Category Archives: Wine & Food

R&B Kitchen’s Food from the Soul — I’ll Be Going Back


Our two platters plus an extra side of yam

Our two platters plus an extra side of yam

A good friend of mine whom I’ve known and worked with for many, many years recently asked me to review a restaurant into which he has invested.  Norvel Green asked because he wanted an honest evaluation from a couple of known foodies — Ursula and me.  I promised not to pull any punches, so here goes my honest evaluation.

R&B Kitchen’s Food from the Soul is located in El Paso’s Northeast side at 9787 McCombs Street (915-757-1515).  And befitting it’s name, R&B Kitchen does indeed specialize in soul food.  You’ll find collard greens on the menu and, yes, even Kool-Aid along with that Southern staple — sweetened ice tea.  When I saw that I was intrigued.

A nondescript exterior gives way . . .

A nondescript exterior gives way . . .

But before we get to the food let’s talk about the ambiance of the place.  R&B Kitchen recently underwent an extensive expansion, remodel, and upgrade of their existing facility when they took over the retail space next door and removed the wall.  New tables and chairs were introduced, a fresh coat of cheerfully bright yellow and red paint with a faux wainscoting effect was applied, and an inviting and exceedingly practical checkerboard pattern of easily patched and replaceable carpeting was installed.  Ursula noticed that last rather ingenious touch and brought it to my attention as we sat at our chosen table — it’s a marvelous and very practical solution to stains and wear.  With all this work the R&B Kitchen leaves behind any hole-in-the-wall feel found in so many other family owned and operated restaurant establishments.

. . . to a bright, colorful, yet exceedingly practical interior with a lot of home touches

There are no printed menus in this place.  Take note of what you want to order when you arrive through the doorway.  There’s a daily updated chalkboard right as you walk in with that day’s specials.  You can’t get much more home-style than that!

The menu changes daily — Saturday leans toward Southern-Style Barbeque

Menu changes daily — Saturday leans toward Southern-Style barbecue

We arrived at R&B Kitchen on a Saturday, which just so happens to be barbecue day there.  Other recurring daily specials include meatloaf, catfish (which is pretty much available every day R&B Kitchen is open), chicken-fried steak, and many other soul food favorites.  Sides are pretty much constant when available or in season and usually include collard greens, fried okra, yams, and mac & cheese.  Ursula and I both crave fried okra when we can find it, so we ordered a double portion as our “two” allotted side dishes and an additional side of yam to check out and share between us.  Entrées come with a slightly sweet cornbread muffin as well.  As we’re both watching the sugar intake and wanted to try dessert, we opted for the blasphemous unsweetened ice tea, which tasted freshly made and was flavorful and not over-brewed.

On this day I ordered the smoked brisket as my main meat dish.  The brisket was delicately smokey throughout without being overpowered.  As you can see from the picture below I got a portion that was heavy on the bark side and a bit light on the juicier interior meat.  Nevertheless I enjoyed the flavor, but being bark-heavy both Ursula and I found it on the dry side.  I think this particular brisket may have been either smoked at too high a temperature or the water ran low in the smoker (see my tips on Smoked Brisket here).  Contrary to what you may read into that, we both enjoyed the brisket and found it very flavorful.

Smoked Brisket, Fried Okra (is there any other kind?), and Fresh Cornbread

Smoked Brisket, Fried Okra (is there any other kind?), and Fresh Cornbread

But for a comparison to what I’m referring here’s a shot of my brisket below.  Note the narrower bark region and the juicier interior.

A juicier version of smoked brisket made by the reviewer

 Ursula’s choice was one of her favorites, smoked pork.  This particular smoked pork was of the pulled variety.  Unlike the brisket this selection was incredibly moist throughout as you can see.  Like the brisket it was rich in flavor, delicately but not overpoweringly smokey, and very, very tasty.  It was a solid winner through-and-through, and a dish I can highly recommend.

Smoked Pulled Pork, Fried Okra (is there any other kind?), and Fresh Cornbread

Smoked Pulled Pork, Fried Okra (is there any other kind?), and Fresh Cornbread

If you’d like to learn more about the art of smoking pork, here’s my blog post on Smoked Boston Butt.  And if you’d like your smoked pork South Carolina-style then here’s my blog post on what to do with that pork roast after it comes out of the smoker: Smoked Boston Butt — Carolina-style Mustard barbecue Hash.

Now let’s discuss R&B Kitchen’s sides.  As you know, we tried two.  The cornbread, as previously noted, was slightly sweetened.  I’m more a South Carolina traditionalist, so I prefer mine without sugar.  Nevertheless, it was a nice accompaniment to the meal.  The fried okra was crisp, delicately breaded without being overly coated in cornmeal, and both light and tasty.  Just as okra should be.  If there’s a discordant note here it’s that the okra breading was a tad on the salty side.  As I was brought up on Southern cooking this didn’t really bother me, but Ursula definitely noticed the saltiness and she thought it interfered with what otherwise would have been a great fried okra rather than just a good one.  The yams, I’m sorry to say, were just plain over-cooked to the point of mushiness.  They still had flavor, but it was washed out and there was no texture.

Dessert on the other hand was an incredibly delectable surprise.  On the menu this day were two — strawberry shortcake (which I defy anyone to screw up) and fruit pie.  As pie requires a culinary sophistication to it, this is what we chose.  Our slice took a while to arrive, but that’s because it came to us still piping hot and fresh from the oven.  The crust was a flaky affair that far too few bakers properly master.  Not so here.  The filling was definitely a homemade concoction of apple and various berries perfectly proportioned and not overly sweet as one usually experiences with restaurant pies.  You’ll have to excuse the photo of this dish, but the pie was so appetizing that Ursula and I started to dig in before I remembered to photograph it.

Homemade Fruit Pie hot from the oven

Homemade Fruit Pie hot from the oven

R&B Kitchen is a family owned affair, and it shows in the quality and taste of the food.  No bland corporate uniformity here.  The primary owner and patriarch, with whom Ursula and I had a very nice and lengthy chat, is Robert Coleman.  Robert is a delightful gentleman who hails originally from Alabama and was raised in Brooklyn.  His son Chris is a graduate of culinary school, and this is evident as well.  Also found in the kitchen and among the waitstaff are other family members, including the cheerful Mrs. Coleman who proudly brought to us our freshly baked slice of pie.

Chef Chris Coleman with a plate of ribs and collard greens. Photo taken by Rudy Guitierrez for a review of R&B Kitchen written Jay Koester for the El Paso Times (see link below). All other photos in this review were taken by the author.

As we rose to depart after nearly two hours of dining and chatting with Mr. Coleman I spied yet another dish I definitely want to come back for a try.  That would be the cornmeal-breaded and fried Southern-style catfish.  Just looking at it, the catfish appeared perfectly prepared.  The gentleman dining on it certainly thought so, and he didn’t hesitate to tell me just that when I asked.  Yes, the R&B Kitchen most assuredly will be calling us back, and we look forward to our return there the next time I get hungry from some great Southern-style soul food with a true homemade flair.

For another take on R&B Kitchen’s Food from the Soul Restaurant, please click on this review from the El Paso Times dated January 15th of this year:

Northeast El Paso’s R&B Kitchen delivers rotating menu of soul-food classics

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Mi Querencia — Puerto Vallarta for Lunch and Drinks


Mi Querencia on the Malecón

Mi Querencia on the Malecón

Our former favorite lunch spot in Puerto Vallarta is no more.  It was located on a second floor overlooking the Malecón, beach, and statues.  Unfortunately, although we found the stairwell entrance, the establishment was no longer there.

Mango Margarita

Mango Margarita

Not to despair.  We soon found another favorite — Mi Querencia (My Fondness).  Here the drinks were cold and abundant, the guacamole made fresh beside the table, and the pescado sarandeado (tossed fish) an appetizing treat.

Guacamole, chips, and salsa

Guacamole, chips, and salsa

So, let’s take a look at the assembling of an authentic Mexican guacamole from start to finish.  First you start with fresh, ripe avocado:

Guacamole Starter Kit

Guacamole Starter Kit

Next you carefully cut up the avocado with a pair of spoons to maintain texture.  No insipid mushing here!

Keeping texture by using spoons

Keeping texture by using spoons

Then come the not-so-secret flavoring ingredients:

Cilantro, salt, cumin, red onion, diced jalapeño, lime juice

Cilantro, salt, cumin, red onion, diced jalapeño, lime juice

After adding it all together you mix it all up one last time before serving.

Mixing it all together

Mixing it all together

By now you’re probably ready for a second margarita, this one papaya.

Cheers!

Cheers!

After the guacamole it’s time to share an entrée.  That would be the local area specialty pescado sarandeado, or “tossed fish”, a red snapper (usually) in a chile and garlic based marinade, finished up on the grill.

Pescodo (fish) Saradeado

Pescodo (fish) Saradeado

After refueling it was time to once again hit the streets.  Next up on Wednesday will be Puerto Vallarta’s exquisite Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe church.

By the way, if you’re reading this and other material authored by me on The Destinary website, this post was not “Posted on (fill in the date) | By destinary” as they’ve been erroneously claiming; this material was in fact reposted. The Destinary have also been claiming the right to do so, without links back to the original and without full attribution (“by RDoug” and a nonworking link is not proper attribution) with a rather bizarre interpretation of U.S. copyright law in which they claim I’m responsible for changing my RSS feed settings so that they cannot skim my material for commercial purposes. That would make reading my blog less convenient for you, which I’m not willing to do. As such, I’ll be running this little diatribe on all travel related posts until they cease and desist, along with this:

© 2015 R. Doug Wicker (RDougWicker.com)
All right reserved — that includes you, Destinary

Final note: Considering The Destinary is a site listed as owned by Sonia Bosquez-Platt of Indianapolis Tour & Travel, you may want to rethink doing business with either her or her company.

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Filed under Photography, R. Doug Wicker, travel, vacation, Wine & Food

Crazy Cuisine — Carefully Crock Cooking Carnitas


A plate of tempting carnitas

A plate of tempting carnitas

We have here in El Paso an absolutely marvelous local restaurant chain called Carnitas Queretaro, which oddly enough specializes in carnitas.  And we do love our carnitas, or “little meats” as that translates.  Traditionally this is done with chunks of fatty pork deep fried, but today I’m going to present a delicious and hopefully healthier alternative that I think comes out even better.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • One large Boston Butt (pork shoulder) cut in half.  It’s okay to work the knife around the bone and leave it in, or you can go boneless.
  • Chipotle powder. Lots of it.  I get mine, as well as all my other chile powders, from El Potrero Trading Post in Chimayo, New Mexico.  Well worth the expense, believe me.
  • Salt.  Lots of it.
  • Freshly ground black pepper.  Lots of it.
Boston butt, chipotle powder, salt, freshly ground black pepper

Boston butt, chipotle powder, salt, freshly ground black pepper

Season the pork liberally with the chipotle, salt, and black pepper.

Halve the pork shoulder and season well

Halve the pork shoulder and season well

Place each half onto a generous amount of plastic wrap.

Ready to wrap

Ready to wrap

Tightly wrap each half and refrigerate overnight.

Tightly wrapped and ready for the refrigerator

Tightly wrapped and ready for the refrigerator

The next morning start heating a cast iron skillet while you retrieve the pork from the refrigerator and unwrap them.  Get that skillet very, very hot, but not “blackening” hot.  Now place the halves into the skillet, initially fat side down to render out some of the fat and to “grease” the skillet.

Place halves into a very hot skillet fat side down

Place halves into a very hot skillet fat side down

Once the fat side is darkly browned start rotating the halves to sear the remaining sides.

Turn and brown on all sides

Turn and brown on all sides

That step should result in your pork looking like this:

Ready for the next step

Ready for the next step

Place the halves into your slow cooker.  Just the pork, nothing else.  Do not add any liquid.  You’ll see why later.

Into the slow cooker — don't add any liquid!  You won't need it.

Into the slow cooker — don’t add any liquid! You won’t need it.

Cover the slow cooker (I do this to get the crockery up to temperature), turn it on high for an hour, then back off to low for an additional six to seven hours.

High for an hour, then go to low for seven more

High for an hour, then go to low for seven more

Later that afternoon you’ll find out why adding liquid wasn’t necessary when you open up the lid.  By the way, don’t throw out that liquid.  De-fat and save it for something else, like perhaps stock for posolé or menudo.

See?  Told you no additional liquid was necessary.

See? Told you no additional liquid was necessary.

Remove the pork from the slow cooker and allow it to cool enough to cut, shred, and remove excess fat by hand.

Shredding the meat and removing the fat

Shredding the meat and removing the fat

After this step here’s what you should have on hand:

Shredded pork ready for crisping

Shredded pork ready for crisping

Now heat up again that cast iron skillet.  Once it’s searing hot lightly spray it with cooking oil and add one layer of the meat.

Into the hot skillet

Into the hot skillet

Crisp one side, then flip and crisp the other.  Remove and continue with additional layers of meat one layer at a time.

Toasting nicely

Toasting nicely

Now serve with fresh corn tortillas and your favorite sides.  I recommend guacamole, red sauce or salsa, and my world-famous jalapeño “pesto” dip.

Guacamole, red sauce, and my famous jalapeño "pest" sauce

Guacamole, red sauce, and my famous jalapeño “pest” sauce

And what would one of my recipe blogs be without a wine selection?  If you go with spicy accompaniments then a slightly sweet white or rosé suggests itself.  Think along the lines of a Riesling, Viognier, or Gewürztraminer for white; a white zinfandel or perhaps a Spanish rosado for a blush pairing.

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