Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Hay Merchant

When I was a kid I hated beer. It's hard to believe but it's true. Part of this was the fact that, at the time, almost all beer on the market and the stuff my parents drank was typical American mass-produced lagers. Truth be told, I still don't particularly care for that style of beer.  It wasn't until I drank Guiness, followed by craft and specialty beers, such as Belgian tripels and real German beers, that I liked beer.  And this was right about the time that American craft beers were just starting to become popular. And I, for one, am happy to see the rise of this particular industry. 

The Hay Merchant in Houston honors the rising craft beer industry by featuring craft beers from around the country. They also offer an interesting menu.

The Lovely Spouse and I were interested in trying some craft beers that we can't try at home. So he tried one of the barrel aged selections (I don't remember the name) and I tried the Vampire Slayer from Clown Shoes. At 11% abv these were not beers for people who don't like strong beers. But they were delicious.  Barrel aging adds a bourbon and vanilla flavor to the beer, and the Vampire Slayer (not barrel aged) was rich in coffee and chocolate tones with a smooth finish. 

There are many, many different beers to choose from, both on tap and in bottles. All drafts are poured in glassware meant to augment the beer drinking experience. Does it make a difference?  I'm not sure, but it's pretty cool. 

The Hay Merchant also offers food. There are a variety of different appetizers and entrees including pig ears, wings, sandwiches, and pork buns.  We started with the pig ears, because we just had to try them.

Pig ears served hot, sweet, and spicy. Interesting flavor with just a hint of barnyard funkiness. But surprisingly addictive. 
A turkey sandwich sounds simple, however this one was one of the best I've had. Roasted turkey breast with bacon and tomato jam. Served with in house made potato chips. 
The Lovely Spouse got the pork buns.  Asian style steamed buns served with BBQ pork, onions and cilantro. He enjoyed it so much he learned how to make the steamed buns at home. 

I also tried the Cucumber Wit from Buffalo Bayou Brewery.  Kind of odd to combine cucumber with beer but it was both interesting and refreshing. 

 If you go, there's a daily happy hour before 6:30 pm with $3 selected drafts.  Parking is a bear in this part of Houston but The Hay Merchant shares a couple lots with Underbelly and a couple other restaurants.  Outdoor seating is available and sporting events are projected in the main dining room. 

If you drink, please designate a non-drinking driver. Get home safely.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

There's a National Museum of Funeral History? And it's in Houston?

This past weekend The Lovely Spouse had work that he needed to do in Houston.  It was the kind of work that only takes maybe an hour to accomplish. Well, it's a 2 hour drive so I couldn't leave well enough alone, I had to add something to the trip to make it fun. And by something I mean we just had to use this as an excuse to visit the National Museum of Funeral History (the website looks MUCH better on mobile - coincidentally they told me they're hiring for a new web designer, if you're interested). Why did I have to visit the NMFH?  Well, because it's consistently rated as one of the most unusual and interesting things to do in Houston. This is a city that has an Art Car Museum and beercan house, and this is the most interesting thing? Sign me up!

Located just off of 45 on the North side of town, the NMFH is not a pretty building by anyone's standards. In fact it looks like a 70s era warehouse, which it probably is.  The entrance is equally underwhelming, however you do get to enter through a cute little give shop.

After you enter there's no guidance and you're just free to wander around as you please.  Pictures are allowed.  It's not like I was hiding the camera under my shirt or anything. Much of the museum is an open area filled with hearses through the years and a number of notable caskets. There are some explanations to things, but no real flow to the museum.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Just in case you were wondering about taking it with you, this casket has over $650 embedded within it. 

I thought this casket was really cool.  It's entirely glass, with metal fittings.  The color comes from the fabric lining.  Evidently the lid is so heavy it has to have special shock absorbers to prevent it from cracking when closed.
Hearses used to double as ambulances. 

And I found out the origin of the phrase "basket case". Click on the picture to enbiggen.
This vehicle has a very interesting story, below. Well they tried to solve a problem, but things didn't quite work out as planned.

This hearse is notable for the exquisite hand-crafted woodwork and wonderful restoration. 
All of these were horse-drawn.  Traditionally white was a color indicating a child was being mourned. 
What's interesting (to me) is how hearses resemble the classic auto stylings of their times. The grey on on the right here is the hearse used to transport Grace Kelly to her final resting place.
This hearse came from 1970s Japan.

Extreme detailing inside and out.
A little warning in case you get a little too curious.  There were a lot of very interesting caskets and I can imagine the impulse to peer inside can become overwhelming to some. 
In addition to the hearses and caskets there were some interesting exhibits. Alright, this first is more caskets, but I believe the also count as folk art.

There was also an exhibit on funeral cards.  These are small cards and/or programs given at funerals.  The exhibit contained funeral cards and memory books for famous people.

This one is for Rodney Dangerfield.
There was an exhibit on the history of embalming. Not as informative as I would have liked. It didn't really explain very well the process of embalming, however it did cover an historical account of how US Americans mourn through the years. 

A large, well-planned and more modern exhibit is on the funeral of Pope John Paul II.  I was in the airport getting ready to board a flight to Rome when I found out the Pope had died. The following 2 weeks, The Lovely Spouse and I saw much of the funeral proceedings and beginning of the Interregnum.  It was an experience I hope I never forget.  The exhibit at the NMFH fills in details that those of us in the general public would not have seen, and many that we might not have known. Some of the items are originals, but many are obviously reproductions.

Seals for Papal apartment and the silver hammer to destroy the Papal ring.

Mannequin Pope laying in photograph St. Peter's Basilica with mannequin Swiss Guards.

Recreation of the Papal coffin lid. 

Recreation of the 3-layer coffin.

Recreation of the JP II crypt under St. Peter's Basilica.

Aaaaand....the Popemobile. 
The final exhibit detailed the funerals of the Presidents and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A reliquary containing President Lincoln's hair.

The hearse that transported President Reagan around California. 

The uniform worn by the soldiers standing (and marching) watch at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

And, to wrap up the museum, a funeral card/program from George Washington's funeral. 
In all it was an interesting museum to visit.  The entirety of the museum does not stand up to modern museum standards, however, on the whole, the museum is worthwhile to visit for historical value. You don't have to have in-depth knowledge of the funeral industry to understand everything and you don't have to be an emo-Goth to enjoy the visit.  The museum is not morbid.

Admission is only $10 and as you exit through the gift shop you can even grab a rootbeer.  

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Willie's Grill and Icehouse

Some time ago I wrote about the local TGIFriday's. It wasn't overly fancy or the latest and greatest, but The Lovely Spouse and I had a few items we liked there that were consistently good.  Unfortunately Friday's closed.  Not very soon after it was purchased and turned into a Willie's Grill and Icehouse. We were undecided about where to have dinner one evening so we decided to give them a shot.

Upon entering we were greeted with the latest trend in mid-level chain restaurants: order your food at the front and someone will bring it to you.  But this time, with a twist.  We ordered our food at the front, took our ticket to the table, and placed our order again with the server.  The server also discovered that the order had been incorrectly written down by the person at the front counter.

This is a very odd arrangement.  We placed our order and got our drinks. Then we sat ourselves.  And placed our order...again.  Why bother with this?  There was no way for the person at the front counter to put the order in via computer or anything.  The person at the front wrote it down. Um...kay. Weird.

Fried jalapenos served with queso. 
We ordered an appetizer to split and received the deep friend jalapenos.  We were expecting something similar to jalapeno poppers, but the version at Willie's was interesting: sliced canned jalapenos breaded and fried.  And served with queso. Not bad as pub food, but we were both glad we got the small order to split.

The blue cheese burger.
Grilled chicken with steamed veggies and fries. 
Next came our meals. I got the grilled chicken with steamed veggies and fries.  The Lovely Spouse got the blue cheese burger. The grilled chicken was well cooked, although not very well seasoned.  But nothing a little salt and pepper didn't improve.  The veggies were as to be expected in a mid-level chain restaurant. The fries were pretty good, although far too many for me to eat.  I shared them with The Lovely Spouse. Unfortunately The Lovely Spouse's burger just didn't live up to what should be expected in a restaurant next door to Grub Burger Bar, a block from Mickey's Sliders, and in the same town as Harvey Washbangers.  Not a lot of flavor and no change in texture. The burger was overcooked and quite boring. Definitely not what you'd expect from a place that, according to their website, started as a burger restaurant.

The apple pie skillet. 
The Lovely Spouse insisted that we get dessert and ordered the apple pie skillet.  Apple pie and ice cream with cinnamon served on a hot skillet. Tasty, but I didn't have nearly enough appetite for it.

Obvious Americana branding and decor.
Those big, open garage doors are pretty cool on a nice Spring day in April. Not so much when it's 100 degrees F in the shade. And it was noisy with the doors open - I imagine it's much more so with them closed.
Even though the service strategy was weird, the servers themselves were friendly and the service was good. The decor was not dissimilar to Friday's, although with some Texas Roadhouse thrown in.  I'm not sure why they think having a sandy beach is a good idea. Outdoor sandy beach is a great place for cats to hang out, and for kids to play in during dinner.  And I have no idea how they'll cope with a Texas summer with all those windows.  It was very noisy inside, with the garage doors open.  I imagine it will be even more so when they close the windows with the heat.

Children, outdoor sand pit, and commercial food service - what could possibly go wrong?  
Will we be back?  Most likely not.  Harvey Washbangers beats them on burgers, grilled chicken, fries, and beer selection, and they're locally owned and operated. Grub, Mickey's, and Blackwater Draw are also excellent options if I'm hankering for a burger.

Am I warning you all away?  Not really. The food wasn't bad.  There are, in my opinion, better options nearby.