Friday, August 19, 2022
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Lobo del Mar: Tantalizingly good

20211210 LoboDelMar HMiller 02 webThe last time I ventured into Lobo Del Mar on South Padre Island, I ended up remembering an old comment my dad would make to me – don't let your eyes get bigger than your stomach. Of course, with their Caveman Burger, it's hard not to keep your eyes off of it. It's amazing – both in taste and size.

Unfortunately, I remembered that statement after ordering a lunch fit for a king – and his family. But it was so good.

This time I turned down the quantity a bit and started with the small order of ceviche and a bowl of seafood chowder.

On this day, which started kind of cool, but was in the low-60s when I arrived, that chowder hit the spot. Each spoonful was loaded with shrimp or other goodies, the temperature was great, and the consistency was spot on, and that's key – you don't want your chowder thick like pudding, or watery.20211210 LoboDelMar HMiller 06 web

After enjoying the ceviche, which I enjoy here more than just about anywhere because of its freshness, and because of how much they cram into the cup, I kept it in the seafood world and ordered blackened shrimp tacos. One can order shrimp or fish tacos one of three ways – blackened, fried, or grilled – and they come on a grilled corn tortilla stuffed with shredded cabbage, onions and diced tomatoes. Then it's topped with a creamy remoulade and mama's “Wolf Fire” salsa.

As I waited for it, I talked with the waitress, who explained to me about the daily entertainment, including the belly dancers on Wednesday nights during a usually packed house. In my few minutes there I saw a group of tourists, talked to some locals from McAllen and found some Iowa Winter Texans.

When the main course arrived, the first thing I realized is that this was gonna be a messy meal – just how I like it. But it was tantalizingly good. The veggies and the sauce mixed in well with the generous portion of blackened shrimp. The tortillas couldn't hold in all the yumminess (if that's a word).

This was my third visit to Lobo Del Mar, the other two were on the dock overlooking the Laguna Madre. Despite that area not being open while I was there, it was still extremely pleasant inside. And, while my eyes weren't bigger than my stomach, I'm guessing part of that reason is that my stomach has grown eating at delicious places like this.

Stuart Place: Like Cheers, but it’s Golf

Stuart Place 02 webGolf is not just a game to enjoy. It's an entire experience to be a part of, especially at Stuart Place Country Club and Shary Municipal Golf Course.

At least that's what the voters decided in the annual Winter Texans Times Favorite Golf voting.

Stuart Place, a nine-hole course, located at 155 Highland Dr. in Harlingen, won five of the seven categories that people could vote on. Those categories include Favorite Hole (No. 9), Favorite Amenities (the clubhouse), Favorite Putting Green, Favorite 19th Hole (again, the clubhouse) and Favorite Menu Item (hot dog).

Read more: Stuart Place: Like Cheers, but it’s Golf

Great lunch specials at Las Vegas Cafe

Las Vegas Cafe HMiller 05 webI’m not a fan of lunch specials. I believe that you don’t get the same portion – or a large enough – portion. And, as y’all know, I like big portions.

I, however, went against my long-term – and stubborn – belief and decided to check out one of the lunch specials at the Las Vegas Café.

This long-time and highly popular restaurant in Harlingen now has me believing I’ve been wrong all these years.

As I sat at the counter and ordered my plate, which included two cheese enchiladas and a pair of tacos – one beef fajita and the other carne guisada – I couldn’t help but notice the line still out front at 2 p.m. on a weekday. About six to eight people were patiently waiting for a table. But the line wasn’t stagnant as the host and servers kept people moving like a factory, but without the stressful feeling. It was a work of art.

When my plate arrived, topped with fresh onions, rice and a jalapeño, and a couple cups of salsa, I was highly impressed. The plate was large and the contents on it left no white space to be seen – just food, and more food.

The enchiladas were delicious. Then I bit into my fajita taco – and the tortilla as I’ve known it forever changed. I’m the guy who doesn’t understand why people wait so long in lines for tortillas. Before this day I rarely noticed any difference other than soft, or doughy or crispy.

Something about these two tortillas though was clearly…special.

I asked one of the kind ladies working about their tortillas. She said, “they’re the best, and they are homemade.”

I humbled myself. I didn’t know what made these tortillas so special. Usually, I’m focused more on the contents, and trying to not spill them. And while the beef fajita and the carne guisada were delicious, there was something about the tortillas that made me start thinking about their value as more than just a place-holder for the food. On this day, it seemed that the tortillas enhanced the flavor of the food and vice versa.

I left there happily full and contemplating what just happened. My beliefs about lunch specials had been changed, and my ignorance of tortillas had been challenged. I still won’t wait in hours-long lines to purchase tortillas, but I’ll definitely mark off the different lunch specials that I go through, now like a bucket list, and when I get to the meatloaf, I may just ask them to put it in their special tortillas.

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.

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