THESE ROOKIES ROCK

Ken Hoffman: Toyota Center announces new food rookies in time for Rockets playoff run

The Grilled Beef Fajita at Toyota Center come in cool Rockets bowl. Courtesy photo

A version of this article originally appeared on CultureMap/Houston. Check out Hoffman's Houston there.

With the Houston Rockets sitting pretty, only two games behind the Golden State Warriors in the NBA standings, fans at Toyota Center will see a new addition to the lineup for the team's stretch drive.

A Grilled Cheese and Bacon Hot Dog.

"Picture a grilled cheese sandwich for the bun, with a split hot dog, nacho cheese and garnished with bacon," said Anthony Lopez, the "Guru of Gruyere" for Levy Restaurants, which handles concessions for Toyota Center.

The Grilled Cheese and Bacon Hot Dog costs $10 and is available at free-standing hot dog carts on the concourse.

In my role as public servant, each year I test-eat all the new menu items, plus a few returning favorites, at Toyota Center. I am a people pleaser. I also like a good hot dog.

Joining the Toyota Center starting lineup

Grilled Beef Fajita Nachos, $15, available at Section 112. These were brought back by popular demand. The people have spoken, and Lopez listened. (He's nothing if not a man of the people.)

Firecracker Chicken Sandwich, $13, available at Sections 102, 113, 433. This was my favorite rookie, legit spicy and a good size.

Pork Carnitas Tacos, $12.50, available at Sections 125 and 433. My team of taste-testers raved. I concurred.

Chicken Adobo Nachos, $13.00, available at Sections 108 and 119 in the West and East Clubs. Taste-tester approved. Strong effort in the finger snack category. Grab some extra napkins.

Of course, when push comes to shove, something gets shoved. Gone from last season are Korean Tacos, the Fried Chicken Sandwich, and Lime Cilantro Nachos. Hey, I liked the Fried Chicken Sandwich. I did not authorize this roster cut. 

January is a big month for Lopez and his crew of merry cookers — that's when they begin planning the menu for next season. They're deep in underground secret locations at Toyota Center making future plans now.

"We have a large kitchen where all the food is prepared and prefer to keep it hidden from everyone. The kitchen is where we keep our prized possession — our smoker. We smoke all of our briskets and turkey breasts in house for each game. That's usually about 55 briskets and 50 turkey breasts. We have many food items that are close to tied for our top-seller, but nothing moves at Toyota Center like our smoked brisket.

"We have a lady in our kitchen, whose name is Mirna, who makes all of the salad dressings, from Caesar to blue cheese, fresh each day. She's been with us for 25 years. Have you tried our house-made croutons, made fresh each day?"

Hey, I'll ask the questions here. And I have tried the croutons. They're delicious. I actually feel sorry for croutons. They are, by far, the best part of a salad. They steal the show every time. But you never see croutons mentioned on the menu; they're forever stuck as supporting characters. Poor croutons.

I asked Lopez, how come your concession stands are all hands on deck, full steam ahead for Rockets games, but you offer only a few items during concerts?

"The amount of food consumed at an NBA game is substantially more than that of a concert. I mean, how many people go to a concert to eat, unless you're looking for a cheeseburger in paradise at a Jimmy Buffett concert?" Lopez said.

Lopez is a Parrothead.

 

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Composite image by Brandon Strange

The NBA is doing it right with their restart inside the Orlando Bubble at the Disney resort. A centralized location for the 22 teams picked to finish out the regular season and vie for the playoffs. A nice twist of a play-in for the eighth and final spot in each conference adds some intrigue. With teams not having to travel as extensively as they would under normal circumstances, this could have a positive effect on players and teams by them being more rested between games.

When I say it could benefit players and teams, I'm specifically talking about the Rockets. Head coach Mike D'Antoni typically employs a tight rotation when it comes playoff time. He's notorious for only playing a strict seven or eight man rotation. This usually overworks his starters who play close to 40 minutes per game or more. Meanwhile, guys that have gotten a decent amount of minutes are relegated to being cheerleaders with jerseys on. Given the current conditions, is small-ball sustainable in the bubble?

Yes: the extra rest will help

As previously stated, I believe the rest will help. James Harden and Russell Westbrook aren't spring chickens. Neither is P.J. Tucker or Eric Gordon. All four of these guys are keys to the Rockets being able to make a run. Given the lack of travel allowing for extra rest, I think the older guys who've played significant minutes and have overcome injuries will be better rested. Better rest and time to heal should give them a boost.

No: can't win being out-rebounded

In their impressive win over the East leading Bucks in their second game of the restart, the Rockets were out-rebounded by 29! Now the possession gap was tightened via the 23 turnovers they got from the Bucks, including several down the stretch. But you can't expect to be consistently out-rebounded and win.The last NBA champion to be out-rebounded by their opponents was the '12-'13 Miami Heat team who were loaded. This team isn't suprememly talented like that team was so I doubt they can overcome shortcomings on talent alone.

Yes: threes are more than twos

Three is greater than two. That is a fact that can't be debated. The fact that the Rockets shoot more threes than any team in the league isn't debatable either. Their shooting percentage on those threes (34.9%) ranks them 22nd in the league. But when you shoot roughly 45 a game and make about 16 of them yielding 48 points off threes, it makes the risk worth the reward. Not to mention long distance shots often give way to long rebounds which can help a team that doesn't play a regular player taller than 6'9.

No: defense is too inconsistent

The inconsistency at which this Rockets team plays defense could be their downfall. The way they played down the stretch against the Bucks is the way you'd hope they play all game. They stepped up when it counted in that game, but don't play that way consistently enough to be considered a real threat. When you score 118.7 a game, but give up 114.9 a game, you will always be in close games. Add the rebounding desparity, and that's a recipe for too many close games which they could end up losing if they aren't shooting well. When you can't get stops, you can't win. It's that simple.

Overall, this team has a shot to do sometihng special, but will need lots of things to go right for them. Do I think they have a shot at a title? Yes. Do I think the road will be tough? Yes. All it takes is 16 wins once the playoffs start. Being the best team in a best of seven series four times in a row is more daunting than it sounds. The confines of the NBA bubble make it a little more advantageous to the Rockets' style of play. But will their deficiencies impede their progress? That remains to be seen. Until then, let's enjoy the ride.

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