Monday, February 21, 2011

Dinner Report: Joey's Surf N' Turf in Devine...UPDATE

Prompted by a conversation with a lady we met at the Rodeo, I suddenly had catfish on my mind and a recommendation for a place in Devine that has a Friday evening fish fry.  That place was called Charlie's II and we were off to find it.  The only problem was, it was Monday, not Friday, and when we found the place, it was closed.  It's funny how these things work out though, because as I was making a turn around the block, a festive colored building caught my eye and there appeared to be fish involved.
Joey's Surf N' Turf looked like a reasonable alternative for a Valentine's Day dinner and importantly, another place we had not tried.
 Like most of the other restaurants in this area, Joey's is fairly small.  Inside, the long room was covered in 80's posters and album covers.  A small TV was playing a Katherine Heigl movie to add to the Valentines Day atmosphere (and people seem to be watching it as if we were all sitting in the living room eating Swanson's atop TV trays) until a cook from the back came out and started flipping the channels.  Only the most romantic places for my wife.
They were serving up a Valentine's special but considering that we had spent the day gorging ourselves on fried fair food, we were going to try to keep it light.  My wife ordered a fish platter that included some sort of white fish and shrimp served with Cole slaw and fries.  Both the fish and shrimp were fine, though we kept thinking that they had come directly from the frozen section at HEB.  In other words, there was nothing that would make you say, "Wow, the cook at Joey's really has a way with fish!"  The fries were okay.
I had catfish on my mind and so when my plate arrived, I was really hoping for nuggets,but got the big huge single fillet.  Again, the taste was fine but I kept thinking that if we wanted to watch Katherine Heigl and eat "okay" fish, we could have sat at home and had some Long John Silvers imported from San Antonio.  The onion rings were okay.  The slaw was fine.

I think I need to be a more assertive diner, asking details about what I'm going to get with my order, though not assertive enough to cause a cook to want to spit in my food.  Nothing against Joey's at all, I just need to find out if I'm getting some catfish nuggets the way I like them or if they are going to serve up a plank of fish pulled from a bag in the freezer.  

The good news is, Joey's menu includes burgers, and lots of 'em. The menu shows 23 different versions including things like The Dirty Chihuahua, The Big Sloppy, The Big Clucker, and The Ray Burger which is 4 pounds of pure beef and 2 pounds of fries.  Call Adam Richman, STAT!

Needless to say, we'll make a return trip to check out the burgers but I'm pretty sure we'll continue the search for a local catfish emporium.


Well that didn't take long.  My wife says that my handling of Joey's was a bit harsh.  I don't think I have said anything negative aside from the fact that the Surf side of the restaurant was not remarkable.  It was not bad, just nothing to write home about.

Well, with this being a Federal Holiday (Happy President's Day everyone) I was not required to leave the house for work today.  After doing lots of manual labor around the yard, I needed some burger action and Joey's selection was on my mind.  I am so glad we went back.
In spite of the huge selection, Eva only wanted a plain quarter pound cheeseburger.  Right off the bat, the grilled Texas toast and gooey cheese on a fresh handmade patty snapped any lingering doubts.  The mayo and mustard came in little tubs rather than packets and I liked that.
 Out of all the selections (23), I ordered The Big Sloppy.  This picture simply does not do justice to the sloppiness nor the awesomeness of this half pound gut buster.  The bacon was not some processed thin little thing, it looked like there may be a pig wandering around in the kitchen missing a limb.  The burger was loaded with grilled mushrooms, yummy grilled jalapenos and Cheddar cheese and topped with some what I suspect is, freshly made chili versus out of a can.  I made several attempts at eating this thing like a regular burger, but even cut in half, I resorted to a fork to finish things.  Please don't ask for me to turn in my man card; I had a clean T-shirt on and did not want to completely soil the front with chili, jalapeno juice and bacon drippings.
 This is a clear case of someone getting it right when it comes to making a burger.  There is nothing gourmet about it, just a guy in a kitchen fighting small grease fires and serving it up hot.  That friends, makes Joey's a Tasty Treat, just order up one of the burgers and skip the fish.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let's Rodeo (Eat) San Antonio...

Every year on Valentine’s Day (or close to it) we like to go to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.  We don’t actually go to the rodeo itself or even participate in the showing of stock, but we do like to go on what is basically a shopping trip hoping to find free give away items (a cup of fruit, a sample of peanut butter on a folded half tortilla), overpriced drinks and deep fried food.  Yes, we have had chicken fried bacon and lived to tell about it.

Monday was such an incredible day given the cold weather we have had recently, you couldn’t blame a guy for taking off early from work and swapping slacks and a tie for jeans and some boots and heading out to San Antonio’s East Side to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air, and artery clogging vittles. 
Since it was lunch, we tried to keep things fairly healthy.  Chicken on a stick sounds fun and when you add on the secret ancient Chinese dipping grease, you could eat a whole one and be hungry for more in an hour.
It looks as though the grounds have been modified to accommodate more circus food vendors.  The huge Monster Burger stand came equipped with a recurring DJ voice imploring hungry people to eat one (a Monster Burger).  Perhaps another time.
Instead, we went with another healthy choice and had the funnel cake.  It tastes like a biscuit covered with powdered sugar if you care to know the truth.  But we ate it all.  And licked our fingers.
One of the free give-aways was a Vlasic dill pickle spear.  I ate that too, and then posed with the stork. Chicken, funnel cake and pickles, that’s a solid lunch selection if I’ve ever seen one.

As we were looking through the various shops on the Rodeo grounds, we stopped and made a purchase from the Fiesta Store booth.  Long story short, we ended up meeting a nice lady that lives out here in Natalia who was happy to provide us with information to many of our pressing questions.  Most importantly, of course, where can I get a good piece of catfish?

You'd probably think we were total pigs if I told you that after we spent time at the rodeo navigating through powdered sugar, we took a drive to Devine looking for a restaurant named Charlie's II.  So I'll save that for another post...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cool Mailbox...

We took a short drive looking for a Nursery we saw advertised on a bulletin board at the Lytle HEB and after we found it, decided to take the back roads of Atascosa County to get back home.  You could so toss a dead body out in the fields along these roads probably never to be found, and that makes the drive along the winding, zig-zag turns a little more interesting.  We were never more than a mile or two off of I-35, but at times, it seemed like we were in one of those movies where the people in the theater are yelling at the screen "Turn around! Go back!"  I'm sure most of the compounds we drove by are owned by hard working folks that don't want to be bothered and there is no reason to believe they are cooking up Meth or holding a cellar full of unfortunate hitchhikers who just got into the wrong pick-up truck, but that didn't stop Eva from checking to make sure the doors were locked more than once.
Anyway, we have identified at least a few roads we have no need to travel down again, but during the trip, we found one interesting gem.  I like the creative use of old stuff, like a bicycle for a mailbox.  And there were no signs of missing mailmen or hitchhikers, so that was a bonus.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lunch Report: JJ's Country Store in Cotulla...

We decided that it has been at least 12 or 13 years since the last time we made a trip down to Laredo so we could cross the border into Mexico and do a little shopping and such.  We stopped going, not because of the violence you hear about these days, but because of NAFTA.  Really, any of the blankets, Mexican dresses, and huge bottles of vanilla that could be purchased fairly cheaply on the other side of the border were suddenly available for the same price at Market Square in San Antonio.  Only when you see it in San Antonio, you realize it is a bunch of touristy crap that you don't need anyway.  I mean, can you imagine me in a Mexican dress? 
But one of the real highlights of our trips down to the border were a stop in Cotulla, a small town about an hour from here and a gas station, bar and diner called JJ's Country Store.  The mascot for JJ's was a Jackrabbit with deer antlers.  
On the way down to Cotulla, we would stop and grab breakfast.  Not just some tacos but good pancakes, eggs and bacon.  Then, after a long day of shopping in Nuevo Laredo, we would stop in Cotulla on the way home to grab dinner.  I know they have a full menu of food, but I recall getting the bacon cheese burger or even the chili cheese burger and just loving every bite of it.  I can't tell you how many people over the years I have recommended JJ's to when they asked where they should stop during a trip to the border.  
Sadly, this is one of those times where the fond memories of a good burger would have been better left untouched.  Don't get me wrong, the place still looks the same inside.  In fact, this picture on the wall may very well have been collecting dust 25 years ago.  
We recognized the rustic design with implements and deer busts hanging on the walls, and for all I know, the table cloth on our table could have been original.  The place may have the look of a lower end hunting lodge but it was clean and folks seemed friendly, and those are always positive things.  While waiting for our order, we overheard some people having a conversation between two tables talking about how crowded the place usually is and that they were lucky to find the parking lot fairly empty.  To me, that was another positive thing, an indication that the place is still busy all the time.
But then we got our burgers.  Eva had just a regular cheese burger with a side of onion rings.  I'm not gonna lie, I love me a greasy burger and the shiny bun is an indication that there was either some grease involved in the toasting action.  The problem was, the grease had clearly been used for cooking corn tortillas and everything, the onion rings, the fries, the burgers, the buns, all had an overwhelming taste of old oil.  

This is my bacon cheese burger and the fries.  Sure, it looks reasonable, but the taste would have been great had everything not been ruined with the ugly oil.  Bacon should not taste like corn tortillas.  Lettuce and mayonnaise should not make me think of Frito's. 

To all of you who have stopped in there on my recommendation, hopefully you either ignored my suggestions or you got in while the cooking oil was still fresh.   Needless to say, we were both extremely disappointed, not so much that we drove an hour for crappy food, but because of fond memories we had of JJ's.  

Well, since we were there anyway...  During our many trips over the years, we had never bothered to do anything more than pull off of I-35, pull into JJ's and eat, then get right back on I-35.  Today, we decided to drive into the town of Cotulla and look around.  
 Certainly it is not a tourist destination, but Cotulla does offer a few interesting sites.  There was a community park with a large building under construction.  I couldn't tell if it was new construction or the rehab of an older building, but the design looked old.
 The main street had several different businesses and eateries. Of course, there were some other buildings that had probably seen their better days back when old Joe Cotulla was around.  But from what we could see on our short drive around before heading back to Natalia, the town offered some promising improvements.
From Cotulla back to our house was just an hour, thanks to the fine thinking folks of TXDOT and the increased speed limit all the way back to Devine.  And that made the trip just a bit more enjoyable given the disappointment of JJ's. 

Can you think of a place that you would drive an hour to grab a burger at?  Can you think of a place that used to be wonderful and now it just really sucks?  I'd love to know about both!  Click the little comment button below and share with your friends, won't you?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Construction Project in 3 Minutes...

I had grand visions of putting together a nice video utilizing Pinnacle Studio and I even went as far as moving several Gigs of pictures into a project, but unfortunately, I just don't have the time right now to do it justice.  But, Windows Movie Maker is a fairly quick and efficient substitute, so I went the easy way.
Here you have, our construction project in 3 minutes.  By the way, the music is from the Sixteen Candles Movie Soundtrack and is by Kajagoogoo.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


When we finally got our Jacuzzi up and running, we had to install the gazebo over it to keep the mosquitoes out.  Of course, not many mosquitoes this time of year.
At any rate, just as we were declaring ourselves finally settled in, we had our first really big weather event.  In what my wife described as a loud crash early in the morning (I was out of town at the time), our fancy little gazebo went flying around the back patio and crashed in front of the new garage.  Note to self: When there are three holes for anchoring down each corner post, fill each of them with screws.
So, proof that we just aren't that smart, instead of going with something a little more industrial, we ran right back out to Home Depot and grabbed another one of these screened-in gazebos.  Oh sure, I have filled all the applicable holes with screws right into the cement patio, but I just have this ugly feeling that something along the lines of 4X4 posts would hold things in place a lot better.  Ultimately, I think we will build a screened room around the jacuzzi.  For now though, we are crossing our fingers and hoping that the wind won't unceremoniously decorate our yard with another pile of cheap mangled metal and screen.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ouch: That's Gonna Leave a Mark...

I am almost embarrassed to tell this story – not because I did anything humiliating or because of the fact that I was somewhat responsible for the event – but mostly because I would hate for people to think that I enjoy laughing at the expense of others.  I’m not saying that I don’t occasionally laugh at the expense of others; I’m just saying that I’d prefer that not be the specific quality you recognize me by. 

As if San Antonio is not cold enough, I spent Monday and Tuesday up around Baltimore where I had meetings in a building I had not been to before.  In the area, it had been snowy and in fact, a light sleet was coming down, but the roads were clear and generally, driving was not an issue.  

I was traveling with two colleagues and riding in the front passenger seat when we pulled into a parking lot.  There was a gentleman walking from his car towards the building and the driver of our rental suggested I ask the guy if he could point us to the building we were looking for.  We pulled up about twenty-five feet from the man who had his back to us when I lowered the window and politely yelled, “Excuse me.

I do not have a harsh voice or even what you would consider a strong voice.  I don’t necessarily yell and I don’t think that there was anything to be startled about in my tone.  The area we were in was not a high crime area as far as I know, so it wouldn’t seem unreasonable to ask for someone’s assistance from a rental car, nor should a pedestrian fear offering any sort of assistance.  No, I have no reason to believe that it was anything more than ice and timing that caused this event.  The poor gentleman I politely called out to Tuesday morning turned his head abruptly in my direction and simultaneously lost his footing causing his feet to take flight out from under himself and, in Wyle E. Coyote fashion, ran in mid air for what seemed like several seconds before unceremoniously landing flat on his backside.

This alone may not have been so bad, after all, who among us has not experienced a bad morning where we lose coolness points by tripping in front of total strangers?  No, what made it bad was when our car load of onlookers suddenly sung in unison that “Oooohhhhhhhh” sound that you might expect from a sports bar audience watching replays of knock-out punch caused several other people walking, presumably co-workers of the falling pedestrian, to look back and see the man laying on the hard asphalt.  Now that is embarrassing.

Of course, I didn’t jump out of the car to go assist the poor guy; I mean, besides being cold, it was clearly slippery and dangerous out there.  But as the man picked himself up off the ground, I did offer a slightly subdued “sorry ‘bout that,” before asking if he knew where the particular building was.  The man was clearly startled.  He looked at us for a second, and then just said, “I have no idea.”  I think he was probably in shock and some pain but had no intention of sharing his fractured hip or bruised ego with any of us.  And once again, all I could do was offer a quick, “are you okay?” but being late for a meeting in a building we couldn’t find, we drove on.  

As we drove past the group of guys staring at their fallen office mate, I sensed a look of disgust coming from one of them toward our rental vehicle.  It was as if we had violated some universally known snow rule that you never ask for directions from somebody walking on ice.  Hell, who knew there was such a protocol?

As soon as the window was rolled up, the three of us in the car busted out laughing, then it was as if we caught ourselves all at once and started making helpful statements like, “Gee, poor guy.” Or “Wow, I hope he didn’t tear an ACL.”  But of course, our kind statements were followed by more laughter. 

Note to self:  Carry video camera when driving around icy office buildings.  Also, be careful on ice.