Dr. Praeger’s

I was recently asked to try out part of the Dr. Praeger’s line of frozen products. Information from My Magazine Sharing Network states:

“Dr. Praeger’s is a family-owned, natural products company founded by heart surgeons more than 20 years ago. All products are made from sensibly sourced ingredients that can be enjoyed by all ages and cater to a variety of lifestyles. You’ll find everything from veggie burgers to cakes, littles, puffs, hash browns, seafood and ready-to-heat bowls.

Look on the packaging for Non-GMO Project Verification, Gluten Free, Soy Free, Kosher, Vegan and Marine Stewardship Council Certified Sustainable seafood logos.”

My Magazine Sharing Network offered me some coupons including a free item. Of course, we had to try them out!

While not the easiest things to find in the spread out freezer section of my local grocery, find them we did. Making our selections wasn’t easy with all the tempting varieties, but we settle on three: Fish Bites (for me), Buffalo Fish Bites (for my partner), and Four Potato Hash Browns (for both of us). Each of the boxes seemed a bit small, but we found out quickly that the portion sizes were larger in our stomachs than they looked to our eyes.

We followed the directions as indicated, finding them to be simple and quick.  Then we started tossing ideas back and forth to come up with some fun ways to serve up the goodies.

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My partner’s rather large taco, topped with the hashbrowns. No hot sauce needed. Flour tortilla, Romaine lettuce, sour cream, and Colby Jack cheese.

 

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My own plate.  A “burger” of hash browns filled with Colby Jack cheese, sour cream, fish bites, and served with more fish bites, kosher pickle and Romaine lettuce. Delicious!

The Fish Bites surprised me by including jalapeno, but they were not hot. They were flavorful, crispy, and had a good balance of meat and breading for their size. They’ll make great fish tacos, would be good tumbled with other like sized seafood bites, and may be eaten with or without any sort of sauce.

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The Buffalo Fish Bites were much warmer, being spicy but maintaining a fairly low heat.  They offered a good baseline buffalo flavor that might be added to for those who like their buffalo sauce to be hotter. They made a very tasty taco, and could be presented as a lighter alternative to traditional wings.

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The Four Potato Hash Browns were a delightful surprise. They include red, gold, purple and sweet potatoes shredded and formed into lovely round patties. They have a sweetness natural to the potatoes, and crisp up on the outside very nicely when baked.

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Any of these combinations would have been great with other additions such as avocado,  diced tomato and/or onion, yogurt in place of sour cream,  or salsa. Let your imagination take you away!

We plan on picking up a few other Dr. Praeger’s products in the future and seeing what we can do with those. I’m excited at the prospect.

— Ann Cathey

 

Food Porn – Jason’s Deli

Jason’s Deli is fairly widespread, and the food has been consistent and delicious for me over many years and many locations. I’d like to share the most recent visit.

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Broccoli Cheese Soup

 

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Chicken Alfredo
Penne pasta topped with grilled, 100% antibiotic-free chicken breast, creamy Alfredo sauce, Asiago. Served with toasted herb focaccia bread.

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The Plain Jane® Potato
Baked potato stuffed with cheddar, sour cream, butter, bacon, green onions.

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Beefeater
1/2 pound of hot roast beef, provolone, mayo, toasted on New Orleans French bread. Served with a cup of au jus.

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Reuben THE Great
1/2 pound of hot corned beef or pastrami, Swiss, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, grilled on rye.

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What can I say? It’s Great Rueben!

 

Be sure to check out their full menu, including some seasonal favorites!

–Ann Cathey

 

Mario’s Seawall Italian Restaurant – Galveston, TX

While driving along the Seawall in Galveston, we caught sight of a sandwich board advertising a lunch buffet. It was on the sidewalk outside of a building with an extensive patio and a tower reminiscent of Pisa. Of course, we had to investigate. What we discovered was a delightful experience we can’t wait to do again.

DSC_0816Mario’s Seawall Italian Restaurant is one of three locations on the island that offers Italian cuisine and oven-fresh pizza. On weekdays, they also offer a lunch buffet including ravioli, fried fish, shrimp fried rice (Italian style), spaghetti and meatballs, fresh salad, and lots of pizza. None of these dishes stints on the ingredients just because it’s a buffet!

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Buffet from salad fixings to pastas to meats and veggies.

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Pizza and garlic bread. Everything went so fast I couldn’t get a photo of full pans!

 

 

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Bottom center, counter-clockwise from the buffet: salad with cheese and black olives, cantaloupe, broccoli, fried fish, shrimp fried rice, cheese ravioli, and meatballs (more hiding under the ravioli).

Mario’s dinner menu has a greatly expanded repertory of Italian classics and in house specialties such as the lobster ravioli and the home-made gelato.

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DSC_0808Spacious inside as well as out, and sporting some interesting murals, this place was a haven from the sun, surf, and wind outside. From the aquarium in the entry, to the conservative dark wood furniture, the dining areas are soothing and enhance the dining experience in a subtly understated way.

According to their website: “Tucked away in the thick of seafood restaurants, you will find all the romance, fun and tradition of Italy with a Texas-size seaside view to compliment the richness of Mario’s Seawall’s pastas and pizzas. Experience authentic Italian cuisine at its finest, in Galveston’s oldest Italian restaurant.”

Decorative toy fish in the freshwater tank by the entry.

Decorative toy fish in the freshwater tank by the entry.

Our server, Ana S., and the shift manager, Gina, were friendly, attentive, and happy to help with permission to take a few photos inside to help entice you to visit.

If you’d like a little grown-up time, Mario’s is a lovely place to share some time and a glass of wine. The quiet atmosphere and soothing surroundings make Mario’s an excellent highlight to any Galveston travel.

On the 1-5 scale, Mario’s lunch buffet gets:
Cleanliness – 5
Service – 5
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – 5
Overall experience – 5

Mario’s Seawall Italian Restaurant
628 Seawall Blvd.
Galveston, TX 77550
(409) 763-1693

— Ann Cathey

Scoops – Brenham, TX

With all the recent uproar over Blue Bell Ice Cream, I thought I would let ya’ll know about a little place that serves Blue Bell by the dip, even on Sunday. It’s called Scoops.

Located in a little convenience store at the intersection of Texas State Highway 105 and US Highway 290 on the west side of Brenham, Scoops serves nothing but Blue Bell Ice Creams. they often carry flavors you can’t readily find at the grocery store, too. It seems to be the ONLY place to get Blue Bell on Sunday. Scoops is open every day from 9:00 am – 10:00 pm.

This is a great place to make a pit stop when heading to Austin from Houston or Conroe, or the other way around, along the 105 route. Not only is there Blue Bell, but there is a full convenience store with fuel, and a little gift shop on the other end of the strip that carries a lovely assortment of things to please.

The indoor dining area seats about 30, and there are a couple of picnic tables outside as well. These tables are shared with the convenience store’s hot meal diners, so it’s not all ice cream.

Don’t try to park in front as it’s always crowded. Go on around the back and make the walk – it’s not far. There are some steps to climb, just so you know. Other walking access is up the driveway on a moderately steep slope.

This is one of those little discoveries that makes travel a joy. Stop on by and give them a try!

On the 1-5 scale, Scoops gets:
Cleanliness – 4.5
Service – 4.5
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – 4
Overall experience – 4.6

–Ann Cathey

Ready-Made Fondue Comparison

Fondue is a truly fun foodie experience. Originating in Switzerland, Italy and France, the Swiss Cheese Union promoted it as a Swiss national dish in the 1930s. It began as a dish of melted cheese served in a shared pot, eaten by dipping long-stemmed forks with bread into the cheese. Two decades later began to be generalized into a cooking style in which food is dipped into a pot of hot liquid, be it melted cheese, hot wine or boiling water. It spread spread further to include fruits and sweet breads dipped into chocolate, and fondue bouguignonne where bites of meat are cooked in hot oil.

Fondue as a style was popularized in the United States sometime in the 60’s and has been with us ever since. There is so much more information available on this fun and tasty method that I may blog on it again later.

In this article, we will be looking at two commercially available cheese based offerings that were, surprisingly enough, found at a local chain grocery rather than a specialty store. Neither of these are intended to be prepared in a caquelon over a mild flame, but to be oven baked or heated in a microwave. In both cases reheating in the microwave was required – we didn’t consume it fast enough in a 62F room to keep it from hardening.

We chose beef summer sausage, crimini (baby Portabella), a white Italian bread, and sliced apples for our dipping pleasure. This was a nicely varied group of textures and flavors with which to test and enjoy the fondues.

Paul Dischamp Fondue Saint-Nectaire
INGREDIENTS: cultured pasteurized milk, salt, rennet, calcium chloride (probably as a brine)

Our first discovery is a pure cheese rather than a wine and cheese mixture. It came vacuum sealed for freshness nestled in it’s own terra cotta crock for it’s preparation.DSC_0012

Interestingly, Saint-Nectaire has a “protected designation of origin” in France, where it is produced and package for export to the United States. You might think all this sounds a bit self-important and expensive. The truth is that it ensures consistency of texture and flavor, and quality production and packaging. While Saint-Nectaire may be a little expensive when imported here in the States, in it’s home region it is considered to be a modestly priced local offering.

DSC_0013There were instructions for heating the cheese either in the over or in a microwave. We chose the oven as the more “authentic” method for the experience and for the novelty.

DSC_0016The cheese came out a little goopy. It didn’t melt into a smooth texture in the middle. I didn’t count that against it after I tasted it. It had excellent flavor! There was a delicate hint of hazelnut in every bite.

It crusted nicely on the top and sides, offering a more substantial mouthfeel. The flavor was slightly stronger than the more fluid cheese in the middle of the crock. Where the cheese oils bubbled along the edges of the dish there was a crispy residue. This is crisp, sweeter, and less salty, with hints of caramel.

Lovely serving size (9.8oz) as an appetizer for two, or as a light snack with bread, potatoes, smoked sausage and/or crimini, with wine for a party of 4 or 6 people. Pairing a wine is simple: the field is wide open. In our case it was a Merlot to accentuate the smoky flavors of the sausage and crimini we dipped into the cheese.

The package was about $13.00 at the grocery, which includes both the vacuum sealed cheese and the reusable glazed terra cotta crock to prepare it in. The crock handled both the oven temperature and the microwave well.

Alouette Brie FondueAlouette
INGREDIENTS: Brie cheese (pasteurized cultured milk and cream, salt, enzymes), water, Chabils wine reduction (contains sulfites), sodium phosphates, milk protein concentrate, casein, spices, lactic acid, garlic, sorbic acid, beta-carotine (for color), stabilizers (guar and/or carob bean gum

This is a different style of fondue, as we discovered after we got it home. The ingredients include cheese, wine and spices making this more of a Swiss style fondue. It also contains a lot of other stuff that may or may not have made it better or worse than the Saint-Nectaire’s simpler ingredients.

As a follow up to the Saint-Nectaire, the Alouette was a bit of a letdown. It had a more bitter edge to it, likely due to the spices chosen for the dish. There was a waxy feel to the tongue. The flavor was not bad, but probably better for a taste that appreciates astringent flavors above creamy ones.

The package is 11oz, making it a good size appetizer for two or three. As it contains a white wine, pairing it for a tasting should be done selectively. We preferred a dryer white to match the flavors in the cheese.

Alouette is available for about $6 at the grocery, sealed in a plastic microwavable dish. It also comes in a garlic variety. While not listed on the website, but available at both Kroger and Spec’s in Conroe.

Overall, the concencus of our tasters went with the Saint-Nectaire for flavor, richness, creamy texture, acceptance of all the items we chose for dipping, and our wine pairing. We even felt it would pair with a hearty brown ale for those who do not favor wine.

Don’t wait for the holidays to try these fondues! They are still available on the market as this blog is posted. Don’t see them? Ask for them by name and give them a try for yourself.

–Ann Cathey

BBQ Flavored Gifting Idea

I recently noted that BBQ is a very popular flavoring not only in meat dishes where the savory and sweet sauces are used to enliven smoked meats, but in potato chip and chocolate flavorings. These days, BBQ is a gourmet flavoring for all kinds of treats. Oh, and let’s not forget the glorious sides for BBQ – pickles and onions!

Photo from Peanut Roaster website shows Bacon Ranch, Sweet Maui Onion, and Dill Pickle flavors in a gift pack.

Photo from Peanut Roaster website shows Bacon Ranch, Sweet Maui Onion, and Dill Pickle flavors in a gift pack.

On a recent trip to our local Sam’s Club, we found gift sets of gourmet peanuts by the Carolina Nut Company. There is another company online that’s using the same label art, and offering the same flavors, The Peanut Roaster. Both companies have BBQ, Sweet Onion and Dill Pickle flavor gift packs.

 

 

 

 

Carolina BBQ Peanuts from Carolina Nut Company found at Sam's Club.

Carolina BBQ Peanuts from Carolina Nut Company found at Sam’s Club.

Carolina Barbecue Peanuts
From the Website:
Carolina Barbecue Peanuts are slow-cooked and packed with zesty heat and mesquite flavor! Our extra jumbo Virginia peanuts are hand-roasted in all-natural peanut oil and slathered in smoky Carolina barbecue seasoning. Our recipe was created to give you a mouth-watering backyard barbecue experience. Laced with the famous flavor of smoky-hot and tangy North Carolina barbecue, our Carolina Barbecue Peanuts are the perfect spicy food gift.

 

 

 

Sweet Maui Onion Peanuts from Carolina Nut Company found at Sam's Club.

Sweet Maui Onion Peanuts from Carolina Nut Company found at Sam’s Club.

Sweet Maui Onion Peanuts
From the website:
Seasoned with the island flavor of sweet Maui Onion for an authentic Hawaiian snack. Extra large Virginia peanuts are coated in the perfect balance of seasoning to create the most delectable roasted nuts around. Our Maui Onion flavored peanuts are bold on flavor and intense on crunch!

 

 

 

 

 

Dill Pickle Peanuts from Carolina Nut Company found at Sam's Club.

Dill Pickle Peanuts from Carolina Nut Company found at Sam’s Club.

Dill Pickle Flavored Peanuts
From the website:
Seasoned with delicious dill these flavored peanuts pack a salt and vinegar punch with a hint of garlic. Extra large Virginia peanuts are coated in the perfect balance of seasoning to create the most delectable roasted nuts around. Our Dill Pickle flavored peanuts are bold on flavor and intense on crunch!

 

 

 

 

 

A number of flavors and nut varieties are available from both companies. Look for them locally, as we found at Sam’s Club, or order them  online.Keep these delectable taste treats in mind when looking for something new to try or even as gifts for the holidays. They are sure to please the adventurous foodies in you life!

— Ann Cathey

Cost Plus World Market

Cost Plus World Market has become one of my favorite playgrounds. You just never know what you will find inside. On my last excursion, we found all things pumpkin, fall, and Halloween, from “Book of Life” rubber duckies to Chipotle Pumpkin soup mix. I passed on the former (though they tempted me with their cuteness) but purchased the latter. And it made a large pot of extremely tasty soup. So tasty, in fact, that I wish I had bought an extra mix for later on in the winter, but hopefully I will be able to make it back to World Market before it disappears for the season.

Most, but not all, of our purchases from World Market tend to be food or beverage. We buy the occasional soap or lotion there, and we’re often tempted by everything from housewares to furniture to clothing, but mostly we buy food and drink–specifically the imports, World Market brands, and oddities that we can’t find anywhere else.

Some of the many items we’ve purchased from World Market over the past two years of living near one are:

    • Sticky Fingers Bakery’s scone mixes (we’ve tried a few of these, and they are all wonderful – and easy! And I just learned they have some varieties that are gluten-free.)

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    • Walker’s Chocolate Chip Shortbread (which is, sadly, better than my homemade shortbread, which is pretty darn good)
    • Jones Soda Company’s Peanut Butter and Jelly soda (yep, it tastes just like pb& grape jelly. Really good grape jelly. This stuff is delicious.)
    • Various and sundry types of chocolate, including Chocolate-Orange Kit-Kat bars, Chuao’s Maple Bacon chocolate bar (sinfully good!), World Market Chipotle Chili dark chocolate bar, WM Red Velvet milk chocolate bar, WM Sea Salt and Dark Chocolate bar, WM Strawberries & Champagne dark chocolate bar, and WM Chili & Lime dark chocolate bar.

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    • Pop! Rogue Blue popcorn – popcorn dusted with powdered bleu cheese from Rogue Creamery. Tasty, though the bleu cheese was so mild that it could have been mistaken for standard white cheddar.
    • Coffee. World Market has some of the best flavored drip coffees I have ever tasted, with my personal favorite being the Texas Turtle blend (medium roast with chocolate, caramel, and pecan flavors – yum). They have a wide-range of flavored and coffee-flavored coffees, including seasonal offerings, and they have a selection of hot chocolates and teas, as well.

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    • La Lavande’s Water Lily soap bar
    • Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer – this is an attempt to recreate the butterbeer from the Harry Potter series. It’s extremely sweet. It’s also all-natural, made with stevia, and caffeine-free. I think it would make a tasty ice cream float.

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  • An assortment of beers and ciders – World Market has the best hard cider selection I’ve ever seen and a good selection of craft beers, as well (they also have wine, but I’m even less of a wine drinker than I am a beer drinker). Unlike many stores, they allow the purchase of singles or mixed six-packs. This has allowed me and my evil twin to sample many ciders (Angry Orchard’s Cinnful Apple is still my favorite) and beers without overcommitting either our budgets or our refrigerator (or, for that matter, our livers). It also allows us to buy single beers to use in cooking and baking.

One of my favorite things about World Market is that, as I mentioned before, you never know what you will find inside. Our local WM has a fairly stable stock of certain items, but new items appear on a regular basis. Seasonal items change often. The Halloween items have by now given way to Thanksgiving and Christmas, including a host of item for holiday parties and gift-giving. Soon those will shift more toward Christmas, and then away again. This makes World Market a constantly changing adventure…and a great deal of fun to shop or window-shop (or both) with friends. I’m looking forward to having another fun shopping adventure with my evil twin very, very soon. I must remember to set aside an hour or more for that adventure because, as I learned not too long ago, one does not simply run into World Market for a few minutes.

–LB

Idahoan Steakhouse Potatoes

Kroger had an interesting “Free Friday Download” recently. It was for a box of a newly released Idahoan brand potato side dish. These items are made with 100% Idaho potatoes, and need milk and butter added in most cases. They bake in the oven and are well worth the effort from our recent experience.

Photo from Idahoan.com

Photo from Idahoan.com

Photo from Idahoan.com

Photo from Idahoan.com

We got to sample the Steakhouse Cheesy Hashbrowns. The website says, “Idahoan Steakhouse Cheesy Hashbrown Potatoes start with world-famous Idaho® potato shreds in a premium cheese sauce, then finish with a real crunchy onion topping! These Steakhouse Cheesy Hashbrown potatoes will add premium restaurant quality flavor to any meal.” I find I agree with their statement.

The cheese sauce came out creamy and very cheesy, keeping the whole moist without being soupy. The dried hash-brown style potato strips re-hydrated evenly offering a solid potato texture. The crunchy onion bits that serve as an included topping were a lovely addition to the “casserole”. We served the dish as a starch alongside scrambled eggs with a touch of salsa.

Actual dish from our kitchen.

Actual dish from our kitchen.

The box claims that it will make 5 half-cup servings. We made it into four servings with ease. While this might not be the best thing to do with a controlled diet, in my case for a diabetic, but it was definitely tasty!

While I rarely fiddle with a pre-made dish on the first try, we did determine that adding extra cheese is never a bad thing. Cheddar of any kind or a Gouda would add a nice flavor contrast to this dish. Keep in mind that the crunchy onion topping is a trifle sweet. That’s not a bad thing, but it is good to know when picking out other items to serve with these potatoes.

Actual dish from our kitchen. Next time, we will be adding Gouda!

Actual dish from our kitchen. Next time, we will be adding Gouda!

Other flavors in this new product lineup include:

Steakhouse Au Gratin Red Potatoes
“Idahoan Steakhouse Au Gratin Red Potatoes start with world-famous Idaho® red potato slices in a premium cheddar cheese sauce, then finish with a Parmesan cheese topping! These Steakhouse Au Gratin potatoes will add premium restaurant quality flavor to any meal.”

Steakhouse Bacon and Ranch Red Potatoes
“Idahoan Steakhouse Bacon & Ranch Red Potatoes start with world-famous Idaho® red potatoes in a premium ranch sauce, then finish with a real bacon topping! These Steakhouse Bacon & Ranch Red Potatoes will add premium restaurant quality flavor to any meal. Gotta love real bacon!”

Steakhouse Parmesan & Herb Red Potatoes
“Idahoan Steakhouse Parmesan & Herb Red Potatoes start with world-famous Idaho® red potato slices in a premium cheese sauce, then finish with a real Parmesan cheese topping! These Steakhouse Parmesan & Herb potatoes will add premium restaurant quality flavor to any meal.”

Steakhouse Scalloped Red Potatoes
“Idahoan Steakhouse Scalloped Red Potatoes start with world-famous Idaho® red potato slices in a premium cheese sauce, then finish with a topping of crispy onions for an irresistible crunch! These Steakhouse Scalloped potatoes will add premium restaurant quality flavor to any meal.”

— Ann Cathey

The Beef Jerky Outlet – Galveston

It seems like there is always something new to discover in Galveston, Texas, and my two most recent discoveries are well worth talking about. The first, I’ll address in this post. The second…well, you’ll have to come back and read all about it!

The first of my two newest discoveries in Galveston is the Beef Jerky Outlet. There are franchises of this store scattered across the country, but I’d never heard of the place until I stumbled upon the one on the Strand in Galveston.

I’d been toying with the idea of going inside for a while, but every time I happened to be in the Strand area, the shop had either closed up for the night or I was running low on funds. Finally, though, I had money and time, and I went inside.

The Outlet in Galveston is a small shop, but it isn’t like Jerky requires a lot of space. The walls are neatly lines with packet after packet of jerky of every type imaginable (and some I never would have imagined). There are also “barrels” set up around the room that hide open packets of jerky and tongs that the staff is not only willing but eager to let you sample. Not all of the types or jerky are available for sample, but many (15 or so) are.

Now, the jerky itself. This place has a wide, wide variety. There were all sorts of beef varieties, including Blazin’ Cajun, 3 Beer BBQ Rub, Cherry Maple, and Peppercorn. There were also quite a few turkey jerky varieties. But they don’t stop there; the Beef Jerky Outlet offers some interest types of jerky: chicken, crawfish, bacon, venison, duck, buffalo, elk, salmon, alligator, and even kangaroo!

My partner-in-crime and I opted to try the Slap Ya Mama crawfish jerky (which mostly tasted like the Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning –hot!) and then the maple-glazed bacon jerky (which tasted exactly like you’d think it would…heavenly). We also tried the PB Crave products that they carry. Erin opted to try the chocolate and peanut butter version, which she really liked, and I tried the kind with banana, which I found disappointing (the banana part tasting like banana flavoring rather than actual banana).

After much, much perusing and discussing, Erin and I made our selections and took them home. Erin bought a 4oz bag of the maple-glazed bacon jerky and I bought three jerky sticks (venison, buffalo, and elk).

We had a little taste-testing party later, and our opinions of the three flavors actually lined up (a rarity).

  • The venison did not win any points with us. It had a decent flavor, but the texture was dry and crumbly. It made me feel almost like I had a mouth full of tobacco or tea leaves. Not something we will purchase again (though we might try the actual jerky instead of the jerky stick).
  • The elk had a much better texture, and a wonderful flavor. It was juicy—unusual for jerky of any kind—and absolutely delicious. It’s a type I definitely will buy again and will share with my foodie friends.
  • The buffalo had an even better flavor than the elk, though it lacked the juiciness. It also had a very nice texture. Again, I will buy it again and share with friends.

Overall, although the products are a little pricey (as all jerky is), I’m very glad we stumbled into the Beef Jerky Outlet. I love that you can try many of the products and that the staff is friendly, enthusiastic, and helpful. Whether, like me, you just like to try new things or you’re a die-hard jerky enthusiast, this place needs to be on your “to visit” list when you’re in Galveston.

— L.B. Clark