Monday, April 28, 2008

Adventures in Dining #1: Frisco Roughriders Baseball

I grew up in a sports-minded family, complete with three older brothers, and all of us played sports. I myself played Little League baseball for seven years, even though I was rather clumsy as a child, and couldn't hit my way out of a busted wet paper bag, still I loved the game so much I persisted. Above all, I loved wearing the uniform. There is no better feeling for many young kids than pulling on your first uniform as a proud member of a real, organized team. I still enjoy spectator sports to this day, particularly the high level of competition and drama at the major leagues. Still, ticket prices lately for all four major sports (that's baseball, football, basketball, and hockey to the uninitiated), have escalated to the point that for most of us they must be considered at best the occasional treat. What does the average fan do to get his fix of live professional sports? Answer: Beat the bushes (literally) and try the minor leagues! Ticket prices are much more user-friendly, and the atmosphere is so much fun, you'll find them positively addictive.

Over the years, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I have scored excellent seats for Arena Football (both Dallas Texans and Desperadoes), Texas Tornadoes Junior Hockey (faster and more intense than you might think, and they've won championships!), and best of all I think, most recently we've become fans of the Frisco Roughriders Double-A Texas Rangers-affiliated baseball team, located a mere couple of miles from our casa. It was in search of adventure that myself, the Rock Star, and our good friend The Rock drove to the beautiful 10000-seat park one recent Saturday evening.


Are you kidding? In a word: FUN! People tailgaiting in the parking lots, just like at any real sporting event. Plenty of ample, cheap parking ($5). Easy walk to your seats and not a bad seat in the house. We paid $10 apiece for seats along the right field line IN THE SECOND ROW! That does not happen in the big leagues. Kids and proud dads in uniforms everywhere. Talkative and very friendly vendors. A very active mascot (Deuce) with a female sidekick (Daisy) and plenty of minions to keep the party rolling between innings. Oh, and trust me on this, very, very high-calibre level of baseball. (It is said that the Double-A clubs are where all the top prospects are sent for seasoning.) Not to mention, a few famous names on the field appearing out of the mists of baseball history. (Former Texas Longhorn great Scott Coolbaugh is Rider's first-base coach, and John Mayberry, son of former Kansas City Royal great Big John Mayberry, is one of the Rider's star players. Not to mention former Houston Astros great Luis Pujols is manager of the rival Corpus Christi Hooks. Old ballplayers never die it seems!) All in all, an absolutely wonderful way to spend an evening.


Okay, ballpark cuisine is not exactly dinner at the Mansion, but it is cheap, good, and filling. The promotion on this night was Taste of Bob Evans. If you are unfamiliar with this name (as I was), be advised that Bob Evans has been making high-quality sausages and meats from their Ohio-based company for over 50 years, and are now the proud owners of Texas own Owens Meats, based here in Richardson. When we entered, we were given samples of brautwurst and sweet Italian sausage, and rest assured, the Italian sausage in particular is very tasty and would make a fabulous alternative to the standard hot dog. During the course of the evening, we also sampled the nachos (not enough cheese, they will give you plenty for an extra $1), pepperoni pizza (the famous Red Baron frozen variety, make sure you get them to make it fresh!), hot dogs, (both of my companions assured me theirs were quite good), and roasted peanuts (fresh and hot; nothing is worse than stale peanuts). We washed our repasts down with soft drinks, wine (they also sell some mixed drinks, like those ultra-tall frozen margaritas), and beer. (Wisely, we sought out shorter lines and discovered a girl selling bottled beer, who kindly suggested that I take one of the 16-ounce bottles rather than one of the 12-oz brands, as I would get more beer for my money. I followed her advice religiously.) Needless to say, by evening's end we were quite stuffed, and on top of that, the Riders won! How cool is that???


As stated earlier, the vendors were talkative, friendly and efficient, so much so that in the most crowded lines, they sent out extra workers to start taking and making orders in advance. Also, the Rock Star would like to report that the restrooms are among the cleanest and nicest anywhere, a fact which I could confirm when it came time for my own little visit.


You can stake out your own adventure at Check out their promotions and their schedule, which runs from the first of April to the first of September. Do it soon, particularly before the weather gets too hot, and don't forget:


Friday, April 25, 2008

Wine Corner Review #21: The Little Penguin Shiraz

After the debacle of my last Wine Corner recommendation (I should have known better than to suggest a wine named after a cock. Minds out of the gutter now!!!), I decided to quit taking chances for a little while and reach back to the comparative safety of an old, familiar varietal. Now, really, is there any more dependable style of vino than Australian shiraz? In terms of both flavor and bang-for-the-buck, it's hard to beat. The Little Penguin is yet another delightful family of Oz wines than can be counted on to deliver a thoroughly pleasing quaff for well under $10 a bottle (unless, maybe, you're shopping in midtown Manhattan or some other pricey place.)

The robe of the Little Penguin Shiraz is magenta laced with touches of brick. The rather laid-back nose contains whiffs of white pepper and plenty of boysenberry jam. Pure grape jelly, strawberry, and black currant flavors spread swiftly over the palate, resulting themselves into a decidedly chewy finish. I enjoyed the Little Penguin Shiraz with Popeyes Fried Chicken (spicy, if you please), and it would also work delightfully well with Mexican food and pork tenderloin. Website is if you wish to check out their entire wine line. Cleanse your palate with a bottle soon, and as always:


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Quickie Review #19: Pei Wei Asian Diner

P F Changs is the nationwide-and-still-growing chain whose mission it is to bring quality, affordable Asian food to the unwashed masses. The flagship P F Changs chain has proven so successful that a dozen or so years ago, Changs gave birth to Pei Wei, the fast-casual arm of the business, where hungry diners could queue up for counter service for food featuring the same stellar quality as the flagship chain. Pei Wei by itself has expanded to two dozen states, and in need of a serious Asian fix on the fly, I called in an order for takeout, then schlepped it home myself, taking care to park in one of the takeaway parking spaces thoughtfully provided by management.

My lovely spouse the Rock Star loves her some Asian food, however she has confessed to me that she has lost her taste for Chinese. Happily, Pei Wei features quality Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai food, so this was not a problem. When she's not in a sushi mood, Pad Thai is her Oriental selection of choice (yes, I still like to use the old-school term oriental on occasion; I don't think it's politically incorrect. If so I apologize.) Pei Wei's Pad Thai is marvelous: Delicious chunks of chicken (her choice) are combined with Thai sweet and sour sauce, tofu, bean sprouts, scallions, egg, crushed peanuts, lime, cilantro, and rice noodles combine into a first-rate dish that is both bracing and eminently satisfying. I opted for the Beef Mandarin Kung Pao and was rewarded with exceptionally tender beef, savory with every bite, served with chili-seared soy sauce, scallion, garlic, snap peas, carrots, and most important to me, peanuts. This latter ingredient imparted a touch of Thai to this basically Chinese dish, and we were both immensely pleased with our selections. Website is if you should care to investigate. Start your own Asian dinein or takeout tradition soon, and remember:


Friday, April 18, 2008

Wine Corner Review #20: HRM Rex Goliath! California Zinfandel

HRM (His Royal Majesty) Rex Goliath was the star of a circus in Texas. Billed as the "World's Largest Rooster," he clocked in at a spectacular 47 pounds and served as the metaphor for this rather sedate (for a Zinfandel) picnic blend we will be examining today.

The robe of the Rex Goliath Zinfandel is that of fresh, hand-picked dewberries gathered from a field near Dripping Springs, TX. The nose is quite muted, sort of like minted spicy cough syrup. The taste reveals some character and will make you think of red clover honey but alas, it has little power, subtlety or nuance, just about right for a cheap red picnic wine. Pizza is your pairing of choice, as well as fried chicken and all other picnic foods, and it may even be served slightly chilled. URL is if it strikes your fancy. See if they have any other legends represented, and remember:


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tales From The Bar Side #2: Texas Roadhouse

Methuselah is more than an Old Testament figure. I give this name to a friend and colleague of mine who is (slightly) over thirty, still quite active, and continues a never-ending quest for Quality and Value. Since Day One of this blog, he has chided me from time to time about never having visited Texas Roadhouse, one of his favorite places to dine and (he assures me) quite good and affordable. In the past, I demurred, because until now, the closest location to Mi Casa was Mesquite. The memory of our conversation was still fresh in my mind when my lovely bride the Rock Star pranced into the room the other day, planted herself square in front of me, hands on hips, and proclaims, "Guess what restaurant opened a branch just a couple of miles from our house? Right, Texas Roadhouse! So, when do you wanna go, huh?" Or something like that. In any case, before I knew what hit me, we were on our way to this brand spanking new restaurant, determined to reprise our Bar Adventure that had worked so successfully at The Keg just a few short weeks ago.

Okay, so the interior may be best described as Corporate Tex. What do you expect from an Indiana-based company that has succeeded well enough to expand successfully to 44 states? (Outback must be shaking in their boots at this.) Still, the polished wood and stereotypical Texas murals connotes fun, and unless you are a total curmudgeon, you will probably like it as well. In short order, we proceeded to the bar where the peripatetic Mindy took charge of us, taking our drink orders quickly and asking if we would like menus. Wow, no prices over $20, not even for the T-Bone steak! Right away, the Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs caught our eyes, particularly when Mindy assured us they were cooked for three days to assure tenderness. We promptly ordered those and the Grilled Shrimp. Those ribs, when they arrived, proved to be very tender baby backs with such good flavor that we decided there and then to return for the steaks at a later date. Smokily delicious and toothsome, the ribs brought some skin-on fries with them to the party, and all were devoured quite happily. The grilled shrimp were good as well but rather bland; much better was the garlic toast they were served on, buttery and crunchy. We made a nice dinner on these and on the first-rate complimentary bread served with honey butter. (Honey butter always puts me in mind of the late, lamented Nickerson Farms roadside restaurants of years gone by; that chain featured home cooking and an actual colony of bees working in glass hives at each location.)

In short, we filled up quite nicely, declined the offer of a brownie for dessert (I would like to investigate either the brownie or the Granny's Apple Classic on a return visit), and made our satisfied way home. Website is so you can investigate for yourself if Methuselah is right and a bunch of Hoosiers can indeed whip up authentic roadhouse cuisine. Investigate soon, and, yeah, yeah:


Monday, April 7, 2008

Wine Corner Review #19: Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc

If you've been tippling for any length of time, you will of course start to develop lists of favorites and if you're like me, you will start to notice the same labels seem to show up again and again on your lists. For California wines, for instance, I notice that Toasted Head, Meridian, and Geyser Peak regularly make one of my top designations as Best Bang for the Buck labels. For between $7 and $15, you will receive a quality bottle that will serve for all but the most special occasions in whatever varietal you choose, whether pinot, cab, chard, or what have you. So, when my local Wine Shoppe put some bottles of Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc on clearance, you can imagine I was quick to act, and brought a couple of the little buggers home with me. However, before I proceed to the Review Proper, let me just state one thing. Wine put on clearance is priced to move, and as such, all sales may be final. Be sure you have an understanding of whether or not you can bring any and all unopened bottles back for either a refund or at least store credit. Clearance wine is notorious for having proper-storage issues, and I don't want you wasting your hard-earned money by buying a bunch of wine, then not being able either to drink it or bring it back if you are unsatisfied. (In my particular case, the vino in question was still quite drinkable, thank you.)

The robe of the Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc is unmistakeably that of a Granny Smith apple. The nose adds touches of pear and apricot with just the slightest whiff of nectarine. More Granny Smith apples in the taste, as well as green lettuce leaf, and, yes, pomegranite. (I've been tasting a lot of pomegranite lately and I don't know why.) Like any Sauvignon Blanc, Geyser Peak can be matched with seafood, seafood, and more seafood, and also pairs well with arroz con pollo. URL is, where you will note that Wine and Spirits Magazine named this quality vintner one of the Top 100 Wineries of the Year, which is no surprise to yours truly. Pick up a few bottles soon, and as always:


Friday, April 4, 2008


I would like to report that I am always in the pink of health, however that report recently would be erroneous. In fact, last week I was in hospital following surgery. During those long hours and through my convalescence that continues to this day, my lovely wife the Rock Star behaved like ten rocks of strength rolled into one, and talked me thru the crisis with her straightforwardness and her humor. Now she needed a break, or at least a special something from a special someone (me). After racking my brains, I decided that lunch at a posh yet comfortable spot was just what the doctor ordered, and we duly set off late one rainy morning to take our noontide meal at Jaspers Restaurant, in the Shops at Legacy, Plano, TX, USA.


Decidedly masculine without being stuffy, Jaspers Asianesque interior literally features forests of wood---both in the paneling lining the walls and in the numerous bamboo plants featured throughout. (No, that's correct, bamboo is not a tree; I believe it is technically classified as a woody grass.) Low lighting with black mesh over the windows. Mucho macho, warm and inviting. Our amaiable hostess escorted us to a choice spot by the window where we awaited our waiter. I can make one suggestion at this point: plan on a leisurely-paced lunch. Our repast took ninety minutes start-to-finish, and we made the most of this opportunity to stretch not only our legs but our souls as well. Soon enough, Alex discovered us and presented us with menus and suggestions. My wife quickly ordered an Arnold Palmer (which is to say, a Shirley Temple with a four handicap) while I took his ready suggestion and ordered a bottle of Republic of Tea Pomegranite Green from the proferred Tea Menu. (Yes, there is a Tea Menu and, yes, you should make use of it.) The pomegranite added a welcome tartness and gusto to what is usually a rather sedate blend of tea.


Billed by those Flay-slaying Rathbun brothers as "gourmet backyard cuisine" (I'm sure that highly-regarded Corporate Chef Aaron Staudenmeier had something to do with it as well), Jaspers food is as familiar as Spam is to a Hawaiian, only slightly more upscale. We started with the Maytag Blue Cheese Potato Chips, sinfully rich although slightly overpriced at ten bucks, and decidedly fresh. Then we attacked Jasper's Greens, one of their salads which we found rather disappointing, particularly my lovely bride, who thought that there was too much cheese and not enough candied pecans for her taste. Much more to her liking, however, was the Smoked Ham & Gouda Grilled Cheese, perfectly grilled on panini bread and accompanied by superlative matchstick potatoes. For myself, I once again agreed to Alex's ready suggestion for the superb meat lasagna, which was the Daily Business Lunch. How often can you describe a lasagna as buttery and creamy? Javiers features a touch of mascarpone as well as usual suspects mozzarella and parmesan, giving the dish that fresh-churned flavor. Immensly delicious and a relative bargain at $15. After such a repast, we could not even think of dessert, but you can be assured the leftovers were properly boxed (by Alex) and accompanied us home.


Except for the 10-15 minute wait from the time we were first shown to our table to Alex's first appearance, he was totally on point and his suggestions rocked our world. Website is, and with a just a few clicks of your mouse, it is quite easy to explore other offerings from the brothers Rathbun, from Abacus to private dinners.


Dine regularly on Jasper's upscale laid-back food, and you too will discover why they defeated the immortal Bobby Flay on the season opener of this years Iron Chef America. Discover why soon, and you know me: