Sunday, August 22, 2010

Foraging for Food 7/29/2010

I am restless once again in the asphalt jungle. Summer is in full swing and it’s hotter than – well, it’s hot. The weekly routine of lunch at the local fast food restaurant has grown tiresome. I want something more, something that doesn’t come on a plastic tray in a paper wrapper. Something that would fill me up, but also something that wouldn’t cost a lot of money either.
Each day I ride by or walk by dozens of local eateries down on lower Westheimer. I’ve watched them come and go, and I felt like now was the time to give it a try. The reason I wanted to try it is because Washington Avenue in the Heights has transformed from a run-down string of dives, used car lots, and abandoned buildings into the trendy place to be. The plague of townhouses that sprouted up around the corridor has now spawned a big box apocalypse of sorts.
First Target opened in the Heights, then Kroger expanded its South Shepherd location to accommodate the newcomers. Now HEB threatens to encroach on the Montrose, and Wal-Mart looms on the horizon. In spite of efforts to push them back, them and even Whole Foods want to cash in on the trend while they still can.
When I moved to Montrose the first time over ten years ago, the neighborhood was in transition. Gone were the discos and the gay bars, and eventually even Mary’s Lounge faded into the collective memory of the old timers. The bars and discos were replaced with strip malls and trendy restaurants. It’s a virtual United Nations along the street before reaching the crossroads at Montrose and Westheimer. There’s cuisine ranging from English to Italian, even Greek, Mediterranean and even New York. I started at Belgium.
At 106 Westheimer sits Jeanine’s Bistro. This is where my journey begins as I attempt to eat my way through the Montrose, or at least lower Westheimer. I have to admit I have my apprehensions about eating at some of these places because I worry too much about the impact it’ll have on my pocketbook. Then again I have to figure at least once a week - or even once a month – can’t do too much harm.
Most restaurants on lower Westheimer now offer lunch whereas before they were dinner and weekends only. I really had no idea what to expect walking into Jeanine’s. It sat at the end of a strip center at the confluence of Neartown, Montrose, and Midtown. I was seated immediately and brought a menu and poured a glass of water. Sometimes I walk into a restaurant and ask to see the menu before I eat, but not this time.
Instead I opened the menu and found exactly what I expected, but I was also surprised at the selection. The menu opened with soups, salads, and sandwiches – the three things I could get at almost every other chain sandwich shop. I flipped to the dinner section, and as expected, it was steep. Included were chicken, filet mignon, the usual fare. Then I flipped back to the front of the menu and stopped. There was a lunch special for $10.95. Included in the deal were soup or salad, an entrée, and a dessert.
I figured I couldn’t go wrong and asked my server about the options available My choices on this visit were a house salad or watercress soup, bacon quiche, and a caramelized apple crepe. I’d had salad for dinner the night before, so I went with the soup. For a drink I got iced tea, but there were beer and wine selections available. Maybe if I went back at dinner, I might look into the alcohol selection, but it was too hot for that when I went.
The server brought me bread and iced tea followed by the soup. It was only a cup, but it was flavorful, maybe a little too salty, but I could overlook it. There was watercress in each bite, and the bread helped in cleaning out the cup. I cleansed my palette with water and waited for the entrée. Even though it took some time, the wait was worth it.
The server brought me a generous portion layered with bacon, bell peppers, and I think cheese too. On the plate was some tomato sauce, but it proved to be more or less an afterthought. My focus was on this enormous wedge of quiche. The only time I found the tomato sauce helped was in digesting the crust. I was full, but I remembered dessert was on its way, so I stopped with the bread. Even though the crust was a little chewy, it wasn’t dried out in the center.
I had some more water, some more tea, and waited for the dessert. By this point I salivated at the thought of that caramelized apple crepe. When it arrived at my table, it was smaller than I expected, but the right portion for this meal. Where most places would drown the desert with vanilla ice cream, this was served with just a dollop. It didn’t overpower the dish, and it melted nicely into the butter, cinnamon, and crepe.
I even scooped the juices off the plate with my iced tea spoon rather than pouring it down my gullet. Some of it was stuck to the plate, and I wanted to get at it badly, but decided against it. I calculated the bill in my head to be around twelve bucks, which was close. With the tip, tax and drink, the final bill came out to $15.86.
I walked out feeling like I’d robbed the bank because it was so much for so little. On my way out, I had to avoid getting run over because of people trying to back out of the tiny parking lot. The only other gripe I had about the place was accessibility from the street even though I had no problem getting there on foot.
If you’re driving up Westheimer, it isn’t like you can pull into the parking lot from that part of the street. The other thing is it takes some turns around the block to get to Jeanine’s from Bagby because it is one way outbound. Going eastbound on Westheimer, swing a left at Brazos, make a left onto Tuam, and then a left onto Bagby and the shopping center’s on the right. Another way to get there would be to hang a left at Taft, a right at Avondale, and then a right at Bagby.
Jeanine’s is open from 11am to 3pm for lunch, and then from 5pm to 11pm for dinner during the week. On weekends it’s a half hour later for lunch and dinner. The atmosphere was nice with pop music in French playing softly on the sound system. I went around 1pm on a Thursday afternoon and there were only a hand full of diners, so finding a table shouldn’t be that much of a problem.
After my experience at Jeanine’s, I’m not as apprehensive about dining out at some of the nicer restaurants. My only dilemma is where I should eat next. There’s a couple of places left for me to explore, but Westheimer is a long street, and stretches west to Highway 6. I think for now I’ll stick to this end of Westheimer, and look into those places I’ve overlooked in the past.

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