Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dr. Hengtgen or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the burger

The Little Bitty Burger Barn Houston, TX

One of my favorite activities, second to riding, is eating, and what better food to eat than the American staple: Hamburgers.

The humble hamburger has no specific origin. Hamburgers evolved in many different European nations simultaneously. As meat processing became more of an art in the east, so naturally did it move west. Fast forward a few hundred years and the corned beef and tar-tare steaks of European yore have evolved into something that has helped shape American culture since the 19th century.

Simple enough; the hamburger, ground beef, formed into a slightly cylindrical circle and grilled to taste. Out of the hamburger’s utilitarian roots grew the backbone of the fast food industry, and due to its ubiquity, about an hours minimum wage can score you one of these tasty cultural icons.

There are millions of joints pedaling hamburgers which naturally fosters a competitive rivalry among its creators. Hamburgers are not rocket science, ergo, it’s no wonder anyone with some beef and a barbecue fancies themselves a chef; however, there is a true art to preparing a burger that stands out in a crowd and a near cult following of those who do.

With 2 wheels beneath me and a crisp 20, I decided my hunger was worth more than just satiating at some super franchise, I went in search, of a best burger.

Turning to my smarty phone, I was pointed in the direction of...

Drum roll please...

The “Little Bitty Burger Barn

Now this isn't a biography, so I'm not going to throw any boring facts at you, nor am I going to try to explain why the owners have seen fit to hang 2 Arizona Cardinal banners on the wall.  What I will do is offer my subjectively objective experience at this Houstonian fábrica de delicias.

Surprisingly enough, the Little Bitty Burger Barn offers a large variety of hamburgers, several of which have cute names like “Juicy Lucy” or “The Big Juan”. Seeing that I was smitten for something uber hot but not jackassticly hot, I set my sights on “The Big Juan”, a half pound patty stuffed with jalapenos and served with all the standard operating procedures. A patty really doesn't do it justice, it was more a miniature loaf than a patty and nearly 2 inches thick in the center.

Now this, was a best burger, and I loved every atherosclerotic bite; however this BLOG entry is not about the Big Juan. The reason that my travel to the Little Bitty Burger Barn was so noteworthy?

The 5 alarm fire burger challenge.

The Little Bitty Burger Barn, as featured on the Food Network, not only has a reputation for making good burgers they boast being the birthplace of the “Charlie’s 5 Alarm Fire Burger” -touted the hottest hamburger in Texas. Watch the clip below and see just how jackassticly spicy this burger is.

Meet Jay Hengtgen, co-owner of the LBBB and burgerologist-in-chief, Jay created “Nitro Sauce” which is liberally applied to the 5 alarm burger. Though Jay is an amiable man on the surface, I sense he takes great pleasure in burning peoples faces off.

Enter David So, the sole reason this went from enjoyable lunch, to epic experience.
David is 30, of average build, and fancies himself able to handle any scoville unit thrown his way. David tells me that when it comes to eating large quantities of food he is old hat. David reports, on separate occasions, the successful consumption of 2 super monster burritos from Freebirds, no small feat considering they weigh in around 3 pounds each.

David tells me he was looking for a food challenge close by and came up with the LBBB’s 5 alarm by proxy. David watches Man v Food and figures why should Adam Richman have all the fun. David reports he can eat up to 5 pounds of food in a day, he wants to work out, but like me, always feels starting tomorrow would be best.

“When it comes to eating spicy foods, it boils down to what age you first tried them.
I had a problem with my stomach and had to stop eating spicy foods for a while, I no longer feel any symptoms and feel compelled to find out what I can handle” states Mr. So. He has an air of confidence about him -despite the disclaimer he was made to sign prior to the 5 alarm's construction.

The disclaimer reads:
    I agree as indicated by my signature below and or / as follows in connection with my tasting / eating or consuming Charlie’s Five Alarm Fire Burger or Nitro Wings at Little Bitty Burger Barn, 5503 Pinemont Drive, Houston TX 77092.

    I Hereby disclaim, release and relinquish any and all claims, actions, and lawsuits that I, or any of my dependents, heirs, family members or legal representatives, may have angainst any party relating to any damage or injury that may result, or is alleged to have resulted, from the use, consumption, ingestion, contact or other use of or from Charlie’s Five Alarm Fire Burger or Nitro Wings. I also agree to hold harmless LUNASPORTS, L.L.C., DBA Little Bitty Burger Barn by signature below. I also agree to hold harmless the Owners, Officers, Employees, their Families and or Heirs by signature below.

    I am not inebriated or otherwise not of sound mind, and I am fully able to make a sound decision about the consumption of Charlies Five Alarm Fire Burger and or Nitro Wings.

When the order is received, Jay sounds a little horn several times and steps out of the kitchen to meet the man or woman stupid enough to try his creation. Despite Jay’s pressure to desist and eat something else David, remains unshaken, eager to test his mettle...

That is...

Until its arrival...

Presenting the burger: David is read his last rights and given some strongly advised safety tips.

With the dawning of latex gloves so as not to saturate his skin with toxic chemical, the burger was placed before us; as the smells radiated from this satanic excrement, reality set in for poor David.

The look his face gives away David’s new respect for Charlies 5 Alarm Fire Burger.

It begins...

A crowd started to gather as David removed the skewer and fished a tot out of the basket. I don’t believe David had this spectacle in mind when he set out for a nice solo eating challenge.

And then, without further delay, David dove in...

Near instant regret. Within the first minute of the first bite David was reeling in horror at the intensity of the heat. The ensuing chaos was not pretty, but fun to watch...

Tears of joy. David’s less than 10-minute eating ordeal consisted of a drink to bite ration of 3:1. Like a nurse to a surgeon, I wiped David’s face and brow from all the excessive lacrimation. We could all tell, David was not likely to finish his burger.

Soda offers little solace.


We ready the atropine and 2-PAM

And finally, the official conceit. David had endured enough.

Jay removes the 5 Alarm trophy, the little firefighter helmet that adorns every Charlies 5 Alarm Fire Burger served. Shame follows, as David laments about the severity of the challenge and his failure to complete.

Jay gives more advise and an after action review. David is told that there will be subsequent burnings in the following hours if not days. Poor David.

David reflects after disappearing to the bathroom for about 15 minutes. “I can feel it continue to burn in my stomach”. Not about to leave a festering pile of capsaicin in his belly, David ordered a Reuben Burger and states he wishes it would have been his first choice.  David reports he is grateful he does not have to go back to work and looks forward to eating his second sandwich.

And there you have it. Houston's own, Little Bitty Burger Barn, a destination I will henceforth be frequenting. Stop in and say howdy to Ricardo and Jay, just don’t try to achieve fame by attempting the challenge...

Yes, lets not forget the motorcycle:

!Caio Bella!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Yee-HAW The Texas State Fair!

The "Texas Star"
The Texas State Fair. Boasting the largest in the country, the Texas State Fair has been in operation for 120 years now.

I wonder how many years ago they began gouging Texans?
Now someone will be offended by the above statement, if so, you probably fit into 1 of 2 categories: the super well-to-do, or the super poor. How could such a social strata be grouped you ask: neither have any concern for money.
Allow me to share my mediocre adventure with you…
First: I blame no one but myself for my experience, I’m sure that a little research on my part could have helped me avoid such a financial mistake. I accept full responsibility for my actions: no one enticed me to go, no ads, no articles, no persuasions at all; only my self-initiated interest. I’m not suggesting that the idea just spontaneously came to me. The fair occurred to me thanks to an episode of “King of the Hill”. Hank and his ilk attend the fair where (the late) Luanne ends up in the head of the “Big Tex” statue and proceeds to have a tantrum about something or other; I really can’t recall what the episode was about.
So Big Tex, the famous 50 foot statue flaunting his Dickies work wear, lured me to the world’s largest paid advertisement. Let me note at this point that if you are a single traveler, aiming to look at women, eat some fried food and drink copious beer the State Fair is for you. For the sojourner seeking a good time the Fair has plenty of potential –definitely a bucket list destination. For the family man, not so much…
Within moments of entering the metropolis of Dallas, my smarty phone quickly swept me off I45 and into a disenfranchised ghetto. After verifying the doors to my geriatric Mountaineer were locked, I proceeded to get lost despite my GPS’s assurance I was heading in the right direction. The streets of Dallas appear to have been plotted by a group of toddlers. After multiple U-turns and with a renewed confidence in the GPS I arrived at the State Fair. A few miles of seeking a parking spot had me fed up enough to pay 10 dollars for a seedy gravel lot behind a McDonalds and close to the main gate.
I have to praise the Dallas Police; their presence was felt and highly appreciated. The OT budget of Dallas must be pretty high, every 15 degrees of view you could see a cop –or group of cops. I felt safe with my 2 boys as we confidently strode to the gate.
I approached 2 women of advanced age staffing the ticket booth; they were friendly enough as they informed me my entrance would cost 44 dollars. I felt that genuine Texas hospitality as I parted with my credit card. Begin the fleece. After watching my children get wanded for weapons we made entry through the turnstile.
Sweet! Here we are: the sights, the smells, the sounds, the Fair! Awesome I thought; what a good dad I am for bringing my kids to the fair… The first thing the boys wanted to do was eat. We went to the ticket booth and with a wide grin I dropped 50 dollars without a second thought. 50 bucks bought me 100 tickets –what I believed to be a princely sum- WRONG. I axed the woman selling the tickets if the food vendors accepted credit cards, “they all operate on tickets, everything is paid for with tickets” she said. “Ok thanks” what a novel idea, this will make it easy to keep spending under control –WRONG.
Without further ado we took the obligatory picture in front of “Big Tex” the 50 foot dickies ad that resembles a very oddly shaped senior citizen with COPD, and then made our way to the food.

Just thrilled to death!

View from the base of
"Texas Star"
 You can’t beat the smells of the fair, there exists no better way to cook food than to submerge it in hot oil. You can keep the few extra years of old age you get by avoiding saturated fat –I’ll take my fried beer and side order of CAD. With cart blanch I ordered the boys a chicken tender basket, fries, and a handsome looking corn on the cob for myself. My smile disappeared as they informed me the total was 24 tickets (a price of 12.00). What I didn’t see was the price board which was cleverly facing the opposite direction of the passersby. Wow, this might require reevaluation.
Surely I can make up for this on the rides. After we choked down the food (which was pretty good, the corn especially, not 5 dollars good, but good) we ambulated toward the midway. The glee was palpable and we were all looking forward to having our guts twisted. Sweet, the first rides (INSERT RECORD SCRATCH SOUND HERE) WTF! 10 tickets a ride. My gross financial underestimation had sunk in, I did my best to hide my anxiety from the kids however it didn’t take them long to realize dad was not in a good way. “Dad lets go on this”, “Um, no, that doesn’t look very fun”, “let’s go on this”, “Oh, that’s cool but look at the line” “Dad WTF?”

We decided on the Dragon boat that swings back and forth and for 15 dollars I watched BOTH the boys’ faces turn from smiling fun to life threatened terror. Seemed near weightlessness didn’t sit well with them and I felt a bit guilty as I reassured the littlest that everything would be fine. I resorted to firmly pressing the boy into his seat with my forearm, which pacified him enough to stop fearing for his life. On to the next ride, which we all agreed should be the “Texas Star”, a rather large Ferris wheel. Cost of “Texas Star”: 12 tickets (6.00 per rider) and the only ride with a long line. Once on board we got to enjoy a heart stopping 2 revolutions –only one of which was at speed, the first time around was for continual loading and offloading of the cars. What a great photo op, except that the cars resemble a correctional facility.

Now 84 dollars (and about 45 minutes) into our expedition I was having serious reservations. I purchased an additional 100 tickets and tried to make the most of it. We found another ride which everyone could agree on and took 2 goes on it; both the boys highly enjoyed this and I basked the warmth of their short lived approval.

Time for some food, the oldest was on a quest for some fried ribs and I was looking to eat some fried Snickers. We strolled around the Midway and endured the heckling of carnies pushing their games with false promises. The boys were attracted by a sign reading “fried Twinkies”… Well hell yes we stopped, and 28 tickets later (yep, that’s 14.00) we had purchased: 1 Twinkie, 1 bottle of root beer and 1 glass of lemonade. The boys split the Twinkie and I firmly cemented my status as a cheap bastard.

40 units of Humulin later we decided (I decided) to check out some of the expos set up in the multiple noir looking buildings with murals straight out of an Ayn Rand novel on the west end of the grounds. Much to my chagrin, this too was an epic fail. I circulated several hundred thousand square feet of pushy sales pitches and more overpriced garbage. I eventually wound up in a gigantic auto dealership where the kids and I enjoyed sitting in vehicles I couldn’t afford –my favorite of which was a Subaru Outback, which the kids informed me only a woman would drive. (I just like it is all)

A one man band. Probably pretty cool to a pre Gen X'er.

Several brands later I happened upon what I consider the highlight of my visit, a Yamaha display. I drooled over a “Super Tenere” (pronounced TEN er Ray) and allowed myself exposure to a sales pitch for which I was awarded the privilege of swinging my leg over the seat. I was thoroughly impressed with the bike and my desire to buy a Triumph Tiger has been severely challenged -back to the story.
It didn’t take long for the kids to make known their boredom. We made our way back to a row of food courts and the search for the infamous fried ribs resumed. Then I found it, my personal holy grail of fried foods, the fried Snickers Bar. What a steal, priced at only 8 tickets (4.00). I was promptly served up about 800 calories of bliss and again enjoyed myself momentarily. I was reeled back to earth by a cranky 10-year-old who had had his fill of the State Fair. We made our way to the main gate desperate to find the oldest boy (and self proclaimed smartest of our group) some fried ribs. As we got closer and closer to the gate the dream of fried ribs faded and reality set in. Instead, the boy opted for another 10 ticket lemonade (which the youngest had to have as well) And with that I had exhausted all but 1 of my tickets (for those of you keeping the math, I used 1 ticket to make up for my 50 cent shortage for a bottle of coke I bought while at the expos)
The boys made known their displeasure with the event and then to add insult to insult, there it was: “Fried Ribs” at the last food vendor of the walkway. You can be assured that I caught an earful.

Something about kids and hotels...

We boarded the SUV and I purchased a room via “Priceline” on my smarty phone. I am happy to report our room at the Hyatt was EXCEPTIONALLY nice and the boys enjoyed it very much. I of course got a room in Frisco which is north of Dallas for the sole purpose of enjoying dinner at “In-N-Out”. We stuffed ourselves with some burgers and fries that were worth going 30 miles out of our way for.

The next morning we had reached a unanimous vote that the Fair would not be a day 2 destination. Instead we opted to tour Dallas starting with a healthy brunch at In-N-Out. We Starbucked up and after a brief detour to an ATM drove to Lake Dallas to visit “Hidden Cove Park”.

Utter disappointment once again. The entrance fee (and I am assuming more were I pulling a boat) was $10.00. Yes, I am a cheap bastard –I blame my wife. We tried to make the most of it and explored a bit. We failed to find 4 Geocaches and my smarty phone died after a short 30 minutes on battery. We had a showdown with a vulture that was guarding a dead squirrel and decided it was time to go.
He had more fun on this swing than at the fair.
From there we drove to Ranger Stadium which was pretty cool. The kids caught a glimpse of Six Flags Over Texas, and the bellyaching commenced. It seemed everyone was fed up with the whole experience so I made the command decision to head home.

Trinity Cemetery. Spooky.
We gassed up and made our way south. I made one last attempt to Geocache; I exited East Belt Line Road off I45 south and drove to the Trinity Cemetery. We again failed to find the microcache but found some cool stuff off the beaten path. Many of the old tombstones were knocked over or broken in half. The spot designated by my smarty phone directed us to a smooth flesh colored tree that had completely enveloped a tombstone growing up and around it. We caught dinner at Chilies where the youngest fell smitten with our waitress. Continuing south, we all made a pact to one day scale the water tower in Ennis and paint a giant “P”. One more fuel stop at the Buc’ees where we marveled at the size and cleanliness of their latrine.
Once back in Spring, I made one last stop at the request of the youngest. We all finalized the mini vacation with 19 dollars worth of frozen yogurt. Once home, fat and happy, I assured the kids our next trip would be better… Six Flags!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hill country hiking in Bastrop

Cancelled vacation plans + no responsibilities - money = a little ride to Bastrop State Park. The weather here in the Gulf Coast has recently turned; nothing to complain about mind you -lows in the mid 30's- however considering our blistering norm, and the 25 degree drop over the past 48 hours, it's pretty cold. The importance of this is that I failed to prepare for cycling in such a climate...
A short jaunt to you adventure veterans, a mere 120 miles from me, Bastrop State Park is a great destination for a family or a sojourner offering: camping, hiking, golf, and plenty of other boring excuses to get on your KLR and ride. info on Bastrop State Park
To download a .gpx file compatible with Google Earth and most Garmin products click here > GPS FILE
Plug in your Garmin, send this file to it and you can walk in my footsteps! HooRAY!
Bastrop offers a solemn trek that anyone of average fitness can tackle with no problems. Among the Loblolly Pine trees, the trail has enough elevation variance to keep things interesting.
Loblolly Pine Trees

Cliffs of Insanity

Apparently there is a bit of history here in BSP: I came across this interesting sign marking where some ancient path was. Story is that a man by the name of James Gotier blazed this trail connecting San Felipe to now Bastrop. Risking no further plagiarism, feel free to read all about it here.

Well how about that

I greatly enjoyed this hike, much more than the return trip for which I grossly under-planned (froze my ass off). I intend to further explore this area in the near future; there is much to see besides the Lost Pines Trail. A bit of advice to those brave enough to follow the .gpx file: appropriate hiking footwear is a must have. I left the nearly 8.5 mile trail (for those purists that actually noticed I cut the loop using the orange trail slicing a heroic 8.5 down to a pathetic 7.5) with sore feet and freshly loosened heels.

Trail Head Marker

 November brings very tolerable temperatures to the Texas Hill Country so if you plan on being outdoors, get to it!


And now, on to the MOTO PORN: 

The GLAM shot