Eating Houston 1.4: Desserts and drinks

The temperature in Houston is reaching the 100s this week, and the only way many of us can bear the wet heat is to think of all the other great things Houston has to offer, like food,. food, and more food.

I won’t complain, though—I’d been to so many cold places in the last couple of winters (I.e. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Toronto when it was -10°F!), that I promised Houston I wouldn’t complain about its summers this year. At the end of the day, I would rather be hot than frozen, and so I’ve found myself saying things this month like, “It’s hot today…but I’m not complaining, just observing,” much to the amusement of my perspiring friends.

So today, because I’m so focused on the climax of summer, we’re going to discuss lighter fare: places you can go after eating to cool down, with an iced latte, ice cream sundae, or a ice cold mint julep.
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Banana berry smoothie

I’ve been writing a lot recently about athleticism, getting fit, and staying in shape. Don’t worry. This week won’t be another post on what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your life. Sort of.

This week’s post is a recipe for a delicious smoothie I created when I came across some strawberries in my fruit crisper, left over from when a friend made chocolate covered strawberries for my little Oscars viewing party.

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Asian pear, blueberry, banana juice

I used to be one of those wistful passersby that would stroll by the Vitamix demo stations at Costco, listen to the industrial blade going to town on the fruits and veg, and say to myself, “I’ve got to get me one of those beautiful things in the not-so-distant future.”

Well, that not-so-distant day has come, and I no longer need to be a coveting passerby. I’ve shifted into the circle of official Vitamix owners. So hah! Take that, Vitamix girl at Costco! Now I’m blending my own smoothies and juices at home.
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Great beer, great people, great city

Mike the Beer Geek

That is the motto of the inaugural Houston Beer Week to take place from October 11 through 17. During the week, dinners, tastings, classes, and other activities centering around beer will be held at venues all over the Houston metropolis. The week will culminate in a Monsters of Beer Charity Festival hosted by Live It Big, Inc., a Houston-based 501(c)3 non-profit that helps small and start-up charities grow by raising money year-round and providing administrative assistance.

After perusing the website, the most promising events include the HBW Kick-Off Party (October 10) at The Usual Pub where there will be a homebrewers tutorial with DeFalco’s Home Wine & Beer Supplies and Southern Star, a local brewery just north of Houston. The Petrol Station (which I might add has one of the best burgers called The Hulk, but that’s for another post) will host a homebrewers competition called the Pumpkin Beer Throwdown (October 14). Then on the last day of HBW (October 17) is the Monsters of Beer fest at 13 Celsius from 12 noon till 6 PM. At this event, you can sip on craft beers from local breweries, three of which are new. Advance tickets to this last event are $20–$30 if you buy at the door. All the other events throughout the week vary in price and include events with Beaver’s Ice House, Catalan, and Ginger Man seems to have something going on every night of HBW.

So if you have a penchant for craft beer, or just beer, or just alcohol, or just a good time, then venture out and hit up a spot or two; it’ll be a way for you to extend Oktoberfest. Check out the HBW website for event details.

The cheapest beers in Houston

6100 Main St.
Houston, TX 77005
5/5 pints

I love dive bars, smart people, and cheap drinks. I got all three at Valhalla, a hole-in-the-wall bar located in an old chemistry building on the Rice University campus. We only happened upon this place thanks to a friend of ours who is a Rice alumnus. There is practically no free parking, but it seems the thing to do is just park alongside the road and leave your hazards on. We were skeptical at first but saw several other cars with their headlights blinking, so we decided why not? When in Rice…

In Scandinavian mythology, Valhalla–old Norse for “hall of the slain”–is a majestic hall in Asgard ruled by the god Odin. Inside isn’t majestic, but instead feels like a cozy bunker with its windowless walls and cavernous ceiling. Music just depends on whose iPod happens to be hooked up to the speakers at the moment; Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, and the Cure all got a chance at the airwaves during our visit. The crowd consists of mostly graduate students–there are probably more intelligent conversations per capita at Valhalla than any other bar in Houston. But despite all its charm, the best thing about Valhalla has got to be the prices.

We had one soda (that’s me–you didn’t think I’d be drinking so soon after chemo, did you?) and five beers (and I’m talking none of that Michelob Light bullshit, but rather Guinness, microbrewed (512), locally brewed St. Arnold’s kind of stuff) for–get this–$12. You can’t beat those prices.

The beer is cheap because it’s a non-profit bar; bartenders are all voluntary students, and the money goes back into Rice grad programs. There are tables outside in case the weather’s nice, but funny thing is Valhalla isn’t open Saturday nights when perhaps the peak of weekly drinking happens. So if you don’t mind the odd hours, the skimpy parking, and the lack of hard liquor on the menu, Valhalla is an awesome neighborhood bar that’s definitely off the beaten path. I give this place five out of five pints.

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