Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fixer Upper Tour

Like the millions of other people watching HGTV, I love to watch Chip and Joanna Gaines transform bulldozer-worthy houses into beautiful homes on Fixer Upper.  Now that they've opened a new store in Waco, people are making the trip there to visit the Magnolia Market and shop at some of the stores featured on the show.
Earlier this summer, we decided to take our first out of town girls' trip with Evelyn, and headed out on the open road (or in our case, windy, wooded, narrow country roads).  Let's just say my first tip is to thoroughly review your driving route in advance of your trip, and don't always trust your phone's navigation system to get you there the best way.  I couldn't even tell you which towns or roads we took there and back, there were a ton of Farm to Market Roads and County Roads.
We checked in at the Candlewood Suites.  This was cheaper than even the Hampton Inn or a regular hotel room.  It had a small kitchen area with a full size refrigerator, microwave and stove top.  It also had two queen beds.  It was only a month old and was about $129 a night.  It was right under $300 for two nights.  It's designed more for people working out of town who are on extended stay trips.  It's a very basic hotel, not luxurious or anything.  It had a swimming pool and a small area to purchase food and drinks, but no breakfast in the mornings.
We did a lot of shopping in the first day.  We hit stores like Spice Market, which is a craft mall close to the Magnolia Market.  We basically just googled stores in Waco and drove all over town.  We also went to Craft Gallery, another craft mall, and Junque in the Trunk and the Findery.  Many of the stores sold the same things, farmhouse decor, and they were all priced pretty high.

We also went to Harp Design, which featured items made by Clint Harp, who regularly appears on Fixer Upper.  His store is right next door to his home which was also on the show.

Many of his items were really nice, but very expensive.  The store is small and items like this cutting board were way over $100.  Small wooden letters were in the $30 range.  
That night we ate at Chuy's, a mexican restaurant.  It was very good and this is what our table looked like.  Needless to say, we left feeling very full.
The next day we went to the Magnolia Market.  We had heard that parking nearby was $10 but there were some lots in the back that were free, and you can also park along the streets.  We parked on the street and walked quite a bit to get there.  We also lucked out because it was the grand opening of the bakery, Magnolia Flour.

This is the menu.  The bakery is very small so you wait outside and they give you the menu to check off your selections.  The cupcakes are $3.50.  I got the peanut butter cup cupcake.  It was very good but my advice is never, ever, eat a cupcake when it is blazing hot like it was that day.  It felt like 110 degrees outside and I thought I would be sick after eating that cupcake.  It was super rich.

 So here's my review of the actual Magnolia Market.  It's not in the Silos like I thought.  It is in another building.  It's still not as big as I thought.  It had some cute things, but they weren't any different that what you see in other stores across town.  It's also very expensive.  My first thought was to get one of the small candles with the Magnolia logo on it, but it was $26 so I passed.  My daughter got a tiny white ceramic bird for $5 and I bought an overpriced wooden crate with the Magnolia logo on it for $48.  My sister talked me into it.  Here are some pictures of the store.

They also had some cute photo opportunities outside and a big lawn with swings, chairs and some toys for kids to play with.  There's also a small seed shop that sold gardening supplies.
We kind of thought we would spend half a day here but it was much smaller than expected.  We talked to many people who drove in from California and Arkansas just to come here and they were really disappointed.  We spent two nights in Waco and we really could have spent just one, but we didn't want to drive two days in a row.  
For lunch we ate at a funky restaurant called Twisted Root.  We were told it was famous for its hamburgers.  We were really unsure about this place.  It seems like a hangout for the college crowd.  There were no windows and it was super dark.  We went out of our comfort zone and stayed and it definitely was worth it.  The hamburgers were great.  They give you cards with famous names on it, and they call them when your food is ready.  I was "Adele", so when my burger was ready the man sang over the microphone, "Hello from the outside, Adele, your burger is ready."  It was very entertaining.  
For dinner we ate at a family Italian restaurant called Baris.  It was also good and the prices were very reasonable.
We had a great time and it seemed like it took forever to get home.  We took a different route through some more country roads and ended up on the interstate.  We stopped in Huntsville for lunch and ended up going through more twisty roads.  It's fun to say you've been to Magnolia Market, but I wouldn't plan to stay more than a couple days and brings lots of money if you plan on buying anything there.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Neches River Wheelhouse

When I first heard about this new restaurant opening up on the Neches River last year I was very excited.  I'm a supporter of local businesses and restaurants and was so happy one was opening so close to my home.  So one Sunday we went after church soon after it opened.  Long story short, we waited more than thirty minutes for a table.  We had some of James' relatives in town so our party was for seven people.  Instead of waiting for a few tables to finish and pushing them together, they kept seating groups of four (who came in behind us) and waited for a big table to open.  Then once they finally had a table for us it started raining outside and all the people from outside moved in, and sat at our table.  We were very upset and I immediately decided to ban the restaurant from my list, much to my disappointment.  Over the year we heard conflicting reviews.  Some people loved the atmosphere, but said the prices were high and the food wasn't that great.  I've even heard from people that birds were flying into the enclosed part of the restaurant and landing on tables. 
My son was constantly asking me to go "the place on the river."  So finally, my parents took us there after baseball closing ceremonies.  We sat right outside the main dining area, not at one of the tables with the umbrellas, but a regular covered table.  The weather was very nice.  The sky was overcast and there was a good breeze.  I can't stand to sweat while I'm eating so I was very pleased the weather cooperated.  They do have fans to help when it gets warm.  It was nice to watch the small boats and tugboats go by.  We even saw this ...

Yes, the prices are a little high.  I think a combination seafood plate was $18?  I'm falling behind a little bit because I don't remember the exact prices, but count on a typical meal being $20-$30.  I ordered the Godfather sandwich which was fried cod on a hamburger bun with American cheese and tartar sauce.  It came with fries.  It was very good and makes me not want to order a filet-o-fish from McDonald's ever again.  The fish was very thick and flaky.
My husband and mom ordered the chicken fried steak.  My mom gave it a six, which is probably a nine for anyone else.  My husband said it was good.  
My mother-in-law said her crab cakes were okay as well, not great.  My dad ordered the Bessie Heights Burger with a fried egg on it.  He said it was great and gave it a ten.  Our waiter's name was Alex and he was very attentive and brought fresh drinks constantly.  We would have stayed longer but the kids were getting a little restless.  They were digging in the sand out in the yard.  I'm sure a lot of people come here to relax and enjoy the view.  I know it gets crowded on the weekends, so a weekday is probably your best bet on getting a table quickly.  They do have a giant game board, horseshoes and washers to pass the time.  Overall, we had a great time and will visit again. 
(The man to the right was nice enough to let Philip stand on his knee to reach the cutout in the picture, thank you whoever you are!)

The Crowded Mexican Food Place on Highway 365

For the longest time, I wasn't sure what this place was.  A club?  Bar?  I knew it used to be a mexican restaurant called the Tropical Grill, but I was never really interested in the new place until a spur of the moment decision to eat there with my sister.  We consider ourselves conoisseurs of mexican restaurants and we usually keep it to a few places we can always count on.  Casa Ole' being our first choice.  We ventured out of our comfort zone one Saturday afternoon.  We drove by El Viejo Tony (across from Ritter's, by those apartments on Highway 365) a couple times before deciding to stop.  The place always seems crowded and I always forget the name.  I googled it and it actually means "The Old Tony".  We were surprised when we walked in.  It was very spacious and despite all the cars outside, there were plenty of tables open.  The salsa was warm and very good in my opinion.  They have a lunch menu that you can order from even on weekends.  I got the enchilada plate with rice and beans.  It came with three cheese enchiladas.  The rice was my least favorite and needed more seasoning or something, but the cheese enchiladas and beans were great.  

My sister got an enchilada, tamale and taco with rice and beans.  She likes her tacos full of meat and cheese and said this one passed the test.

The manager came by to check on us, which is always a plus in my book.  Perhaps it was "El Viejo Tony" himself?  After our lunch, we would definitely visit him again, and that says alot coming from a pair of picky Mexican food-eating sisters.

Friday, March 18, 2016

National Lampoon's Lake Sam Rayburn Vacation

I titled this post appropriately because there were times on this trip we felt like we were the Griswold family from National Lampoon's Vacation and Christmas Vacation movies.  I might be exaggerating a bit.  It wasn't all bad.  This was our view from the back of the cabin we rented.  
The first night we stopped at pretty much the only local restaurant, The Stump.  I guess there's such a demand there that no matter how bad it is people will still go there because they're the only show in town.  It was a Monday night but super crowded.  We waited almost an hour for our food, with two hungry and tired kids.  Not a good mix.  Here's my fried catfish, or more like catfish fingers because they were cut so thin.  It was $10.99 so at least it wasn't too expensive and it didn't taste too bad.  

The staff was very nice.  I heard them say they were down to one cook.  There were at least 30 people in there eating so I really do feel sorry for that cook.  People were getting so fed up with the wait they left and just paid for their drinks.  The real problem I had, and it seems to be a current trend with restaurants I go to, is the cleanliness.  I really need to start taking more pictures.  I had to take the kids to the bathroom about three times, and each time I saw something new that grossed me out.  My shoes stuck to the floor, the doors were stained, and there was dust caked on top of the stalls.  On the salad bar, the lettuce had pink on it and the plastic sneeze guard had food on it (or maybe something else I really don't want to speculate about).  
But the real Griswold moment happened when we went to the Lake Sam Rayburn Marina Resort to pick up the pontoon boat we rented for two days.  The term "resort" is a little misleading.
 A quick review of the "resort".  It is a place with little apartments, mobile homes and lake cabins for rent.  James and I stayed there a few times nearly 10 years ago for his work fishing tournament.  It is a good location and I remember the cabins being clean, but they were majorly outdated with their decor.  The inside had looked like the set of the Three's Company television show apartment from the 70's and 80's.  We didn't go inside this time, but judging from the outside there hasn't been any improvements.  
Paint is peeling off the outside.  It looked like their boat docks and fishing pier and beach were also damaged.  So I really wouldn't stay there again.  The people in the front office had zero personality and charged us $10 to park our car there for four hours.  When I initially rented the boat over the phone the man told me to pick it up at 9:00.  We got there and no one was there.  Someone from the resort hollered at a man who was fishing out on a boat (the boat we were renting).  He came up and we said we were there to rent a boat at 9:00.  He said "No, you're not. We don't open until 10:00."  I told him I had spoken to the man over the phone who told me 9:00.  Turns out the owner lives in Houston and this man runs the boat rentals for him.  Mr. Personality called the owner who said he told me 9:30.  A few words were exchanged between us and him and we finally got the boat.  It was a very nice boat and I enjoyed it.  The kids got bored the first day but perked up for the second day.  I had this vision of having so many fish we'd have a big fish fry at our cabin.  We caught two catfish, two small bass that we threw back, and Philip almost caught about a 3 pound bass but his wire snapped on his Toy Story fishing pole.  There was a catfish feeder on the property we were staying at, but it got clogged.  One of the cabin owner's neighbors came out thinking we were stealing it when James was trying to fix it.  It was good he was looking out for his neighbors.
We brought the boat back the next evening.  We thought we had rid ourselves of the boat rental people but the next morning as we were leaving we got a call from the owner.  He asked me if I had called the previous week to cancel part of my reservation.  Turns out he dialed the complete wrong number and thought he was calling someone named Judy.  I think he was a little overwhelmed.  I said "While I have you on the phone ...", and he hung up.  I was going to tell him about his unfriendly work force.  Lesson learned, I will never go back to the Sam Rayburn Marina Non-Resort or the boat rental place there.  The trip wasn't all bad because the kids got a chance to ride in the boat and fish a little.  I also ended up catching my first fish, a little 'ole catfish, which only provided us about three bites a piece, but they were tasty bites!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Catfish Kitchen

This past Sunday we went to Catfish Kitchen on College Street in Beaumont after church.  I've only been there one other time, about a year or two ago.  The only thing I remember from that restaurant was that the decor was awful and the bathroom floors were sticky.  So.....apparently nothing's changed.  I wasn't sure about ordering off the menu or getting the buffet, but it ended up cheaper to go with the buffet.  The adult buffet was $10.99 and the kid's buffet was $6.99, which I thought was a very good price.  For the four of us it was $47.55 without the tip.  The buffet had two kinds of gumbo, chicken fingers, catfish, popcorn shrimp, green beans, rice, carrots and corn, among other things.  The two dessert items were bread pudding and peach cobbler.  
First off, the roll that they are supposed to be famous for was dry and stale-tasting.  I imagine it was left from Saturday.  It's bad if I leave a roll on my plate.  I gave half to Evelyn (who didn't eat it either - another bad sign because the girl loves rolls) and I used my fork to pull out the center of the other half hoping for some moisture, but no luck.  The vegetables were good, just very basic.  I actually did like the catfish and shrimp, they were cooked well and tasted good.  The kids and James gobbled up the gumbo.  So the food gets an B+, I'd probably give it an A- if that roll was better.  BUT, the cleanliness is another issue.  The place is in DIRE need of updating.  I know part of it is because it's an older building, but seriously, they should probably call in the fire department to use their hose to get the layer of grime and stickiness off of things.  The floor was dirty, the knick knacks on the wall were outdated and dusty, and there were cracks in everything.  The true test was the bathroom.  Remember when I took a picture of the bathroom at Willie Burger?  I felt weird posting a picture of a toilet but I wanted people to see how clean it was.  Well trust me, there were plenty of dirty things in this bathroom to take pictures of, but I didn't want to gross out the few people that read this blog.  And yes, my shoes still stuck to the floor when I walked.  
I will say the people here were super friendly.  Our waitress was polite and attentive, and I assume the owner or manager walked around to each table.  She asked how the buffet was and I said good.  I really didn't want to bring up the cleanliness issue in front of everyone, but others had to notice.  I want to like this place because the owner, Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, has always been so nice when I've spoken to him in the past.  My son loves the commercials with its catchy jingle and always asks to go.  Sadly, I'm not sure if I'd go back.  If  I did I'd be temped to ask Robert Irvine from Restaurant Impossible to join me for lunch.  If this place got some updating and cleaning, it has the potential to be the top place for seafood in Beaumont.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holler for Hollier's

The last few times my mom, sister and I have gone to Lake Charles for Christmas shopping we've stopped at a family-owned restaurant off I-10 (Ruth Street) in Sulphur called Hollier's Cajun Kitchen.  It kind of reminds me of Dorothy's Front Porch, which used to be in Beauxart Gardens.  I believe they have a lunch and dinner buffet but we ordered off the menu.  
 They have seafood, burgers and chicken, among other things.  I got the combination fried shrimp and catfish for about $15.  The shrimp were very good and I particularly loved the breading on the catfish.  It came with six large shrimp, three pieces of fish, two hushpuppies, baked potato and roll.  They also have a small salad bar that comes with your meal.  The potato salad is homemade and very good (made with a lot of mayo).
We were still a little full from our breakfast buffet so I was excited to bring home about half of my meal.  The kids spotted it and it quickly disappeared.  We also got some sausage and chicken gumbo to take home.  My mom and sister took home the seafood gumbo, which my nephew said was the best restaurant gumbo he's had.  I'm told there's also a Wednesday BBQ buffet which is supposed to be really good.  I think we might take the 45 minute trip again soon and bring the kids.  When you leave you can always sit back and relax on the porch rocking chair :)


Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Just a quick update on a restaurant called Rosa's that I reviewed.  Unfortunately, it closed up.  I know it was a small, family-owned restaurant and I hate to see it go.  I really did love the salsa and cheese enchiladas.  For some reason, restaurants just don't make it at that location.  Another update, I didn't do a post on this, but I went to a restaurant in Lake Charles called the Southern Favorites Kitchen.  It is located inside the L'Auberge Casino.  It was not good.  The selection was slim, the prices high, and seriously, my sister ordered the worst meatloaf I'd ever tasted.  Save your money and try something else.  In my opinion the casino doesn't have many dining options.  The buffet for breakfast was outstanding though.  On our way home we stopped at a restaurant in Sulphur called Hollier's Cajun Kitchen.  It will be my next review in a few days :)