Posts Tagged ‘food’

Valian’s Pizza Update

October 28, 2010

Honest Raia Family Wants Whole Truth Known.

We’ve written quite a bit lately about the rediscovery of Valian’s Pizza at Raia’s Italian Market at 4500 Washington Avenue. Many of us have since been to Raia’s more than once to sample the rich goodness of the thin crust and rich marinara and cheeses that together make up the arguably greatest tasting pizza of all time. I’ve even taken Richard Coselli, the fellow who served as the UH student chairman of Frontier Fiesta back in 1957 when Valian’s Pizza was first introduced at our big annual campus show, to try the Raia version with me.

Richard Coselli’s taste buds agreed with mine. The Raia version, indeed, is enough like the original to be accorded the status of Valian’s Pizza Reincarnated, even if there existed for both of us a slight variation in taste due to some changes in herbs, spices, or meat products now available in comparison to a half century ago.

Now it seems that we have jumped to a wrong conclusion on how the item described by the Raia family on their menu as “Valien’s DeLuxe” pizza came about. It turns out that this beautiful restoration of an all time Houston culinary favorite was not the result of some ancient family friendship between the Valian and Raia families and a handing-off of the former’s famous pizza recipe in the name of friendship for the sake of posterity.

That story was the urban legend that I hooked onto when my friend first told me. And, since my friend had never been to Raia’s, that was also the legend that he had hooked onto from someone else. My error was then going to Raia’s to try the pizza and then writing about the experience without checking out the truth of the story about its origins directly with the cafe’s owners, Luke and Kathy Raia.

I still haven’t met the Raia couple, but I have heard from Kathy Raia a couple of times by e-mail. Give me an “F” in investigative journalism this time, folks, but I wasn’t on assignment, looking for a deception that never existed in the first place. The Raia place just reeks with good taste and integrity.

My willingness to accept the story I first heard about how the pizza started at Raia’s, nevertheless, has only reenforced the urban legend version of a delicious replication that deserves the Valian’s pizza comparison in its own right.

An e-mail I received from Kathy Raia last night explains the whole misunderstanding:

Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2010 16:46:36 -0500
Subject: Re: Raia’s
From: raia.italian.market@gmail.com
To: houston_buff@hotmail.com

Mr. McCurdy, we appreciate your blog about how good our Valien’s pizza is but we don’t want to create any false impressions.  The store manager you talked to is our son. He knew that my husband went to Valian’s when he was younger. We have never had a relationship with the Valian family nor received any recipes from them.
We named this pizza after one of the pizzas we used to order at Valian’s. This pizza was put on our menu as a tribute to the first restaurant in which my husband was introduced to a pizza.
If you would like to clarify this on your blog, we would appreciate it because we have been getting a lot of phone calls and emails.  My husband has had to expain that we didn’t know the Valian family and this pizza is not their recipe.  We just enjoyed going there.
Please come in again and say hi to my husband so y’all can reminisce about Valian’s.
Thanks, Kathy Raia

And thank you for that clarification, Kathy. You and Luke still deserve Valian’s Pizza status and credit with your tribute recipe version of one of the greatest and most uniquely delicious foods ever produced by a Houston family.

Long live Valian’s! Long live Raia’s!

 

Valian’s Pizza is Back!

October 16, 2010

 

Hmmm! Hmmm! Good!

BAD NEWS UPDATE, 8/14/2017. Raia’s went out of business about three years ago and their fair (but not quite as good) rendition of the original Valian’s Pizza went with them. No explanation for the shutdown. Their business traffic, at least, looked good, but you never know. Sorry to have to share disappointment here, but life is like that sometimes, isn’t it?

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Do you recognize anything special in what you are looking at in the above pictured pizza box? Well, if you could suddenly inhale the aromas wafting in the air, and gently trial-taste the brick-oven cooked blending of cheeses, pepperoni slices, mushrooms, green peppers, marinara sauce, and unmistakably deliciously light golden brown thin crust, you would recognize that you have just bitten into something many of us remember in Houston from long ago as a Valian’s Deluxe Pizza.

That’s right, their back! All this time we’ve spent here at The Pecan Park Eagle over the past few months bemoaning the demise of Valian’s, a form of the old treasured pizza has been available to us all the time. It simply wasn’t promoted well enough for the word to get out.

Well, we’ll try to fix that little information hole today.

A week ago Friday, I was driving to an alumni luncheon at St. Thomas High School with Delbert “D.D.” Stewart, an old classmate and even older friend. As we drove south on Durham, near the Shepherd-Washington intersection, I just happened to mention our broadly shared regret that Valian’s Pizza no longer existed.

“Oh, but it does,” D.D. interjected. “There’s a place very near here on Washington Avenue that serves it on their menu as ‘Valian’s Pizza.’ It’s a place called Raia’s Italian Market.”

 

It’s at 4500 Washington, a block east of Shepherd on the north side of the street with ample parking in the back of the building.

 

I wasn’t able to check out my friend’s tip until yesterday. He had not been there personally and I had to discover for myself if it were really true. I knew that only my taste buds could answer that one.

I finished early at my office yesterday. It was about eleven in the morning. By choice, my days at work aren’t too grueling anymore so I decided to just drive over to this Raia’s place and see for myself what kind of pizza they were offering in the name of Valian’s the Great. The owner of the deli market, a fellow named Luke Raia, wasn’t around, but I learned from his store manager that the clean-looking little deli place had been open in this beautiful new storefront building since the summer of 2008.

I checked out the take-out menu since I don’t enjoy dining alone in public, and because I wanted to take home some goodies to the family anyway. There it was in the pizza section of choices, advertised clearly in a misspelled form of the famous family surname as “Valien’s Deluxe.” A whole pizza is available in one generous size for the going price of nine dollars.

The young store manager had no clue about the misspelling of “Valian’s” as “Valien’s”, but he did know that their offering of that product came from the fact that store owner Luke Raia had been a friend of the Valian family and that he had had obtained their recipe for pizza for use in his new restaurant prior to their 2008 opening.

I put aside my personal amazement over the two years deep misspelling of Valian’s on the menu and ordered a couple of pies to go. I told the young store manager that, if his product turned out to be the real thing, to get ready for the Internet article I intended to write about it. His pizza business was getting ready to really add a few mushrooms. On top of their already very active luncheon deli and evening dinner business, Raia’s was about to plug into a very large market of people who have been figuratively dying for the taste of a good old Valian’s Pizza for way too long.

 

Raia’s Dining Room: For their service hours, check them out at http://www.RaiasItalian.com

 

Folks, I took my Raia’s-Valian’s/Valien’s Deluxe Pizza home and tried it. Verdict: It’s the real thing. Except for a slight difference that I think is due to the fact these particular meats and cheeses most probably are not coming from the same suppliers that once served the original Valian’s store, this pizza is as good as pizza gets. And the great thin crust is unmistakably Valian’s all the way.

My 25-year old son Neal tried this Valian’s Pizza last night for the first time in his life. After a lifetime of listening to me speak of the original, he couldn’t wait to give it a try. I couldn’t wait to watch.

After he took one bite, I watched Neal’s eyes roll back. A few moments of careful chewing were gradually followed by a one-word response:

“WOW!”

He paused a few moments before adding, “So this is what pizza is supposed to taste like?”

 

The other food choices at Raia’s look delicious too, friends!

 

Folks, I don’t know Luke Raia, and I have no investment in his business, but I do know this much. He’s done the history of local foods proud by preserving and offering Valian’s Pizza on his menu. For that reason alone, he deserves our initial support. I also have a hunch that we shall find other food reasons for going back.

Thanks for saving Valian’s Pizza, Luke. Can you now do something about the spelling of the family name on the menu? Unless the family name was really “Valien” and they misspelled it as “Valian’s” on the neon sign that once fronted their South Main restaurant, the menu spelling error deserves correction.

Have a great weekend, everybody! And happy food choices too!

If you make it to Raia’s for the Valian’s Pizza, please post your own reviews here as comments on this article. I’d really like to hear what the rest of you think.

Remembering the Pig Stand.

January 8, 2010

Do you remember the last Pig Stand restaurant, the one that used to operate on Washington Avenue? This Houston Pig Stand  closed its doors forever sometime in the last decade or so. It is now the site of Sawyer Park, which, according to local historian and man-about-town Mike Vance of TV Channel 55,  is now one of the hottest sports bars in the city these days.

The subject came up for me as Mike Vance and I were conversing via e-mail last night on the subject of Houston’s drive in restaurant history. Mike had asked me what I remembered or knew of any burger business that may have have preceded Prince’s in Houston. The local Prince’s Drive In chain opened in 1934.

Well, even I am too young to recall anything prior to 1934. All I could think of was the Pig Stand, even though they were famous for their pig sandwich. I’m not sure they even offered burgers too. As a kid of age five, I remember my parents taking us there to the one on Washington Avenue while we were still living in the Heights. Seems to me there was also a Pig Stand in the Heights itself, but my memory of that possibility may be shaky. I couldn’t even recall the curb service on Washington. My memories are of eating a pig sandwich inside the place.

The Pig Stand holds quite a place in Texas restaurant history, The first one opened in the Dallas area in 1921 as American entrepreneurs scrambled to take advantage of new market needs generated by the growing populariy and presence of the automobile. Places offering “curb service” became the call of the times as Americans travelled further, ate out more, and got lazier about how they dined. It wasn’t long before the Pig Stand chain of the 1920s expanded into San Antonio, Houston, Beaumont, and even into California, on a coast-to-coast expansion of places offering both “drive through” and “curb service” purchase of those “oink-o-licious” pig sandwiches.

The Pig Stand movement reached its big trough days during the 1930s when 130 stores opened all around the country. The chain takes credit for the mass introduction of several food items beyond the star pig sandwich too. These included Texas toast, deep-fried onion rings, and the chicken fried steak sandwich. The Pig Stand stores were among the first to offer fluorescent lighting, neon lights, and air conditioning as well.

Mary’s Pig Stand on Broadway in San Antonio is now the Alamo of them all, staying open in good faith and tribute to a bygone era and a business that once played its part in the eventual destruction of the family home evening meal. I only wish they were closer to home in Houston. Those delicious pig sandwiches were good enough to have  earned a week’s full of condemnation from health specialists like Dr. Oz of daytime television medicine, but they were still sooooooooo soooie-goooie good!

We’d love to have your memories of the Pig Stand here too as comments. Also, if you can think of any burger businesses that were big in Houston prior to Prince’s, please feel free to write about them too.