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Where the Chefs Eat

Grant Gordon, Matt Marcus and Kevin Naderi

We asked three of Houston's up-and-coming young guns — Grant Gordon (age 26), Kevin Naderi (age 26) and Matt Marcus (age 28) — where they like to eat.

The three are not only chefs but friends. Naderi has known Gordon since kindergarten. Marcus, who refers to Gordon as "G-Man," worked with Gordon at Cyrus in Sonoma, California, which is also where he met Naderi.

These three — let's call them "The Boys of Summer" — keep in touch and break bread together regularly, so it isn't just coincidence that all three named Mala Sichuan as a favorite, even though I asked them for their answers independent of each other. Gordon and Marcus even mentioned the same dishes.

The crisp, refreshing avocado tostada from La Gloria.
Katharine Shilcutt
The crisp, refreshing avocado tostada from La Gloria.
The tap list rivals those at Petrol Station and Mongoose versus Cobra.
Courtesy Brews Brothers
The tap list rivals those at Petrol Station and Mongoose versus Cobra.

Grant Gordon

James Beard Nominee

Best Chef Southwest 2012

Executive Chef at Tony's

Standard go-to: My standard go-to restaurant is Mala Sichuan Bistro. I know it has been pretty well documented that this place is good, but I love it. We like to mix up our order, but we almost always get the water boiled fish and the Mala bamboo shoots. Be sure to give their red oil the respect it deserves, and avoid wearing any light-colored shirts. Once, the oil splashed up and ruined my favorite "OU sucks" shirt.

Cheap eats: La Guadalupana Bakery. The chilaquiles verdes are an absolute treat, and I generally add a small steak to my order. The service is outstanding — I've been there every other Sunday for the last two years, and I've never seen the bottom of my coffee mug. The place has a lot of class for cheap eats.

Barbecue: In my opinion, Gatlin's deserves a shout-out. They have the best brisket, ribs and sides of any barbecue joint that I have experienced in Houston. The woman who works the register is a genuine sweetheart, as well. If you order the fatty brisket, and you should, she will be quick to convey to you that she approves of your order.

Matt Marcus

Chef/Owner of Eatsie Boys Food Truck and 8th Wonder Brewery

Standard go-to: My most frequented restaurants are in Chinatown. My favorites are Confucius Seafood, where I order the Jade Tofu and the lobster special, and Mala Sichuan, where I get the surf clams in green chili oil and water boiled fish. I draw most of my inspiration from Asian cuisine, and we have such an amazing Chinatown; we are so lucky.

Cheap eats: Brothers Taco. This place is right down the street from our new brewery, 8th Wonder. There is always a line no matter what time you go, and it is worth the wait. Make sure you find out what the daily special is, because that is not to be missed. Of course, all the tacos are top-notch. Everything is served to go, and the ladies working the line are saucy.

Jewish deli: I am a regular at Kenny & Ziggy's. I am Jewish, and this is my soul food. Ziggy makes pretty much everything from scratch, and it's just like Bubbe used to make. L'chaim!

Kevin Naderi

Chef/Owner of Roost

Standard go-to: For a good casual meal, I like to frequent Dolce Vita. I love getting the parsley salad. It's a plate of picked parsley leaves, aged pecorino cheese, lemon segments, thin red onion and black pepper. They bring it to your table with a boiling-hot little pot of pancetta in its own fat, and they spoon it over the salad. The pancetta is hot, the cheese is warm but not really melting, the aromas are great.

Cheap eats: Cheap eats, I'm the king. Best cheap eats are Bismillah Pakistani on Hillcroft for their chaat. Darband for awesome Persian kebabs. Mala Sichuan for the crispy pepper chicken pieces. And La Gran Sorpresa on Richmond and Tanglewood for their "hunter's platter" and empanadas.

Comfort food and late night: I frequent Nabi Asian because Ji [Kang, the chef/owner] is always trying there, and the food is good. I go to Kasra for Persian with my family, because it's just the place to feel like home with familiar food. Late nights are tough, because if you're drunk, anything goes (ha-ha!). Matt Marcus can tell you, the chicken wings at Cafe 101 at 1 a.m. really got us.
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ON THE ROAD

Eating Up San Antonio
Trying out La Gloria, The Monterey and The Esquire.

BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT

Until this past Tuesday, I didn't realize how easy a day trip to San Antonio could be. Thanks to the recently raised speed limit on I-10, you can speed to the Alamo in three easy hours (or less, if you set your cruise control just above the new 75-mile-per-hour speed limit...not that I'm advocating driving 82, ahem). Now that I realize this, it's only a matter of time before I'm back again for a leisurely Saturday — most of which will undoubtedly be spent at The Monterey and The Esquire Tavern.

Why a random Tuesday day trip to San Antonio? That doesn't really matter; suffice to say that after a day spent with a very energetic seven-year-old at SeaWorld (worth the $60 ticket, by the way, although the $7 pepperoni pizzas are a rip-off) I was ready for some grown-up dining with friends. Randy Rouse, owner of Shiner Restaurant & Bar in nearby Shiner, suggested we start at La Gloria.

La Gloria

An icehouse near the old Pearl Brewery in the newest hip part of San Antonio, La Gloria serves Mexican street food and a terrific selection of cocktails. It's slightly expensive Mexican street food, to be certain, but the atmosphere and the view onto the river make the price worth it.

The fact that the food itself is relatively solid helps, too. We ordered an array of tacos, sopes, panuchos, tostadas and a ceviche, which ranged from just-okay to excellent. On the just-okay side of the spectrum were the beef tacos ("too whitebread," declared my boyfriend) and the ceviche, which didn't carry the heat promised by its habanero peppers.

On the excellent side, however, was everything else: a sope topped with soft, fatty chicharrones in a vibrant orange salsa was just the right combination of chewy and crispy at the edges; a tostada bearing only dark refried beans, tomatoes, avocados and queso fresco was crisp and refreshing; and the panucho — a fried masa cake stuffed with more of those dusky refried beans — carried my favorite meat of the night, achiote-infused shreds of cochinita pibil topped with tangy slices of pickled red onions.

Set off with La Gloria's tart green salsa, the panucho made me despair slightly at the fact that these little cakes are so hard to find in Houston. (I probably need to hit up Durango's soon.)

I'd give La Gloria a hearty recommendation for tourists looking to experience some excellent Mexican food while in San Antonio despite reservations about the prices. As my boyfriend noted, "Paying $30 for Mexican street food is the very definition of gentrification." But it's accessible — something most tourists absolutely look for when dining in unfamiliar terrain — and you do pay more for the privilege.

Less accessible — albeit in a very good way — was the food at our next destination, where we met up with Rouse and fellow Houstonian (and occasional food photographer for the Press) Paul Sedillo. Both men promised that no food trip to San Antonio would be complete without visiting The Monterey, and they weren't wrong.

The Monterey

Located inside a converted Sunglo gas station in the equally hip King William neighborhood, The Monterey was called "what already may be the most important restaurant in the city" by San Antonio Express-News food critic Edmund Tijerina when it first opened in late 2010.

It's hard to disagree with Tijerina when you step inside the low-slung, mid-century-influenced dining room and are immediately confronted with a laid-back vibe that contrasts sharply with the serious menu and craft beer list.

"What off-menu beers do you have?" Sedillo asked The Monterey's chipper co-owner, Chad Carey, who immediately sent out a waitress with four large-format bottles and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the stuff she was carrying.

We ended up with some beautiful gems that night: a Real Ale 15th Anniversary Imperial Stout, a Green Flash Rayon Vert and my favorite, a Lagunitas Lucky 13.alt that was bright and punchy with grapefruit and hops.

That was to say nothing of the food, which Carey sent out for free (he's friends with Sedillo and Rouse, it should be noted): roasted cauliflower in a yellow curry with fresh pops of green grape and basil; fried okra in a light, tempura-like batter; slices of foie gras on toast points with a blackberry jam that — like the torchon — was made in-house.

And although it was nearly 10 p.m. when we finished at The Monterery, we weren't done for the night, not by a long shot.

The Esquire Tavern

Rouse, Sedillo and my boyfriend all warned me that I couldn't leave San Antonio without a cocktail at The Esquire Tavern — even if that meant leaving San Antonio for Houston at 1 a.m. — and after that visit, the bar is now firmly on my must-visit list for every single future trip. Built in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition, the bar has been open ever since (with a brief hiatus from 2006 to 2011) and was recently nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program.

Almost everything inside and out at The Esquire is original, from the nailhead wingback barstools to the mirrors that line the back of the bar. The rear patio overlooks the Riverwalk, while the large space at the end of the L-shaped room hosts taxidermied animal heads and local bands, such as the Willie-Nelson-by-way-of-Lyle-Lovett-style quartet that was drawing applause on Tuesday night.

The cocktail program features old favorites like the Blood and Sand as well as creations that are all The Esquire's own: Try the Mexican-influenced La Bruja, with tequila, mezcal, averna, punt e mes, black currant and bitters, or the boozy Philly Smash with rye whiskey, averna, lime, sugar and berries in a mezcal-laced glass.

Toward the end of the evening, the diverse crowd inside The Esquire gave way to an elderly gentleman in a white seersucker suit and straw boater hat who plucked a young girl from his table and began to dance with her to the lulling strains of the quartet, who were winding down for the night.

"No matter what any of us do in life," remarked Sedillo, "none of us will ever be as cool as that guy." It was close to midnight and last call, so we closed up our tabs and walked back into the humid San Antonio night with promises to meet up again at The Esquire soon, which means I'll be making another short drive down I-10 west in a few weeks. I can't wait.
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RESTAURANT GOSSIP

Fun with Speculating
What will Ricky Craig of Hubcap Grill's new concept be?

BY CARLA SORIANO

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard of the two-location, critically acclaimed Hubcap Grill burger joint and its bold, outspoken owner, Ricky Craig. It's commonly accepted, both in Houston and out, that Hubcap Grill serves up some of the best (if not the best) burgers in the city. It's also commonly noted, both in Houston and out, that Ricky Craig is unrestrained and uncensored when responding to criticism, snarky comments and the like via Twitter — his primary outlet of communication with the public.

For this very reason, critics and media love to hate Ricky Craig. But, contrary to popular opinion, Craig is a friendly, welcoming restaurant owner. He also uses his Twitter account for more than just firing back. Often he uses it to share interesting and noteworthy news. Such was the case recently when Craig tweeted that he would begin "experimenting in the kitchen on [his] next adventure/concept."

We can't stop wondering what his new "adventure/concept" might entail. So many possibilities come to mind. Here's a lighthearted look at three possible concepts that Ricky Craig could have up his sleeve.

Craig & Co. Steakhouse

One quick skim at his Twitter feed, and it's obvious that Ricky loves a good steak. Because Ricky does what he loves and believes in — Hubcap is a living testament to that — it's not crazy to think that his next venture could be a steakhouse, where perfectly cooked steaks flow out of the kitchen as fast as his ragingly popular burgers fly off the grill. White linens and tealights might even make the scene at Craig & Co. Steakhouse. His juicy steaks would be accompanied by side dishes laced with the popular pimento cheese he makes or his home-made muffuletta, maybe even some of the secret sauces he uses in his burgers. Think about it. It would be some fine fine dining. This could be why Ricky switched his Twitter avatar from his Ed Hardy-clad self to a photo of him donning a dress shirt and jacket — he wanted to ensure his image is up to par with the concept in the works.

Ricky's Veggie & Beer Garden

Perhaps Ricky's new adventure will throw Houstonians for an unexpected loop. Remember when Ricky stated that he would not serve vegan/vegetarian burgers, and all the greensters in Houston flipped out? Maybe the weight of offending all those anti-meat-eating citizens finally got Craig down. What if he is secretly planning to make amends with veggie lovers by providing them a haven of their own? Ricky could grow vegetables in his spacious Hubcap Burger & Beer Yard and then spotlight the produce in his new eco-friendly setting, which would focus on sustainability and farm-to-table veggie cuisine. The legume, root and tuberous verdure selection would change seasonally. Just to ensure that the apple didn't fall too far from the tree, Ricky would offer a huge craft beer selection, including a wide variety of beers flavored with fruits and vegetables. Who knows? Ricky's Veggie & Beer Garden could be Houston's breakthrough vegetarian paradise. Besides, the steakhouse idea sounded way too conventional.

Craiganale's

Did you know that Ricky's mother is Italian? And that his parents once owned a restaurant downtown called Craiganale's Italian Deli Cafe? Ricky was the head cook at said restaurant, whose name, Craiganale's, is a mash-up of his mother's maiden name and his father's last name. What if Ricky's planning to go back to his roots and give Houston a new Italian dining spot? He would naturally name the place Craiganale's. In a quaint locale reminiscent of an Italian home, he would revive Craiganale's pasta and dressing forever, not just as a one-night stint as guest cook on The Modular. His mother would helm the kitchen and, apart from the classic spaghetti and meatballs, would offer lasagna, gnocchi, risotto and ravioli. As another unexpected turn, Ricky would veer away from beer and offer fine Italian wines. As guests exited the homey spot, Ricky's friendly father, often seen manning the counter at Hubcap Grill, would say "Ciao" from the host stand as "That's amore" trailed off in the distance.

We promise that when the time comes, Eating...Our Words will fill you in on all the details of what Ricky Craig's third venture will actually be.
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RESTAURANT NEWS

Openings & Closings
Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue Cheese.

BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT

As Eater Houston reported earlier this week, West Oaks Mall is losing one of its biggest anchors — Alamo Drafthouse — as the chain expands into other areas of Houston, namely Midtown and Cypress.

In its place, West Oaks Mall is getting a western-themed bar from country singer Toby Keith, Nashville's answer to Nickelback: I Love This Bar & Grill. Were the names Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue Cheese and Beer & Bites for My Horses already taken?

In other news, Sarah Rufca at CultureMap reports that the old Dharma Cafe's new tenant — Cafe Brussels — is already open less than two weeks after Dharma closed its doors. Owner and former Broken Spoke chef Catherine Duwez "is serving a casual slate of the same Belgian comfort foods she made popular at Cafe Montrose and Broken Spoke Café," notes Rufca. "The lunch menu includes croques and other Belgian sandwiches starting at $7, and a Belgian lunch buffet is offered for $15."

Down in Alvin, critically lauded steakhouse Barbed Rose has decided to close shop and revamp itself as Coastal Crossing Grill, says Roy Schneider, director of marketing for the Alvin Restaurant Group. "We will be closing the Barbed Rose Steakhouse and Seafood Co. after dinner service on Saturday, June 30," Schneider wrote. In celebration of Independence Day, Coastal Crossing Grill will open in its place on July 4. Schneider says it plans to be a "Gulf Coast seafood house specializing in homemade Gulf Coast fare, from south of the border to the Florida Keys."

The closing, Schneider explained, was due in part to a desire to offer more competitively priced food in the area: "We wanted to create a restaurant that offered the quality cuisine we are known for, but make it more affordable and more approachable." Chef Jason Chaney will stay on, noting that he plans to use some of the same recipes presented "in a more casual and laid-back atmosphere."

Outer Loopers have their own "authentic" British bar now that pub prince Michael Holliday has opened The King's Head Pub on Eldridge Parkway near Briar Forest in far west Houston.

"People have been asking me to open a pub outside the Loop for years," said Holliday in a press release. "I found a good location in a beautiful area, so I did. The Energy Corridor is full of professionals and young business people as well as expats from all over Europe. We plan to offer them a comfortable, friendly meeting spot that also captures an authentic bit of home."

Holliday's new pub features a fireplace in one room and a 200-year-old King's Head Pub sign (an antique from London) in the other, with three more private party rooms and a dog-friendly patio. Back inside, guests will find a selection of European beers on tap, as well as a large selection of Texas microbreweries including Saint Arnold Cask served with the use of a British hand pump behind the 36-foot-long bar.

Finally, the long-awaited first location of Trader Joe's opened last week in The Woodlands.
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BAR BEAT

We Got the Brews
A new craft beer bar in Galveston.

BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT

Have you been to the Strand lately? Galveston's main pedestrian thoroughfare seems to have wilted somewhat despite the flurry of post-Ike rehabbing and renovation. The end of the Strand near Hendley Market is completely quiet these days. And at the opposite end, the Railroad Museum still stands sadly unopened after the hurricane that left this part of the island under eight feet of water in 2008.

I was there on Saturday night with my boyfriend and his family, getting reacquainted with some old favorites like La King's while simultaneously mourning the loss of a few places that are mere husks of themselves now, like the near-empty Peanut Butter Warehouse. We wanted to take his niece into Colonel Bubbie's and Hendley Market, but neither was open. I was starting to keen for a Strand that no longer holds much fascination when the boy suggested that we hit up Brews Brothers.

I felt better about the entire Strand from the moment we walked in and I was handed a half-pint of Dogfish Head Burton Baton in a Tinkerbell juice glass, slid to me across a bar that held a broken coffeepot as a tip jar.

Located next door to the interestingly named Mediterranean Chef Restaurant, Brews Brothers is a shotgun-style bar with a simple aesthetic that belies the goods within. It occupies the old Bacchus Wine Bar space and brings a much-needed type of bar to not just the Strand, but Galveston as a whole: a bonafide craft beer bar, with a tap list to rival those at Petrol Station and Mongoose versus Cobra and prices to rival the Lone Star Saloon (if poor old Lone Star sold Stone IPA).

And here's how you know Brews Brothers is serious about its craft beers, not just another tourist trap on the Strand: Proprietors Justin Strait and Wesley Critchlow kicked off the opening of their bar last fall with a "stout aged with oak from Galveston trees that were planted after the 1900 hurricane and knocked over by Hurricane Ike three years ago," reported Chronicle beer blogger Ronnie Crocker.

"I want to offer cask-conditioned Elissa just 200 feet from the Elissa," Strait told Crocker, in reference to the old wooden sailing ship that's docked only a few blocks away and the IPA made in its honor by Saint Arnold Brewing. Last Saturday night, I noticed not only the Elissa on one of Brews Brothers' chalkboards, but the far more difficult to get Homefront IPA.

Aside from just local Houston craft beers on tap, however, Brews Brothers offers everything from beautiful Belgians and serious sours to big guns like Stone Old Guardian and Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer (both of which were only $6 a pint). And behind the bar, the two bartenders — one in neon green glasses, the other a bear of a dude in a Hawaiian shirt and big beard — were dancing merry jigs half the night. Seriously. Merry jigs. Accompanied by the live band playing at the front of the house. And they only broke one glass the entire time but then went right on dancing. Brews Brothers might just be the best beer bar to work at in the greater Houston metro area, even if the bear bartender admitted that he gets occasionally frustrated by all the tourists requesting Miller Lite despite their carefully cultivated menu.

It's also the most welcome addition to the Strand since Starbucks opened about a decade ago (don't act like you don't remember when Starbucks was incredibly cool and you were all terribly excited to get one near you). Luckily, the brews at Brews Brothers are a lot better than those at Starbucks — and they even sell bombers.

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