• BYO grilled cheese at Pinewood Café: Ham, tomato and brie on a sweet sourdoughbread.
    Photo by Sarah Rufca
  • Pinewood Cafe
    Photo via Pinewood Cafe/Facebook

Just to be clear, there is more on the menu at the new Pinewood Café inside Hermann Park than just grilled cheese. There are fresh salads with shaved meats and housemade dressings, filling wraps (I like the Americanized take on a banh mi) and even a decent burger at this patio and pup-friendly spot.

But there's something about a menu just for grilled cheese sandwiches — sandwiches that start at $4, I should add — that's just irresistible. Especially when owner Olivia Blair told me that she and another staffer, Amanda Uinn, were engaged in a battle over whose grilled cheese creation is better.

How better to make use of my extensive food-judging experience? To put it simply, it was on.

Uinn swears by a grilled cheese featuring brie, ham and tomato on sweet sourdough bread, which made it the early favorite as that combo would have been almost my exact order. It was a slightly gooey, more than slightly sweet version of the classic — subtle, yet elegant, and with the ham it tasted a little bit like a modified croque monsieur. The sweet sourdough is the same bread used as the burger bun, which is perhaps a better fit, since the sweetness, though nice, tended to push the other mild flavors around.

How better to make use of my extensive food-judging experience? To put it simply, it was on.

Blair's grilled cheese creation took a totally different path. Going for bold flavors, she started with a jalepeño cheddar bread and added chicken, pico de gallo, pepper jack and cheddar cheese. Gone was the sweetness, replaced with a cheesy mix of light spice that was more similar to a quesadilla. (Yes, I am versed in every culture's version of grilled cheese.) It was savory and delicious, with just enough heat and texture in the bread.

I'll probably still be putting brie in my sandwiches, but for this contest I had to give the edge to Blair and her savory, spicy, chicken grilled cheese. I'm curious to see if anyone can come up with some recipes with the more unexpected proteins — what kind of cheese goes with salmon?

Gruyére? Fontina? What's your perfect sandwich combination?

New year, new spot: Latin Bites moving to add booze and more seats

Foodie News

It's been a couple months since Latin Bites announced it planned a move to a bigger space in an easier-to-find location.

Although the owners originally planned to shutter the current Warehouse District space at the end of November, Latin Bites is now staying open until Dec. 18. That means a few more weeks to try for a premium dinner reservation, which has been a tough get since executive chef Roberto Castre won Eater's Houston Chef of the Year award.

The new Latin Bites, which will be located in Tanglewood in the former Rockwood Room spot, will offer much more floor space, plus a cebiche bar where customers can watch the chef prepare the signature dish — a Peruvian version of the classic sushi bar. (Early Latin Bites patrons might remember that there was a brief attempt at a cebiche bar when the restaurant first opened, but it was scrapped and replaced with more tables.)

The good news? A new liquor license means the new Latin Bites will have a menu of pisco specialties, including sours and margaritas. The bad news is that (probably) signals the end of Latin Bites' popular BYOB program. Latin Bites hopes to open the new location early in the new year.

Are you looking forward to the new Latin Bites, or will you (like the CultureMap staff) be missing its presence downtown?

Sugar Land gets cheesier: Jus' Mac opens second location, preps for more

Foodie News

Cloudy and breezy with highs in the low 60s? This is what we call mac and cheese weather.

Lucky for Sugar Land, it's also the opening day of the second location of Jus' Mac, the local eatery that sells 20 flavors of the comfort food.

The Sugar Land Jus' Mac is across the street from First Colony Mall, next to Skeeters in the former Cupcake Café space. Speaking to CultureMap in August, owner Patrick Alvarez said the larger space will allow them to experiment with new menu items and macaroni creations.

And the macaroni emporium isn't stopping in the Houston 'burbs. The Jus' Mac owners are already visiting Austin to scout for more locations.

Are you a Jus' Mac fan?

  • Pineapple upside down cakes are here again. Everywhere. Freaking. Where.
    Photo via Veronica's Cornucopia
  • Fresh from H-E-B
    Photo by Marene Gustin
  • Ooh La La's Piña colada cupcake
    Photo by Jordan Chan
  • The pineapple upside-down cake at BlackFinn
    Photo by Marene Gustin

The invasion of the pineapple upside down cakes! When retro foods make a majorcomeback

Food for Thought

You know how you haven’t thought about something in years? Like maybe a red VW Bug, and then suddenly you start seeing them everywhere?

That’s been me and pineapple upside down cakes lately.

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I ate, let alone saw, one of those desserts so popular in the early decades of the 20th century.

And now, here they are. Every. Freaking. Where.

Dad came home from walking around H-E-B’s Buffalo Market one day and said: “I almost bought a pineapple upside down cake. I haven’t had one in ages and it looked so good. But I was afraid I’d just eat the whole thing.”

Say what? A pineapple upside down cake?


Then the second one I ran across was at the new BlackFinn American Grille. Executive chef John Turner has added a few Houston dishes to the Midtown branch of this national chain, mostly some creative Tex-Mex turns and a pretty good chopped seafood salad. But when he offered dessert last week it was a pineapple upside down carrot cake with cream cheese whipped cream topping.

“Frankly, I’m surprised pineapple upside down cakes ever faded," O'Donnell says. "I think it’s a great dessert. Especially warm with vanilla ice cream on top!”

It was small, like a single serving size, topped (bottomed?) with one slice of canned pineapple and, yes, one bright red maraschino cherry.

“Why did you ever think of this?” I ask.

“Why not!” laughs Turner. “It just sounded like a cool idea.”

And, because these things always happen in threes, a few days later I get a box of cupcakes from Ooh La La delivered to celebrate the opening of Vanessa O’Donnell’s third location at Town and Country Village in Memorial.

I opened the box and . . .

No. There was no pineapple upside down cupcake in there. That would just be too serendipitous.

But, when I looked at the enclosed brochure one of the Friday special flavors at the dessert boutiques is called . . . No. Stop getting ahead of me. It is called a Pina Colada.

But, wait for it, the description of said cupcake is: Pineapple upside down cake topped with vanilla buttercream, toasted coconut and a maraschino cherry.

“We actually had a real pineapple upside down cupcake,” O’Donnell says. “But it was a four-step process to bake and it didn’t sell very well.” So she created the Pina Colada with the caramelized pineapple baked inside the cupcake. But it is topped with a bright red cherry.

“It has all the same flavors of the cake,” she says. “Frankly, I’m surprised pineapple upside down cakes ever faded. I think it’s a great dessert. Especially warm with vanilla ice cream on top!”

According to most food historians, upside down cakes — with fruit on the bottom and cake mix on top — were made in iron skillets over an open fire as far back as the Middle Ages. But it wasn’t until Jim Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company, now known as the Dole Company, developed a way to can and ship neat little pineapple slices that the pineapple upside down cake became a classic.

In 1925, the company sponsored a contest calling for canned pineapple recipes and 2,500 of the 6,000 entries were for pineapple upside down cakes. Apparently it got popular pretty fast.

I doubt the following recipe from the Dole Company website was one of those early 2,500 ones but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t changed too much from the 1920s. Except they used real butter, which I suggest over margarine anyway. It makes a very festive dessert for company this time of year and if you’re real lazy, like me, you can always use a boxed yellow cake mix.

Or, just get the one from H-E-B like I did for Thanksgiving Day. Just $4.98 and you can always plate it, warm it up and pass it off as one you baked yourself.

Bake Your Own

2/3 cup margarine, divided
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 can (20 oz.) Dole Pineapple Slices
10 maraschino cherries
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream

1. Melt 1/3 cup margarine in 10-inch cast iron skillet. Remove from heat. Add brown sugar and stir until blended.
2. Drain pineapple slices well, reserve 2 tablespoons juice. Arrange pineapple slices in sugar mixture. Place cherry in center of each slice.
3. Beat remaining 1/3 cup margarine with 1/2 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks, lemon peel and juice, and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Blend into creamed mixture alternately with sour cream and reserved juice.
4. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar to make stiff meringue. Fold into batter. Pour over pineapple in skillet.
5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes or until cake tests done. Let stand 10 minutes, then invert onto serving plate. Serve warm or cold.

  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Shelby Hodge
  • Le Mistral's roasted Chilean sea bass
    Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Shelby Hodge
  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
  • The mushroom risotto with black truffles from Sorrento was a hit.
    Photo by Shelby Hodge

Smokin' hot chefs Randy Evans, Renato de Pirro & more rule the runway at GreenBeans and Guacamole launch

Shelby's Social Diary

Who would have known that that was Sorrento Ristorante's Abbas Hussein in the dashing suit or recognized Mockingbird Bistro's John Sheely in an equally stylish ensemble? Without their chef's coats, these kings of cuisine along with Haven's Randy Evans, Le Mistral's David Dennis and others appeared a bit distant from their sartorial comfort zone as they walked the runway at M Penner.

But any moments of fashion self-consciousness were for a worthy cause, the launch of Green Beans and Guacamole, a coffee table-style cookbook comprised of scores of recipes and tales from city chefs, photographed in lavish style by Julie Soefer, Shannon O’Hara and Debora Smail. All proceeds from sale of the book benefit The Arc of Greater Houston.

Karen and Murry Penner hosted the evening during which more than 200 cookbooks were swept up by eager buyers.

For the book's formal debut, more than 250 fashion savvy and philanthropically-minded men and women poured into M Penner for wine tastings, samplings of items from the cookbook and the runway show of fall fashions. Cavour's Renato de Pirro, Sorrel Urban Bistro's Soren Pedersen and Masraff's Dominic Juarez and other celebs including Houston magazine editor Jeff Gremillion strutted their stuff to wild applause and a few cat calls.

In the party mix were Shelly deZevallos, Belinda Hillhouse (who works for M Penner) and Laurie McNay, board members of Friends for Good, which created the cookbook. That non-profit is a support group for The Arc. Hillhouse's son, Austin Hanson, is a member of The Arc of Katy. The affable 25-year-old was the hit of the party.

Sampling the sophisticated fare from the cookbook and applauding the chefs-turned-fashion-models were Anna and Hal Holliday, Karen Stall, Kim Padgett, Natalie Bogan, Tony Masraff, Franelle Rogers, Alicia von Greisman, Lee Ann Johnson, Dale Robertson, Candace Burns, Gayle and Steve Waldman, Scott Hoffer and Kristi and Ken Breaux.

The partying for Green Beans and Guacamole continues with a cocktail reception at RDG + Bar Annie, hosted by Shelly and Chris deZevallos and Belinda and Corky Hilhouse, on Tuesday and another at Gremillion & Co. Fine Art on Dec. 7. While the book is offered for sale at these special events, it can also be purchased here.

  • Wolfgang Puck
  • Wolfgang's coffee
  • Michael Scott would love Wolfgang Puck's sense of humor.
    Courtesy photo
  • Robert Del Grande and Wolfgang Puck are old friends.
    Photo by Misty Keasler
  • Courtesy photo

Wolfgang Puck explains why Starbucks sucks, tells a "What She Said" joke &sidesteps a Houston future

Foodie News

Ladies and gentleman, I have heard Wolfgang Puck, arguably the most famous chef in the world, tell a "That's what she said" joke.

Puck, the creator of Spago, Chinois, CUT and several other brands, took a whirlwind tour of Houston recently. Arriving early (and just a little grumpy and sleep deprived) at RDG + Bar Annie, his session in front of a local news camera was going by the book until the cameraman asked for another take because Puck had "come in a little early."

"That's what my wife said last night," the Austrian quipped, without missing a beat. And with that, everyone knew it was going to be a fun morning.

"It's terrible coffee!," Wolfgang Puck said. "Like when I fly on United Airlines they say, 'We proudly serve Starbucks coffee.' I said they should say, 'We are embarrassed to serve Starbucks coffee.' "

"The great thing about Wolfgang is he's still the same guy I met 30 years ago," said Robert Del Grande, who lent Puck the use of his restaurant for the morning mini-junket. "He's totally down-to-earth."

The two chefs, who both opened their respective first restaurants in the early 1980s, took a few minutes to catch up and talk about the business as well as show off new photos of their kids.

"I used to come to Houston all the time and I remember meeting [Robert] at Café Annie," Puck said. "I always liked it because he used these bold flavors. You know, we have a lot of Chinese influences and everything. And I remember one of the first things I ate here was the black bean terrine with goat cheese in the middle. I was like, 'Wow, this is really a clever idea,' and it looked good and it was very tasty . . . It's great to have friends in the restaurant business everywhere because you always have somewhere good to go."

Puck was in Houston to tout his new line of bottled iced coffees, which are light (120 calories) with a subtle sweetness as well as organic and kosher.

"To me coffee is a way of life," Puck told CultureMap. "I wake up in the morning and I need coffee. My wife doesn't even get out of bed if she doesn't get her double espresso cappuccino. We have coffee all the time. To me coffee is one of the most important things in life. People ask me, 'What is the most important gadget or appliance in your kitchen at home?'

It's by far my espresso machine. It's always on, I never turn it off."

Puck and Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard partnered with Houston's Woodway Beverage Partners to produce the coffees, which include flavors like mocha, créme caramel and café au lait.

"It took us about a year and a half to get the flavors right," Puck said. "They started to make the flavors, and everything tasted like chemicals or it tasted sweet and I said 'No, it can't be that way, it's not what I like.' So little by little we told them what we want.

"I remember when they first brought us the vanilla-flavored coffees. Both Sherry and I said these are the worst vanilla beans, and it turned out they were using cheap ones from Madagascar. I said if you use Tahitian vanilla beans it would be much better. The caramel was the same, you couldn't even taste it, it was sweet only. So we told them how to really burn the sugar at the right level so it gets the right flavor, a little sweetness but also the dark caramel flavor.

"It took us quite a while to get it right. I'm very peculiar about it, I like it a certain way, and everyone isn't going to like it the way I like it."

Puck, who once ran the kitchen at Houston's Remington Hotel (now the St. Regis), opened Five-Sixty in Dallas in 2009, but he deftly sidesteps questions about any potential plans for returning to Houston for another concept. (Seriously, CUT Houston, Wolfgang. Make it happen.) And yet with restaurants all over the country and beyond, Puck says he's figured out what works for him.

"Each place is different, but what I really learned over the years is that I should not adapt too much to what people think, we should stay true to ourselves," Puck said. "I remember when I went to Japan in 1983 and I went to the market and I was like, 'Wow! They have all this tuna. I have to put tuna on the menu, we have all this raw fish.

"And that was a mistake because there are so many sushi bars and restaurants that serve that already. I thought I was so clever and so proud of myself for finding this fish — they have 10,000 restaurants that serve fish just like that. So now if we go to London, we have pretty much the same menu that we have in Beverly Hills in London."

One more thing: Wolfgang Puck might be in the coffee business, but don't even think about comparing him to Starbucks.

"Starbucks, what they make, if you open a bottle and smell it, what did they do to the coffee?" Puck said. "They created a taste in the memory for people, which is interesting, so that people really think it's good coffee.

"But it's terrible coffee! Like when I fly on United Airlines they say, 'We proudly serve Starbucks coffee.' I said they should say, 'We are embarrassed to serve Starbucks coffee.' "

Wolfgang Puck Culinary Iced Coffee is sold nationally at Kroger's (in the organic section), and in Houston at Rice Epicurean Market and Belden's.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston Hot Girl Megan Thee Stallion seizes the awkward with mental health campaign

hot take

We all know Megan Thee Stallion is the baddest you-know-what of them all. She can share the stage with a fellow Houston queen (and still get choked up about it), make an ex-porn star quote her lyrics on social media, and even play a cartoon version of herself on a Netflix show.

But America’s favorite Hot Girl Coach also wants you and your friends to take care of each other mentally.

She recently joined the Seize the Awkward campaign to encourage young adults to reach out to their “strong” friends in a new PSA. In the video, Megan gets real about the pressures to be strong and the importance of peer-to-peer support. “No matter who you are,” she says in the video, “being vulnerable is what makes us whole.”

Seize the Awkward is a national campaign (first launched in 2018) that encourages young adults to start the conversation with friends about mental health. The campaign was developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Jed Foundation in collaboration with the Ad Council.

With 76 percent of young adults turning to a peer for support in a time of crisis, how can more young adults join Megan and Seize the Awkward to get the conversation started?.

As Megan says in the PSA, you can visit SeizeTheAwkward.org and Megan’s website BadBitchesHaveBadDaysToo.com for more resources to check in on a friend. You can also follow @SeizeTheAwkward on Instagram.

Score free Shake Shack for one day only at juicy collab with charming Rice Village jeweler


Popular ear piercing barStuds made a name for itself by offering a customized piercing experience for those who aged out of places like Claire's but wanted an alternative to a tattoo parlor for piercings. With 19 locations nationwide, Studs offers a wide assortment of earrings that range from classic shapes, to huggies, flatbacks, and dangling charms.

Studs has once again added to their earring selection with their latest collaboration with Shake Shack. They created an adorably beefy earring to add to any burger lover's Earscape.

Studs and Shake Shack created a limited-edition Burger huggie earring and Earscape set. Photo by Studs

Retailing for $32, the limited edition Shake Shack burger huggie comes as a 14K gold-plated hoop with a loaded hamburger charm. Shoppers can opt for the $64 pair, but Studs is also currently offering a discount on the Shake Shack x Studs set. For $78, earring enthusiasts can get the two Shake Shack burger huggies, the 14K-gold Smiley Stud and the 14K-gold Micro CZ Stud.

What's even better than cute earrings? Free Shake Shack! On Thursday, September 28th customers can enjoy free bites from Shake Shack while they shop the new Shake Shack Charm Huggie collection at Stud's Rice Village location.

For $78, earring enthusiasts can get the two Shake Shack burger huggies, the 14K-gold Smiley Stud and the 14K-gold Micro CZ Stud.Photo by Studs

Shake Shack is known for their always made-to-order fare including ShackBurger, crinkle-cut fries, hand-spun shakes and their new Veggie Burger and non-dairy offerings.

Interested shoppers can RSVP here.

Studs Rice Village, 2567 Amherst St.; (832) 981-2869. RSVP here.

Pink-powered Barbie merch truck cruises into Houston on 'Dreamhouse Living Tour'

This Barbie Sells Merch

Hot on the heels — or wheels — of the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck comes another timely pink rolling shop for two Saturdays in October.

The Barbie Truck will stop in Friendswood and The Woodlands on its 2023 "Dreamhouse Living Tour," which celebrates the 60th anniversary of Barbie's ever more popular property, and will give visitors a chance to spice up their own homes.

Although this is all about the house, there are only a few homewares: things like coasters, glass tumblers, a glass mug, a throw blanket, and an "accessories cup." Visiting Barbies have more opportunities to take home wearable and on-the-go items like graphic tees, hoodies, and denim; a baseball cap; embroidered patches; and keychains.

Barbie Truck Dreamhouse Living TourIt's a Barbie world in Houston.Photo courtesy of the Barbie Truck Dreamhouse Living Tour

Most people who have been awake and on social media in the past year have learned that Barbie's Dreamhouse has a more empowering history than many girls realized while orchestrating drama between the dolls.

A release announcing the arrival of the truck reminds fans (and detractors) that when the Dreamhouse came out, only a tenth of a percent of young women were independent homeowners, and states that someone buys a Dreamhouse every minute.

This year's Barbie truck tour should be in very high demand following the success of the 2023 movie.

Barbie Truck Dreamhouse Living Tour

Photo courtesy of the Barbie Truck Dreamhouse Living Tour

Dreamhouse aside, this is a dream ride.

The Barbie Truck will be in Friendswood on Saturday, October 21st, from 10 am to 7 pm at Baybrook Mall at the lawn near Gloria's. Arrive early in case of long lines.

The truck will then cruise to The Woodlands on Saturday, October 28th at The Woodlands Mall near Shake Shack from 10 am to 7 pm.

These Barbies will hit five other Texas cities on the tour:

  • September 30 – San Antonio
  • October 7 — Austin
  • October 14 — Laredo
  • November 4 — Plano (Dallas)
  • November 11 — Fort Worth

Follow along to see more stops on Instagram or Facebook.