Saturday, November 28, 2009


Over the years, Texas Monthly magazine has helped my food writing more than any other source, plus given me hours of reading pleasure. Like all subscribers, I eagerly devour their Best Of issues, confident in the knowledge that they have really done their homework and have put together a quality list of delectable eateries. Their most recent such issue featured the best hamburgers in the entire Nation of Texas, and scanning the selections, I noted that one of their top choices was Alamo Springs Cafe, located near Fredericksburg, one of our favorite vacation spots. What's more, we were booked for a stay at our favorite bed and breakfast in town, and surely we could locate this place and find out for ourselves what all the fuss is about. So, after due consultation with my lovely wife the Rock Star, we made the drive ten miles south of Fredericksburg, near the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area where flying bats do play.

Once we entered the restaurant, we were heartily entranced by Alamo Springs Cafe and its genu-wine Texas retro decor. In appearance, it resembles a retrofitted wooden private house or small store, with wooden floors, smallish rooms, and plenty of signage featuring pithy sayings. Two employees were on duty that day, our sweet waitress/cashier, and Mike, the genial owner/chef. Warning: If you're in a Dallas hurry, you'd best leave your time anxieties back in the Metroplex and discover the wonder of Hill Country time. Here, people move as slow as they talk, and if you don't find the difference refreshing, then perhaps you're better off vacationing in New York or Houston.

Alamo Springs Cafe features several lunchtime options, and boasts of gourmet specials in the evenings, but we were here on a mission, so menus weren't needed. In due course, we were presented with the justly famous Alamo Springs cheeseburger, which proved every bit as large as the tantalizing Texas Monthly cover. As soon as it was placed down at our table, Mike came over to inspect and pronounced it perfectly medium rare as requested. Indeed it was. In Texas Monthly, Patricia Sharpe lamented the fact that many of the state's top burgers were gourmet, with toppings to match. By contrast, Alamo Springs cheeseburger was classically old-school in flavor and preparation, each bite yielding shards of silken, hearty beef flavor. We split one between the two of us, as it was quite large, and also split a large basket of crispy crunchy homemade potato chips. We paired our repast with very good iced tea, which is the national drink of Texas, and grabbed a couple of German beers from the cooler to enjoy on the patio. (Since Fredericksburg was settled by Germans, brews from the Old Country are widely available here.)

Service was leisurely paced, of course, and Mike came over to tell us a little about the history of his little venture. Seems he opened Alamo Springs as a cafe and general store awhile back, promising a menu that served some upscale dishes in the evenings, along with deli food. Basically, he put the cheeseburgers on the menu to keep the kids happy, but in the first days of operation, he noticed that he sold virtually nothing but burgers, so he instantly junked the deli and general store idea and tripled his order of hamburger meat. Alamo Springs has been successful ever since.

In short, Alamo Springs Cafe serves a cheeseburger well worthy of all the acclaim, and my lovely wife is already badgering me to go back. Discover your cheeseburger paradise soon, and as always:


Sunday, November 15, 2009


A restaurant entices with intrigueability, perhaps an unusual logo or interesting location, particularly so if it's one you pass by on a regular basis, and when you see it you exclaim, "That place looks interesting; I've always wanted to try it out!" But you continue to motor on, bent on achieving your appointed tasks, until one day curiosity gets the best of you and you determine to investigate. Maguires Restaurant, hard by the Tollway and Restaurant Row in North Dallas, is one such place, because I've always been intrigued by the logo and signage and because I've never been able to successfully figure out what kind of restaurant it is. Steakhouse? Bistro?? Upscale lounge??? Finally, spurred by a positive review from one of my colleagues and driven by the necessity of a birthday celebration. I loaded my lovely wife The Rock Star, her sister The Wild Thing, and their formidable mother The Momma into my conveyance and made the trip up Tollway one recent Saturday eve.

Atmospherically, Maguires is set up on the circular concept: A ring of booths on a sort of raised platform around the perimeter, interspersed with staff areas where waiters conduct their business, bisected by lines of tables and a central aisle. Stylish decor, not overly trendy or stuffy. We were seated by a window in the perimeter, where the energetic Joanie took charge of us.

At Joanie's insistence, we began our meal with the flatbread appetizer. Crispy sesame lavash with Buffalo chicken and sauce toppings, it was the perfect size for sharing and disappeared quickly. Breaking with convention, The Wild Thing decided to make a meal of starters with the tenderloin crostini, the baked, stuffed artichoke, and Maguires mixed greens salad. She let me try the tenderloin, a filet medallion with bearnaise. The menu promised melt-in-your-mouth goodness, and the crostini delivered, the meats silken bite playing perfectly with the tang of the bearnaise, and the crispness of the crostini. The mixed greens salad proved a delicate blend of bleu cheese, greens, apples, roasted pecans and Maguire's poppyseedish dressing. A nice, light prelude to the repast that followed. The Rock Star adored her massive, double-cut pork chop since it was prepared similar to pork tenderloin and not at all greasy, with excellent Southwest creamed corn, wilted spinach, and an unusual but effective champagne mustard seed gravy. Very nice, and not too dry. The Momma's request for a medium well done filet was rewarded with a medium well done filet. It was prepared to her liking and what more can be said? I love steak au poivre and was presented with a pepper-crusted filet perfectly medium rare as requested, sided by white mashed potatoes, toothsome asparagus spears, and cognac peppercorn sauce. While researching this post, I discovered that chef Brahmi was classically trained in his native France. That fact certainly showed in his beef treatment, as the beef was prepared with loving care. Throughout our lengthy stay, we washed our respective meals down with a good pairing pinot grigio, and very good claret, and an especially good bottle of Layer Cake Shiraz, which we will no doubt purchase for home consumption. Finally, we split a chocolate lava cake and took our leave.

Joanie proved quite attentive throughout the evening, and her enthusiasm was truly infectious.
Website is, if you're at all interested in that sort of thing.

Overall, a good time was had by all (there's a classic Texas saying), and we have definitely satisfied our curiosity about Maguires Restaurant and plan to return soon. Satisfy your own curiosity today, and remember:


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quickie Review #43: McSwiggans Irish Pub

Irish pubs are some of the best and most fun establishments in the world. They make no bones about what you are there for (to drink, watch sports, and comingle with fellow pubbites) and deliver what you need accordingly. Every neighborhood should have one. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I have been making the drive for years to Lochrann's Irish Pub in downtown Frisco, and the Irish Rover Pub, which is a bit closer, but we not-so-secretly longed that someone would build one in our neighborhood. Well, our wait is finally over, as we now have our very own pub straight from Boston, McSwiggans Irish Pub.

Walking in (taking special care with the extra-heavy door as you enter), you will notice that McSwiggans wears its pub heart proudly on its sleeve with the authentic-looking decor featuring a forest of dark wood, blackboards featuring the numerous Irish beers on tap, and the expected profusion of flat-panel TVs. What you won't see is an excess of sit-down space; McSwiggans may hold 30-40 people tops and you may be hard-pressed to find a place to squat on weekend nights. Still, you may want to go there early for dinner and a pint (or three), as the food is quite good. Bangers and mash feature savory sausages straight from the Old Sod, and Shepherd's Pie is the ultimate comfort food, with warm ground beef and veggies under its whipped potato crust. Most recently, I sampled the Fish and Chips, which consists of Icelandic Haddock filets served in a crispy batter and accompanied by good steak fries, which went well with my Magic Hat and Murphys Irish Red ales, both on tap. (They serve the fish with tartar sauce, but also bring along a condiment caddy including malt vinegar, Tabasco, and Colemans and Dijon mustards.) My lovely wife the Rock Star is a fan of the Kobe sliders, which are served char-grilled to order (if you want pink in the middle, you get pink in the middle) on tiny brioche buns. Service is very accomodating, whether you sit at bar or booth, and McSwiggans opens early on the weekends to serve the Premier League, college, and NFL football fans who care to enter. (Needless to say, they are serious Red Sox and New England Patriot fans.) Website is Discover your own swatch of the Old Sod soon, and remember: