Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stephen's Suggestions 6/28/2011

Another mid-week Summer edition of Stephen's suggestions featuring the much anticipated return of Summer of Burgers.

Yes, that IS a fried egg sitting on top of my burger.
 SUMMER OF BURGERS: The Burger Guys. Located on Old Westheimer Rd. way out in Northwest Houston outside the Beltway, The Burger Guys is a pilgrimage worthy of only the most ardent burger aficionados. From LaPorte/Pasadena area it took us about 45 minutes to make the lunchtime drive to this tiny spot of burger bliss. Each burger on the menu costs $8 and is named for the city that inspired it. We had a Houston and a Sonoma burger. With ingredients like onion bacon jam, fancy lawnmower ale mustard, bread and butter jalapenos, applewood smoked bacon, and aioli these burgers sound like they belong on a five-star restaurant menu instead of a burger joint. For $1 more you can add a fried egg to your meat masterpiece (what does a fried egg NOT make better?). The Burger Guys absolutely murdered it in the sides category. Their Belgian fries made with duck fat were amazing, and with each order you can pick from two of the five homemade dipping sauces. Those fries probably deserve a 2,000 word blog unto themselves. Add in their old school Imperial Sugar soda fountains and homemade shakes featuring such flavors as Cookie Crisp cereal, and you have a pig out joint worthy of the largest appetites. If you do make the trek to this mecca of meat I have two suggestions. 1. If you don't like your burger with a lot of pink be sure to order medium well -well done. 2. If sodium is an issue you may want to opt for a shake instead of fries to go with your burger.

ENTERTAINMENT: Minute Maid Park. Got to check out my first Astros game live this season (yes, they were free tickets), and came away with an even greater appreciation for the juice box. You can see roughly 29 better baseball teams than the Astros, but there are not too many ballparks that top Minute Maid. I was most impressed by the new HD video screen above right field. WOW! That thing is truly impressive in person. Even as someone who enjoys all the intricacies of a game of baseball, I found myself staring at that monument to technological achievement more than I expected. This was probably due to the fact that the Astros could only muster three measly hits in nine innings, but still, that scoreboard is sweet! Talk about great value, I am fairly certain I saw a scalper trade two dugout tickets for a pack of cigarettes and a diet coke.

"I keep gettin older...but these aliens stay the same age"
 TV: Falling Skies. Finally got around to watching the TNT premiere of Falling Skies after hearing from several people that it was The Walking Dead with aliens. WRONG. That's a little like saying the WNBA is the NBA with women. Falling Skies didn't have the excellent mood and grittiness that makes The Walking Dead so good. It also felt like a Saturday morning special with the PSA's for American history and moral codes. The Walking Dead embraces survivors' struggles with moral dilemma, but it does so in a far more realistic and honest way. Also, Noah Wyle has a little Wooderson look to him which I found slightly distracting. My suggestion here is to skip this summer drama and wait till October when the zombies come back and show these aliens how it's done.

CELEBRATIONS: Fireworks. Not only is this current Saharan drought threatening to turn my front lawn into a sandbox, but now it is taking aim at an American institution.... 4th of July fireworks. It appears that most cities in the Houston area will be cancelling their annual fireworks shows due to dry weather. Never fear though, my sister informed me that Crosby will only be "postponing" their much anticipated show until Labor day. Sure Crosby we will all make the journey to your town for some good old September fireworks. Please. My suggestion is to go on with the show. There are few things that I am adamant about keeping tradition, fireworks on the 4th is at the top of the list. Besides what is the worst that could happen? Our ugly lawns could burn and we may all be drenched with ice cold hydrant water? I say we take our chances.

Those are my suggestions for the week. Take 'em or leave 'em.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Need a talent evaluator NBC?
"Daryl Morey is a basketball genius." Here in Houston we get told this on a daily basis. Of course when your in town comparisons are Ed Wade and Rick Smith, you can look like Stephen Hawking by simply being able to solve a Rubik's cube. I do think Morey is a good talent evaluator, and I definitely think the Rockets are Houston's best run sports franchise. However, because the NBA is now a league where the best players actively recruit each other to chase championships and trade gold digging groupies, it seems the Rockets may never be able to land the star they so desperately need. If the Rockets were a TV show, I would say they most resemble Saturday Night Live. Every "show" has some really good parts, none of the "players" are overly impressive on their own, and occasionally the whole performance produces a "win". SNL isn't the star powered juggernaut it used to be, and neither are the Rockets. Last night's draft brought in Marcus Morris, Jonny Flynn, Chandler Parsons, and requisite Euro talent Donatas Motiejunas. A Bill Hader, Bobby Moynihan, Andy Samberg, and Kristen Wiig type haul (For the record, the Euro dude is Kristen). I have nothing against these guys (except maybe the Euro) and obviously there was no Lebron James available, but really last night was another big YAWN. The Rockets have put together a solid team with a lot of very good NBA players on it, but we need an Eddie Murphy or John Belushi. I am not ready to call for Daryl Morey's head. Let's see what he can get done with all these pieces he has acquired. With the lockout looming he should have plenty of time to consult his IBM Supercomputer and turn some of these guys around for a big. After the draft I tweeted that the Rockets look a lot like most of my junior high teams I have coached; 5 point guards and 5 forwards, but I don't think they will start the season with the roster they have now. If this is the team Daryl is rolling the dice with then we can all get ready for another season of Seth Myers type mediocrity and the 14th pick. For the record, if we are comparing Houston teams to television shows, then Texans = The Killing (always promising but throw you off the cliff in end) and Astros = Keeping up with the Kardashians (train wreck throughout).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Stephen's Suggestions 6/21/2011

Midweek Summer special edition. Back again with a foursome that would make the U.S. Open jealous.

MOVIES: Super 8. Caught this flick last weekend and thought it was a lot of fun. If you grew up between 1977-1989 I have to think you would at least get a kick out of seeing this movie. It was Stand by Me wrapped in E.T. with some Goonies on the top. Just like those great flicks it was really more about the kids than the alien, monster, or mysterious dead body. A welcome throwback picture in a Summer full of poo poo platters like The Green Lantern, Pirates 4, and a movie I would only see if you held my family hostage and the only way I could get them back was to sit through 2 hours of torture ......... Transformers 3. I will admit the last 1/3 of the movie fell a little flat for me, but you could do A LOT worse at the theatre this Summer. Solid film. Go see it and let me know what you think.

ENTERTAINMENT: Netflix. Just signed up for Netflix this month. I know, "Congratulations for joining the 21st century Stephen." This service is probably the best value you can get for $7.99 a month. Right now we're going back and watching the first season of Parks and Rec, (for my money the best comedy on TV right now) since we came to the Pawnee party late. I'm also plowing through Friday Night Lights, a show I am amazed I never watched. It features 3 of my favorite things in life 1. Texas 2. Football and 3. Texas HS Football. The show is spectacular and Coach Taylor is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in television history. Now that The Killing Lebron Jamesed me in the finale, it's nice to be able to fire up some great television at will. I will say the only drawback is finding out that many selections are only available via the $2 mail upgrade. Seriously Netflix, it's not so much the $2 but the idea of having to use an antiquated service like the U.S . Mail when I can just click and start watching. Check it out. If you need some suggestions for what to watch read some of the excellent reviews of TV shows at apedonkey.com, those guys do a great job reviewing television.

Will Rockets draft pick look something like this?
SPORTS: NBA DRAFT. Thursday night. What's more awkward than watching uptight David Stern shaking hands with dozens of inner city brothers and socially inept foreigners? Watching him do it as he is simultaneously freaking out over an impending lockout. With the lack of top level talent in this year's draft, we could see a new standard set for unintentional comedy. The Rockets once again were neither great or terrible, so they are stuck in draft purgatory at #14. Daryl Morey is said to be on the phones looking to make a deal (PLEASE not Josh Smith). So it should be a lot of fun to see if the Rockets can move up or trade for an established player. Worst case scenario: they stay at #14 and draft some foreign dude with a name like Stepvanovich who smokes 3 packs of cigs a day and rocks a Euro-mullet. Welcome to the 2011 NBA(Bizarro World), where Dirk Nowitzki reigns supreme over Lebron and Dwade.

PARENTING: Helicopter Parents. My final suggestion this week is in reflection of Father's Day and this story about a Little League Mom in New York who sent threatening letters and falsely accused child molestation after her son was not picked for the traveling all star team. Pitiful. Parents, let your children do their thing. It's summer, let them be kids. In this season of AAU sports, remember that your kids are still just that......kids. 9 out of 10 times you are wrong. They are your children and therefore it is impossible to look at them objectively. When they do face hardships....GREAT. You know what is worse than being 13 and not picked for your sports team? Being 22 and unable to deal with the real world because your parents always sheltered you and made you think the entire Earth revolves around you.

Those are my suggestions for the week. Take 'em or leave 'em.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

NFL Reality Check

What would you do if you couldn't watch me?
 So far every talking head on ESPN, Ray Lewis, Magic Johnson, The President, and pretty much everybody else on TV and the Internet has told me how important it is for the NFL to end this lockout. Now if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am a self described "huge sports fan". However, I am tired of hearing how my entire existence depends on whether or not the owners and players can solve their differences and end the lockout. Guess what? I love football, but it doesn't define my life. Do I look forward to Texans games and Sunday-Monday night NFL? Absolutely. Guess what else I look forward to on Sundays? Worshipping at my church. Gorging myself at the traditional Sunday afternoon lunch at my parents' house. Spending time with my wife and kids. I think I will be able to prevent myself from committing suicide if the NFL doesn't come back by Labor Day. Whatever will I do with myself if I can't spend 4-10pm wondering how in the world the Texans managed to blow another game in the 4th quarter? Don't get me wrong, I care if this thing gets solved and would love for football season to start on time. What I don't care for is the ridiculous language being thrown about to try and describe how important football season is to us common folk. Ray Lewis, I think I will be able to stay out of jail on Sundays even without the NFL on TV, as a Texans fan there is probably a 1000x better chance of me doing something to go to jail BECAUSE football is on TV (just ask my wife). Is it any wonder how we have created athletes like Lebron James who tell us smugly, "You will still have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life." ? Yeah Lebron I will, and you know what Mr. Goodell if the NFL doesn't come back this year I will STILL wake up and have the same life I had yesterday. Last I checked college football WILL be returning. The way ESPN broadcasts 3 games a night 7 days a week, I'm pretty sure I will be able to get my football fix on without the NFL. So here's to you guys figuring out how to divide the million dollar profits of America's most successful sport, just realize that if you can't, most of us will be able to make it without you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Heartfelt Plea for the NL

              Saturday brought news that MLB was discussing possible realignment and that one team thought to be the favorite to switch leagues was the Houston Astros. BOOM. Twitter explosion. My timeline was suddenly filled with passionate arguments for or against this theoretical move to the American League. I found myself strangely passionate about the subject as well, and it took me a little while to process my emotions. I am strongly against the Astros leaving the National League. I can understand those who have an opposite opinion. They are currently frustrated, they see the AL as a more exciting game(more runs scored), they see the major draws in the AL(Yankees & Red Sox), but I just couldn't shake my initial impression that this was a bad idea. You know what I realized? To those of us who grew up here in Houston, the Astros mean a lot more than we thought. We have witnessed decades of National League baseball. As a kid I loved all the Houston teams, but the only one my family could afford to go see regularly were the Astros. I grew up sitting in the outfield seats watching the Stros battle the Braves, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals and other National League foes. I have grown up learning to appreciate the way baseball is played in the NL. Sure we don't have as good a rivalry as Cubs-Cards, but what teams do? Last I checked the Astros have been around a lot longer and enjoyed more success than the Rangers. Why should we change our history to create a rivalry with a team that has only been good for a few years? Sure everybody is frustrated this season, but the Stros are rebuilding. Every team except for the Red Sox and Yankees has to do that. Heck, the Rangers had to do it for 20 years. I could go into the scheduling implications and debate the superiority of one league over another, but I realized that this is a whole lot bigger than that. This is part of my childhood and my life as a Houston sports fan. I can't fully put it into words, but all my memories of the Astros belong in the National League. The series with the Mets. The rivalry with the Dodgers. The multiple playoff wars with the Braves. The only Astro memory that is AL heavy is the no hitter against the Yankees. Even the greatest Astros' season ended with them being the NATIONAL league representative in the World Series. You want a true Texas rivalry that would put the national microscope on baseball here in our great state? Wouldn't an Astros-Rangers World Series be 100x more interesting and awesome than a few regular season series? Should we move the Texans to the NFC East so they can play the Cowboys more? A lot of sportswriters who are tooting the horn for the AL didn't grow up watching the Astros. I understand why they would like to cover a higher scoring game and the two biggest teams in baseball, but they don't understand what the Astros and the National League mean to us fans. So while I won't belittle you if you favor a move to the AL, please understand that I, and I think a lot of fans like myself, would like to keep the Stros in the National League.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Stephen's Suggestions 6/11/2011

Burgers, pop culture, and sports. Do you really need to know anything else?

SUMMER OF BURGERS: Hubcap Grill. A few blocks from Minute Maid Park in a building about the size of my living room you can get some of the best burgers the Earth has to offer. If you blink you will miss this Burger Mecca, but don't let the size fool you. This little burger joint on Prarie St. brings some serious heat. We had the double meat cheeseburger, the greek burger, the bacon cheeseburger, and a philly cheese steak burger. All four burgers made me stop and savor every inch of juicy tastiness. I'm almost certain I could feel the double meat cheeseburger french kissing my taste buds. The philly cheese steak and greek burger were extremely satisfying variations on the classic American sandwich. I cannot give a more hearty endorsement for a good burger.

SPORTS: NBA Finals. Let me throw some names at you: Dirk, Dwade, Bosh, Jason Terry, Udonis Haslem, Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea. What do all of those guys have in common? They have all scored as many or more points than Lebron James has in the 4th quarter of this series! Save your fundamentals argument, I know enough about basketball to understand that a player can impact a game without scoring, but this is getting ridiculous. The worst part for the Heat? For the first time, as I watched game 5, I felt like the Mavericks were the better team. The other 2 wins felt like David Blaine specials where the Mavericks pulled a win out of thin air (largely due to terrible end of game strategies by the Heat), but Game 5 felt like a Mavericks win from the get go. Do I think the Heat will still win? Yes, I can't shake the fact that they have 3 of the 4 best players on their team. However, the impending collapse of the big 3 makes this must see TV. Erik Spoelstra is probably coaching for his job this weekend. Lebron is playing to silence millions of critics. And 20 years ago if you had told me I would one day witness a 7 foot German who listens to David Hasselhoff albums knocking down threes to defeat the 2 best players in the NBA Finals, I would have pooped in my Z. Cavaricci's from shock.

MOVIES: True Grit. One of my favorite movies from last year is finally coming out on DVD. If you didn't catch this flick at the theatres, do it now. It stars Jeff Bridges, who once played "the Dude", which firmly placed him in the "I will watch anything starring this guy" category. He is awesome as always. He uses a drunken western accent that might remind you of your 90 year old uncle who gets sloshed at family gatherings and is the life of the party, despite no one knowing a single thing he says. The real showstopper though is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. She steals every scene she's in and puts in the best underage performance I've seen since Doogie Howser M.D. Netflix it. Redbox it. Or if you live in rural Alabama head to Blockbuster and thank me later.

ANATOMY: Breasts. Whooa. Hang on there cowboy it's not what you think. The wife is teaching our future to speak Spanish during the summer afternoons (Good thing too cause it could be our state language by 2020). So your neighborhood teacher/coach/blogger who gets summer off is doing his best Michael Keaton impression for 3 hrs every day (Minus the bad perm). During this time I have gained a new found respect for the mammaries. When my 2 month old son gets hungry he doesn't politely ask for food, he SCREAMS William Wallace style until something milky enters his mouth. Normally I don't notice that much because my wife is equipped by God to give him immediate food. Can you imagine every time you got hungry a tasty burrito or burger falling out of the sky? Now that I am stuck listening to the wailing while preparing and warming a bottle (I am getting much faster), I can only say that God knew exactly what he was doing when he equipped women with built in milkshakes. Also, I hear they are excellent for other stuff as well.

Those are my suggestions for the week. Take 'em or leave 'em.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Want your team to win an NBA Finals..... Get a Superstar


          All the talk of the Big 3 in Miami and the emergence of Dirk in these Finals got me thinking back to the NBA Finals I have seen. All of the winners have contained top 5 to arguably top 3 NBA superstars. When everybody was jumping on the Shaq bandwagon after his retirement, I (and my Houston peeps) were busy making the point that Hakeem carried lesser teams to championships. Then I heard Kevin McHale say these quotes at his recent Rockets presser: "You’re always looking to get a superstar, you’re always looking to trade for a guy like that, but to say, oh, we don’t have that guy we can’t win – I don’t believe that. I believe we’ll go out there and we’ll win as a unit. So am I going to turn down a star? No, I’ll tell you what we all like them. But I think you can win without them." WRONG! I am cool with the McHale signing, but his quotes here have 30 plus years of proof to show they are unequivocally false. I started looking at the NBA champs from 1980 to now and you know what, it reads like a who's who of the last 30 years: Magic, Bird, Worthy, Abdul-Jabbar, McHale, Isaiah, MJ, Dr. J, Moses, Hakeem, Duncan, Kobe, Shaq, Dwade, Pierce, Garnett etc. The only outlier of the bunch would be the 2004 Pistons led by Chauncey Billups. As much as I would like to say that was because the Pistons were the better "team" and they won despite not having any superstars who are 1st ballot sure-fire HOF, I have to place most of the blame on the Lakers. If you remember, that was the year Malone and Payton's corpses showed up to try and piggy back a ring. That was also the last year of the Kobe-Shaq marriage, and it ended uglier than Pitt-Aniston. So while the Pistons were a great team without an NBA top 20 of the last 30 yrs, they also lucked into drawing the train wreck that was the Lakers of 2004. Remember how they quit in the clincher? Yes, Phil's teams actually do have a track record of falling apart prior to this season. So Rockets fans, the real question is not who the Rockets hire as coach, he could be the difference in a few more wins and a playoff berth. But if we want to win another title then we need to find another Hakeem, or Dirk, or Lebron, or another superstar, because according to my data that's the only way you win in the NBA.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The case for keeping Hunter Pence

          Let me start off by stating that I was the biggest cheerleader for the Astros to begin the rebuilding process. Despite their terrible record this season I am glad they have decided to get younger before the change in ownership. I have heard a lot of grumbling from the Astro faithful about the possibility of trading Hunter Pence for even more prospects. I would like to argue why I think the Astros should keep Hunter in the fold using both my brains (statistics) and heart (gut feeling). Before I begin let me also say that I think every player should have a price. While I think keeping Hunter around is the right decision, if a team offered a young stud pitcher and can't miss every day prospect then you always do what is best for the organization.
     First off, Pence is having a very good season at the plate. He would easily be my Astro MVP right now. I know, on a last place team that's a little like saying he has been the best actor in a Michael Bay flick. He's hitting .311 with a .355 OBP. Pence is second in the NL in hits(76), third in 2B(17), and fourth in RBI(43). The Astros have been very disappointing, but Pence has been a bright spot at the plate. Those statistics only begin to show the kind of season Pence is having. As my friend and I debated the issue of trading Pence, I told him "Yeah, but Hunter has been extremely clutch this season." At the time I only had my perception of games I have seen this year, but after looking it up I can now back that statement up with facts. Pence has batted .382 when the game is tied this season driving in the go ahead run 12 times. In the classic 2 outs runners in scoring position situations, Pence is hitting a whopping .391 with 11 RBI's! Imagine how we would be looking at his season if the Astros could hold onto leads and were within a few games of first.
     Again, I am all for the Astros rebuilding. I think all of us can agree that if we ever see Carlos Lee in Houston after this season it better be at a Rodeo cookoff booth. However, we will need some veteran leadership around the clubhouse. Pence is 28 years old this season and I would argue is just hitting his prime. Berkman is 35 years old and we have all seen he can still produce now that he is healthy and able to perform. I could be wrong here, but Pence strikes me as the kind of player who will always work hard in the offseason, weightroom, and batting cage to get better. His hustle has made him a fan favorite and a great example for the younger players. In MLB unlike NBA, superstars do not guarantee titles (see 2010 Giants), you need 9 good players and an above average rotation. Pence is definitely an above average right fielder. Is he a HOF? Probably not, but there are several World Series contenders who would love to have him patrolling their right field. I for one would like to see Pence in RF when Jim Crane rebuilds our beloved Astros into a contender again. (Fingers crossed)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Stephen's Suggestions 6/4/2011

Things to occupy your time. This suggestions contains the first entry in my summer of burgers. A short review of a burger I was able to devour this week. As always enjoy!

SUMMER OF BURGERS: Fajita Burger. Original Ninfa's on Navigation. My buddies and I have deemed this the summer of burgers. We will be partaking in some of the best burgers Houston has to offer over the course of the summer. If you haven't heard, our amazing city was ranked #1 in the country for burgers http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-burger-cities/1. We didn't even place on the recent Amazon list of most well-read cities, but really people what's important? EXACTLY......burgers. We decided to begin our tour with this non-traditional entry from one of the legendary Houston landmarks. The best way I can describe the fajita burger is to take everything you love about Mexican culture in one hand, everything you love about being an American in the other, and mash the two up into a cheese topped patty of deliciousness. Then you can appreciate the $9.99 fajita burger. Add all you can eat tortilla chips and the best green salsa in town and the pricey burger is much easier to stomach. I highly recommend you try this burger.

SPORTS: NBA Finals. That just happened. Yep I still have no idea how, but Dallas evened the series up on Thursday night. The Heat were doing their best Globetrotters impression by dunking from every conceivable angle, while the Mavericks dutifully performed their role as the defense lacking Washington Generals. Then just as I was going to go to bed the Heat inexplicably decided to stay out of the lane and jack up about 10 threes in a row. Dirk started doing his thing, and the Mavericks bench found out they really are better than 8 dead guys. Before I knew it Dirk made a lefty lay up while being guarded by Chris Bosh (are you serious Spoelstra?) and the series was tied. I have never seen a game that didn't involve Frank Reich turn around faster than that. Sunday's game 3 is now must see TV. Will the Heat realize they could have ran Dallas off the floor and put them away? Will the Heat feel mounting pressure from the choke job and start gripping? Will Jeff Van Gundy or Mark Jackson french kiss Lebron directly in front of Mark Cuban? I can't wait to see the answers to these questions.

Kevin McHale. Welcome the big Frankenstein to Houston. A lot of fans have been complaining about the Rockets new coach, but I am fairly ambivalent. As I said on my Twitter feed, coaches usually get too much blame(Stan Van Gundy) or receive too much credit(Phil Jackson). If Kevin gets great players the Rockets will most likely win. If he doesn't have an upgraded roster then we will be middle of the pack again. I will say McHale's press conference showed that he is a likable guy who the players should respond to. His previous teams enjoyed playing for him, and he should be good for some great quotes throughout the season. Rockets fans should be much more concerned with what Morey is going to do with all the pieces he has accumulated to bring a star player to Houston. Plus with McHale on the sidelines we will constantly be reminded of the 1981 NBA Finals......wait uh oh.

WEATHER: Heatpocalypse Now. Welcome back Houston heat. While we are busy watching the Miami Heat in the Finals, the actual heat has made an early return to our great city. On Thursday we hit 100*, setting a record high and marking the earliest recorded triple digit temp on record. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's going to be a hot summer. However, I don't want to hear any complaining! We get great weather during the winter months, and I wouldn't trade our summers for a northeast winter. Houston has a plethora of pools to cool off in, so go swimming! As a coworker of mine once said, "I'm on the tanning diet. When you get a tan, you immediately look 10 lbs. lighter." - Tell me that's not brilliant advice. If you're a redhead? Sorry. Eating less works great too.

Those are my suggestions for the week. Take 'em or leave 'em.