I discovered the fun sides at Insomnia.  I think intended to be spread on a cookie, but they have things like buttercream or cream cheese icing, and some different cookie butters, all available as a side.  I decided to try the most decadent sounding one, the chocolate cookie butter, after having gone through a bit of a cookie butter craze after trying crazy delicious cookie butter (lotus cream) from Anita Gelato.  Now, obviously this would be different, since made with their chocolate chunk cookies (which I don't care for), and not Lotus cookies, but it still had potential right?

When I picked it up, I mentioned that it sounded fun, and the staff member told me pretty clearly that she doesn't like it.  She said it was too rich, too chocolatey.  Well, that wasn't an endorsement (and it kinda mirrored how I felt about the double chocolate chunk cookie ...).  I appreciated her honestly.

I thought it was fine - it was indeed quite rich, it was reasonably chocolately.  Very thick.  Slightly nutella-eque, even though it doesn't have hazelnuts.  It was tasty enough spread on just about whatever I had around - pretzels, strawberries, toast, rice rusks, etc.

I probably wouldn't get this again, but it was tasty, and the portion was quite generous for $3.50.  ***.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Goode Company Seafood, Houston

The Goode Company, or, The Goode Co, is a chain of restaurants in Texas, each with a unique focus.  The company has been around since 1977, started as a BBQ joint in Houston.  They now have multiple BBQ locations, and have expanded to other concepts now, including seafood focused (Goode Company Seafood and Goode Company Fish Camp), Mexican (Goode Co. Taqueria, and Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina), and several soul food locations (Armadillo Palace, Yonderlust).  They also have a direct to home shipping business, where you can get some of the meats, rubs, and signature pecan pie shipped nationwide.

My "visits" were to one of the seafood establishments, Goode Company Seafood.  I say "visit", because I ordered delivery to my hotel room while staying in Houston, so I can't comment on the restaurant facilities themselves. 

"Fresh gulf seafood with a splash of creole." 

The menu features many classic Southern ingredients and dishes, but with slight twists.  Think shrimp empanadas with a creole shrimp filling, smoked redfish dip and crackers, shrimp or crab cocktail, but with pico de gallo, peppers, and avocado in it, gumbo, and of course, redfish beignets, hush puppies, and fried green tomatoes.  Lots of fried or grilled blackened seafood, po boys or platters, all the southern sides.  Classic desserts. 

Ordering online from any of their establishments is easy, and I ordered on Door Dash.  My orders were prepared in a reasonable amount of time, and came nicely packaged.  I was so pleased with my meal the first night, I ordered again the very next day, eager to try out more of the extensive menu.

Side note: Stuck doing a lot of takeout and delivery these days? Want to try some free food and new pickup or delivery services?  Here are some codes for free money!

  • Nextdish: ($10 off your first order) [ Delivery only ]
  • Door Dash ($15 off, $5 each of your first 3 orders) [ Delivery or pickup ]
  • Caviar ($20 off, $10 off your first 2 orders) [ Delivery or pickup ]
  • Ritual ($6 off) [ Pickup only ]
  • ($10 off) [ Delivery or pickup ]
  • Grub Hub ($10 off) [ Delivery or pickup ]
  • Seamless ($10 off) [ Delivery or pickup ]
  • Allset ($5 off) [ Pickup only ]
  • Nextdish: ($10 off your first order) [ Delivery only ]
  • Uber Eats ($20 off - use code eats-lejw5 at checkout) [ Pickup or delivery ]
I really enjoyed my meals, even as delivery, and would love to visit in person sometime.


Rather than traditional appetizers, the menu begins with "Snacks", fun little bites like redfish beignets (!), smoked seafood dip with homemade crackers, grilled oysters, and signature Mexican-style seafood cocktails.  More traditional items like oysters, seared tuna, chilled seafood towers, and crab cakes are also on offer.  Moving along, salads, crab bisque, and multiple styles of gumbo are also available to start your meal.

I tried several items from this section of the menu.
Jumbo Lump Crab Cake. $19.50.
"Oven-baked jumbo lump crab cake with lemon garlic cream sauce."

I love crab.  Yes, that is why my blog has a label devoted to it, after all.

And I was really craving crab cakes.  I think I went many years without having a crab cake, and then, a few months ago I was in Orlando and randomly got a lump crab cake from Ocean Prime (that actually wasn't very good, although everything else I had from there was glorious!), and since then, I was wanting crab cakes every few weeks.  I've been on a crab cake quest, and have been surprised by just how much variety there is, and, how there doesn't seem to be a set style I like best.  Lump crab cakes certainly have a more premium feel, but I've really enjoyed some with all shredded crab, and some with more filler than others, etc.  Anyway, I wanted a crab cake, and was fascinated to see how the slightly cajun take on it would be, and what that lemon garlic cream sauce would be like, as it sounded, well, like an odd choice.

Since the crab cake is part of the "snacks" menu, it is served as a single thick cake, with some mixed greens.  The greens were all quite fresh and crisp.  I was pleased that the cream sauce came on the side, even though I wasn't able to request it that way (they don't allow requests when you order online).  The sauce, which I had my doubts on, turned out to be fantastic.  Let me back up.  I mean, it is a cream sauce, with lemon and garlic, I loved the idea of that sauce in general, just, not with crab cakes, I thought.  My brain was calling for a more traditional remoulade, or cocktail sauce, or mustard aioli, something like that.  I'm so glad I took the chance and got this, slightly odd sounding sauce and all.

The sauce was hard to describe, but delicious.  A cream sauce, yes, but not too thick.  It went really well on the greens as well as the crab cake.  I think it would be fantastic with fresh steamed asparagus, or brussels sprouts, or broccoli ... or really, any green vegetable.  Neither lemon nor garlic were dominant, but it was quite flavorful.  ****+ sauce, really fantastic.

The crab cake was very good, even when delivered to my hotel and not direct from the kitchen.  It had a nice sear on it, was very moist inside.  Loaded with big chunks of lump crab meat, very little filler.  It was very well seasoned, and seemed to have a bit of blackening seasoning on it, the light creole touch there.  The crab had a nice flavor, not fishy, just, really fresh tasting.  It looks a bit small in this photo, but the cake was quite thick, nestled in the greens it just hid a bit.  It was a very satisfying dish.  **** for the cake, the best I've had in recent memory.

Goode Company Seafood also makes a signature pasta dish, fettuccine with this cream sauce and fresh lump crab meat, that gets great reviews.  I can see why, now that I've had the crab cake and sauce.  I think it would be magical as a pasta as well.

Overall, a wonderful crab cake, excellent sauce, and very good dish.  ****, maybe even ****+ overall.  I'd definitely get it again, and it inspired me to try more of the menu.  The $19.50 price was fine for such a quality and large crab cake.
Shrimp Empanda.
"Crispy pastries packed with our classic shrimp and creole vegetables."

When you mix Tex-Mex with Creole, you get this, a signature item at Goode Seafood Co: shrimp empanadas, filled with a shrimp and creole spiced veggies filling.  These are served with every seafood platter (grilled or fried), or are available as a starter as 3 for $10.

I had one with my seafood platter, and thought it was only ok.  I think it suffered a bit in delivery, as it wasn't very warm, and it was kinda moist and soft from being in a food container with steam escaping all around.  I suspect it would be better when hot and crispy.  

The filling though was quite tasty, and incredibly flavorful, as most creole food is.  Strong spicing, good chunks of seafood, creamy roux.  It reminded me a bit of the crawfish beignet I had from Brenda's in San Francisco a few weeks prior, although I think the crawfish beignet was more successful (review coming soon!).

Overall, a unique item, tasty inside, but not something I'd get again.  ***.

Mesquite-Grilled Entrees

"Basted with our signature marinade and grilled over mesquite. Served with an empanada, garlic bread, and a choice of side."

The second time I ordered, since I was getting delivery, I opted for mesquite-grilled, rather than fried, seafood.  Plus, the mesquite grill and marinade seemed more unique, and authentically Texas than fried seafood, which I can get anywhere.  I would have been happy with any of the options - red snapper, gulf shrimp, salmon, catfish, or a skewer with assorted seafood, but decided the catfish was the most interesting and unique, not what I get as much of in San Francisco.

Fried platters, and a slew of po boys, are other entree options, along with a few other signature dishes (the aforementioned crab cream fettuccine, shrimp etoufee, etc) and token chicken and steak options.

Catfish Platter.  $24.50.
My platter arrived nicely packaged in a 3-slot container (a plastic one! A seeming rarity in Houston where everything seemed to come in styrofoam, which was banned years ago in San Francisco, and felt crazy to me).  The main dish (fish) and two included sides came packaged with it, and the third side (one I was able to pick) came packaged separate.
Mesquite Grilled Catfish.
The catfish was the main attraction, and was a generous size filet.  It was marinated, blackened, really well seasoned.  It was extremely moist, and well prepared.  They clearly source quality seafood, and know how to cook it.  The catfish had barely any "murky" taste to it, which I can safely say this is the first time I've had non-fried catfish that I haven't tasted a bit of that before.  The grill flavor wasn't as strong as I was hoping, but it was there.

It came served with just a lemon to drizzle over, and since it was marinated and fairly flavorful on its own, not much more was needed, although I did sorta wish for a remoulade or tartar sauce.  All the grilled seafood is available with optional "toppers", but two of the three options have avocado which I'm allergic to (salsa rojo or verde), and the third, char lemon verde with lump crab did sound great, but I didn't want that much additional seafood.

Overall, I enjoyed my fish, was impressed with the cooking skill and fish quality, but found that it did get a bit one note, and the portion was larger than I really wanted in one sitting (particularly when served with the empanada, garlic bread, and my other side!).  Good value for the price though, no question. 

I actually ended up enjoying the leftovers of this even more the next day, when I served it with bbq sauce from Truth Barbecue (review coming soon!), as the smokey bbq and mesquite grilled flavors really worked remarkably well together, particularly when paired with my leftover corn pudding also from Truth.  It all re-heated up well in my portable travel oven, and I was glad I saved a portion.   ***+ the first night, **** the second.


For sides, the variety of options at Goode Seafood Company is huge - for carbs, there are french fries or seafood rice, or more interesting fried goodies like hush puppies, onion rings, or fried green tomatoes, or healthier vegetables like garlic spinach or grilled asparagus, or red beans, red beans & rice, or green beans & potatoes.  Really lots of choices, all available a la carte, or included in the base platter price if you get a platter (although asparagus had a $4 extra charge).  If I was dining in, the hush puppies, onion rings, or fried green tomatoes definitely would have been my pick, but I didn't think the fried items would do well for delivery.

Grilled Asparagus. $10 (or +$4 on a platter).
It was November, so I was a bit wary of ordering asparagus when I knew it would be out of season, but, given San Francisco's hyper seasonal menu focuses, I haven't seen asparagus on a menu in ages, and I love it.  I was already sick of winter squashes!  I also love grilled veggies, and hoped this would have the same great mesquite flavor people raved about from the seafood.

I was surprised when I opened the container to see it covered in melted cheese.  The menu didn't say anything about cheese, not on the Door Dash page, nor the restaurant's main menu.  I think I actually would have preferred it without, although it was fine sharp parmesan cheese.

The asparagus was good, nicely grilled as I hoped, reasonable grill flavor.  It didn't seem like it had been seasoned much, so I was glad I had salt and pepper in my hotel room, and also drizzled a little of the lemon from my platter over it.  It hit the spot, and I enjoyed my taste of spring, even in November.  I'd get it again if I was craving asparagus.

This side is $10 normally, the most expensive side, or an extra $4 fee if picked as your side choice on a platter (the only one with an extra fee).  The portion was fairly small for $10, or the upcharge, but it was a reasonable amount of asparagus for me to eat in one sitting, so I wasn't upset with the portion size.

Garlic Bread (included).
My platter also included a piece of garlic bread, that at first looked like just a piece of crusty french bread.  Once I opened it I saw the butter and herbs, and grilled interior.  It was fine, light garlic flavor, light herb flavor, buttery, warm.  Fairly average garlic bread, and not really what I wanted with my meal.  For some reason, I still only associate garlic bread with Italian food, and mostly with red sauce to dip it in ...  (plus, I had some leftover mashed potatoes in my hotel room I heated up to go with my meal, I think that went much better!).

Anyway, fine, average garlic bread, if you happened to want that with your meal.  Maybe this is just my upbringing of never having garlic bread other than with Italian food.  ***.

Homemade Desserts

If you know me, you know that even if a restaurant has a good menu, full of hits like crab, I might not be inclined to try it if it doesn't also promise to deliver on a great dessert.  I'm a sweet tooth, through and through.

All of the desserts are Goode Company locations are homemade, and one, the pecan pie, is fairly famous.  The lineup also includes heavy hitters like chocolate cream pie or Texas Chocolate Sheet cake for the chocolate lovers, or a "Margarita" pie, basically, a level up option for a key lime pie.
Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie. $7.50.
"This small slice of Texas was first perfected by our grandmother. Her recipe is the blissful batter we've been baking, sweet and slow, ever since we opened Goode Company Texas Barbeque back in 1977. Each pie is still handmade with farm fresh eggs and all-natural Texas pecans, because anything half-baked just isn't our style. "

Now *that* is what a slice of pie is supposed to look like!  My family always jokes about "Parent family slices" of pie, as in, what we consider normal but most people seem to think are colossal, and this may be the first pie slice I've ever gotten somewhere that actually lived up to my family's pie slices.  Texas gets pie portion size right!

This pie is a signature dish at the Goode Company establishments, on the menu since the BBQ joint started.  You can get a whole pie shipped to you anywhere in the US if you need your fix.  I was pretty excited to try it, given that I do love pecan pie - it is the one pie I still regularly request my mother make for me when I visit.

I found it interesting that there is no option to add whipped cream nor ice cream to the pie, it just comes as is, for both dine-in and takeout.  Of course, I was prepared, and had fresh whipped cream on hand.

It was a good pie.  The crust was traditional style, that almost looks mass produced rather than lovingly hand crafted, with very regular fluted edges, but it tasted quite fresh, good butter flavor.  The right kind of crust for this kind of pie, where you don't want a more dominant crust. ***+.

The pie was generously loaded with pecan halves on top, some overlaying each other, no skipping on this premium ingredient as so many do.  Mostly full sized halves, so every bite had quite a dominant amount of pecan in it.  Lightly toasted, not burnt.  The pecans are all from Brazos River, in Texas.  Slightly above average nuts, ***+.

And finally, the ooey gooey filling, which was the only element that wasn't quite as I expected.  The flavor was more sophisticated than your standard corn syrup based pie, and perhaps tasted a bit like honey.  But it was perfectly gooey, very very sweet, and a quite thick layer.  This pie slice was taller than average for pecan pie, and the filling was a big component of that.  I think I appreciated the slightly upscale taste to this, as it made it not just cloying sweet.  ***+.

So every element of this pie was good, above average.  Nothing here blew my mind, but, it was very good pie.  The elements all combined well to make it greater than the sum of its parts.  **** overall, although it really needed whipped cream for balance.   I served it with a generous amount of whipped cream, and fresh blackberries, both of which I thought added to the experience.  I think it would be even better warm with ice cream though, as that is how I tend to like my pecan pie, so the filling gets even gooier, and the ice cream balances out the sweet.  

The $7.50 price for such a huge slice of pie was quite reasonable, below what many restaurant desserts are.

Chocolate Cream Pie. $7.50.

Slightly less signature, but still a menu staple, is the chocolate cream pie, which I ordered my second visit, after the success of the pecan pie, and having seen photos of just how ridiculous this would be.  The portion size was slightly less wide of a slice than the pecan pie, but given the height, was still far bigger than one normal person eats in a sitting.

It was good, but not great.  The chocolate pudding was thick, smooth good consistency, but it was not as chocolately as I'd like.  The whipped cream was an equally thick layer, and near equal in consistency, not fluffy standard whipped cream, which makes sense to keep slices looking like this without the topping falling down.  It was average cream, I think a hint of vanilla or something would liven it up a bit.

The crust was a different style from the pecan pie, not fluted, and thicker, particularly in the back.  It was good crust, a harder, less flaky style, but flavorful, not stale, and not over-baked.  The crust was my favorite part.

Together it was all good, fine, but nothing set it apart from other decent enough chocolate cream pie.  I think a layer of banana, some flavor in the whipped cream, richer, deeper chocolate flavor, etc would go a long way.

Another great value for $7.50. ***.


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

United Domestic Business Class, Round Trip SFO-IAH

Flight Details SFO-IAH

Flight: United Airlines Flight 242
Aircraft: Boeing 737-900 (twin-jet) (B739)
Departure: San Francisco SFO 2:43pm (local time)
Arrival: Houston IAH 8:24pm (local time)
Seat: 4B


I was not greeted nor welcomed in any way when I boarded, nor when I settled into my seat.  A PDB was offered after the boarding process completed, but just plain water or "sparkling wine".  I did ask for sparkling water, and my FA obliged.  I really appreciated it.  No little water bottles waiting for us at our seats.  

We boarded exactly on time, pushed back 2 minutes before departure time, and had a reasonably short taxi before takeoff.  The flight was smooth.  We even landed early.  But alas, once we landed, no gate was available, we spent 30 minutes waiting for a gate to be free, etc.

My flight crew was actually wonderful.  I was beyond shocked, but they were totally on top of things, amazingly kind and thoughtful, and generally just made the experience actually pretty nice.  I take back all things I've previously said about United service ...
The aircraft was rather old, and not equipped with much - no in seat entertainment, no USB ports, no real pocket for a phone or anything.  At least I had a power port. 


United is notorious for many things, and their meals are one of them ... because they are so incredibly bad.  And haven't changed in months.  I had the choice of 5 entrees for my meal because I pre-reserved, and honestly, all of them sounded pretty awful.  Also, strangely, 3 of the choices were vegetarian, I guess that is cheaper?  The lineup was a burger (with "bistro sauce"), vegan chili, or falafel bowl, or, if you did not pre-order, the options were the same as seemingly every other United flight in the past 6 months: chicken with orzo or Impossible meatballs, the same options I had on my flight from Washington, DC two months ago (which, was awful, really).  Given that I had no hope for the burger, and don't eat chicken, and hated the Impossible meatballs last time (which is too bad, Impossible meat can be good!), I was down to two choices: vegan chili, or a falafel bowl.  Now, I do sometimes appreciate chili, like, when I come in from skiing, and when loaded with cheese and sour cream, and usually with beef ... I don't really care for beans that much.  This was going to be bean heavy, and with some kind of soy protein crumbles.  It didn't really seem like what I was likely to want on my flight (and, to be honest, not what I wanted other people to be consuming either ... all those beans? Ahh!).  That said, it did have a polenta cake, so I was a bit tempted.  I went for the falafel bowl though, after reading many FlyerTalk reports that it was the best of the mediocre bunch.

Orders were taken (or confirmed if you had pre-ordered) quite soon once underway, along with drink orders.  The meal time was pretty awkward, as a 2:45pm flight meant a meal at about 3:30pm in SF (or 5:30pm at our destination).  I thought about asking for my meal to be delayed, but, I wasn't sure if they did that.  I was in row 4, so at least I was slightly later in the lineup.
Sparkling Aha, Red Wine.
I discovered the Sparkling Aha brand drinks on United, and really do quite like them.  On this flight, I enjoyed the orange grapefruit flavor, and the "red wine".  The wine was not awful.  It wasn't complex or interesting, but it wasn't bad. 

**** sparkling water, and I appreciated that they had 3 flavors available, and *** wine.

Meals were delivered row by row on a tray, with everything at once (bread, starter, main, dessert), along with an empty glass (which was never offered to be filled), salt and pepper, butter, and an extra hand wipe.   Everything was piping hot.  The dessert and roll shared a plate.

The meal may have not made sense exactly, as everyone gets the same bread and starter no matter their entree pick, but, I was shocked by how decent it all was.
Warm Wheat Roll.
The rolls on United flights always surprise me.  They are served warm, and seem, well, fresh?  Most airlines have awful bread, even ones with good catering, and yet United, with generally poor catering, has decent bread.  No choice given, and I think it is always the same, a hearty wheat roll.  Nice chew to it, slight crust, soft inside, bits of texture from the grains.  Considerably better than most airline bread.  Served with a pat of butter, but I think it would go better with a little quality olive oil.  I should remember to bring that next time ...  ***+.

Mozzarella Salad. 
The starter, or side dish, finally changed in November on United flights, after months of being a fruit salad that at least had decent grapes and blueberries before.  Sadly, it didn't change to being an actual salad, no fresh greens, but rather, mozzarella.  The FA had to explain it to everyone.  The mozzarella side likely goes well with the Impossible meatballs and red sauce, and the standard chicken orzo, but seems a bit odd to have with my main dish choice, the falafel bowl.  Really not a pairing that makes any sense at all.  I think it would be likewise a bit odd with the chili, although I do always want cheese with my chili, just not generally mozzarella.

Anyway, the mozzarella was ... ok?  It was pretty average, certainly nothing like the quality burrata I've had on Delta (that was actually really quite good!) or JetBlue (which is mixed success, but always served as a giant bulb).  But it wasn't trying to be burrata, it was just mozzarella.  It came with sundried tomatoes on top, which paired well, but it screamed out for a drizzle of oil and balsamic.  If you are flying with United in the next, oh, 6 months or so, chances are high you'll have this starter, and so protip, bring some oil and balsamic along ...

I still would have preferred a green salad, or vegetables of some kind, but this wasn't bad.  ***.

Main: Falafel.
“Hearty grain bowl with Mediterranean vegetables and falafel.”

Now, I can't say I was excited for this dish.  Like I said, I wasn't really into any of the options, and came prepared with some supplementary food if necessary (and my portable oven of course).  I'm not really into grains, nor falafel.  But, I was curious about the veggies, and whatever sauce it may have, and like I said, people seemed to say this was decent.  I had my own hot sauces (from Oren's Hummus), my own garlic potato dip (from Sajj Mediterranean), and my own pita (also from Oren's), along with extra veggies, all of which I thought would go well with the meal.  And if it was truly awful, I had shepherd's pie that I could heat up in my oven.  Like I said, I was (over) prepared!

This dish was an adventure, really.  First, it looked, well, awful.  Really, awful.  But it wasn't.  For me, it was a mixed success, with some components that I actually enjoyed (!) and the rest mostly mediocre, but just not things I tend to like anyway.

The base was mixed grains.  Some had a nice chew to them, other sections were kinda mushy.  But they were hearty, flavorful grains, with some bits of herbs and veggies mixed in.  Not my thing, but, the portion was generous, and they were mostly decent.  **+.

Then, the "Mediterranean vegetables".  Ok, well, this is where things got interesting.  And looked a bit scary.  What *were* those vegetables?  I could tell there was cauliflower, that was pretty mushy, a bit gray in color, and had a rather sour taste to it, in a way that sorta seemed like it had gone bad, but I think was actually just some odd marinade or something they used?  Cauliflower, yeah, not good. *.  There was some pieces that I first thought were cauliflower, but I then realized might be potato cubes?  More mushy than other pieces, and cube shaped.  I didn't explore the cauliflower further, after a few bites, all of which were not good.  There was also pieces of bell pepper, that I didn't try, as I don't care for bell pepper.  And that seemed to be it for Mediterranean vegetables.  I certainly would have liked a more generous veggie component, but if the cauliflower had been palatable, it would have been fine.  The sundried tomatoes from the starter were good mixed in too.

Next up, the mystery components.  While the cauliflower looked (and tasted) a bit off, the rest of the dish really truly looked mysterious, and really truly looked bad.  There was what seemed to be a pink-ish soft crumble, tiny bits of pink ... something.   It was like a sauce that had curdled, or, something.  I had no idea what to make of it.  I tentatively took a bite, and it wasn't bad.  A bit, uh, bouncy?  Even better was the other crumbly substance, that one was white, and I thought it would be feta, but it didn't have the sharp taste of feta.  But it had a nice bouncey bite, and I enjoyed it.  There was also a tiny smear of something softer, which I think was supposed to be hummus.  Or it might have just been super mushy grains, but I think it was a distinct component.  There was literally less than a spoonful though.  So, although these elements were not identifiable, um, I did like them, and wished for more of both the bouncy ones.  ***.

And finally, the falafel.  Now, as I don't really care for chickpeas, I never really like falafel all that much.  But the falafel in particular is what people had said was surprisingly good.  And ... they were right.  I expected mush, chickpea flavored mush, but this was actually good.  The outside was lightly crisp, the inside soft but not mushy, with clear texture from the bits.  Sure, it wasn't freshly fried falafel, but it was far better than I imagined it could be.  Huh.  ***+.

Overall, this dish was so much better than I expected.  If you actually like Mediterranean food, and grains, I suspect this would be a real winner.  The portion was good, the elements all went well together.  Even though I do like the United wheat rolls, I did use a little of my own pita with it because it went so well with it, and I did use my own hot sauces as it didn't have anything like that, but, if you aren't a ridiculously over-prepared person, I think this would eat just fine as served.  Flyertalk folks were right on this one, and I'm glad I listened to their advice, and was willing to eat even the scary, unidentifiable elements.
Pie in the Sky: Chocolate Chip.
"Is there anything better than a warm chocolate chip cookie? Turns out, there is. Our incredible pastry chefs have whipped up the ultimate twist on an old classic, tucking decadent chocolate ganache inside a brown sugar chocolate chip cookie crust."

The dessert was the infamous "Pie in the Sky", which I've never had on a United flight before, but I know the product well - they are made by Eli's Cheesecake, and I used to order them for my work group all the time.  I dubbed them "cookie pies" back then, and really did enjoy all the varieties I tried.   I was eager to see what variety we had, and how they fared on board.  

Our pie of the day was chocolate chip, not a flavor I've had before, as Eli's doesn't have these on their normal foodservice menu (although you can buy them direct..  I'd only had apple, cherry, and pumpkin previously, all of which used a regular sugar cookie crust, this one had a chocolate chip crust, and chocolate filling.  The pie was served warm.

I've had a lot of these Eli's pies in other flavors before, and this was by far my least favorite.  It was much more like just a cookie, rather than a pie.  Basically, the crust was studded with tiny chocolate chips, making it like a chocolate chip cookie, but with less chocolate, and a very hard style rather than soft and gooey.  Eh.  It was filled with chocolate, so I did get my hit of chocolate, but again, it was basically just like a chocolate chip cookie. ***.

As always, I was prepared with my own whipped cream, which definitely added to the experience.  My FA was so amused by me, that she offered me an additional pie.  I did not say no.  She later brought me a Christie Cookie Company cookie from her own meal, because she saw I had a sweet tooth, and she said she'd had so many she was sick of them.  It was so thoughtful, and so, sweet (literally).  I know United generally isn't known for the service, but, this crew was fantastic.

Flight Details IAH - SFO

Flight: United Airlines Flight 598
Aircraft: Boeing 737-900 (twin-jet) (B739)
Departure: Houston IAH 4:47pm (local time) scheduled 5:18pm (actual)
Arrival: San Francisco SFO 7:08pm (local time)
Seat: 3E


My return trip was on the same style of aircraft, although this particular one seemed even more beat up, but I think was a bit newer as it had tiny in-seat entertainment screens (although mine didn't work).  Boarding was started right on time, although we had far too many big bags, and drama ensued as so many needed to be gate checked.  No PDB was offered, and no little water bottles were at our seats.  I was parched!  We pushed back from the gate relatively on time, but, then sat to the side, and then had a looong taxi and wait, I think due to rain delays.  It was nearly 30 mins from pushback before we actually took off. 

Once underway, it took nearly 45 minutes before they came to take our beverage orders.  Even then, drinks weren't delivered until our meal trays were, so, more than an hour into the flight before I was able to get a sip of water, which after the lack of PDB made me fairly grumpy.  The flight attendants overall weren't particularly friendly nor proactive, and everything just felt delayed.


My menu options for the return trip were identical to the ones I had going to Houston.  Literally, the exact same.  Same entrees, same salad.  United ... not so good at the variety!  I pre-ordered again, given that the only onboard options were the same Impossible meatballs that were sadly not good, and a chicken dish.  For those who didn't pre-order, they ran out of the Impossible meatballs after row 2, which was surprising to me, given that all of row 1 just opted for snack boxes instead (from economy).  For everyone else, once they had chicken only, they did offer to get them the burger, salad shaker, or tapas box from economy.

I was actually tempted to get the falafel again, as the falafel itself really was good, but, I wanted to mix it up.  Plus, as always, I had backup, and enhancements, to go with my meal.  

Sparkling Aha, Red Wine.
My beverage selection was the same as my previous flight, given that it was a success: sparkling orange grapefruit Aha, and "red wine".  The Aha came with far too much ice this time, which made the liquid portion run out fast, but also, diluted it considerably as it melted.  The wine was fine, drinkable, but not great.

As always, the meal came all at once, with the same exact mozzarella starter I had a week prior (no choice), the same wheat roll (that is always actually kinda good), and the same flavor of pie-in-the-sky.  Our drinks were finally delivered along with our meals.

I wish I could say this meal was as successful as the falafel, but, it wasn't.
Whole Wheat Roll.
The roll was served cold, even though alongside the warm pie.  Normally these are served warm ...

I heated mine in my oven, as I had it ready to go, and that worked well.  I do actually really like these rolls!  ***+.

Mozzarella Salad.
The mozzarella was just as lackluster this time as the last - not very soft, not very flavorful, and the dish really just felt like it needed seasoning and oil to drizzle over.  Meh.  **.

I was again amused by how many people seemed to not understand what this was ... I think the hard texture of the mozzarella throws people off.  
Vegetarian Chili and Polenta Cake.
"Vegetarian chili and polenta cake with ripened tomatoes, kidney beans, bell peppers, onion, chipotle peppers, and soy crumble."

I had to laugh at the portion when my entree was set in front of me ... a hearty bowl of chili this was not!  I'd consider this a polenta cake, with a little chili as garnish, really.  That said, I didn't mind, but if you wanted a substantial meal, definitely do not go for this option.

I was hesitant to order this dish because I don't really like chipotle, and although I like Impossible meat, this had "soy crumble" instead (the meatballs use Impossible meat), and I definitely was not excited for that.   I was right to be skeptical.  The chili had a few beans, and a little tomato, onion, and bell pepper, but was mostly the soy crumble.  It tasted like fake meat, the kind that gives fake meat a bad reputation, through and through.   And, it was lightly spiced, so there was some chipotle to it.  Meh.  I did not like the chili, at all.  I had my own cheese, and red pepper flakes, with me to jazz it up, but I couldn't escape the fake meat taste, and quickly gave up on it, and set about heating up my own shrimp and green beans to have with the polenta.

The polenta cake was fine - it was cheesy, creamy, good texture.  Entirely unseasoned, but, I had my own seasoning to add.  I wouldn't mind eating this again.  ***+.

In the end, the polenta cake, with my own flavorful green beans (leftover from Truth Barbecue, so good!), and my own shrimp, and my own sauce, I enjoyed my meal, but, uh, as served, definitely not.
Chocolate Chip Pie-in-the-Sky.
The cookie-pie was the exact same I had the week before, the chocolate chip version, basically just a hard chocolate chip cookie filled with a little more chocolate.  Not nearly as good as the other flavors Eli's makes, and I was sad that I didn't get a chance to try one of the cheesecakes, as I know United serves them on some routes.  ***.

Monday, November 21, 2022


It had been many, many, many years since I went to a Wendy's.  In fact, it is quite possible that I had not had anything from Wendy's since 1999, the year I graduated from college.  Wendy's was a big part of my high school years - the place we went once my friends got their driver's licenses, where we'd always get items off the $1 menu: a Biggie fries, small chili with cheese, and a drink.  $3 total, and a totally satisfying meal.  It was our thing (and, novel to me, as my family never went to Wendy's growing up, which is odd, given that we did family fast food night every Saturday, and yet, it was never Wendy's ...).

Anyway, quite literally, I likely hadn't had anything from Wendy's in ... 24 years?  And yet, when I was at the Houston Airport, that is where I went.   Why?  Well, there was a sign advertising that they had the seasonal special ...  

Medium Peppermint Frosty (Seasonal).
The special was a limited edition flavor of the classic Frosty: peppermint.  If you aren't familiar, the Frosty is their version of a hybrid milkshake-soft serve ice cream.  While I love ice cream, and soft serve in particular, I've actually had very few Frostys in my life.  Like I said, my visits were for the $1 menu trifecta of fries, chili, drink, and, we lived in a town with good soft serve, so why would I get Frostys?  I think I probably have had fewer than 5 in my life, and generally they were gotten just so I could dip my fries in them.

I didn't really know if I'd like this or not, but, hey, I was in the airport, could use a snack, and they had the special flavor.  It seemed like a good use of 5 bored minutes.  I tried to order the smallest size, Junior, but I was told they didn't have Junior.   Ok, I'd just get a small.  Nor did they have small.  At the airport, everything was big, and pricey.  Ok, the medium it was, for nearly $4.  It was handed over quickly by the cashier, who dispensed it from the magic Frosty machine.
Peppermint Frosty.
The peppermint Frosty is literally just vanilla Frosty, with peppermint syrup added (including, red #40).  It was softer, more drinkable than I remember a Frosty being ... I thought part of the joy of a Frosty was the fact that it wasn't a milkshake, and was thicker, and thus, so great for dipping fries?  It was still amazingly light and fluffy, and a nice consistency, but, not quite the thickness I remembered.  

It was not particularly peppermint-y.  At least it wasn't a fake medicinal flavor, but, honestly, besides the pink color, I'm not sure I would have known it wasn't just a vanilla Frosty, albeit seemingly sweeter than what I remembered.

So, not minty, and not as thick as I thought a Frosty was supposed to be.  It was slightly novel, but, not particularly good, and definitely not worth $4.  I wouldn't get this again. **+.