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Posts from — June 2009

Houston dives for Sandra Lee to poop on

Those on the Houston Chowhounds mailing list have recently been following the dramedy that has become the Food Network  search for locations to film an episode of Diners, Dive-ins and Dives in Houston. I’m not a fan of the show and Guy Fieri doesn’t seem to be the type of guy I’d share a meal with, but I can appreciate a good train wreck when I see one.

The “creative process” apparently goes something like this: a hapless Food Network scout does a Google search for Houston food blogs, picks one at random and asks for a list of recommendations. The blog owner enlists a few other natives to toss around ideas and together they generate a list. Not every recommendation is a great fit for the show, but you could do far worse with Yelp, so it’s not a bad way to narrow your search in a city as large and unfriendly to outsiders as Houston. This is where the whole thing comes off the rails.

Houston may not be an undiscovered country, but we have our own cultural barriers here. Some of the restaurant owners barely speak English, while others simply told the producers to take a hike. Not all were entirely convinced that providing photos to the scouts was worth the effort,  narrowing the list further and further. In the end the Red Lion Pub (a dive with a publicist!) and Himalaya made the list. That is, until the Food Network inexplicably cancelled on Himalaya, leaving  the Red Lion and maybe a couple of other places who’s clientele is mostly white and English speaking (rumored to be Taco’s a Go Go and Kenny’s & Ziggy’s).

If you’re wondering what makes someone pick Red Lion over Himalaya, you’re not alone. I’ve been to Red Lion a couple of times on various work functions and even forced myself to eat a few things. The menu reads like a lively collection of British pub staples, but it tastes… semi-homemade.

image The new face of Food Network
(src img: foodnetworkhumor)

Not sure I fault the owners. No one comes to Red Lion for the food -but they do come for the rowdy atmosphere. It’s the type of place where you wouldn’t be surprised to find a couple of “regular gals” like Sandra Lee and Rachel Ray pouncing on prey like a pair of drunken cougars. The grub is mediocre, but is what the new Food Network demographic expects these days.

There was a time when the channel had real chefs cooking real food and exploring interesting places around the world, but the Food Network has long ago ceded that sort of programming to the Travel Channel and Bravo. The new Food Network seems to target people who watch their television in giant blocks of morning shows, soaps, self improvement programs, feel good stories and “cooking”.

I can only assume that is the reason why the Food Network chose a faux-British pub, a faux-NY deli and a relatively good taco joint, but one where you’d rarely see an actual Hispanic person. These places generate business through their heavily stylized “character” as much as their food.

IMG_7995 Houston Chowhounds dinner at Himalaya

In contrast, the only things at Himalaya with real character are the food and Kaiser, the charismatic chef/owner who somehow finds the time to run the front of the house and turn out the best Pakistani food in the city. The restaurant seems to have gotten a splash of paint and a few pictures on the walls recently, but it still maintains it’s clinical feel with it’s metal chairs and glass topped tables.

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June 16, 2009   20 Comments