Saturday, December 04, 2021
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Stefano’s: Great atmosphere and food

20211127 Stefanos HMiller 02 webThere’s something about Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza in Harlingen that is so welcoming.

It could be location, nestled in a scenic and relaxing tract of land. It could be the service, friendly and intimately aware of the items on a large and varied menu. It might also be the ambiance, peaceful and inviting.

On top of it all, however, is the food. A plethora of choices that, so far in my visits, have been nothing but spectacular. 

On this trip, I took the big boy route and ordered the “Discover Italy” dish, a large plate with fettuccine Alfredo, lasagna and chicken parmigiana. I’ll probably still be eating it while you’re reading this. It was large and it was lovely. What stood out immediately were the three different types of pasta and the variety of flavors that came along with this tongue-tantalizing dish.

Each one of these “smaller” portions of their bigger brothers and sisters on the menu, was a meal in itself. The taste and the texture of each item ran the spectrum of joy and happiness. My biggest concern was how long it was going to take me to get my Sunday nap. All other worries just evaporated.

The hostess also recommended the cheese bread as an appetizer – it was more like cheese pizza. A large, round flattened pizza-like dish with warm bread, delicious melted cheese and some of the best marinara I’ve tasted, with chunks of tomato and cooked onion, it was a fabulous way to start the meal.

The only thing was that I didn’t start the meal with it. With temperatures “dipping” to the high 50s and low 60s at this point, I thought a bowl of wedding soup sounded like a perfect beginning. It was hot – not burn-your-face off hot, but hot. Any chills left quickly like if sitting by a fireplace in the middle of winter – anywhere but here in the Valley.

The soup, in a rich chicken broth was chock full of pasta, fresh herbs, and tiny meatballs. I can’t remember ever eating wedding soup, but this experience kicked off a trip where any stress was removed by pasta, cheese, sauce and more.

Golf Favorites: Last week to vote

cottonwood creek webThe weather in South Texas is pretty much always great for a round of golf during this time of year. Therefore, we come to you to ask you what your favorite golf course, amenities, golf hole and more are each year.

This is our third, and final, week of coverage. Please look at the two previous week’s issues online. This week’s coverage starts on page 14.

The Golf Ballot is on page 13. Be sure to fill that out and send it in, or fill out our online version at www.wintertexantimes.com, by December 8. By submitting your favorites, you will be eligible to win free rounds of golf, dining, and more.

Read more: Golf Favorites: Last week to vote

Ranch House Burgers in Weslaco

Ranch House Weslaco 02 webI walked into Ranch House Burgers in Weslaco with a rebellious mindset.

I refused to get a burger.

I sat in a corner and immediately asked two ladies what their favorites, other than burgers, were. I already know that burgers are at a dreamy level of taste, so my rebellion was at full force.

“I really like the chicken plate,” one of them responded without hesitation. “We will order it and share it.”

When my server arrived, I asked him what is great that's not a burger.

“Either the chicken fried chicken or the chicken plate,” he said, as if he were being mind-controlled by the two ladies sitting near me.

So, I succumbed and order the grilled chicken plate. I was already intrigued when it said topped with grilled onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. I also asked for the coleslaw and loaded mashed potatoes.

When my plate came out, it was placed in front of me and I couldn't see the plate underneath. It was covered with two small cup/bowls of coleslaw and the mashed potatoes, and there was some rabbit food on the side. But the main theme of this story took center stage... well, the full stage.

First, the combination of Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and mushrooms are foods from Paradise Island. I could've eaten this without the chicken. However, the chicken gave it a solid feel and had a wonderful flavor of its own. The taste from each of the four items that make up this plate could all be singled out and wasn't in any way a mishmash of flavors.

While Ranch House Burgers may be best known for their wide variety and creatively named, and prepared burgers, suddenly this dish shot to the top of my “oh my goodness, I have to get this next time too” list. The fact that two people picked this from a large menu carrying options for everyone says mouthfuls about this establishment.

With Johnny Cash playing from the speakers, all of life's stresses seemed to take some time off. Oh, and the coleslaw and loaded mashed potatoes were the perfect sides to go with this afternoon of joy.

I walked in as a rebel and left as a sleepy and content genius. Now, where's the nearest place to take a well-deserved nap?

Golf Favorites is underway

20191104 Los Lagos Golf Course HMiller 1283 webThe weather is great for a round of golf. It pretty much is nearly all year in South Texas. Therefore, we come to you to ask you what your favorite golf course, amenities, golf hole and more are each year.

This is our second week of coverage, please look at last week’s issue, and again next issue. This week’s coverage starts on page 14.

The Golf Ballot is on page 13. Be sure to fill that out and send it in, or fill out our online version at www.wintertexantimes.com, by December 8. By submitting your favorites, you will be eligible to win free rounds of golf, dining, and more.

Read more: Golf Favorites is underway

November 17, 2021 - Denny's

Dennys HMiller 01 webI’m like a blank slate when I walk into a Denny’s. While I usually go for the amazing breakfasts, I’ll also visit for lunch or dinner and choose something away from my comfort zone.

That’s how confident I am in this restaurant chain that delivers consistently good food and has an amazing variety of dishes to choose from.

On this day I stopped in at the one on State Highway 107 and once again I wasn’t disappointed with my food. I took them up on their turkey dinner in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. The dish comes with stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, and a side order of bread. I replaced my cranberry sauce with zucchini.

I’m nitpicky when it comes to turkey, finding it often dry to my wants. This definitely wasn’t the case on this day as my server brought out a beauty of a plate with four nice sized slices of moist, white meat turkey, covered with gravy and lying on top of some fresh, soft stuffing.

The turkey met my high expectations, and then some. The gravy just added to its taste and texture.

Look, I’m one of those guys who likes to eat one item at a time from my plate, so my plan was to start with the turkey, move to the mashed potatoes, using the leftover gravy with them, then follow it up with the stuffing and then the corn. Yes, I think these things through.Dennys HMiller 05 web

However, as it so often happens at this time of year with my plate, after I was done with the very delicate and tasty turkey, the rest became a whirlwind of food; all mixed up, so each item of food was in each bite.

There’s just something about the classic Thanksgiving items that just go well together, almost like a salad. This was the case with Denny’s turkey dinner. It was fabulous and left me longing to make my own meal for Thanksgiving – but I’ll probably end up here again.

I like to think I’m a connoisseur when it comes to pecan pie, after living in South Carolina down the street from where many of the pecans that end up in pies are located. Heck, I probably was eating some of those pecans in this piece of delectable pie. It was cold, it was thick, and it was mouth-watering just to look at. I stay away from sweets as much as possible, but pecan pie has a tendency to cave in my willpower.

I brought a slice to my daughter and we both agreed – we are both going back for Thanksgiving … and maybe even before.

Golf Course Favorites voting has begun

20140902 SPI Golf Course 3 Green from Harbor Units webThe weather is great for a round of golf. It pretty much is nearly all year in South Texas. Therefore, we come to you to ask you what your favorite golf course, amenities, golf hole and more are each year. Many golf courses have made updates this past year and are ready for you to hit the range.
This week, and the next two, you will find the description of a selection of courses starting on page 10. These listings will serve as a directory of sorts for you to plan your visits.
The Golf Ballot is on the back page. Be sure to fill that out and send it in, or fill out our online version at www.wintertexantimes.com, by December 8. By submitting your favorites, you will be eligible to win free rounds of golf, dining, and more.

Read more: Golf Course Favorites voting has begun

Freddy’s: More than just custard

Freddys 01 webOne of my favorite moments when I go to Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers is when I take my first bite of the burger patty that is by itself, a patty larger than the bun it hides inside and a piece that sticks out.

It's not touched at this point by any of the condiments and it is a savory taste of a well-seasoned patty. It's not just salted down, but sprinkled with their own concoction, Freddy's Famous Steakburger & Fry Seasoning. It's a mixture of salt, garlic, paprika and other spices that brings out the patty's flavor like no other patty I've tasted other than what my mom would make when I was growing up.

Of course, the rest of the double cheese steakburger (with grilled onions of course - everything needs grilled onions) is just as delectable. While many may know Freddy's from its amazingly refreshing and creamy custards, their burgers are a gem to partake as well. The patties are thin, large, and cooked to perfection.

On this occasion I visited the McAllen location, near the McAllen Convention Center. I wasn't really in the mood for fries, but I really enjoy their beefy and not watered-down chili, so I ordered cheese curds – with chili and cheese on top. This was a meal unto itself, and I was so in tune with my burger and curds that I completely forgot to ask for some jalapenos. It really didn’t need any though because the rush of flavors was immense... and I didn't want to completely lose the taste from that first bite.Freddys 04 web

Of course, nothing cleans and refreshes the palate better than some frozen custard, so I imbibed on the Hawaiian Delight sundae. You can also get this in a “concrete,” which is usually my choice but for this day, I felt like a sundae.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect beginning.

The vanilla custard was topped with pineapple, strawberry, coconut, macadamia nuts, whipped cream and a cherry. Its mixture of creaminess and crunchiness was more than I could handle, a volcano of explosive flavors. Yeah, now I know why Freddy's is so famous for its custard.

Still, that first bite sent me back to my youth and set the standard for a meal that was perfect from beginning to end, all the way to the beautiful nap that followed.

Ranch House Burgers

tov ranch house burgers pic 08 webI arrived at Ranch House Burgers in Mission recently extremely hungry.

This was the right place at the right time.

The host and my server both highly recommended the fajita fries so that easily became a no-brainer. Ordering a burger wasn’t so easy. The choices are plentiful, and the creative options and descriptions not only can make your mouth water but can make you forget you already ordered a large appetizer.

I chose the 420 burger – chorizo, bacon, fried egg, Swiss cheese, refried beans and avocado – sounded like a perfect combination to remove the extremeness from my hunger. The specialty burgers are fun just to read from the menu – the John Wayne, the Pancho Villa, the Fire in the Hole – are just some of the names for these mega-size burgers.

I dug into a deep bowl of fries smothered with tiny, tender pieces of fajita mixed in with pico de gallo, melted cheese, guacamole and sour cream. It was a flavor-filled journey. The fries were fresh, seasoned to perfection and it wasn’t served with all the toppings just sitting on top. They were all spread throughout the dish, so every bite had a smorgasbord of tantalizing tongue and taste appeal.

The burger was everything I expected. The creamy flavors of the avocado, melted cheese and egg combined with the crispy bacon, and beef patty complemented one another and it wasn’t long before I knew I had a challenge as my extreme hunger dissipated and the fear of not finishing displaced it.

I continued to look over the quite large menu and realized that while this establishment is known for its amazing burgers, it also has a tantalizing mix of other foods from BBQ to Tex-Mex, sandwiches, chicken fried steak and seafood. There’s also a kid’s menu, and a separate list of sides. (It has salads as well, but for some reason my vision goes bad whenever I get to salads on a menu).

Also, don’t let the lunch crowd scare you away. The kitchen operation must run as smooth as melted butter. I arrived at noon, placed my order, ate and then ordered to go for my daughter, and I was still out before the typical one-hour work lunch was over.

I walked in extremely hungry, left extremely happy and then took an extreme nap when I got home, thinking about what burger I would get when I visit the Weslaco location.

New chef brings food to a new level

20211020 Victoria Palms HMiller 04 webWas this a dream?

“Victoria Palms has a new chef, and he would like to prepare different dishes for you to try.”

It was as if the sun peered through the dark clouds, the rain stopped, and the Hallelujah Chorus was emanating from the skies above.

I arrived at the Victoria Palms restaurant and new chef Erick Gonzalez came to my table a few minutes later, already having been bestowed with the brightest and freshest looking Cobb salad that I’ve seen in a long time. Its freshness was spectacular, like its presentation, and it was a great way to start off.

That was just the beginning.

One after another, Chef Erick sent the dishes out. For appetizers there were fried pickles with a chipotle sauce and smidge of pickled red onion, buffalo cauliflower with blue cheese crumbles and a deep-fried pork.

Throughout my delicacy of dining, I also partook in some pan seared salmon with baby marble potatoes and mango salsa, a delicate and amazing seared hanger steak with a demi glaze, mashed cauliflower and heirloom carrots, smothered pork chops, and local vegetable kabobs.

I made my way through most of these delicious creations and noticed one thing immediately, Chef Erick knows how to cook and knows how to pair or couple his dishes. For example, there were just a few pieces of the pickled red onion that accompanied the lightly battered fried pickles, but they accentuated the dish. They weren’t too strong where they overwhelmed the taste, something that can be difficult to do when using pickled foods of any sort.20211020 Victoria Palms HMiller 06 web

Each dish was not only presented beautifully, but the combination of tastes couldn’t be any sharper. While there have been many tastes formulated on a plate, not once did they dissolve into one another. I could taste each individual item, as if each unto itself, and they always complemented the dish as a whole.

The hangar steak combined with the creamy mashed cauliflower won my heart. The tenderness of the perfectly sized slices of meat mixed with a fork full of the best tasting and textured mashed cauliflower I’ve ever eaten had the Hallelujah’s crescendoing through every delectable bite.

“I want to elevate the level of what we serve,” he told me. “I want to see what the customers want and give that to them in the best way.”

He certainly won me over. Even the Cobb salad with its mix of greens, chopped bacon, tomato, avocado and more created a delectable explosion of flavor that only intensified my insatiable hunger, wanting to know what else was on its way. The salad, like everything else, tantalized the taste buds, with mouthful mixtures of crunchy (bacon, lettuce) with smooth (avocado, blue cheese crumbles). The colors were so distinct in the presentation that it almost seemed a shame to mess with it… but just almost.

Then, just before the food coma started creeping in and I started fading out, I was presented with dessert – a warm bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. I have a firm belief about bread pudding – it’s either great or just not. This, like everything else, was beyond scrumptious and the bread mixed with the scoop of fresh ice cream as if they should never part one another or be seen in any other dish.

The trip was more than just a meal. It was a delightful culinary experience.

Hallelujah.

Lobo Del Mar: Fresh, Mouth-Watering Food

Ceviche lobo del marI visited Lobo Del Mar on South Padre Island for a meal.

I ended up with two. Call it Christmas in March. It was a joyful eating experience.

As I perused the restaurant’s menu while sitting out on its bayside patio, I was first pleasantly surprised by a large and impressively varied menu. After deciding that it would be in my best interest to let someone else decide for me what to eat, I asked owner Ben Little what he recommended and we decided on the Loboviche as an appetizer and the Caveman (“It’s stacked,” Ben warned me. Yeah, I’ve heard that before, I thought to myself.).

My server brought the Loboviche quickly to my table and I could hear those she passed by saying “look at that,” or “wow” as a 32-ounce chalice-like scone was placed before me on a plate surrounded by tortilla chips. Just the look of this mega-appetizer of house made ceviche mixed with shrimp cocktail was a sight to behold.

Still, I thought, it is just an appetizer.

I was wrong – it was more than a meal. The menu described the heavenly mixture as a “generous portion.” They failed to mention “generous portion” meant a small country. To top it off, it was so delicious and fresh that I decided to finish it before I began my monstrosity of a main order.

That just did not happen – not even close.

Two hours later upon my arrival at home, my daughter, who claims she does not like shrimp, and her friend, who almost did a cartwheel when I asked if they would like the Loboviche from Lobo Del Mar, dug in and completed what I couldn’t.

While many who visit the island are defeated by the blazing sun or “one too many,” I was taken down by an appetizer – but what a way to go.

Later in the evening, I attacked The Caveman, a towering sandwich described as having “huge layers of juicy ½ pound beef brisket patty, grilled sausage patty, grilled ham, crisp bacon, pepper jack, cheddar and Swiss cheese with lettuce, tomato, onion, on a bun w/ skewered hand-battered onion rings.” The description could have said it all like this – A caveman would be proud (and with veggies).

This was not just only mouth-watering with a powerful pack of smoky, cheesy love, but it too was a lot to handle. This time, however, I would not let it defeat me. So much food – and I chose a side of cole slaw. This may have been the best slaw I have had in years. I am glad I ate it first. I would not have been able to eat it until my food coma subsided.

Most people go to South Padre Island for the beach, the sand and surf. Then a restaurant decision comes to play. There is nothing wrong, however with going just for Lobo Del Mar. In fact, I recommend it…and then, maybe, go to the beach. You will have earned a good nap after a great meal.

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