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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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