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Pegging Plonk

A neighborhood wine bar that's hard to categorize

See the making of Plonk's Guanciale Burger in our slideshow.

It was a little before 10:30 p.m. on a Monday night at Plonk Beer & Wine Bistro, a small neighborhood joint in Garden Oaks, and one patron was in handcuffs as an HPD cruiser's lights flashed blue and red against the taupe walls inside.

My dining companions and I looked on in wonder, finished with our meal of hanger steak, a pepperoni pizza, a guanciale burger and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône Brézème, but now not terribly eager to leave with the cops and an ambulance convened outside. On the flat-screen televisions above the bar, the Redskins game blared on, although everyone's attention had been turned to the events transpiring outside.

The guanciale burger just might be the best "bacon" cheeseburger in town.
Troy Fields
The guanciale burger just might be the best "bacon" cheeseburger in town.

Location Info

Map

Plonk Beer & Wine Bistro

1214 W. 43rd St.
Houston, TX 77018

Category: Restaurant > Bistro

Region: Outer Loop - NE

Details

Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Mondays, 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays, 4 p.m. to midnight Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Gardenia plate: $15

GOOF Balls: $16

Ram Balls: $9

Lamb chops: $28

Guanciale burger: $12

Muffuletta: $11

Pepperoni pizza: $11

Cataplana mussels: $15

Plonk Beer & Wine Bistro

1214 W. 43rd St., suite 100, 713-290-1070.

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It was a study in contrasts. Only a few nights prior, the crowd had been all young professionals after work, button-up sleeves pushed up and ties loosened over glasses of Cabernet.

A man in a dirty gimme cap and a purple SFA Lumberjacks shirt with the sleeves cut off was wobbling near our table. "What happened out there?" I asked him.

"Two friends got into a fight," he answered, nonchalantly. "One of 'em started bleeding all over the place. I guess that's when the cops got called."

The owner of the wine bar, Scott Miller, didn't seem to have been the one who made that phone call. I watched Miller — once the wine director at Houston's venerated Pappas Steakhouse — rush outside to take stock of the situation. Up until a few minutes ago, the place had been rowdy and lively, as Miller played a raucous game of dominoes with his buddies at the bar while an older woman in a leather Betty Boop jacket screamed alternately at the television and her friends, all of whom were plastered to the football game.

"Did we stumble into the Shiloh Club?" whispered my dining companion as we watched the man finally led off in handcuffs, his wife crying next to a pub table while people took turns comforting her.

It's difficult to peg Plonk. Upscale wine bar? Monday Night Football haunt? It's even difficult to peg the food. When it's good, it's great. And when it's bad, it's horrid. But whatever you make of it, Plonk is one thing above all others: a neighborhood joint, for better or for worse.
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Longtime wine guy and Oak Forest resident Scott Miller opened Plonk about a year ago, and the place is the rather schizophrenic reflection of his varied interests: Sailor Jerry-meets-Ed Hardy graphics adorn the walls alongside punched metal Texas star sconces; a Robert Indiana-style logo outside gives way to framed 1920s advertisements for wine and cruise ships inside; a massive 1950s-style postcard hangs behind the bar: "Wish you were here...in beautiful Oak Forest." Even the name itself is tongue-in-cheek: Plonk means "cheap wine" in British slang.

This all-over-the-map attitude extends to both the food and the wine menus, where boring $6 and $8 glasses of Merlot mingle with a $16 Weingut Bründlmayer Riesling Kamptaler Terrassen from Austria and a $20 Grilli del Testamatta (oddly listed as a "Sangiovese blend" instead of the more commonly seen "Super Tuscan") that would have wine geeks swooning in their seats.

Likewise, utterly forgettable cheese plates and dip samplers like the Gardenia plate give way to truly inspired appetizers like Ram Balls (named for the area Waltrip Rams), wine-braised oxtail deep-fried and served with a sharp mustard sauce. Painfully mediocre pizzas with soggy crusts are outshined — on-site pizza oven notwithstanding — by eccentric items like muffulettas and the aforementioned guanciale burger, which just might be the best "bacon" cheeseburger in town.

It even extends to the service, which can be alternately fantastic — look for bartender Dwayne during the week, who'll know your name and beer or wine preference after your first visit — or standoffish, depending on the night. Want a water with your wine or beer? Prepare to ask and ask again. And because there's no table service — you order everything at the bar, even food — there's no guarantee that you'll be able to wade through the crowds that perch on the barstools to get anyone's attention on a busy Friday night. One Tuesday evening, the inconsistency of the food was on full display.

GOOF Balls, which is an acronym for "Garden Oaks/Oak Forest," are fairly standard, run-of-the-mill crabcakes. They're one of the two titillatingly titled appetizers on the menu, alongside those excellent Ram Balls. And if you think it's tough to screw up fried batches of crabcakes, then you've never worked with seafood before.

When the order of GOOF Balls hit our table that night, the sudden smell of ammonia was overpowering. My dining companions and I figured the acrid stench came from the kitchen, which is fairly open; we were sitting right next to it, after all.

And then we cut into the GOOF Balls. The smell became almost sickening. I stupidly took a bite, still thinking the ammonia scent was coming from a particularly rigorous kitchen cleaning, and quickly spat the crabmeat back out. Graceful.

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