Eating Food with a James Beard Award Winner

One of the pleasures of belonging to Village Voice Media is that the company hosts the best roster of food critics in the country--but you don't have to believe my boosterism? Who's the only food critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize? Jonathan Gold of LA Weekly. Who's going to be releasing a memoir of his food life for a mega-publishing house? Westword's Jason Sheehan. And what paper employs Robb Walsh, the expert on Texas food culture? The Houston Press.

I was in Houston over the weekend for a book signing and asked Walsh--who's my Facebook friend!--if he could take me to eat at his favorite dives. Instead, Walsh suggested I go over to his house for dinner, where he was going to spend his Saturday trying out recipes for a coming cookbook. In the meanwhile, Walsh was kind enough to send me a list of places to try--I settled on Thelma's, a 'cue joint just down the street from Minute Maid Park located in a former house and home to bracing sauce, tender brisket, and the best pecan pie on Earth.

After my signing, I drove to Walsh's house, where he promptly greeted me with a glass off grapefruit juice and tequila as he expounded on the history of the margarita and its Dallas roots. Guy is funny, humble, and a walking encyclopedia. We spent the next three hours (also accompanied by his two young kids, wonderful wife, and a cute dog) talking, laughing, and--most importantly--eating.

The eats, without giving away too many of the ingredients (Walsh has to sell a cookbook, after all):

*Ceviche with a kumquat and pineapple salsa, topped with grilled shrimp. The salsa sang with sweetness, a sneaky heat, and a lightness matched by the shrimp's smokiness.

*Small tacos of pork strips, smeared with guacamole. I have previously stated my aversion to avocados, but this guacamole didn't offend my pocho palate. A bit too much on each taco, though, and Walsh agreed.

*A big cut of pork, rubbed with some divine powder

*A couple of bites of steak, because I devoured most of said pork--a miracle, considering I much prefer beef to pork.

Walsh sent me off with yummy Texas Ranger and cowboy cookies--a perfect treat that I gobbled up on some damn tollway or other.

Moral of the story. Whenever fate takes you away from Orange County, email the alt-weekly food critic in whatever region you may be. They probably won't cook for you, but if the person truly understands his role as a food ambassador, they will give you a list of places to hit up, and you will be the better--and fatter-for it. Now, go buy Robb's books!


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