Katz's Express has been in the Portofino Shopping Center since 2006, allowing area residents and visitors alike to enjoy Kosher-Style foods. As we normally do, we like to revisit area restaurants more than once in order to get a wider perspective of the food and service. For example, our first review of Katz's in Shenandoah had come after having eaten there several times, but was less than spectacular.
So when Sandi Maslak, the Woodlands-area catering manager for Katz's Express, and Barry Katz, owner of Katz's Deli in Houston and Katz's Express invited us out to have lunch and discuss their new Catering Menu - including the upcoming Holiday Catering selections, we thought it'd be as good of time as any to try a few new things at Katz's.
We serve Kosher-style foods as a kind of tribute to our heritage. - Barry Katz
There are some pretty amazing things coming out of the Katz's kitchens for both the restaurants and the catering. The new Holiday Catering Menu won't be available for ordering until November 1; and in the meantime, recipes and cooking methods are still being tweaked, tested and perfected. Take a look at our blog for an exclusive look at some of the new dish offerings, fantastic price points, and a glimpse of the inner-workings of the precision and perfection of Katz's catering. Of course, many of the same dishes available year-round on Katz's catering menu are also available in their restaurants any time; and Barry introduced us to a few of those which we had never tried before, gave us a little background on his family, the business, and of course, the food.
First up was the Award-Winning Matzo Ball, Chicken & Noodle Soup. The Matzo ball (or Matzah ball [Yiddish: plural קניידלעך kneydlekh, singular קניידל kneydl; also kneydls]) is made of Matza meal (a blend of five grains which were baked as unleavened bread then ground), eggs, seasonings, water and oil. This is then deposited into boiling water, under a tightly-closed lid. The trapped steam aids the golf-ball-sized Matzo ball expand to nearly tennis-ball proportions, which is then served with some fantastic chicken noodle soup. The result is really good; the Matzo ball is soft and mildly flavored, and the rest of the chicken noodle soup has a great flavor - no need for salt or pepper.
We also tried a Stuffed Cabbage, or Holishkes, which is topped with sweet Hungarian tomato sauce (Barry's grandmother's recipe) that includes raisins and brown sugar, which perfectly complemented the savory ground beef, rice, and onions stuffed inside. She says: Years ago, I was asked to make stuffed cabbage, based on someone else's recipe. Those were completely different, made with alfredo sauce. No matter how much I toyed with that recipe over time, I always hated them. I (wrongfully) assumed what I was going to be trying was that mess. The pleasant surprise of Katz's Stuffed Cabbage was one of the best parts of our meal, in my opinion.
While we enjoyed the appetizers, we asked Barry about Katz's being "Kosher-style" and not "Kosher;" it seemed with dishes such as Matzo ball soup and Holishkes, someone that didn't know any better could hardly be blamed for assuming that Katz's was a Kosher restaurant. Barry explained, "In order for a kitchen to be Kosher, it must adhere to Kashrut - Jewish dietary laws. Those rules affect every aspect of cooking, from what foods may be used and where they came from, to how those foods are stored and prepared, to the dishes they are served on. Those rules are difficult enough to stick to in a home kitchen - I know, my grandmother kept Kosher in her kitchen - let alone a commercial one. And for example, our trademark Reuben sandwich, it's served with cheese; but mixing meat and dairy isn't Kosher. So while we have many traditional Jewish dishes on our menu, we see it as more of a tribute to our heritage, and in turn refer to our menu as 'Kosher-style,' because in the strictest sense, while some of our ingredients may be Kosher - the Hebrew National hot dogs, for example - our kitchens are not 'kept Kosher.' And all of our staff is trained to understand that difference as well, so they can answer that same question properly when someone asks."
He Said - As if on cue, our lunches arrived, including a non-Kosher French Dip, topped with melted provolone and served au jus ordered by Barry, an omelette for myself, a breaded Chicken Cutlet for her (Sandi had already filled up on the appetizers - it's easy to do at Katz's). Barry offered each of us a sample of the sandwich, and we were impressed with the tenderness and flavor of the ample amount of thin-shaved roast beef, which was really set off by the great tasting jus. The French Dip comes with in-house-made potato chips, cut thick and fried up crisp.
Despite the fact that this was a lunch meeting, I still felt the need to order breakfast, bowing to temptation and getting a Phillycheese Steak Omelette, my long-standing favorite dish. It was great - though I expected nothing less - and it was of course huge. I also 'sinned' a bit and traded my usual wheat toast for Katz’s Kolossial Cinnamon Roll - which was just silly, since I barely touched it for all the dishes we were sampling.
She Said - In what would ultimately be the one hiccup of our meal, my fried chicken breast cutlet was a little bit on the dark side. It wasn't bad; it's not as though it was burned or anything - but I could see on Barry's face before it even touched the table it was a little darker than it should have been. As it turned out, he needn't have been concerned. The chicken was fork-tender and juicy. The breading didn't have the faintest hint of burn to it, and I was easily able to detect a nice blend of seasonings. I had asked for my brown gravy on the side, and when I dipped my chicken in it, found it was flavorful and robust, without drowning out the flavor of the chicken. I had the potato salad as my side, a nice, creamy mustard variety which I thought tasted great. It was neither bland nor sweet, a nice blend of just-right potatoes and more, with a good amount of creamy mustard dressing.
Getting our just desserts - It's a good thing that since we were all sampling each other's dishes, we all made at least a half-hearted attempt to not eat too much of any one thing. Barry asked if we'd like to try some dessert, and I told him that generally, we never have room for it when we come in, so we'd only just sampled a few bites the other day at CM Floral Designs' grand opening which had been catered by Katz's. He couldn't believe we'd never tried the signature Cheesecake Shake, so we acquiesced (oh, the sacrifices we make for our readers) and went with strawberry. I was torn between a Black & White Cookie, and the World's Tallest 7 Layer Cake, so Barry suggested I get the cake and he'd get the cookie and let me try it. And apparently it's some sort of law or something that everyone try one of Barry's wife Lisa Katz's Macaroons at some point, so one of those came to the table as well.
First, that Cheesecake Shake has an entire slice of cheesecake in it. They put the ice cream in the blender cup with one of the huge, three-inch-tall, thick wedges of cheesecake, blend it all together, then fill a standard shake glass top it with whipped cream and another little tidbit of cheesecake for garnish, plus bring the other half out in the blender cup. It's a heart attack in a glass, times two. And it's delicious. You're welcome, readers. Lisa Katz's Macaroon is a deceptively simple, delightfully soft and chewy, golf-ball-sized ball of coconut, vanilla extract and sweetened, condensed milk, topped with a melted chocolate. The recipe is freely available, allowing for a baker of nearly any caliber to try their hand at duplicating them at home. A New York tradition, the Black & White Cookie was a soft, mild, pound-cakesque treat, with vanilla and dark chocolate icing that would easily please anyone from the Big Apple. And that World's Tallest 7 Layer Cake? It alone is enough dessert for four people - made of seven separate, brownie-like chocolate cakes, held together with seven layers of chocolate frosting, the topmost of which is extra thick, then topped off with another chocolate frosting - this one of thicker consistency, though only mildly sweet, like it's made with a base of marshmallow fluff.
For the record, we didn't finish any of the desserts, either. We did manage to bring home about two-thirds of the cake and the macaroon, though. And once we'd recovered from this wonderful meal (and after a day had passed - and we had some exercise), we enjoyed the rest of our desserts.
So it would appear that whatever it was that seemed a little "off" the last time we were in has since righted itself. That missing coffee issue? Solved - back to normal, like it never even happened. Sure, the boss was in the house, so you'd expect everything and everyone to be in top form - but apparently Barry is in pretty often; most people just don't notice since he's typically in the back, working the line. And with a number of past experiences of our own, plus judging by the number of customers we saw pass through the doors and the bustling lunch crowd, it's pretty clear that last time was a fluke. And surely that many people can't be wrong.
Tell us, have you tried the Matzo Ball Soup or Lisa Katz's Macaroons? Is there a favorite dish of yours at Katz's Express that we haven't tried yet? Leave us your suggestions and we'll take them under advisement, since we'll surely be back sometime soon.