Foodie Field Trips: Treebeard’s (Houston)


Back in the late ’90s/early ’00s, I worked as the Music, Arts, and Movies editor for Houston Citysearch. In many ways, it was the perfect job for me, back before the site was a Yelp-like, user-curated city guide. I got to create all sorts of content, previewing and reviewing movies, records and concerts, and exhibits at places like the MFAH. My work days were filled not only with writing these pieces, but also planning an editorial calendar, attending movie previews and private gallery tours complete with catered lunches. My nights were spent in various clubs and music venues, or at the theatre or the opera. Yes, I was working 50-60 hours a week and only making $27,000/year, and it was super corporate, but dang, it was fun. Our office was on Main Street in downtown (not too far from Minute Maid Park; I could have walked to Astros games after work. In fact, I’m not sure why I didn’t.), very close to lots of cool restaurants. (I was a big fan of Mission Burrito, which had a location about a block away from the office.)

One of my most favorite places to go for lunch was Treebeard’s, which was just around the corner at Market Square (and two doors down from Warren’s, one of my all-time favorite bars). Now then, given that I wasn’t making more than $500/week and had student loans, credit cards, and a car payment, Treebeard’s was a total splurge, as the daily lunch plus cornbread and a drink was about $12. I hadn’t really had much exposure to Creole food before living in Houston (at least that I can recall), and I remember being completely blown away by the red beans and rice (my absolute favorite dish there; it’s their signature dish for a reason). It’s a cafeteria-style setup, with a rotating menu of three mains (stuffed pork chops, chicken fried chicken, pot roast, blackened catfish, and the like) and assorted sides (black eyed peas, grits, mac and cheese, etc.).

Baked catfish on dirty rice, topped with étouffée.

Baked catfish on dirty rice, topped with étouffée.

Work-related travel found me in Houston last week and as I was considering my lunch options — there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in Houston, culinary-wise — I seized on Treebeard’s and didn’t look back. I left Citysearch and moved away from Houston in August 2000, so a good decade-plus had passed since I’d last eaten there. I was so pleased to walk in and see that nothing had changed. I grabbed my tray, my glass for iced tea, a fruit cup, and went full-bore with my order of baked catfish atop dirty rice, with a side of jalapeño cornbread. The picture here doesn’t do it justice — this was an enormous portion (I must have stretched my expensive lunches into two servings back in the day), and I couldn’t finish it despite my best efforts. Everything tasted just as I remembered it, flooded as it was with memories of a very different time in my life.

In all honesty, my return to Treebeard’s  — among other things — has made me somewhat circumspect. Dang, I loved all the writing I got to do then, and all those perks sure were nice. And I left Citysearch to go to graduate school, ostensibly so that I could become a better writer (also, working at Citysearch could sometimes be … a bit of a you-know-what-show, especially once Ticketmaster bought the company, or Barry Diller bought Ticketmaster or whatever). I don’t think a job like that will ever come up again, but when I boil that experience down to its essence — writing about things I was (and am) passionate about, I get a little thrill. Who knows what else is out there? Who knows what’s possible these days? All I know is that I want to get back to that m.o. of Always Be Writing, even when it’s hard.

Oh, another thing about Treebeard’s: they have a pretty sinful assortment of desserts, and I was eyeballing the saran-wrapped squares of butter cake for the drive home. But since I’ve been making some progress on the Weight Watchers front, I opted to stick with my fruit. Of course, later, my Houston-based friend recommended that I get some butter cake to take home, d’oh! So on Friday, I made this. It were tasty.

butter cake

 

Do you have any restaurants that define a certain time in your life? If so, are you still able to visit them?

Foodie Field Trips, Denver Edition: Lucile’s Creole Cafe


Hello, and welcome to another edition of Foodie Field Trips! Today’s post is the first in a series of FFT posts dedicated to our summer trip to Denver, where we ate a lot of really good food guilt-free because when we weren’t eating, we were hiking our butts off!

While it’s no Houston or Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, Denver has a pretty interesting food scene. Its position in the landlocked Rockies in the middle of the West means that while there aren’t a ton of fresh seafood restaurants, there is a lovely cultural patchwork quilt of foodways. There are Native American restaurants, truly legit Mexican restaurants, Vietnamese places, and fantastic breweries and coffeeshops and bakeries (my friend Kelli swears by the Spring Fling cake at The Market). That said, the presence of major professional athletic teams means that there is also a preponderance of dude-bro sports bars trafficking in overpriced burgers and fries (in general, my rule of thumb is to avoid restaurants situated near Coors Field).

Today I want to talk about Lucile’s Creole Cafe, one of my longtime Denver/Boulder brunch favorites. (Full disclosure: I have never dined at Lucile’s for lunch. It’s only ever been a breakfast/brunch place for me.)

I was first introduced to Lucile’s when I was in graduate school on Boulder, when my friend Aaron took me there for breakfast one day. I was completely wowed by the delicious chicory coffee and the towering buttermilk biscuits that could, quite frankly, constitute an utterly satisfying breakfast, especially when slathered with butter and the housemade strawberry-rhubarb jam served in all-you-can-squirt squeeze bottles on the table.

2012-08-18 09.05.55

Helloooooo, gorgeous.

Now then, prices at Lucile’s are rather dear, but everything is a bit pricier in Denver than in Austin, where we live. There’s always a bit of sticker shock when we go up there and see that they’ve got no problem with asking $10 for Eggs Benedict. Then again, you get one of those massive biscuits with your meal, so there are some value-adds. I usually opt for Eggs Eisenhower, a very simple breakfast of eggs and homefries ($6.25; add bacon for another three bucks) which, if eaten around 10 or 11 in the morning, provides sufficient fuel for a few hours of hiking in Chautauqua or Flagstaff Mountain.

2012-08-18 09.03.09

Lucile’s is rather busy, especially of a weekend morning, so expect a wait when you go (this applies to the Boulder, Longmont, and Denver locations, and I assume the Ft. Collins location experiences similar traffic). While the Zydeco and jazz music and Mardis Gras beads hanging from every spare corner lend the restaurant a festive feel, the hectic pace means that you might not get as many coffee/tea/water refills you might hope for or expect from a calmer environment. Even though there are some frustrating elements to the Lucile’s experience, I can’t go to Colorado and NOT eat there. It’s just too ingrained in my experience of the place.

Next time: Pinche Tacos. The best margaritas in Denver or the best margaritas EVER?