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Photo by Mikah Danae

Over the course of the next several weeks, thousands of Houstonians will head downtown to watch the Houston Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker. While the ballet will undoubtedly leave attendees dreaming of dancing sugar plums and other sweet treats, an EaDo pizzeria has partnered with four of the company’s dancers to create two special pies.

Vinny’s worked with the performers to create pizzas named for the story’s hero, the Nutcracker prince, and its villain, the Rat King. The restaurant will donate a portion of sales to the Lauren Anderson Young Dancer Scholarship Fund, which supports artists that reflect the rich diversity that shapes Houston as a community.

“We’re huge fans of the Houston Ballet and everything they do for the community, as they share in our affinity for creating memories through hospitality and art,” Agricole Hospitality co-owner Vincent Huynh said in a statement. “Pizza is for everyone, and it’s exciting to show off our fresh and high-quality ingredients in a creative and festive way.”

Corps de Ballet dancers Saul Newport and Jack Wolff created the Nutcracker pizza. Dubbed “Lucid Dreams,” it features tea-smoked pork loin, bacon, pecans, spinach and a coffee barbecue glaze over a sweet onion sauce and mozzarella.

Vinny's Nutcracker pizza The Lucid Dreams is topped with tea-smoked pork loin.Photo by Mikah Danae

Demi soloist Natalie Varnum and dancer Danbi Kim teamed up on the Rat King-themed “Seven Gold Crowns.” The vegetarian pizza combines mesquite-smoked Broccoli, red onion, spiced pecans, and a walnut pesto drizzle over a sweet potato puree and a combination of gold cheddar and provolone.t

Vinny's Nutcracker pizza That's mesquite-smoked broccoli.Photo by Mikah Danae

Both pizzas are available by-the-slice or as whole pies from November 22-December 31 for dine-in, to-go, or delivery. Diners will receive tokens to vote for their favorite pizza. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

“To be able to partner with a local restaurant to support the Lauren Anderson Young Dancer Scholarship is so important,” Varnum added. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to dance, and we are really grateful to Vincent and his team for this collaboration.”

Photo by Kathy Tran

Piping-hot pizzeria slinging signature, flavorful pies heats up Memorial with seventh Houston location

pizza zealots on the move

Memorial-area diners have a fresh new option for pizza. Dallas-based Zalat Pizza opened its seventh Houston-area location in Memorial at 12351 Kingsride Ln. on November 15.

Founded by University of Houston alum Khanh Nguyen, Zalat puts its own spin on familiar pizzas with creatively topped pies like the Nashville hot chicken with pickles, Elote (Srirancha, corn, lemon pepper), or the Pepperoni Masterclass (all-beef pepperoni, oregano, cracked black pepper, chopped garlic).

In addition, the restaurant makes all of its own dough and sauces — including its trademarked Srirancha, a combination of Sriracha and ranch — and bakes them in a traditional deck oven.

Diners may use the Zalat website to order takeout or delivery. It is also available via third-party delivery apps.

The restaurant takes pride in taking care of its employees, which it calls Zealots. They receive full benefits, including participating in a 401k. After a year with the company, employees are eligible for a special Zalat tattoo.

"We are thankful to Houstonians for welcoming our merry band of Pizza Zealots with open arms," Nguyen said in a statement. "Memorial City is yet another great area we are looking forward to serving our award-winning pizzas to.”

The new location joins outposts in places such as Midtown, the Heights, and Washington Avenue. They've also partnered with Kroger to open outposts at two of their stores. It opens at 11 am daily.

Barstool Sports founder-internet celeb Dave Portnoy tears into 2 Houston pies for famed One Bite Reviews

one bite in Houston

America’s most prolific pizza reviewer offered his opinion on two popular Houston pies this week. Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy sampled pizzas from The Gypsy Poet in Midtown and downtown staple Frank’s Pizza.

Portnoy, in town to promote the High Noon brand of boozy seltzers, is well known for his One Bite Pizza Reviews. To date, he’s reviewed hundreds of restaurants all over the country on a one to 10 scale. Restaurants that score an eight or better can count on an influx of business from his 4.4 million Instagram followers, 2.7 million Twitter followers, and almost 770,000 Youtube subscribers.

Unable to make it to Gypsy Poet in person, Portnoy has it delivered approximately one mile to the Spec’s in Midtown. Typically, Portnoy reviews pizzas fresh out of the oven, but Gypsy Poet’s pizza takes about 10 minutes to reach him.



Initially, he regards the pizza skeptically, but the local favorite wins him over. “Wow,” he says. “Pizza’s really good.”

He awards it a 7.8 “with a legit chance to be in the eights” if he had eaten it hot. Owners Vanessa Fernandez and Cesar Monticelli told Fox 26 they’ve received an influx of orders since the review debuted Monday night.

Frank’s, unfortunately, doesn’t fare as well. “This is drunk pizza. What are people doing at 2:30 pm on a Thursday acting like this is the best delicacy in the history of the world? Come on, Houston,” Portnoy declares.

“Frank’s is a 5.4,” he concludes. “I cannot lie.”



With the Astros in the World Series, perhaps Portnoy will return and sample a few more pies. Given his affinity for New York-style slices, perhaps he’d enjoy Pizaro’s, Romano’s, or, if he doesn’t mind a bit of a drive, Energy Corridor favorite Brother’s.

Photo by Kathy Tran

Dallas-based pizzeria bringing 2 new locations to Houston Kroger stores

a powerful pizza partnership

A rapidly expanding, Dallas-based pizza chain has partnered with one of America's largest grocery chains to continue growing as quickly as possible. Zalat Pizza will begin opening pizzerias inside Kroger stores, and Houston has been selected as the pilot market.

The first Zalat-in-a-Kroger will open this Friday, October 21 at Kroger’s Cypress Towne Lake Marketplace supermarket. A second restaurant will open in December at the Conroe Marketplace. More locations will follow in 2023.

"As we continue to promote Kroger as a destination for superior food offerings, the opportunity to collaborate with Zalat Pizza, one of the hottest rising stars in the restaurant industry, was very appealing to us,” Kroger executive Garret Fairchild said in a statement. “We believe that offering customers convenient pickup and on-demand delivery access to Zalat’s delicious, handmade, New York-style pizza creations will be a much-welcomed addition to our local Kroger communities.”

Founded in 2015 by University of Houston alum Khanh Nguyen, Zalat puts its own spin on familiar pizzas with creatively topped pies like the Nashville hot chicken with pickles, Elote (Srirancha, corn, lemon pepper), or the Pepperoni Masterclass (all-beef pepperoni, oregano, cracked black pepper, chopped garlic).

In addition, the restaurant makes all of its own dough and sauces — including its trademarked Srirancha, a combination of Sriracha and ranch — and bakes them in a traditional deck oven. Overall, Zalat has opened six Houston-area locations since late 2021.

"Kroger is the largest grocery retailer in the world with over 2,500 locations among its many iconic brands, and we are elated to partner with them on this project," Nguyen added. "We are especially excited that Kroger is interested in us because of our best-of-class quality and dedication to our craft. Our model has always been about maintaining the highest levels of execution at large scale."

Zalat isn't the only restaurant working in partnership with Kroger. Acres Homes institution Burns Original BBQ has opened locations in three Houston-area stores.

Photo by Emily Jaschke

Beard Award-winning pizza star dishes on his Netflix time and EaDo Throwdown, plus hottest Houston food news

what's eric eating episode 260

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chef Chris Bianco talks to CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler about his career. The conversation begins with Bianco, who won the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2022, talking about the Southern Smoke Festival. He'll serve pizza at the festival's East Downtown Throwdown on October 23 (tickets are still available).



From there, Sandler asks Bianco about his participation in Netflix's documentary series Chef's Table: Pizza. Released in September, the episode provides a detailed look at both the chef's professional accomplishments and personal struggles. Sandler asks Bianco what he thinks about the episode now that he's had a chance to view it, including the praise from food writers Ed Levine and Brett Anderson.

"Brett and Ed have said kind things about me, and I'm grateful for them," Bianco says. "I always said, I can tell you who I want to be, but only you can tell me who I am. I'm grateful they had those kind things to say, but I only take it as a responsibility to not let you down. I don't want to be the person that you saw that doesn't live up to that expectation in real life."

The conversation covers more lighthearted topics, too. Bianco shares the story of how got into the tomato business. Known for his devotion to the Phoenix Suns, Sandler asks the chef about sports podcaster Bill Simmons joking that he might be the team's next general manager. After telling the story of how he became a fan of the team, he drops a memorable quip.

"Bill Simmons, first of all, I love him. He's a dear friend and a nut. For anyone who's going to buy the Suns, I hope they're a great humanitarian, a great leader, a great communicator to the community and others. I've got about $600 burning a hole in a coffee can. That's probably about as deep as my pockets go."

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Matt Harris discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Cali, a new restaurant that will serve dishes from Trap Kitchen and other California restaurants; Dallas-based sports bar BoomerJack's plans to open two Houston-area locations; and Hungry's opening a third location in Tanglewood.

In the restaurants of the week segment, Sandler and Harris share first impressions of Lagniappe Kitchen & Bar, the Louisiana-inspired restaurant that recently opened in the former Revival Market Space. They also share thoughts on a preview pop-up held by the chefs of Baso, a Spanish-inspired restaurant opening in the Heights next year.

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Subscribe to "What's Eric Eating" on Apple podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. Listen to it Saturday at noon on ESPN 97.5.

Courtesy of Fat Boy's Pizza

The skinny on a Fat Louisiana pizzeria heading to Houston, plus cutting-edge sushi in Bellaire

What's Eric Eating Episode 257

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Gabe Corchiani joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Fat Boy's Pizza. The Louisiana-based pizzeria plans to open its first Houston-area location this December in Richmond at The Grand at Aliana, a development at the intersection of W. Airport Boulevard and the Grand Parkway.




The conversation begins with Corchiani discussing his decision to open Fat Boy's after a successful career in the world of coin-operated gaming. After encountering 30-inch pies at a pizzeria in Miami, he worked with a chef to develop the version that has become Fat Boy's signature. Selling such massive pizzas also allows the restaurant to tout itself as serving the "world's biggest pizza slice."

At a time when many pizzerias have shifted their focus towards to-go diners, Fat Boy's remains a dine-in experience. Each restaurant has an arcade to entertain children of all ages, and locations feature both expansive patios for outdoor dining and a full range of wine, beer, and cocktails. Sandler asks Corchiani about the other things the restaurant does to encourage diners to stick around.

"We're very service-oriented. We greet guests when they come in the door," he says. "You order from a menu board. We bring the food out to you. We make sure you get touched at least once out there to see if you need anything. We're friendly. That's what we bank on."

Listen to the full episode to learn more about the restaurant's signature "2ft challenge" that rewards people with a gift card if they can finish a massive slice of pizza in under seven minutes. Corchiani also provides some insight into other Houston neighborhoods that Fat Boy's is eyeing as it expands into the Houston market.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Linda Salinas discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Lyric Market's announcement of the nine vendors that will occupy that food hall when it opens this fall; restaurateur Bill Floyd opening Real Agave in a downtown office building; and how Black Page Brewing will fit in to Houston ever-evolving craft beer scene. The segment concludes with the two friends discussing the highs and lows of their recent experiences attending pop-up dining events.

In the restaurant of the week segment, Salinas and Sandler share first impressions of Aya Sushi. They find a lot to like about the newly opened Bellaire restaurant, praising its knowledgable service, thoughtful beverage offerings, and chef Yoshi Katsuyama's well-executed menu.

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Subscribe to "What's Eric Eating" on Apple podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. Listen to it Saturday at noon on ESPN 97.5.

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Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

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Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Sugar Land as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

As for Greater Houston, Santa's bag could be a mixed bag, with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling far behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630
  • Fort Worth, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

Spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, CT with a budget of only $211.