Photo by Ezume Images/Getty Images

Over the course of my career as Houston’s leading discount restaurant critic, more than 1,000 fast food burger and pizza reviews, I never critiqued a sandwich that wasn’t available at every street corner drive-thru.

Let alone a sandwich that I had to assemble and cook in my professional test kitchen at home. But, here we are.

A friend visited New Jersey recently on vacation, came back and asked me, “Have you ever had a Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich? Everybody I met in New Jersey raved about them.”

Ever had one? I grew up in New Jersey — I practically lived on them.

But here we are … in Houston, where nobody knows about Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches. In fact, once you escape the borders of New Jersey, Taylor Ham is pretty much unknown. Poor every other state.

The story behind the sandwich
Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches are to New Jersey people what McMuffins are to the rest of the sadly deprived country. There’s just something about two slices of Taylor Ham, eggs, and cheese on a Kaiser roll that makes breakfast the most important meal of the day. (At least the most delicious.) It became the Official State Sandwich of New Jersey in 2016,

What is Taylor Ham? It’s processed pork flavored with spices, sweet-smoked and formed into a salami-style log, which Jersey people call a chub.
There’s an episode of MTV’s Jersey Shore where Snooki and The Situation get into an argument. Snooki calls it “Taylor Ham,” while The Situation says “Taylor Pork Roll.” It won’t remind you of Plato debating Socrates at the Lyceum in ancient Greece. (Or even Beavis and Butt-head.)

Even famed director Kevin Smith weighed in:

Taylor Ham (I’m with Snooki) was invented in 1856 by state senator John Taylor. He introduced it as Taylor’s Prepared Ham. However, Taylor had to rebrand his product because it didn’t qualify as ham after passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Your tax dollars at work.

The new name: John Taylor’s Pork Roll. However, spunky north Jersey people continue to call it Taylor Ham. The rest of the state adapted to the new name. That’s how you can tell if somebody is from north or south Jersey – if they call it Taylor Ham or Pork Roll. You could just ask where they’re from, too.

Taylor today
Today, Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches are sold by the millions in every New Jersey diner, greasy spoon and bagel shop. I used to get some from a guy cooking them on the street in front of the Prudential Building in Newark.

It’s startling how a food item can be so dominant in one state and practically nobody’s heard of it anywhere else. It’s like New Jersey says, “We’ll share Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra and Mike Trout with the world, but our Taylor Ham sandwiches ain’t going nowhere.”

So when I was asked, “Have you ever had a Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich?” – that pushed my obsessive button. I had to have one again.

Hoffman hams it up
Of course, I tried our local supermarkets first. A couple say on their website that they carry Taylor Ham, but good luck. “It’s at our deli counter,” I was told. Nope, it’s not.

I gave up fast — it’s my thing. I am told that if you look hard enough, you can find it in Houston. The supermarket will deliver it to your house, if they have it, or when they get it in. If you know a restaurant here that makes Taylor Ham sandwiches, let me know.

It’s easier and less gas just to order Taylor Ham online from Jersey food distributors, like American Butcher Store or Jersey Pork Roll. You can get a 1-pound chub for $10.99, a box of four 6-ounce pre-sliced packs for $17.59, or a 3-pound chub for $31.99 plus shipping. I promise: You will love this sandwich.

I followed the blueprint at home: Taylor Ham, eggs, cheese, butter, salt and pepper, and a roll. I couldn’t find a Kaiser roll so I subbed a brioche bun. I may be onto something there. (Editor’s note: Oh yeah? At what point do we alert Eric Sandler?)

I threw two slices of Taylor Ham into a frying pan, making small cuts around the edges so they wouldn’t curl up like pepperoni on a pizza. I made the eggs over-easy (personal choice). I buttered the brioche bun and toasted it. Because there are no mystery, proprietary, or unavailable ingredients, you can make a Taylor Ham sandwich at home to exact New Jersey specs and it will taste identical.

My ex-pat Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich was perfect, as delicious as any diner down the Jersey Shore where you take a napkin and wipe the silverware before you eat.

Nostalgia is expensive, but still cheaper than a ticket to Newark Airport.

Behold the Offical State Sandwich of New Jersey.

Photo by Ezume Images/Getty Images
Behold the Offical State Sandwich of New Jersey.
Photo courtesy of The Houstonian

The Houstonian Club invites diners into 'The Kitchen' with new restaurant

New Look, New Menu

Whether you're visiting from out of town or you're a long-time Houston local, The Houstonian Club's renovation is something to get excited about — especially if you're into food.

Currently in progress, The Kitchen at The Houstonian Club is the new 6,000-square-foot restaurant and bar that's part of The Houstonian property’s $65 million master-plan project.

It's a dynamic indoor-outdoor concept with separate adult and family-friendly dining spaces. The respective decks will provide al fresco dining and overlook the beautiful, relaxed environment of the hotel's resort pool complex.

The Kitchen has been designed to be a central location and gathering place exclusive to members and guests, where they can connect and unwind over classic meals.

It will offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner service with unique and comforting dishes based around proteins, grains, bowls, salads, and soups, all with thoughtful and innovative touches by executive chef Marcus Hollander.

"I believe my biggest influence in The Kitchen is to offer a scratch-made menu so that every ingredient is understood," says Hollander. "Our full-scale menu offers great, healthy options such as acai bowls for a healthy breakfast, locally sourced greens for our salads, homemade breads, and a la carte steaks and seafood."

The restaurant's new bar will offer seasonal beverages including local craft beer on tap and a cocktail list curated by a professional mixologist, including "mocktail" options. The wine list will feature a variety of choices from California, Oregon, and abroad.

This is all part of Phase 2 of the club’s remodel, which once complete will alter nearly 70 percent of the facility and add 10,000 square feet, for an impressive total of 185,000 square feet.

And if this impressive renovation wasn't enough to make you want to check out the hotel, perhaps being named the No. 1 resort hotel in Texas in Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards will.

The Houstonian Club's first-class amenities and commitment to service have earned it the honorable distinction of being a Platinum Club of America.

This places it in the top 5 percent of private clubs and only 1 of 20 athletic clubs in the nation with this recognition. The Houstonian Club is the only Platinum Club in Houston.

To see the new spaces and amenities, to apply for membership, or for tours and access to the club, you can make an appointment only by calling 713-316-2729.

Who says you have to choose?

Photo courtesy of The Houstonian
Who says you have to choose?
Photo by Eric Sandler

Montrose Mexican staple plans new breakfast joint with caviar, cocktails, and chilaquiles

say yes to breakfast martinis

“He brainwashed me.”

Ana Beaven isn’t one to mince words. The owner of Cuchara, the popular Montrose restaurant that serves dishes found in Mexico City, is explaining how her business partner Charlie McDaniel convinced her to open Cucharita, a new breakfast concept that’s scheduled to debut next month.

Originally, Beaven says she only planned to find a commercial kitchen space that could support Cuchara’s growing catering business. When the nearby Pepper Twins space became available, its proximity to Cuchara opened up the possibility of using the kitchen and its dining room as a space for private dinners, guest chefs, and other happenings, but McDaniel had a grander vision.

“Every time we go to Mexico City all he wants to do is eat breakfast,” Beaven explains. “He said, ‘let’s do a breakfast place.’ He brainwashed me. I said okay. That’s the whole idea of having a coffee shop with breakfast.”

Cucharita will be open six days a week with a menu that includes six varieties of pan dulce along with other pastries such as cakes and toasts. A range of egg dishes will include a weekly chilaquiles special. Beaven also plans to serve a weekly torta special, pozoles and other soups, and tamales. Critically, none of the dishes will overlap with any of Cuchara’s brunch menu.

Beyond those staples, she’s developed a special caviar service that pairs the delicacy with dishes such as mini corn cakes, macarons, and accompaniments like creme fraiche and chipotle cream. She notes that Centeōtl, the Aztec corn deity, would frequently be depicted with both corn and water elements, so the pairing has some historical roots.

“It’s my pride and joy,” she says. “It took us forever to find the right caviar, the right accoutrements, the right combinations of corn. We are sourcing corn from Mexico. For corn and caviar, we exported so many types of corn until we found the ones that are perfect.”

Beverage options will start with juices, agua frescas, and Cuchara’s own coffee blend. In addition, it will serve breakfast cocktails including a house margarita, paloma, and coffee cocktails with Mexican liqueurs. A breakfast martini will feature cheese-stuffed olives and pickled onions.

“Cocktails for breakfast is what has me the most excited. We developed this Bloody Mary mix that’s fantastic. It’s sweet, so we’re calling it a dulce Maria,” Beaven adds.

Cucharita will offer another surprise to its patrons. From time to time, it will operate as a speakeasy. When the neon spoon is lit, customers can stop by for cocktails and live music in a refined atmosphere.

“In Mexico, we have a lot of speakeasies, and I love it,” she says. “What I want to do with the speakeasy is advertise it to an extent but not really. So it becomes private. It’s mellow. It’s not going to become a scandal.”

Courtesy of Whataburger

Texas favorite Whataburger heats up breakfast with new spicy chicken biscuit

that's hot

As if Texans needed more reasons to love our homegrown fast-food favorite, Whataburger just announced three hot new menu items.

Fans of the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit will rejoice in the addition of an updated version: the Spicy Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit has the same elements from the beloved breakfast fave — a crispy breaded chicken strip and buttery, flaky biscuit — plus, you guessed it, a little extra spice.

“Adding a little spice to our famous honey butter balances the sweetness and creates an exciting new flavor,” said Rich Scheffler, Whataburger Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, in a release. “Our late night and breakfast customers are in for a treat.”

The new biscuit will be available from 11 pm-11 am for a limited time at Whataburger locations.

Also joining the limited-time lineup are the new Southern Bacon Double and Southern Bacon Chicken Sandwich. They're inspired by the elements of a classic Southern backyard barbecue, Whataburger says in a release, and both feature a new Southern-style sauce and a crunchy slaw "that pair perfectly with crisp, smoky bacon to make the Whataburger Southern Bacon Double and Southern Bacon Chicken Sandwiches pop,” Scheffler said.

Also, the longtime favorite Dr Pepper Shake will return to the Whataburger menu for an extended time — especially good news as temperatures start to soar.

Quaint Hill Country property checks in as the top bed-and-breakfast in Texas

hill country haven

There’s nothing like cozying in at a comfy bed-and-breakfast spot where you can curl up with a novel or savor what the host is whipping up for the morning meal. The Eat This, Not That! website proclaims that the top spot in Texas for relishing that type of atmosphere sits in the heart of the Hill Country.

In a rundown of the best B&B in each state, the website crowns Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast in Fredericksburg as No. 1 in Texas. (Reviewers on Tripadvisor rate Magnolia the best among 51 B&Bs in Fredericksburg.)

Of course, a website focusing on food dishes up the 411 on Magnolia’s menu.

Breakfast starters at the five-room B&B include cinnamon apple coffeecake and orange cranberry scones, along with coffee, tea, or juice, and a plate of fresh fruit.

Among the entrees are sausage-and-egg casserole with sun-dried tomatoes, baked eggs with herbed goat cheese, and Italian scrambled eggs with prosciutto, mozzarella, and fresh herbs. French toast with warm peach compote, waffles with warm berry syrup, or banana raisin oatmeal pancakes accompany the egg dish. Each entree comes with a side of bacon, ham, or sausage.

The breakfast tables are draped with fine linens and set with fine china.

“Breakfast at the Magnolia House in Fredericksburg is an experience you won’t soon forget. It’s the perfect way to start your day,” the B&B boasts.

Guests can check into one of three traditional guest rooms, or one of two suites with a fireplace and private entrance. All five rooms at the antique-adorned B&B are stocked with signature toiletries, luxurious spa robes, and other amenities.

“Several rooms have antique soaking tubs where you can unwind after a busy day,” the B&B notes.

If you visit the Craftsman-style B&B — seven blocks from Fredericksburg’s Main Street — Eat This, Not That! advises checking out the koi pond and waterfall.

Photo courtesy of Cracker Barrel

The Pancake Kitchen by Cracker Barrel delivers pancakes to Houston all day

breakfast to your door

There's a familiar restaurant name now delivering pancakes to your door: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the family-dining restaurant chain, has launched a virtual concept called The Pancake Kitchen by Cracker Barrel, and it delivers breakfast all day.

The concept was first introduced in Los Angeles in 2021, and is now expanding to more than 100 Cracker Barrel locations in 2022, bringing it to 200 locations across the U.S., including the Houston area.

The Pancake Kitchen will serve pancakes and other breakfast favorites for delivery and pickup via DoorDash and Uber Eats.

The menu includes pancakes in five varieties:

  • buttermilk
  • blueberry
  • pecan
  • confetti
  • chocolate chip

Non-pancake options include biscuit beignets, a hash brown casserole, and a loaded hash brown casserole topped with diced ham and cheddar cheese. There's also bacon and sausage, and a side of fried apples, good on a pancake or good as a side.

The bestseller is the Classic Pancakes Bundle, with three pancakes and "100 percent pure natural syrup" - notice they don't say it's maple. It's $11.69.

In a statement, Cracker Barrel's Senior Director of Strategy and Innovation Matthew Schaefer says that these items are some of the chain's most popular items.

"The expansion of The Pancake Kitchen by Cracker Barrel is part of our plan to make it as easy and convenient as possible for guests to enjoy one of our most popular homestyle breakfast favorites – whether they want pancakes at breakfast, lunch or dinner time!" Schaefer says. "As the trend in online ordering and partnership with on-demand delivery platforms continues, we are excited to evolve our strategy and offerings to ensure our guests are able to satisfy their cravings for 'pancakes all flippin' day™'."

Wow, they even trademarked that phrase, smart thinking.

Cracker Barrel began investing in digital concepts in October 2021, starting with Chicken 'n Biscuits, its first virtual brand, which is now available in 500 locations across the U.S., including five around the Greater Houston area. The company also operates Cracker Barrel Kitchen, the anchor brand for these ghost kitchen outposts.

Those who spend $20 on pancakes will get a free order of Biscuit Beignets, which consists of buttermilk biscuit dough, deep-fried then tossed in cinnamon sugar and served with butter pecan sauce for dipping.

The locations in Texas where it's currently available are as follows:

  • League City: 231 Gulf Freeway South
  • Allen: 1323 N. Central Expy.
  • Benbrook: 8010 SW Loop 820
  • Buda: 550 Old San Antonio Rd.
  • Corpus Christi: 4229 South Padre Island Dr.
  • Denton: 4008 N I-35
  • Desoto: 1421 N Interstate 35 E
  • Grapevine: 2700 Grapevine Mills Pkwy
  • Lubbock: 5018 Milwaukee Ave.
  • Mesquite: 5304 N. Galloway Ave.
  • Midland: 3108 N Loop 250 West
  • San Antonio: 11030 I H 10 W
  • Temple: 3687 S General Bruce Dr.

The Pancake Kitchen is available from 8 am-9 pm daily.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Luxe plastic surgery center injects River Oaks with cutting-edge techniques, posh recovery suites, secret access, and more

A-list treatment

With the holiday season in full swing and many prepping for a new look for the new year, image-conscious Houstonians have a new option for cutting-edge cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery in one of Houston’s most elite neighborhoods.

Nuveau Plastic Surgery + Medical Aesthetics, a local leader in cosmetic medical procedures, has quietly opened a sleek new facility in River Oaks (3720 Westheimer Rd.). Owned and operated by renowned (and board-certified) plastic surgeon Dr. Edward Lee, the facility offers myriad reconstructive surgeries for men, women, and children, as well as beauty treatments, touch-ups, and more.

Aside from top-of-the-line technology, instrumentation, and treatments, the boutique center has personalized service and features to the tony RO crowd. A secret entrance ensures privacy for discreet clients, much like similar operations in Los Angeles and New York.

Another top-drawer feature: Tastefully appointed pre-op and post-op suites keep patients in-house, rather than having to leave posh treatment centers and head to crowded hospital rooms for recovery.

In keeping with Lee’s insistence on a medicine-first approach, anesthesia for patients is provided by Medical Anesthesia Associates, an MD-only group.

A cut above

Notably, the center places a primary focus on plastic surgery, which, for the uninitiated, has a clear distinction from cosmetic surgery. Randy Rakes, managing partner, tells CultureMap that it’s important for clients to understand the difference.

“You have to understand, you have to go through hundreds of hours of training and cases — face and the entire body — to get that board certification, and go through rigorous testing in order to meet that specification,” he says.

Why is that important? The industry, Rakes notes, is rife with practitioners such as “OBGYNs or dermatologists or people who have not really been trained in the art of plastic surgery, who take a class somewhere and learn how to do liposuction or a fat transfer — and then they're ‘experts’ in aesthetic surgery.”

That’s especially key when selecting a provider for highly invasive — and potentially serious — procedures such as facelifts, eyelid surgeries, tummy tucks, liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast lifts and augmentations, breast reconstruction, and more, Rakes adds.

In an era of Instagram beauty demands, more choosy clients are opting for streamlining facial features. To that end, Lee is one of a select few surgeons in the U.S. who regularly performs “V-Line '' surgery. The set of procedures, popularized in South Korea where Lee honed many of his skills, aim to narrow the width of the jawline and the face.

Aesthetics with an expert eye

Lee’s elegant, 5,500-square-foot center is adorned with CASA Houston designs, Italian-influenced finishes, and soothing elements evocative of a modern art museum or luxury spa. The facility houses a Visia Skin Analysis Studio and seven treatment suites aesthetic work such as Botox, microneedling, VI peels, Halo Laser Resurfacing, Moxi Non-Ablative Laser, Broad Band Light Photofacials, Coolsculpting, Emsculpt, and more.

Rakes says that his registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and estheticians are elite, by design, as he and Lee insist on credentials. “All of our injectors are licensed in the State of Texas,” he says. “Most places don't have that, the reason being is that they are much more highly skilled than a traditional, regular nurse injector. So they have a much higher skill set. The people who do our lasers and things of that nature have 10 to 15 years of experience, so clients know that they're getting the best possible treatment with the best possible devices — we own every medical device that's considered cutting edge in the industry.”

Facing forward

Rakes, a longtime medical industry processional with a keen eye for trends and technology, says that his clients aren’t just looking for traditional services, but new technologies and treatment, such as PRP and other regenerative therapies. “I think patients are kind of moving a little bit away from the traditional Hyaluronic fillers like Restylane and really looking for something with a more natural approach.”

His treatment teams stimulate collagen with fillers such as Radiesse, “and then we combine that with energy-based devices to even further lift the tissue and work as a synergy between using the injectable and the device, because the combination of both of those things give the patient the best possible results,” Rakes notes. Lee and Rakes also focus facial care on medical-grade skincare brands Alastin, Revision, and Elta MD.

A global scope

Aside from his board certification in plastic surgery, Lee has also trained in craniofacial and pediatric surgery. His medical mission work has taken him to Thailand, Haiti, and Cambodia, where he has performed surgeries for nonprofits such as Operation Smile and Smile Train for those in need.

Those in need of non-traditional treatments can also trust Lee, says Rakes, who points to Lee’s work in the cosmetic and plastic surgery-obsessed Korea. “Some of the Korean techniques are much more advanced than the techniques that are available here in the United States,” says Rakes. “Dr. Lee does a lot of things that other physicians here just don't do.”

Those interested should book early, Rakes advises, as the holiday and new year rush is in full swing. The center offers “pre-buying” slots where clients can reserve space and time. “We’ve been very busy,” says Rakes, noting the local celebs who’ve shared the work they’ve received there on social media. “I think people come here because they know they’re getting the very best treatment and results available.”

Photo courtesy of Nuveau PlasticSurgery + Medical Aesthetics

Nuveau's sleek River Oaks center boasts designs from CASA.

Beloved Houston urban farm toasts local culinary legend with new cooking courses and classroom


For longtime Houston food insiders, Peg Lee needs no introduction. A lifelong local culinary instructor, she has been a fixture in the food scene since the 1970s, where she (often humorously) led cooking classes at Houston Community College.

She was a no-brainer to found and direct Rice Epicurean's cooking school. And the newly launched Central Market made waves in 2001 by enticing her to launch its now wildly successful cooking school, which, thanks to Lee, has lured top national and international chefs and food names.

Along the way, Lee mentored now well-known chefs such as Robert Del Grande, Greg Martin, and Mark Cox.

Quite apropos, the Houston legend is now the namesake for a new cooking school in one of the city's most beloved urban green sanctuaries, Hope Farms. The Peg Lee Culinary Classroom in Hope Farms' Gathering Barn now hosts field trips, classes, tastings, and free cooking demonstrations for children and adults.

Locals can also book the charming space, spearheaded by Recipe for Success/Hope Farms founder Gracie Cavnar, for cooking parties and cooking classes for anywhere from four to 24 students. Those interested can find more information on classes, which center on Cavnar's passion for healthy eating, and more here.

As for the classroom, visitors can expect a white, farmhouse-style kitchen with custom cabinets and high-end appliances, all reflective of a home kitchen. Butcherblock countertops, matte black accents, and farm-made tables and more adorn the space, while a Wolf Induction cooktop, A GE Café Smart Five-in-One Wall Oven, and other state-of-the-art appliances get folks cooking.

Fittingly, classroom water is tied into the farm's new rainwater capture system for the ultimate in sustainability.

“Peg was one of my earliest mentors in the imagining and crafting of what Recipe for Success Foundation would become,” Cavnar noted in a statement. “Then, when we began programing, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work, helping us teach children to cook and bringing her many resources to help us raise money and awareness for our efforts. It is my deepest honor to pay her tribute with the naming of our classroom.”

New craft brewery bringing 'bold American beer,' Texas comfort food, live music, and more to Sugar Land

Sugar land's new craft brewery

Houston’s growing craft brewery scene will add a new outpost in Sugar Land. Talyard Brewing Co. recently began construction on a 15,000-square-foot production and tap room that will open in early 2024.

Located in Imperial, a massive mixed-use development on the site of the former Imperial Sugar refinery, Talyard will occupy a three-and-a-half acre site that will include a beer garden with shaded seating areas, pickle ball courts, a playground, and a stage for live entertainment.

Principals Keith Teague and Chuck Laughter are Sugar Land natives and neighbors who bring experience from the business world to Talyard. In a release, Teague says that intend to serve “bold American beer” paired with a food menu of Texas comfort food made from locally sourced ingredients.

“We want to push the boundaries of style and tradition by combining old practices and new,” Teague added.

Ultimately, the brewery’s 20-barrel brewhouse will be capable of producing 10,000 barrels per year. For now, brew master Sean Maloney is dialing in recipes on a test system. Formerly of 8th Wonder Brewing, Maloney has been working on the West Coast and recently finished the World Brewing Academy’s Master Brewer Program, administered by the Siebel Institute in Chicago and the Doemens Academy in Munich.

“As I’m sure is the case for many ventures like ours, the idea of starting a craft brewery was hatched over beers in the backyard,” Teague said. “Sean attended high school with Chuck’s son, and over the years, we’d see him at family gatherings during the holidays when he was visiting from the West Coast. Those backyard beer sessions turned into area brewery tours together, and eventually the idea of sharing our passion here locally was born.”

Talyard will add to Imperial’s extensive entertainment options. The area also includes Constellation Field, home to the Sugar Land Space Cowboys, a weekly farmers market, and the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center.