One of my favorite podcasts out there, offered on Spotify, is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Carlin is a journalist-turned-historian, and he says he likes to focus on extreme human behavior, especially in wars, both ancient and modern. He details these over the course of 5- and 6-hour episodes. Listening to two back to back, you’d almost be able to drive across Texas. Another of my favorites is The Allusionist (about language and words) and yet another is 99% Invisible, which is about the “process and power of design and architecture.”
Likely, I’m not the only one out there who sees something cool and says, “I’d like to do what that person does.” Well, I’m no historian, English language expert, or design guru. One of my main attributes, however, is that I’ve spent more than two decades asking questions and listening as a nonprofit fundraiser. Typically, this happens over a good meal that someone else pays for. Seems tailor-made for a podcast like the one I’m doing now.
This honed skill of probing for truth and then listening for it, between bites, could be turned into conversations that might be helpful, or at least entertaining, for a listener.
I’ve done two interviews so far with fellow “foodies,” who more often than not are much younger than I and who look a sight better in a spaghetti string dress. (I know this to be fact.)
Instagram is the social medium platform I use to post photos of the meals I make, and many of those I’m connected to just happen to live in Texas, Canada, India or the U.K. Typically they are between the ages of 25 and 44, overwhelmingly female, men skewing slightly younger than women, and are active on Instagram chiefly on Thursday mornings at 9:30 U.S. Central Time. This would make sense, given that the times in the U.S. and Canada, the U.K. (6 hours ahead during Daylight Savings) and Mumbai (10.5 hours ahead) are waking hours for everyone in this group.
I say that there are a lot of foodies who fall into these demographics, but of course this is the “audience” that Instagram algorithms have chosen for me based on the small snowball of my early follow choices and which then rolled downhill gaining size and momentum.
Against that backdrop I decided to interview other foodies and hear about their passion for the subject. A lot of food posts on Instagram at large are marked as #foodporn or #burgerporn etc., not unlike others marked as #architectureporn. Anything visual can be turned to an idol of fascination, if the visual is both the first and last stop of engagement (there is in fact no porn itself on the platform). But food posts usually represent a person having lovingly created the dish, which is typically enjoyed at a restaurant with a friend or lover, or at home with family. An #architectureporn photo might be of a glistening skyscraper containing hundreds of people. Or not. We can’t tell from the looks of it. Or it might be of an ancient building that hasn’t heard laughter in centuries.
But food posts have an immediate history and an active present. Lip smacks and closed-eyed smiles, laughter with the person next to you, sometimes grimaces and the word “interesting” being bandied about, and always clearing the plates afterwards.
I’ve conducted two interviews so far on “Biscuit Aisle.” Another episode is coming soon with a man who has become a part of the food scene in the greater Kerrville area. The first two interviews are with foodies from Houston and Toronto. Their Instagram accounts are below.
After seeing a fairly amazing demonstration of Misen knives on Instagram, I thought, “I must have one!” Now, a solid nine months into it, I think, “Yeah. no.” Not worth the price nor the hassle of having to track down my shipment.
That said, I’ll take a brief look below at its pros and cons.
The “pitch” got me
Perhaps the most effective thing Misen knives does is to slice through competitive noise with awesome demonstrations of their tools’ sharpness — nay, beauty — as the video above shows. They truly “sell the sizzle, not the steak.”
For a home cook like me who wants a great utensil that can make up for my average technique or a knife that can make me “look” like a chef –c’mon, all of us home cooks want to look like the real deal! — this seemed like a good investment. Well, the second part is for sure, since my “investment” is now subject to a buy-and-hold strategy, and I’ll bequeath this knife in near-mint condition to one of my three offspring.
It’s pretty. I’ll give it that. It will win in a beauty contest. Unfortunately it’s sitting at home, in its basement room without paying me rent, watching anime and eating sour patch kids. (Or something like that.) What counts — the sharpness of the blade and its ease of use — is equalled or bested by other, more affordable brands like Dexter and Victorinox, both of which I review here on Biscuit Aisle.
There are really only two negatives, but one is something I should have known about through better research, and the other is now inconsequential after its resolution.
THE UNIMPORTANT NEGATIVE: CUSTOMER SERVICE
I ordered the knife on July 20, 2020. USD $65.
This, we all recall, was when we were still stir-crazy and everyone wanted new ways to spend time at home on lockdown. For me, cooking was one of them.
The first knife they said they shipped was mysteriously lost, which I found out about ten days later. They said they were processing another order, but after a week of back and forth emails, I still had no new shipment confirmation. (Their emails, however, have a real nice design.)
I got an email saying the second knife — who knows where the first one went; it apparently did arrive somewhere here in little Kerrville, Texas — would arrive on a given date. It did finally on August 13.
I’ll put this in perspective, I was able to order things that were supposed to be sold-out nationwide and still get them within 48-72 hours due to the awesomeness of some companies. Misen has a long way to go in the department of Customer Service, which is more than pleasing email design.
THE NEGATIVE THAT COUNTS: WEIGHT
Since ordering the Misen, I have bought a Dexter and a Victorinox that both excel in what I need them to do, and a big part of each of those knives’ virtue is in its lightweight but durable handle, without sacrificing a superior blade.
As you can read in those reviews, the handle — a lightweight, grippable plastic that’s also durable — makes the knife easy to cut with. The blades of each, both of which are far lighter than the Misen’s — since the Misen’s extends through the handle — are great for dicing and mincing, which is difficult with the Misen because the latter is less versatile. My quick review on the Victorinox has a table I created with some knife weights, so you can compare while shopping.
In the end, the sexiest feature of any knife is not how it looks slicing a grape that was probably superglued onto the cutting board anyway but is its safety. I feel much safer handling my Dexter or Victorinox for the reasons stated above.
Whether we’re talking low digits to the left of the decimal point or maintaining the ten on your hands, I’d go with something other than Misen.
I was enamored with the Dexter as my go-to in the kitchen. It was my everyday chef knife that met every onion with the same dispassionate desire to chop and mince. It wasn’t personal; just business.
Not long before that, I had ordered a Misen, something I mentioned in the Dexter review, but so far it has been like that shiny sports car you leave in the garage to show friends when they come over for drinks. It takes a lot of personal days off from work because it’s doing its hair and make-up, and I’m not so sure it’s the most practical tool: it’s heavy and doesn’t have the grip and durability that the Dexter and my new Victorinox knife do. And the blue handle makes it look like a golden Ford F-150.
The Victorinox knife is only in the “Top 10”?
This is where we get into the key features of the Victorinox: weight, durability and sharpness.
Let me outline the key features of the Victorinox versus the other chef’s knives that Amazon says are higher rated, which means only that more people bought the other five. And what that means is that they were bought probably by amateurs like me, because pros would probably buy from their kitchen supply store, whether retail location or online.
The chart below shows Amazon’s top-selling chef’s knives. This is based on sales and is not necessarily an indication of quality as rated by chefs themselves. But if you assume that sales and reviews on purchases roughly indicate quality, then sales documented by Amazon is an acceptable metric. And as I mentioned if you remember that we who are reading this are most likely not professional chefs but passionate foodies and home-based cooks, then you’ll agree that what we want is a knife that does the job well but doesn’t break the bank.
(NOTE: I substituted the Utopia (#9 on the list) for the #5 Home Hero, since the latter is a set of seven knives and therefore can’t be compared with the others listed.)
It’s clear that the Victorinox knife is more expensive by far, but it has a much higher overall rating, based on buyers’ reviews. And I say “much” higher, because it has three times the numbers of reviewers and still has the highest rating.
The Victorinox is also lighter than any but the Paudin. (But do you really want the Paudin? Look at its fru-fru handle, and can you hear yourself saying to someone in your kitchen, “Hey, would you please hand me that Paudin?” No. No, you can’t.)
Reviewers who gave the Victorinox a 1-star rating complained that it didn’t stay sharp after a year or so. But the top review said this:
The blade came sharp, I keep it sharp with a honing rod and I bought a wet stone [sic] but have not had to sharpen it yet due to the honing rod doing what it should.
“Derek” on Amazon reviews
Critical buyers of the Victorinox knife also complained about the “cheapness” of the plastic handle, but it was only later that they saw the wisdom of its lightness, grip and durability.
As for price, you pretty much always get what you pay for. (Except for the Misen. I paid the same as I paid for my Victorinox, but it’s mostly sitting in the garage.) One buyer of the Utopia knife found that it falsely advertised having a single tang, when in fact it broke at the handle, either because it was soldered or was weak. Another reviewer said she found the blade rusting a few weeks after purchase.
Any of us who owned a Swiss Army knife as a kid knows inherently that its maker, Victorinox, is a quality manufacturer.
And then, of course, there’s this:
Yes, yes, yes.
I know that “The Sound of Music” is based in Austria during World War II, and that Victorinox is a Swiss company, but the real significance here is that because Swiss Victorinox sat on its neutral ass during the war meant that it could continue producing knives that not only help the chef but also the 12-year-old Boy Scout who wants to remove a splinter from his index finger.
Can we please be practical here and not ideologues?
I thought that I’d found “my knife” when I got the Dexter. And don’t get me wrong; it’s great. But I’ve found the Victorinox to be just as light, its point feels sharper and more effective, and knowing who the company is gives me a lot of assurance. They’ve been around for 130 years for a good reason, and it’s not just that they didn’t want to catch a bullet in 1941.
Below, once again, is Amazon’s selection of similar knives. I’m keen only on those knives that are sharp, light and durable. The others can go hang.
Last night we went to Richter Tavern which, among Boerne restaurants, is one of the better in my opinion.
I gave them 4 stars out of 5, but they could easily get top marks with a couple tweaks. One of those could be accomplished in a single shift.
Front of house
Once you find out how to access Richter from the somewhat confused parking areas that are jigsawed together in this part of Boerne and down an arcade of stores, you’ll be glad you took the time. This upstairs restaurant and bar is spacious and airy. Soft lights give the space a glow.
We had to sit at the bar for dinner, which would have been fine if we hadn’t called 30 minutes earlier and the woman answering the phone took great effort just to tell me, “We are all reserved, but there might be some walk-in tables when you get here.” I had called to ask only, “Do you have dine-in?” I didn’t want the expectation for a table; it would have sufficed to hear, “We’re booked but you order from the bar; it’s lovely there” or some such. Then, when arrive, we might have learned a table would open up and be pleasantly surprised.
Front of house could have been tighter. Service is general was slow but polite and professional.
Food – Excellent
The meal was fantastic. And that’s mainly why anyone goes out to dinner, right? They say, “Dining is theater.” That’s a load of b.s. Dining is dining. You want great food at a good price. That makes it a good value.
I had the shrimp and grits—awesome. The grits got a little runny with the sauce and would slip through my fork, so I had to ask for a spoon. But I quickly realized that the change of utensils allowed me to enjoy every bite–it’s the kind of change Dad would have made. Polite diners don’t eat shrimp and grits with a spoon. But appreciative diners do. I didn’t want to eat the entire entree, though (I brought leftovers home), because I wanted to leave room for the cheesecake. (They never ask at the end of the meal, “Did you leave room for another $20 cocktail?”) The cheesecake, competent but not stellar, had a great graham cracker crust and was topped with mouth-watering macerated strawberry-rhubarb. The serving was appropriate for two.
My wife got a burger, which was great. Fries: great. I agree with another Google reviewer that the “ketchup,” while laudably from scratch, was more like cocktail sauce. Not good for burgers or fries. Go back to regular ketchup, Richter.
Reward the designated drivers
Finally, and speaking for other non-drinkers, Richter would do well to stock a couple sixes of NA beer. Even H‑E‑B has six feet worth of refrigerator space for different brands of NA beer, including some new IPAs, a category I never had the pleasure of trying before I got sober. Richter could get a six-pack of a couple brands and satisfy more customers. People return to restaurants, we all know, because the overall experience was excellent.
I’ll certainly go back to Richter, but the three things they could do to get that 5th star from me is better ketchup (the least important), NA beer and, most importantly, tighten the front of house.
Not long ago — in fact it was on Tuesday — I was traveling in Seattle and took the shuttle from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport to the rental car facility. I was to pick up my Enterprise car and do 24 hours of work in the area and then head to Los Angeles, where I am now.
It’s important for the story that I tell you that because I rent with Enterprise essentially every time I travel, I have Platinum status. (Last night at LAX, when I asked the agent if I could use one of my four free upgrades that I receive annually, he replied, “Sir, we don’t have ‘Platinum’ at Enterprise.” I replied, “The hell you don’t!” I actually did not say that to him. I said, “Yes, you do, because I have Platinum status.” Do you see the deft use of logic and persuasion I employed there? He agreed and we proceeded. But I digress.)
So, I have Platinum status, whether or not the agent at LAX believes it. But I was in Seattle, and the agent believed it, God bless her.
And because of my status, I asked if I could be upgraded from the sub-compact I had been put in. (I picked the sub-company unintentionally. I usually book a full size, which is only a dollar two or more than other cars, but it is what I want to be in during an accident rather than a smaller car that’s more like a desk chair with a steering wheel. Booking online, I picked the “We choose” option, meaning Enterprise gets to pick a car for me that’s “at or better than” the level I’m paying for. I chose “sub-compact,” because I wanted to save money and, surely, I’d get “better.”)
Here’s the kicker.
The agent — despite my status, which should have been apparent from 50 feet away — was not able to upgrade me from sub-compact, because they were short on cars. And when I mean short, I mean that the car they put me in — the only other car being a 1977 Pinto that was missing a hubcap — was a Chevy “Spark.”
And as the name “Spark” might imply, it’s not even a “flame.” In fact, two times out of three, it doesn’t even become a flame. In fact, it’s the thing that ignites the flame. A spark actually appears the moment before the flame, and disappears. Meanwhile everyone is warming themselves by the flame, soon to be a fire, while the spark is quickly forgotten.
So I’m in a Chevy “Spark,” and then it dawns on me.
I realize that I have a very marketable idea that occurs only to those who have Premium status with Enterprise. Someone with any other status with any other car rental company does not have these kinds of ideas. They just don’t. End of conversation.
“A new kind of car for a new kind of world”
I’d like to be the first to introduce you to the all-new 2022 Toyota Taco.
As its name might suggest, the Taco is small enough it can fit into one hand — metaphorically speaking — but also can be pimped out with our higher level trim packages to give you that ride you might find only in a vehicle that costs more than $129.95, not including local sales tax, out-of-state sales tax if you live outside Rhode Island, or shipping.
Please note this new Taco owner above.
He is smiling, which means he’s happy in 15 different cultures. In some ancient cultures, however, this facial expression denotes extreme displeasure, but none of us really has to worry about that, right? Ancient cultures are ancient for a reason.
The Toyota Taco is all-new this year, with multiple upgrades available if you want more than the basic “S” trim level.
First, the LX trim includes a windshield. The gentleman above is sitting in the LK, because he was smart, frankly. This is why he is smiling. We recommend this as a minimum trim, because at the S trim level, only children under the age of 5 are allowed to sit in the seat.
The next package is the XLE trim, which as the letters might suggest, is pretty damn swanky. It’s so swanky that we are going to surprise you with how many acceptably good things come with this trim. Trust us. Swank city.
The final trim, the luxury trim package, is the ZX-7. The ZX-7 comes with these newly designed enhancements:
An engine. (The lesser trim packages do not include an engine, and I should have mentioned that at the outset.)
A removable and disposable coffee cup with lid. Additional cups and lids may be ordered separately.
A seatbelt. We recommend the ZX-7 level for this enhancement alone, because the U.S. Department of Transportation will not allow you to start the engine — if you have one, that is, which you will if you get the ZX-7 trim package; again, trust me on this — and then your Taco will sit in the garage next to the grandkids’ Big Wheel, which last year Congress approved for use beyond the end of the driveway. That will not be you, in the Taco, if you do not get the ZX-7. Again, the ZX-7 trim package is the one you want if you want to actually drive the Taco.
I hope we’ve been clear about which trim package to get. (HINT: the ZX-7.)
The Taco comes as a kit weighing only 60 pounds. Because of this, we have partnered with various other hard goods manufacturers that also require some assembly.
In the month of March, our strategic partner is Ikea, and you may order a Taco in red or beige along with Ikea’s bestselling “Fartyg.” We have not yet received final confirmation on what kind of furniture a Fartyg is or whether it goes in the living room or the laundry area, but it is made to the most demanding Swedish standards, which exceed even our own. (We actually got the better end of the deal here and feel fairly confident that Ikea will not renew our partnership in April. We’re not real happy about that, to be honest, but I kind of get it.)
Finally, putting the Ikea Fartyg together requires no more than an Allen wrench and a Philips head screwdriver. The even better news is that the Taco requires only an Allen wrench, which just so happens to be the same size required for the Fartyg. Why do we make it so simple, you ask?
I have two main “chef’s knives” in my kitchen quiver: a Misen chef knife and a Dexter knife. I’ll cover my thoughts on the Misen at a later time, but this is just a quick take on the Dexter knife.
I’ll admit that one of the very pedestrian reasons I wanted a Dexter knife was because of Jon Favreau’s character in “Chef.” One of my favorite movies.
And yes, perhaps it was that his passion for and for his work with food — an inherently creative and sense-oriented activity — was appealing.
He actually used a different knife in most scenes, but I seemed to recall that he got a Dexter knife for his son. The two of them traveled the country with John Leguizamo in a food truck. Perhaps it was because food was featured prominently, but food was only the backdrop for the real plot, or should I say plots, which are classic movie tropes:
travel/road trip movie
Dexter knife seems to be the “classic” knife
It’s when Favreau’s character, Carl Casper, is in Miami and takes his son to the restaurant supply store that he buys him a Dexter knife.
This 10″ knife has four main characteristics I really like:
A lightweight handle (it’s hollow) that’s textured for easy handling
The handle is also contoured to reduce slippage
A carbon blade that’s also lightweight yet sturdy
Easy to clean (obviously, like any knife, but you’d think the handle would get grimy. It doesn’t.)
As I mentioned, I have two main chef knives.
One is a Misen that I saw advertised on Instagram. A green grape was cut in half with the open side down, and the Misen knife slowly cut through the top half, paper-thin slice by paper-thin slice, unaccompanied by a hand holding the grape in place. I was so impressed that I bought one. It is indeed a beautiful knife, but it took 4-5 weeks for delivery. Since it took so long to get to me and because of its price (~$45), I don’t use it much for fear of ruining it. Silly, I know.
But I use my Dexter knife during almost every serious meal I cook.
So: I’d recommend it highly. I’m an amateur, and this knife makes up for a lot of technique I don’t have.
I had a cast iron skillet some time ago, and it got ruined, or sold, or lost. Not sure by who. Certainly wasn’t me! (At least that’s my memory.) But my mother-in-law got me a Lodge skillet for Christmas 2019, and it has been one of the most dependable tools in my kitchen toolbox.
It’s one that will last me, and will last you, a generation.
Talk about a solid investment!
Here’s a brief review and why you should consider buying one.
Lasts “forever:” a great investment
Were I not to have ruined my last Lodge skillet — oh, did I say “I” did it? I meant “someone else” — no doubt I would be using it for years to come and passing it along to probably my youngest son. He’s rapidly becoming the foodie of the three sons. Willing to experiment, etc. Now I have a new skillet to hand down.
I take care of mine by washing it properly and drying it right away, then seasoning it. You can wash it with steel wool or a sponge (Lodge reps attest to this), but mild detergent is best for cleaning. Lodge does sell scrub brushes, mentioned below, and I plan to get one.
I should also quickly add that Lodge is American-made since 1896 in Tennessee. When you buy a Lodge, its like buying government bonds, except better!
Cook anything in it
My go-to meal to cook in my Lodge is chicken fried steak, simply because of the size of my skillet and the ability to cook multiple pieces at once. I have the 15-inch, which definitely builds the forearm into the size of my waist. Or is my waist increasing because of the chicken fried steak…? Either way.
I’ve cooked lots of things for bigger family meals. So it’s not the best, frankly, for smaller meals for my wife and me.
An important note: my skillet is still a bit too “young” (unseasoned) to cook acidic foods (containing tomatoes or lemons, for instance). But it soon will be up for the task, as any Lodge representative will tell you. Just keep it seasoned.
Can whack home intruder over the head if you have the forearm to lift it. (Use two hands if necessary.)
Deep sides for frying chicken or steak
Made in America
Something that over time will be seasoned with memories
There would be a lot of things I couldn’t or wouldn’t cook without my Lodge skillet. You can get various sizes, but I prefer the 15-inch. it will last “forever” and be one of those things that one of your kids will say, “Mom used this to cook us…”
The best breakfast in Kerrville TX just might be Rita’s Famous Tacos on Earl Garrett Street.
Might be, that is, if long lines, low prices, and hit-the-spot Mexican on-the-go food are any indication.
“The Best Authentic Mexican Food in Kerrville”
As the sign says, they’re not joking.
You enter off Earl Garrett and stand — of course, now, during COVID — on a number. You might be #2 or #10, the way business has picked up at Rita’s. You’re going to be in and out in 7 minutes or less. But during the breakfast and lunch rushes, people who want the best breakfast in Kerrville or a quick lunch come here.
You get to the counter and first let them know whether the order is “for here” or “to go.”
For some reason, I like saying “for here” more than “to stay.” Maybe it’s because “staying” is less fun than “being here.”
You order your breakfast taco on either a flour or corn tortilla which, I learned, are both made there.
You can also order nopalitos (cactus), which I highly recommend.
Pro Tip: nopalitos are great, but as they are water-based, they can be very messy when eating and also may make the corn tortillas mushy. They hold up better in the flour tortillas.
Let me also add here that Rita’s doesn’t sell salsa (or chips), but if you want to try my favorite salsa — a Texas-made all-natural salsa made without water, as almost every other one is — try Bernards by CLICKING HERE and use coupon code “AmericaDowntown10.”
Here are a few of my favorite tacos, from among the many, all ranging $3 to $3.50 (some have $0.25-0.50 surcharges because of the increased cost of meat during the pandemic).
The Rita: beans, eggs, potatoes, bacon, cheese
The Kyle: beans, fajita, egg, potato, cheese
The Dale: fajita, egg, cheese.
and, my favorite, Hill Boy: bacon, sausage, egg, onion, cilantro, jalapeño (with nopalitos!)
As for salsa, you can ask for salsa roja (red) or verde (green). I’m partial to the green.
You can sit inside, which is cheery and not too noisy, even with the TV over the arched entryway to the dining room. Your order will be brought to your table.
Outside, there used to be two tall-boy tables with two stools each on either side of the entrance.
During the pandemic, those have vanished, replaced by a metal bench that doesn’t afford much in the way to eat your very ample taco. You could sit down at PAX’s outside tables, but that’s a bit sleazy unless you order at least a coffee inside.
Breakfast alternatives to the “best breakfast in Kerrville TX”
My opinion about Rita’s is just that. Just one diner’s opinion.
While I prefer Rita’s first thing in the morning, here are some excellent options for the more casual breakfast:
Mary’s Tacos on Broadway
Alex’s Tacos on Memorial (toward Loop 534)
Stripes on Loop 534 and Memorial…true! Amazing fried bean burritos and excellent coffee. Burrito and a medium coffee for $2.42.
Del Norte on Main Street/Junction Highway
Hill Country Cafe on Main Street
Save Inn Restaurant on Sidney Baker toward I-10 (my favorite for a simple no-frills diner-type meal)
At Dauna’s in Harper, you can now find Chuckles candy for sale.
It didn’t used to be like that. In fact, for a couple of decades now, it wasn’t like that in most stores.
I have a long history with Chuckles; it has a patina of love and affection. In this review, I’ll describe a little more about this fantastic candy that is a blast from America’s small-town past, just how delicious I find it despite its hair-raising ingredients, and where to get it.
During my first trip to Dauna’s, at the “headwaters” of Scenic Harper Road between Kerrville and Harper, I found some excellent vintage candy that had been touted on their Facebook page.
But I didn’t find my beloved Chuckles, which by the way — in case you know of which I speak and are jonesing for them — you can get HERE.
Nevertheless, I spoke with the man behind the register and asked for them, and he promised to pass along the word to the woman in charge of inventory. Like many experiences in the past, I thought, “Yeah, right. Like that will happen.”
Second visit to Dauna’s
The post office in Castell, TX. There is a take-one-leave-one lending library on the front porch.
But then I went on another drive on Saturday, this one to Art, Texas, still another 40 minutes or so north of Harper, through Doss and Hilda.
I stopped once again at Dauna’s, walked straight to the candy area and couldn’t believe my eyes. There it was, in all its colorful glory. These colors have not faded in the many years they first sold Chuckles and, in fact, the very package I bought may have been one of those from the 1950s that indeed has not faded. (I bought two packages, but shhhh.)
That sub-head sounds a little like I’m about to describe my time with a local clown, right?
I take the candy very seriously, however.
I first enjoyed it at the summer community of Point O’ Woods, New York (on Fire Island), itself a very small town, so small that to stay private, which it still is after 100 years, it refused to have a U.S. post office located there, which would have required it to be publicly open.
The candy store was open each evening till about 7pm, and it sold Chuckles.
By the way, have you ever noticed how the colors are nearly identical to those of the Olympic rings? I don’t know that I’d want to eat a blue Chuckles, but if it tasted like grape… yeah, I could do that.
FULL DISCLOSURE: the ingredients of this delicious confection
Rather than mere reflection on this confection, let’s get to the meat of it.
Just what’s in a Chuckles candy?
Well, whatever is in it, girls in the 1940s would tell boys in the 1940s that it was “simply divine.” My package says it’s good until Thanksgiving of next year, but I’d wager it would still be edible after Kanye wins the 2024 presidential election.
They are “jellie” candies (mind your Eisenhower-era spelling), and the first three ingredients should get your tummy rumbling:
Then we have:
Modified food starch (apparently we need more starch, but it needs to be modified for more divine taste)
Natural and artificial flavors
Blue 1 (See?! There is a blue Chuckles)
Yellow 5 (apparently we also need more yellow)
They are manufactured where pretty much anything else someone could be allergic to is also manufactured; namely, a factory that also makes products with:
wheat and soy
dog and cat dander
spores of various kinds
(I’m kidding about those last three.)
It is a product of Mexico. And Chuckles is a registered trademark of Huhtamaki Finance B.V.
Huhtamaki, you say?
An investment and financial services company, Huhtamaki Finance was founded in 1977 and is based in The Netherlands. But, more to the point, The Huhtamaki Group is a 100-year-old company that deals with food packaging and branding. They claim a strong “Nordic heritage,” and that’s good since I’m part Norwegian.
All this global influence aside, you’ll be happy to know that Chuckles is manufactured by Ferrara Candy Company in Illinois. Here’s a comforting video, with our friend making its entrance at the 3:58 mark:
Well, a quick search of “where to buy chuckles candy near me” results in my local Walgreens, CVS, and even Walmart.
But, if you’re anywhere near Kerrville, treat yourself to the drive up Scenic Harper Road and stop at Dauna’s. Because while the chains here might sell Chuckles, they probably don’t sell Bazooka bubblegum.
When someone says something like, “I know I’m stepping on the third rail here, but…” they’re admitting to touching a topic that one shouldn’t touch and expect to survive.
I’m from New York City, now living in the Texas Hill Country, and I’m going to risk a few hairs getting frazzled by my talking about HEB in Kerrville, which requires a lighter step than does crossing the tracks between the uptown #2 and downtown #3 trains at 72nd Street and Broadway.
The two HEB stores in Kerrville, Texas, are arguably bigger deals than other local attractions claimed online: The Cross at Kerrville (#1 spot according to Trip Advisor), while visually impressive, doesn’t get as many visitors even on Easter as does HEB before Thanksgiving; James Avery is not so central as HEB is; and at least this year, we’ll have to see if the Folk Music Festival, rescheduled for October, will get the same attention as Texas’s beloved grocery chain.
I know that these contrasts are not exactly apples-to-apples — HEB is a necessity in our daily lives, unlike the others — but all are part of the Kerrville or Hill Country DNA. I’m aware also that HEB should be typed as “H-E-B,” but frankly I’m too lazy to do that each time.
I’ll add this: because of his creation of this amazing company, the founder (“H___”) is one of the few H’s whose first name I’m proud to share.
My intention here is to express both my appreciation and suggested tweaks for this growing and much-loved company, a reputation that is wholly deserved.
HEB Kerrville and its biscuit aisle
Let me say at the outset that when I moved to my wife’s hometown of Kerrville, I started a blog whose title was inspired by HEB. It was borne of my first visit here, in 1996.
“Biscuit Aisle” was a tip of the hat to the copious display of not only that product but also many others (brisket, tortilla chips, cheese, cokes, salsa, etc.) that had shelves and frontage for days, all devoted to multiple brands and varying dosages.
Velveeta is sold like lumber.
Currently, the Main Street store’s biscuit aisle now has yogurts of all sorts, including 4% Fage, which you can’t get at the other HEB (a.k.a. the “Little HEB” and former home of Albertson’s).
Bottom line: I love HEB as much as the next guy.
HEB high points
YAKULT, for example
Along the biscuit aisle and to the right of Fage is a product called Yakult.
It’s a Japanese drinkable probiotic yogurt enjoyed elsewhere in Asia and in Australia, and now in the U.K. and U.S. (as of 1999). A Filipino friend of mine said she drank them all the time as a kid. You who are local to Kerrville probably know we have a strong Filipino community here and also a large Filipino community in San Antonio.
It’s not surprising that HEB would offer such a product, because by all accounts it is a customer-focused company.
Yakult is merely an example.
In my experience with the company, if you want a product to be offered, you can talk to the store manager, as I did once. She promised to talk to the head of grocery (it was a food item), who checked with the warehouse regarding supply chain, and a man called me within three or so days to ask more questions and hear my request.
For a company this size, I don’t think I could ask much more from HEB. Of course, that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this Opinion piece. Hopefully in love and respect.
Speaking for myself, I’m a big fan of the check-out experience.
Not only do I not have to wait long in line ever, but the cashiers are super quick, asking you how you’re doing each time, and the folks bagging the items are quick, efficient, and courteous. (Though I rue the day when one asks me if he can help me get my groceries to the car.) I realize these staff habits are probably the result of good training, but the effect on the customer comes across authentically.
And “attaboy!” to the training department.
I also like how HEB made a change in its card machine: apparently people were leaving their cards in the machines after check-out, so the process was changed so that we remove our cards before we approve the total.
Cheesy stock photo. No, not exactly what it’s like at HEB, but both sides leave happy. (SOURCE: Finance Buzz)
Perhaps I’m like George H.W. Bush, who marveled over a food scanner that had been operational for years. But I don’t think so: I do at least half if not more of the food shopping, so I saw this change in almost real-time. It was excellent.
FREE TASTINGS and LIVE COOKING KIOSK
Though COVID has changed a lot, hopefully temporarily, who doesn’t love the free food here and there?!
I’ve had new kinds of chili at the little HEB on Sidney Baker South and spicy California roll sushi at the big HEB on Main Street.
After tasting the outcome of a cooking demo at the big HEB that featured a jar of Cookwell & Company Two-Step Spicy Chili Mix — yes, I know using a sauce like this is kind of cheating — I bought a jar, made chili — and it was a big hit with the kids.
Cookwell & Company chili mix, demo’ed to me and others at HEB
As long as the chili is good, the diners don’t care what state appears on the chef’s birth certificate.
The sensitive response HEB showed during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, its nationally-newsworthy Ninja Supply Chain skills, and its rapid response to other disasters, make it a company worth praising. It also ranked as a top company to work for.
The list, as you all well know, could go on.
Here are some of the items on my “wish list” for HEB going forward.
My HEB wish list
There are certain products that are either temporarily unavailable, infrequently available, or they are items I hope will always be available.
SafeCatch Tuna | I first got this canned tuna fish at the little HEB in the Fall of 2019 when I was trying to eat a lot of protein.
It’s low in mercury if it has any at all, and its ocean-to-canning process seems humane. It costs a little more, yes. But health and taking one tiny step toward sustainability make it worth it.
SafeCatch to my knowledge hasn’t been offered at the big HEB, and it’s made sporadic appearances at the little one. My wife brought it home last night, putting a big smile on my face.
Bernards Gourmet Salsa | My favorite salsa. It is not offered at the small HEB, and it was regularly offered at the big HEB, until it wasn’t. Again, it’s a bit more expensive, but when the alternative salsas are made with water or tomato paste (which itself is part water), neither of which Bernards is, why not buy one carton less of Coke and spend money on amazing salsa instead? (That’s a call to action for my fellow shoppers.)
I know as with any item anywhere — grocery store or otherwise — if a product doesn’t sell, the manager can’t take up shelf space for it.
That said, I know that people would buy more if they only had the opportunity to try it. (This is addressed below.)
Dave’s Killer Bread | Aside from being about the best store-bought bread anywhere, if you’ve not read the history behind Dave’s Killer Bread, you owe it to yourself to Google it. It’s a story of redemption, human triumph and entrepreneurship, and we customers would do well to buy it and keep it on the shelves.
So here are two suggestions to remedy the above situations. (I say “remedy,” realizing I might well be the only one disturbed.)
I’m a writer and wannabe photographer, not a retailer or merchandiser, so these suggestions could be worth less than the paper this article is printed on. But since I’m a devotee of HEB and also spend the exorbitant amount of $11.99 on this domain each year, giving me a very small platform to spout off on, and since I shop a ton at the store, I’ll give it a shot.
An “R&D” area | Foods like SafeCatch currently sit alongside competitors like Chicken of the Sea. The latter retails at about 10 cans for a dollar, or something like that. Many of us view SafeCatch and similar higher-priced items as luxurious alongside their shelfmates. So we pass them by.
SOLUTION: could HEB take a small area of the store toward the back corner, stock it with low-selling but high-profit products and brand the area like an “R&D Zone” for shoppers? A place for customers who consider themselves early-adopters to try something new that might be higher priced but which they’re willing to take a chance on. Maybe there’s even a coupon up front as they enter.
“Gleaning” | HEB is said to operate on “Christian principles,” as its founder set in motion. Many of us value the store for that very reason.
SOLUTION: Gleaning has been part of a local area’s social welfare for millenia and is woven into the Judeo-Christian fabric. Could HEB provide a portion of a side or back wall that could contain small amounts of products that people could sample or take with them. These would be items that HEB might not want to take up prime shelf space for, but perhaps there’d be an accompanying coupon that satisfied customers could return and register their “vote” to have the items restocked. They’d be prepared in safe conditions within the Deli department.
These could be and probably are poor solutions, both practically in terms of execution and realistically in terms of market behavior. I believe in the free market system. I also believe that “what we do well today, we can do even better tomorrow.”
Is all of the above my personal opinion expressing my personal whims and wishes?
But if HEB were more like the Massachusetts-based chain Stop & Shop, which a comedian I heard once parody as “Stop. Shop. Now get the hell out,” then I wouldn’t bother.