By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
The fork-tender pork carnitas at Beaver's came on a slice of Texas toast that floated on a pool of savory greens surrounded by bacon and bean ragout and guajillo chile sauce. Wisps of fried onion garnished the homey masterpiece. Beaver's new chef, Jonathan Jones, calls this kind of combo plate "salt-of-the-earth Texas food." Jones grew up in La Porte with a European cook for a stepdad and a lot of Mexican neighbors — it's easy to see those influences on his cooking.
You may remember Jones as the guy who brought us Kobe burgers with house-pickled jalapeños, hot dogs with venison chili, and mussels steamed in Lone Star Beer at Max's Wine Dive. His other recent blackboard specials at Beaver's have included panfried black drum with pickled serranos and fried cabbage, as well as slow-smoked chicken over grits.
Located in the icehouse formerly known as Doodie's near Washington Avenue and Sawyer, the business was already named Beaver's when it was taken over by a group of partners, including Monica Pope and Andrea Lazar of T'afia.
2310 Decatur St.
Houston, TX 77007
Pork ribs: $11
Mac and cheese: $6
Beaver's was completely revamped and reopened with an inventive cocktail list, a great craft beer selection and a menu of barbecue, burgers and creative comfort foods. The "neo-icehouse," as some called it, made Bon Appétit's list of "summer blockbuster" openings this year. "These are the restaurant openings for Summer 2008, with marquee chefs and lots of buzz," the magazine breathlessly exclaimed.
Beaver's actually opened in November 2007. It was immediately popular as a neighborhood watering hole, but the food was uneven from the start. On my first visit, last January, I sampled a wonderfully airy bison and beef meatloaf along with some dismal barbecue, which I described as a "big tough pork rib that tasted like it had been cooked with diesel fuel" and "brisket (that) had an aroma reminiscent of burnt rubber." ["Keep Houston Weird," January 24.]
Beaver's started over when its famed mixologist Bobby Huegel and the original "marquee chef" Dax McAnear departed last month. McAnear went to go cook at Scott Tycer's Textile restaurant. Huegel is opening his own bar.
I decided to revisit Beaver's after I heard that Jonathan Jones had taken over the kitchen. But when I sat down for lunch, I was disappointed to find the same menu as before. The menu didn't change when Jones took over, the waiter explained. If you wanted to eat the new chef's food, you had to order from the blackboard, he said.
I ordered the only thing on the blackboard for lunch that day, a barbecued Berkshire rib plate. Instead of the dinosaur-size pork ribs Beaver's used to serve, I was delighted to get my hands on some tender little Berkshire ribs.
A lot of discriminating barbecue men cook the Berkshire "black pig" meat these days. The British Berkshire breed, "swine herd of the House of Windsor," is prized for superior flavor. These pigs yield a small rack of ribs that's perfect for tender barbecue. (Home barbecuers can find Berkshire ribs at Central Market.)
The Berkshire ribs at Beaver's had a nice smoky flavor and fell apart as soon as you picked them up — not unlike the ribs at Burns Bar BQ in Acres Home. They were served with a toasted bun, sauce on the side and some of the chef's awesome housemade pickles.
We started with an excellent seafood campechana appetizer with guacamole and sour cream. My vegetarian friend got the nut burger, which the menu described as a "protein bomb with Texas brown rice, cashews, walnuts, herbs, cheddar cheese and spices." He said it was tasty, but it fell apart in his hands as he tried to eat it. In the end, he declared it not worth the hassle.
The fresh fried potato chips with coarse pepper that came with the burger were splendid. He also liked the red cabbage cole slaw. I agreed it tasted fine, as long as you don't mind that the dressing was the same color as Pepto-Bismol. We also sampled the rich "macaroni and cheese," which might be more accurately described as a bowl of orecchiette pasta in a cheddar cream sauce with minced tomato.
My lunchmate loved the "old school potato salad." His grandmother in East Texas made a similar potato salad, he said. She started by mixing the yolks of the hard-boiled eggs with mustard and mayo and then tossing the potatoes, egg whites and pickles in the bright yellow dressing. I hated the runny dressing and found Beaver's potato salad way too soupy. Your opinion may vary depending on your own grandma's recipe.
We were both in agreement about the gray-colored, grainy-textured banana pudding. It was awful.
On a happy hour visit to Beaver's, I sampled an intriguing salt and pepper margarita, made with a peppercorn-infused syrup and rimmed with coarse salt and pepper. It was one of the "front porch" drinks that sell for half price during happy hour.
We also got some half-price chicken wings — one of Beaver's best appetizers. The wings are marinated and then baked, so they have a pleasantly firm and chewy texture without a lot of grease. They come with a blue cheese dressing.