By Jim Ayres
You’ve been to Pepper Twins. I’m fairly sure of it. Most everyone I know has eaten there. I hadn’t, until recently.
For a weekday lunch, I psyched myself up. I was going to conquer this fear. With all the bravado I could muster, I walked into the storefront on West Gray. I was finally going to experience the Sichuan peppercorn.
I was shown to a table. I studied the menu, with its little one, two and three-pepper icons. This was my moment, my time to taste once and for all what these hallucinogenic peppercorns were all about. The waiter arrived. Adrenalin flowed.
And I ordered General Tso’s Chicken.
And it was terrible. It was overcooked, dry chicken breast. It was covered in a goo I can only describe as maple syrup mixed with soy sauce. It was appropriately spicy for its one-pepper rating. It was also my punishment, richly deserved, for chickening out at the last second.
As a final indignity, I bit into one of those dried red peppers on my last bite, setting my mouth on fire for a good ten minutes. “That’ll teach him,” the entire staff no doubt thought.
So, it was with a mixture of shame and a renewed sense of purpose that I revisited Pepper Twins days later, on Kirby Drive. This is where things get interesting!
Pepper Twins’ Mongolian Beef is splendid. We’re not at Sichuan peppercorn level yet, but this tender beef, stir fried with onions, has a pleasant kick. A lightly sweet and savory sauce brings the whole dish together, and the entrée was a joy from first bite to last.
Stewed Berkshire Pork Belly is similarly indulgent. Basically, it’s very thick cut bacon, braised in traditional Sichuan manner, topped with finely chopped onions and other vegetables. It’s a more authentic Sichuan dish than what we’re used to in westernized restaurants. Although it’s listed as an
entrée under “Chef’s Specialties,” this is a dish for sharing. No one could, or should, eat all that glorious fat in one sitting.
You’ve got to play at the two and three-pepper levels to get the peppercorns, however. And as that’s what we’re here for, we try the Pepper Twins Chicken. The breast meat is cut into small chunks and stir fried with many vegetables, including okra. Broken—not whole—red peppers dot the surface. Serious heat awaits.
Oh, and that little branch of round things on top? Jackpot! Let the experiment commence.
Surprisingly, the Sichuan peppercorns don’t affect your skin as you pick them off and add them to the dish. It’s only in your mouth that their spell begins. It’s a strange numbing sensation, euphoric, certainly not like the dentist. It heightens flavors. It’s spicy, but only makes you want to dig in for more.
But you know that already. Because you’ve been to Pepper Twins. I may be the last to discover it, but I’ll make up for it in return visits!
3915 Kirby Drive (with locations on Fairview and West Gray)
Houston, Texas 77098