It would be more than fair to say that Alfonso Gonzalez is of local renown?the owner and executive chef of La Riviera Restaurant won the Chef of the Year award from the Brazos Valley chapter of the Texas Chefs Association three years in a row, and he now reigns as their director.
With more than 30 years of experience, it's not surprising that Gonzalez uses only top-notch ingredients such as Angus beef, local produce, and fresh-caught seafood. He's also comfortable enough to dabble in an international lineup of culinary styles, stacking his menu with everything from chicken carbonara to Caribbean jerk tilapia, so named because it makes fun of other fish. The diversity of his food is matched by the wine list, which includes varietals from California, Oregon, and abroad.
For 30 years, Cenare's sconce-lit walls and elegant menu have entranced diners, inviting them to linger luxuriously over plates of pasta, tiramisu, and creamy espresso cups. Fresh, daily made bread greets guests with a firm, crunchy handshake, moisturized to taste with imported olive oil. While kitchen magicians arrange 15 layers of beef, mozzarella, and ricotta cheese for the homemade lasagna ($10.99), noshers may savor stuffed mushroom cap starters, drizzled with a Creole mustard sauce ($6.95). The tortellini alla diavola accessorizes a saucy ensemble of chicken, ham, fresh mushrooms, and chipotle cream with cheese-filled pasta rings ($12.95), while the secret ingredients of the spaghetti al telefono are discoverable only through long, whispered games of telephone ($7.95). Gluten-free pasta is also available.
A lengthy lineup of traditional game-day fare and a sports atmosphere captivate fans at Fox and Hound - Bailey's, where the kitchen remains open as late as its neighboring fully stocked bar. Chefs cook until the wee hours of the morning and always until the bar closes, baking Bavarian pretzel starters, crafting towers of onion rings, and preparing hand-battered chicken tenders that are cooked until they are golden brown. They blend their own seasonings to sprinkle over grilled-to-order burgers, and draw from a diverse roster of cheeses and toppings to crown their wood-oven-inspired flatbreads.
While manning the bars, bartenders tap into a stash of libations, such as UV Whipped vodka and Patron Silver tequila, to mix their specialty cocktails. To further foster a sporting ambiance, high-definition TVs glow with sports games and custom music-video playlists, and guests partake in pastimes of ump bashing, billiards, or competitive people watching.
Dark wood and flaxen-hued walls surround the scents and savors of wood-fired pizzas, creative pastas, and locally sourced steaks at Café Eccell. Disks of dough hand-forged daily, such as the rustic italian-sausage pizza ($15) or margherita pizza ($13), emerge from the wood-fired oven with a smoky flavor and encyclopedic knowledge of campfire songs. Opportunities for fork-finagling can be found in the seafood linguine, which suffuses shrimp and salmon with tomato-garlic butter on a bed of saffron linguine ($19), and in the 12-ounce USDA Prime rib eye, fetched from local purveyor Ruffino Meats and draped in herb butter ($25). Paying homage to the traditional garb worn on their annual apricot hunts, strawberries disguise themselves in an apricot glaze and hide out in an almond-lace cookie shell lined with Belgian chocolate in Café Eccell’s strawberry tart ($7).
La Bodega imports fresh flavors from Baja California and infuses them into appetizers, tacos, and entrees. Just-caught seafood swims in two to three times a week to create dishes such as the shrimp-and-mango enchiladas ($13.99) and the blackened chili-rubbed pair of salmon tacos ($10.69). Land-faring choices roam the menu as well, including the Baja burger, saddled with pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo ($8.99), and the grilled portobello burrito, which can be wrangled by a tongue tied into a lasso with or without black beans ($10.99). The most important meal of the day can be enjoyed at any hour with breakfast taco plates ($6.59–$8.69), the crab-cake sandwich on a jalapeño-cheese bun ($8.49), and Stetson-hat-wearing huevos rancheros ($7.49).
Knockouts Grill House wrestles hunger into submission with a brawny menu of edible Americana. Waitresses clad in Western wear put out appetite fires with the help of starters such as stacked nachos which come piled high with blackened chicken, grilled house pico, chipotle sour cream, and—for an extra $1.99—guacamole ($8.49). Gorge on greenery such as the Knockout steak salad with balsamic vinaigrette and blue-cheese crumbles ($9.99), or hunt down a dinner of barbecue-bathed meatloaf matched with mashed potatoes and onion rings ($9.99). The ground beef and chorizo of the Macho burger show off their meaty manliness by carrying around a culinary cargo of ham, pepper-jack cheese, cilantro mayonnaise, lettuce, and pico ($8.99). A selection of breakfast items available all day helps rouse drowsy taste buds from noontime power naps and dreamless evening trances.