it's going to be weird watching the Astros play the opening game of the 2020 regular season at a pretty darn empty Minute Maid Park. Here are some reasons why:
- It's July 24.
- We're in the middle of a global pandemic.
- The only "fans" in the stands will be life-size cardboard cutouts of people.
- Again, global pandemic.
- The crowd noise will be some piped-in recorded sounds. Cheers for good things, frustrated murmurs for bad things.
- Remember the global pandemic?
We're not even mentioning that the postseason will have 16 teams and not 10, that the National League has fully adopted the designated hitter rule, and that the Toronto Blue Jays could be a roving band of men in suitcases for the next two months since their home country denied them entrance. All of it is going to be very weird.
Well, allow us to make it kind of less weird in a way. Here are some of our favorite burgers, hot dogs, and drinks across the city, so if you want to get some takeout to pair with an Astros game, you know where to go.
Good Dog: This favorite with locations in Montrose and the Heights boasts some heavy hitters like the Picnic Dog (beef and chorizo chile and red potato salad) and the Ol' Zapata (bacon, muenster, onions, tomatoes, jalapeño relish). For the opener, may I suggest the Rodeo Dog: cheddar mac 'n' cheese, barbecue sauce, bacon, scallions, and parmesan breadcrumbs. Remember Rodeo?
Moon Tower Inn: A great post-game spot since it's just a mile east of Minute Maid Park, the beer garden and meat-lover's paradise has a wide selection of wieners. Pick up some duck with apple brandy, or maybe pheasant with cognac. Maybe elk with bacon and cheddar sounds good? If that's the choice, add some creole mustard for a spicy punch.
For burgers, you might want to start with our handy guide to the best of Bayou City. But if you want my suggestions:
Cantina Barba: Handy little things with greasy buns, gooey cheese, and a tangy special sauce. The best part: These burgers are inexpensive, with a double only costing you a couple bucks.
La Lucha: The Pharmacy Burger is a perfectly assembled delight. Order fries with oyster mayo on the side.
Hubcap Grill: The biggest burgers in the land. The classic Decker with two patties and American and Swiss cheese is a joy, but the Philly cheesesteak is like three meals in one.
B&B Butchers: The Carpet Bagger is in a class of its own with fried oysters, crumbled blue cheese, and creamy hot sauce. The meat is both filet mignon and sirloin, which oozes of the kind of swagger that you'd expect from your 'Stros.
The Burger Joint: You can't go wrong with the juicy and well-constructed burgers from one of Houston's most popular patty places. I especially like the Fire Burger with Serrano and jalapeño peppers, but for something cooler, the mushroom burger with smoked gouda does the trick. Bonus for dine-in patrons: For every Astros home run this weekend the Burger Joint will give everyone dining in a free milkshake.
Baseball always goes well with easy-to-drink, crisp, and satisfying beers, but don't be afraid to expand your palate and pair your experience with a hoppier IPA or stronger dark ale. Here are reviews of my favorites fit for the ol' ballgame:
11 Below Oso Bueno: This is one of the big amber ales in the city, and I really enjoy it, as it captures that perfect balance of malt and hop. Oso Bueno has Warrior hops, which are known for just the right hit of piney and resinous flavors, giving a little kick to an otherwise sweet and smooth malty beer. If No Label Ridgeback is my fall or winter cooler beer—the one I take with me to the tailgate—then Oso Bueno is my everyday fall or winter beer.
Eureka Heights Buckle Bunny: Cream ales are brewed like any other beer, using pilsner malt or some other lighter malt varietal, but could incorporate non-traditional un-malted grains, or adjuncts, like corn or rice. Cream ales won't have big hops; instead, you're looking for a combination of dryness, breadiness, and sweetness (mostly on scent), boosted by tons of carbonation. Buckle Bunny is attempting to be pretty on target with the traditional definition of a cream ale. Coming in at 4.5-percent ABV with low hop strength, it's designed to be consumed more than once per afternoon. It's pleasant, what a beer should be, down to its bones. Maybe it can be a little more nuanced (for instance, I don't get much more on the nose than the sweetness of the corn and some bready maltiness), but if I wanted a beer to get me through, say, a day at the yard (front or baseball), I'll choose this.
Holler Dollar Pils Y'all: This is a German pilsner, which means a little deeper hop profile, though there should still be noticeable maltiness and a crisp, clean finish. My favorite all-time German pilsner is Palatine Pils from Suarez Family Brewing in New York, an extremely balanced beer that's incredibly flavorful and cleaner than a freshly-Roomba'd living room. Dollar Pils Y'all isn't quite that, but it carries all the right elements. If you want a simple backyard beer with a spicy hop quality (from Hallertau hops, I believe), this is yours to enjoy.
Saint Arnold Art Car: It isn't overly bitter or sweet, bridging citrus flavor (one dry hop of mild Amarillo, Mosaic, and Simcoe) with moderate hoppiness (Cascade, Columbus, Simcoe) and a strong backbone (three kinds of malted barley). It's one of the most balanced, thoroughly enjoyable and down-the-middle American IPAs I've ever had, and it's my go-to in a lot of occasions. And it's a testament to the fact that a beer doesn't have to be sexy or trendy to be outstanding.
Spindletap Houston Haze: Available year-round, both at the brewery and in grocery stores, Houston Haze is the little pink wonder that sets the bar for the city's NEIPA scene. Haze is heavy on the Citra hops (giving it that tropical character) plus Galaxy hops, which come from Australia and have insane amounts of rich essential oils, which are the key to flavor. Moreover, the beer is double-dry-hopped, meaning all those tropical, punchy, juicy flavors are even stronger because they're not lost in the boil. But all that juice box flavor is tempered by the malty bones of its yeast, called London Ale III. That means it's not the kind of fruity explosion that haze chasers dream of experiencing; instead, Houston Haze is a restrained, almost session-able NEIPA that acts as a fine introduction for style newcomers.
Southern Star Bombshell Blonde: This is one of the better blonde ales I've ever had. It's made with Vienna malts, and not too many hops, so it's not very sweet or heavy as much as it is smooth and well-rounded. That's key, as you want something lighter that doesn't make you work too hard to enjoy. A good beer, especially when it's still warm out there.
Texas Leaguer 2 Hopper Pale Ale: For those who aren't aware, in baseball a two-hopper is a ground ball that takes a second (usually nefarious) bounce before getting to an infielder. Sometimes the two-hopper baffles the fielder into making an error. Thus, a two-hopper is a unique, strange little occurrence. This beer is also a unique, strange little occurrence. It's called an Indian (sic) pale ale, and while there's a grapefruit, hoppy scent up front, the taste is very balanced, even malty. It's a nice version of a straight-up IPA, but the flavors on my second round are more pronounced. Maybe it's not the most bitter, dank thing I've had, but for an anytime IPA, it really hits (like a crisp double in the gap).