Criollo Latin Kitchen stands out with happy hour menu, fresh ingredients

Written by Gail G. Collins

On a trip to Uruguay, I strolled the streets of Montevideo and followed my nose to a late dinner. Through the glass of a classy restaurant, their parrilla tempted other passers-by. Flames licked up the oven’s sides, with wood piled nearby to feed a bank of glowing coals. Racks of ribs, chorizo, chicken, and of course, beef slowly cooked on the enormous grill. The server suggested a local bottle of Tanat to accompany a sample platter of meats. Grass-fed beef, never touched by fire, is uniquely flavorful. Even in this fine setting, barbecue, or asado, is the choice of discerning diners.

Latin America stretches from Mexico’s northern border to Argentina, where the gaucho grill originated. Hospitality and warmth are the peoples’ hallmark and extend to their sensual dancing and zesty cuisine. Drawing on European influences from Spain and Portugal, and infused with wider inspiration, diverse and colorful recipes emerged. Bright, bold tastes result from fresh ingredients, like cilantro, lime, poblano peppers, and sazón, a traditional seasoning of annatto, garlic, cumin, coriander, black pepper and oregano. In 2017, Technomic’s Flavor report found that 68 percent of American diners rate Mexican food as their second favorite cuisine. The versatility of flavors satisfies the adventurous with empanadas, ceviche and tamales.

Such experiences drove owners Paul and Laura Moir to open Criollo in 2009. “We loved Latin food,” he said. “Laura had broadly traveled Latin America, and our family regularly went to Guadalajara. Criollo was unique for Flagstaff at the time.”

The menu began with tapas, but evolved following customer tastes. The dishes change seasonally, but items, like bacon nachos and taco plates, are firmly fixed per customer feedback. The couple even courted over nachos, confessed Moir, making them a staple in which the owners enjoy seeing other people indulge.

The Happy Hour menu has expanded to 15-20 choices, offering quality food at bargain prices. Six street tacos top the list. The fish taco—beer-battered catfish with a zippy ancho crema and cabbage— leads, but order a sampler to include the al pastor—slow-cooked pork shoulder with pineapple guajillo, clove and cinnamon, plus cilantro crema—and a chorizo cauliflower taco with pickled red onion, aioli and guacamole. Queso? Of courso. Especially delicious is the fundido with Oaxacan and jack cheeses layered with caramelized onion and poblano pepper, garlic confit and black beans. The hour is happier with a classic margarita or a choice of revolving flavors, like prickly pear or guava. Think tropical with a Pineapple Express, mixing mescal with juice, green chartreuse, lime, blood orange bitters and agave—summertime, anytime.

To reassess their aims, Moir and staff recently explored anew what “criollo” means. Literally, it refers to a person of true Spanish descent from Central America. For Moir, it extends to the pride and far reach of influences, such as the Caribbean or Peru’s Asian impacts, through migration.

Executive chef Jay Felton increased the vegetable dishes on the menu—for example, snap peas and soy flavors are pulled from Peru. He runs a scratch kitchen of sauces, dressings, chorizo and more. Tortillas are local as is the produce from McClendon Farms. The protein is supplied via Moir’s butchery, Proper Meats + Provisions, which aims to act as a wholesale supplier, giving diners all the more reason to try the steak plate.

The skirt steak is charred and tender atop smoked potatoes with a chimichurri sauce of garlic, oregano and cilantro, plus roasted corn salad and blistered shishito peppers for hearty plate of tastes. No less indulgent is the barbacoa flauta, stuffed with chuck beef braised with onion, oregano and apple cider vinegar with potato, fresh aioli coleslaw and smashed avocado.

Close out the meal with a Basque-style churro, sandwiching horchata ice cream and rolled in cocoa nibs for a creamy, passionate, Latin nibble.

Keeping things lively for chefs and clients this year, Moir introduced the Burger Battle. For eight Sundays, two chefs went head-to-head, crafting their best burgers. Guests voted for their favorite and raised money for a charity of the winner’s choosing.

“Everyone in the industry is so busy running around with their hair on fire,” said Moir. “This presented a great opportunity and a good cause for them.”

In the end, diner loyalty builds successes, like Criollo.

“We are downtown, urban, local and casual fun in the center of it all,” said Moir. “We’re 10 years in, and we keep getting better.” NAMLM

Home & Garden Profile: Williams-Hirsch Custom Builders Craftsman Styled Homes Popular in NB

New Braunfels Lifestyle  Magazine—Sept/Oct 2019

Written by Gail G. Collins

With nearly half a century of experience logged between them, Jim Williams and Greg Hirsch allied in 2001 to begin building custom homes in Hill Country. “At first, we built what customers asked for—big, rambling, Mediterranean-style homes.

“At the time, these type of homes were in style,” said Jim Williams. “Then seven or eight years ago, we got the opportunity to build specs houses, so we studied and began building nicely-appointed Craftsman style homes. We were immediately drawn to this style of home.” It would appear, a vast number of residents were drawn to them, too, as the popular Craftsman style has become synonymous with the area.

The partners also had done a lot of remodeling around San Antonio, particularly Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills. They adored the bungalows in those mature neighborhoods, but even with updating, the old homes often lacked efficient plumbing, insulation and didn’t meet other current standards. So, Williams-Hirsch (W/H) designed a better version. “We build homes with all modern features, which fit into established, traditional neighborhoods,” said Greg Hirsch. Their custom Craftsman homes possess every contemporary function, yet project a timeless, irresistible curb appeal.

Though the W/H constructs other styles, such as ranch, Mediterranean, farmhouse or contemporary in various communities, people come to them for their appealing Craftsman models. “If it is up to us, we choose to build a Craftsman cottage,” said Hirsch.

So what defines a W/H Craftsman style? The simpler, less pretentious home is characterized by a low-pitched, gabled roof with broad eaves and stands one-and-a-half stories with dormers. Craftsman plans could include a large, covered porch with battered columns draws guests to the door and invites them to stay awhile. Pillars line the entry. A prominent fireplace, flanked by fitted cabinetry, defines the living area. Windows are double-hung. Wood abounds in exposed rafters, built-in cupboards, nooks and window seats. Hammered metalwork in copper or bronze adds fine detailing.

The modest bungalows exude comfort and a productive lifestyle. They are both beautiful and functional—rife in textural, local materials with a high degree of craftsmanship. It is their fine details, which sets a Craftsman house apart, for though all Craftsman houses are bungalows, not all bungalows are Craftsman style.

It is just such aspects that have sold home buyers on Williams-Hirsch designs. The company offers eight Craftsman Cottage models. Buyers delight in the “custom designs within a budget,” “the functionality of a new home with the charm of an older home,” and “capturing unique architectural elements.” Utilizing Pam Williams for her interior design skills, the family team goes the extra mile with quality materials and workmanship.

Both Williams and Hirsch are Texas A & M grads. As a former Vietnam helicopter pilot, president Jim Williams then tacked on 25 years of experience building custom homes. He is married with three children and six grandchildren.

Vice president and co-partner Greg Hirsch is a knowledgeable site superintendent with 25 years invested in project management plus quality assessment and customer service. Hirsch works on architectural design alongside W/H designers.

“We collaborate on the design process,” said Hirsch. “It’s a team effort, and we stay with the plans until everyone is satisfied with the result.”

According to their Website, their customers share one thing—the desire for something more than the existing choices in custom homes. The company works closely with clients, taking into account their lifestyle, tastes and needs every step of the way from design to completion.

The builder hires third-parties to assure inspection standards, including energy testing, framing and more. “From a construction standpoint, we engineer everything we do,” said Hirsch. Williams-Hirsch is certified in many areas to incorporate science, efficiency and air quality into the overall construction.

The company also has erected commercial buildings, such as the Candlewood Suites Hotel, dentist offices, churches and a bar, as well as mixed-use projects. With an aim of blending the building into community spaces, Williams said, “Our products are designed to fit in well.”

Their awards reflect this goal as Herald-Zeitung readers voted Williams-Hirsch Best Homebuilder and among the Best General Contractors for 2019. Equally conscious as regards efficiency, they rank as a Certified Green Builder, Smart Energy Builder, Energy Star Builder, a Premier Partner with CPS Energy, San Antonio Sustainability winner for 2015 and 2016, as well as winning the Build San Antonio Green Award for Single Family Development in 2017. Additionally, the builder holds designations as Certified Graduate Builder, Master Builder and with the Certified Professional Building Performance Institute. Perhaps, most cherished is the recognition for Infill Development Focused on Community and Historic Character.

“Importantly, our homes look great and function well,” said Hirsch. They guide clients in green decisions, where practical innovation and technology provide a return on the long-term investment. “After moving into their new homes, clients call, excited with their lower utility bills.”

Word of mouth advertising and repeat business mean the most to any business. “We say what we mean and back it up,” said W/H. The builders simply treat their clients the way they desire to be treated. As a result, they have built more than one home for the same family.

The attraction to the Craftsman style is enduring, and Williams-Hirsch builds them for longstanding value. “When a family builds with us, we want their grandchildren to enjoy the benefits of that home one day as well,” said Williams. NBLM

To learn more about Williams-Hirsch Custom Builders, log into their Website:

NB Antique & Vintage Vendors Meet Contemporary Decorating Demands

New Braunfels Lifestyle  Magazine, Sept/Oct 2019

Written by Gail G. Collins

Vintage is all the rage, but truth be told, it always has been. Something old became something new. A fleeting fad created a cult classic. From furniture to fabrics, what goes around comes around.

According to the lay decorator’s Bible, Southern Living, what is trending today in home decor has an anchor in the past:  red front doors, faux marble finishes, crystal chandeliers, collectable displays, gold fixtures, wicker, wallpaper and sumptuous fabrics. Best, these ideas are better than before. Hoist the chandelier over a simple dining table or reflect some wow in the bathroom. Protect fabrics against stains and never score a party foul.

When it comes to vintage, it’s not a flash from the past, but a fresh footprint in another era. Lila and Don LeMasters agree. The owners of Red Rooster Antique & Design Center, a mall for vendors in historic downtown New Braunfels, have grown their concept to 25,000 square feet of shabby chic and period treasures. Artistic displays and vintage vignettes draw customers in and through the mall. “Don is very creative and loves to decorate,” said Lila. “Whatever he touches turns out well.”

The couple began with a café and store in 2006, expanding and relocating to a defunct furniture store. Focusing solely on antiques, they added a second mall, Encore Antiques Company, in 2016.  With more than 65 booths, a short list of goods for sale includes:  Western and primitive décor, furniture, jewelry, clocks, rugs, handmade quilts, original art and apparel. No wonder they have been voted Best Antiques Store in New Braunfels for years running.

It was a good fit for Don, who explained, “I like really unique, rare, quirky, odd stuff. Personally, that’s what attracts people to my business.” He fancies old signs, like the nearly 20-foot metal Gold Bond Stamps signboard, a trademark in the store.

When buying or selling awkward-sized goods, they transport via UShip, a niche transport company that hand-delivers unconventional items. It makes impulse shopping a “no worries” solution for customers alike.

Vendors rent space at Red Rooster, like hairstylists lease a chair at a salon to cut hair. The booths co-mingle in the great space for greater impact and shopping benefits. A good relationship works both ways. Generally, mall managers provide a sales venue, supervision, utilities, promotion and staff while the vendors offer high quality items displayed attractively to attract shoppers. The LeMasters work with vendors to be successful, even if they are newbies. “We help set-up from zero to selling,” said Don.

Selling takes effort and tips can make it pay off, like a wall of fishing-related signs, gear and décor, to turn interested heads. A lace tablecloth with dainty china, tailored linens and mix-match flatware begs for a party. The trick is stocking a booth with inventory without crowding it. Make ordinary goods special with a facelift, like painting a group of frames to match, or bundle items for effect, like books or postcards. Price competitively, track sales and focus on selling what is selling. A booth is a business, not a hobby.

Successful vendors know their customers. They keep booths fresh, regrouping and restaging goods. Promotions, like trunk sales, donating to fundraisers, pop-up events, teaching classes and lending for exhibitions can build a brand and expand the customer base. “We have about 10 original vendors,” said Lila, “and we call them family.” They build one another up and contribute to the overall value of the mall.

The idea of recycling, repurposing and reviving goods has gathered momentum with a new generation. Millennials adore vintage, mixing traditional styling with contemporary flair. A hand-knotted Persian rug undergirds the cool lines of a neutral couch. A landscape painting offers a view an urban loft misses. A glass topper on a trunk creates a coffee table for the insatiable traveler.

Unique, found objects are not a commodity. Vintage vendors sell history, nostalgia and fantasy. The goods are one-off, not available in a big box world driven out of business by online sales. A vintage item is considered for its merit in the eyes of a smitten seller, and then, a beguiled buyer.

Still, the greatest joy of vintage goods is found in the personal story … who owned that cocktail dress in 1957 and who will wear it to ring in the New Year in 2020? The legacy is ongoing, bringing happiness once again. NBLM

To learn more about becoming a vendor at Red Rooster Antique & Design Center or Encore Antique Co., contact Lila LeMaster at [email protected] or call (830) 609-3311.