Monday, September 1, 2014

Allen Cafe

When I am not dining out, I enjoy spending time outdoors.  Outdoor activities can often work up an appetite, which usually leads me to searching for a place to grab some grub.  On a recent day that I had done a little fishing at Bethany Lakes Park in Allen, I decided to try out the Allen Cafe.  I really hadn't heard that much about the place, but it had a high rating on Urbanspoon.  Since I was already in the area, I stopped by the restaurant on my way home.

I arrived around 11 a.m. and saw that about half the patrons were ordering breakfast and the rest of them were ordering lunch.  Breakfast didn't sound appetizing on this particular morning, so I began to scan over the lunch menu.  As I was looking over the menu, the waitress informed me of the daily specials.  Chicken Fried Steak was one of the specials and it came with a soup or salad, your choice of potatoes, and a vegetable for $8.59.  That sounded like a very good deal, so I ordered went ahead and ordered the special.
Salad with House Dressing
My salad arrived within a couple of minutes of placing my order and I liked the taste of the house dressing, but would have liked some croutons on it.  Shortly after I finished my salad, my entree was placed before me.  The chicken fried steak was tender, but it was very bland and the batter was not crispy.  It was quite possibly the worst chicken fried steak I have had all year.  That is saying a lot when you consider the fact that I had a chicken fried steak in a school cafeteria just a few months ago.  The fries and okra were very basic, but the okra was far superior in taste and I enjoyed the batter on the okra much more than the batter on the chicken fried steak.
Chicken Fries Steak Special with Fries and Okra
I cannot say that I was very impressed with the Allen Cafe.  My waitress was very friendly and gave outstanding service, but I was not impressed with the food.  Although the chicken fried steak special was only $8.59, I did not feel like it was a very good value due to the poor quality of the chicken fried steak.  The salad was delicious, but my meal went downhill quickly after finishing off my salad.

Allen Cafe
Livin the Good Life Rating=2
Allen Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Louie Mueller Barbecue

I recently had the opportunity to eat at Louie Mueller Barbecue for the first time.  The legendary purveyor of smoked meats is located in Taylor, Texas and opened it's doors in 1949.   This barbecue joint has been critically acclaimed for years and last year it was ranked in the top 4 in Texas Monthly's Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas.  Although I have not been to this barbecue joint before, I have several friends that claim it is one of their favorites.  Louie Mueller's grandson, Wayne Mueller, now owns the place and mans the pits.  Having sampled the good at his sibling's barbecue joints (John Mueller Meat Co. and La Barbecue), I had high expectations for Louie Mueller Barbecue. 
Anxiously waiting in line
I arrived in Taylor right as Louie Mueller's was opening and was among the first in line.  Most barbecue joints have anywhere between five to seven different types of meat that they smoke and sell.  Louie Mueller's has a much larger selection than most: included three different types of beef sausage (original, jalapeƱo, and chipotle) and three different types of ribs (their famous beef ribs, baby back ribs, and pork spare ribs).  On this particular visit, I ordered brisket, turkey, original sausage, and the baby back ribs.  
Louie Mueller's was packed for a weekday
As I usually do, I started with the brisket.  It had a decent bark that was covered in black pepper.  The brisket had an excellent smoky flavor and the fatty slices were extremely moist with perfectly rendered fat.  Even the lean slices were surprisingly moist and had great flavor.  
Close-up of the peppery rub on the bark of the brisket
The turkey was also heavily peppered and was smoked well.  It didn't have as much pepper as the brisket, but it had just enough to add to the outstanding flavor of the turkey.  Most smoked turkey is very dry since it is a finicky meat to smoke, but the turkey here was perfectly moist.

Ribs rival brisket as my favorite smoked meat.  Since most places don't sell baby back ribs, I decided to give them a shot.  The baby back ribs here were some of the best baby back ribs I have ever had.  The meat easily pulled off the bone, they were smoked perfectly, and they were bursting with flavor.  One thing that impressed me with these ribs was the fact that they were thick cut and had about twice the meat you would normally get on baby back ribs.  I regretted that I had only ordered a half rack.  Although I certainly did not have buyers remorse with the baby back ribs, I really wished I would have ordered one of their famous beef ribs as well.
Clockwise from top left-baby back ribs, turkey, sauce, bread, brisket, original sausage, and pinto beans
The original sausage was fantastic too.  It was one of the top three beef sausages I have ever had.  Beef sausage often dries out quicker than pork sausage, but the sausage at Louie Mueller's was extremely moist.  All three of their sausage are house-made and I will be trying the other two varieties on my next visit.

The only side I ordered were the beans.  They were outstanding and had chunks of pork in it, but this side couldn't hold a candle to the barbecue.  Sauce is an afterthought when you have great barbecue, but the sauce here is very different.  Unlike most barbecue sauces which are thick, the sauce at this establishment is a very thin tomato based sauce with onions and pepper in it.  More like a soup than a sauce, it was much better than I expected upon first looking at it.

When I was leaving Louie Mueller Barbecue, the crowd for lunch was lined up along the wall and out the door.  I left Taylor, Texas feeling very content.  Although I still had a three hour drive to get home, I was glad I made the trip.  It is very easy to see why this place is so well liked by everyone, including the food critics.  I had ordered about three pounds of meat so I could take some home for my wife to try.  Sadly, she only got to sample one slice of brisket, one slice of turkey, and a sausage link.  

Louie Mueller Barbecue
Livin the Good Life Rating=8

Louie Mueller Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Donut Kitchen

Donuts are the preferred breakfast food of my two children.  If truth be told, they are one of my favorite breakfast items as well.  A new donut shop, The Donut Kitchen,  opened on July 1st in West McKinney.  Although I am usually aware of new restaurants in McKinney, I didn't realize that there was a new donut shop on my side of town.  Luckily, a friend recommended that I check this place out.

Since I first found out about it's existence, I have actually eaten here twice.  Most donut shops are basically all the same, but the donuts at The Donut Kitchen are primarily cake-based and are absolutely incredible.  They have a wide variety of specialty donuts that you will not find anywhere else.
Clockwise from Top Left: Maple Bacon, Texas Sheetcake, S'Mores, and Strawberries & Chocolate
So far, I have sampled the following donuts: Texas Sheet Cake, Maple Bacon, Strawberries & Chocolate, S'Mores, Fruity Pebble, and Mint Chocolate Chip.  They were all very good, but my favorite was the Texas Sheet Cake.  The chocolate icing and chopped pecans give this donut the authentic flavor of Texas Sheet Cake.

Not to be outdone, they also serve up some terrific kolaches and breakfast sandwiches.  The kolache is very large and contains a full-sized andouille sausage link that is wrapped in a flaky pastry and served with dark ale mustard.  I consider myself a connoisseur of kolaches and the one served at The Donut Kitchen is top notch, especially when served with the mustard.  
Kolache with Dark Ale Mustard
On my second visit, I was able to try the Fried Chicken Breakfast Sandwich with Texas pesto.  Most fried chicken breakfast sandwiches are served on biscuits, but this particular sandwich is served on a light and flaky croissant-style roll.  The batter on the fried chicken was phenomenal and the Texas pesto gave it excellent flavor.
Fried Chicken Breakfast Sandwich with Texas Pesto
The Donut Kitchen is unquestionably the best donut shop I have sampled in Collin County.  Hypnotic Donuts is the only place in the DFW area that is comparable in quality to The Donut Kitchen.  Although I love Hypnotic Donuts, this new place is practically in my backyard and much closer than East Dallas.  I can guarantee you that my family will be frequent visitors to this new donut shop.  Judging from the large crowd we saw on a Saturday morning, I believe that others feel the same way about this.

The Donut Kitchen
Livin the Good Life Rating=8

Donut Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bien Salsa

I recently had the opportunity to have brunch at Bien Salsa.  This Mexican restaurant is located in downtown Mckinney and has received good reviews from the majority of diners.  Bien Salsa has been on my wish list of local places to try and I was finally able to convince my family to eat there on a recent Sunday morning.
Dining Area
Chips and Salsa Sampler
A brunch menu is served on weekends and my party was pleased with this because my entire family is a big fan of brunch.  We started with the chips and salsa sampler.   Unlike most Mexican restaurants, this item is not free and they charge $2.49 for this item.  The fried tortilla chips come with three different types of salsa that included a chunky smoked salsa, salsa verde (green sauce), and a hot salsa.  I absolutely loved the chips and all three versions of salsa.  If I had to pick a favorite, I would probably go with the hot salsa.
Breakfast Taco Trio with flour tortillas
For my entree, I ordered the breakfast taco trio.  The dish had one chorizo and egg taco, one ham and egg taco, one potato and egg taco, black beans, and rice.  You can choose either corn or flour tortillas and I chose the latter.  Each taco was very good, but I was very impressed with the house-made chorizo.  The black beans were pretty basic, but the rice was very good.
Huevos Revueltos
My wife and mother-in-law both ordered the Huevos Revueltos which included scrambled eggs with bacon, salsa, corn tortillas, and flour tortillas.  The pancakes got a stamp of approval from my oldest daughter and my father-in-law enjoyed his breakfast of Chilaquiles Mexicanos served with bacon and potatoes.
Chilaquiles Mexicanos
Pancakes and fruit
The food was tasty on this visit and the portions were more than adequate.  Bien Salsa has a very nice dining area and the service was faultless on our visit.  Although this is an upscale Mexican restaurant, the food was not overly-pricey.  Now that I have tried their brunch menu, I cannot wait to go back and sample the goods on their dinner menu.

Bien Salsa
Livin the Good Life Rating=7
Bien Salsa on Urbanspoon