Grand Incubator

Southern-fried dim sum from Yaki Snack Attack and Bernie’s Burger Bus.

Good news for fans of Dunkin Donuts' cult-favorite coffee: The Houston Business Journal reports that 24 more locations are coming to Houston within the next few years. Three different franchise groups are responsible for the locations. Wrote Olivia Pulsinelli of the upcoming donut shops: "Daily Grind LLC plans to develop eight restaurants in southeast Houston by 2018, according to the statement. MM Donuts LLC expects to develop five restaurants in northeast Houston by 2019. Yes Partners LLC has agreed to develop five restaurants in west Houston by 2017."

Food trucks are no longer limited to taco trucks or renegade chefs. Brick-and-mortar restaurants such as Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen were smart to get into the game early, and now even fast-food joints — yes, McDonald's and Taco Bell included — have their very own mobile units. Joining the fray is Berryhill Baja Grill, with a food truck that's "fresh off the assembly line," according to its PR firm. Look for the truck to hit the streets starting this month.

Graduates of the Cordúa Restaurants group tend to do pretty well for themselves, having been trained well under Michael Cordúa's guidance. So expect good things from Costa Brava Bistro (5115 Bellaire), which B4-U-Eat reports is being opened by "Angeles Dueñas, formerly of Cordúa Restaurants." Says B4-U-Eat's weekly newsletter, Costa Brava is "a French and Spanish/Basque restaurant" that plans to be open for lunch Mondays through Fridays and dinner Mondays through Saturdays.

Sweet potato balls, left, and shrimp-and-grits taro cakes, right.
Katharine Shilcutt
Sweet potato balls, left, and shrimp-and-grits taro cakes, right.
The Raging Bulls tailgating crew is famous for its larger-than-life game-day spirit.
The Raging Bulls tailgating crew is famous for its larger-than-life game-day spirit.

Last but not least, it's true: Pie in the Sky's location in the Heights has closed. Sort of. In its place is Table 19 (632 West 19th), which — according to its Facebook page a few days ago — won't be too dissimilar: "Pie in the Sky is re-opening as Table 19!" A few new menu items and a paint job have been added, and Table 19 has since opened for business. Katharine Shilcutt


We're Down with Down House

An invigorating brunch at a reinvigorated spot.

"I can't believe this was only $14," I marveled as I left $20 on the table at Down House after occupying one of its booths for several hours over brunch on a recent Sunday morning. We'd just eaten two huge plates of excellent food — much of it from local producers — accompanied by a carafe of French press coffee and a fresh-squeezed glass of orange juice.

"I know. Can you believe it?" echoed my best friend. "Remember when you used to pay $20 a plate for next to nothing here?" I do indeed. When I reviewed Down House one year ago, I was impressed with the food and the atmosphere — but not the prices, nor the surly service. And I wasn't sure that Down House itself even knew what it wanted to be: a full-service restaurant? A casual cafe? A coffee shop? A bar? All I knew was that it was confusing, and that the staff seemed to be confused, too:

"Where Down House goes wrong is by having table service, believe it or not. You'd think this would be a bonus — people waiting on you at a coffee shop/bar? Sure! — but not when it's the only way of getting menus, silverware, drinks, food. Because the table service waxes and wanes from superbly attentive to blitheringly oblivious, you're never quite sure how long you're going to wait for your meal or even the best way to get your waiter's attention."

Thankfully, all this has changed. Like Plonk — which I also visited a year after its initial review to find that the kitchen had happily found its footing — Down House has become the confident, competent neighborhood spot I'd always hoped it could become.

Before I had brunch this weekend, I'd dropped into Down House very quickly a couple of weeks ago to get a pint of Wealth & Taste. Down House was one of the few bars in town to get the Deep Ellum limited-edition brew, and I only expected to stay long enough for the pint before moving on. But I found myself drawn in by the greatly expanded cocktail menu and the on-point service.

"I've got to come back here for food," I told my drinking buddy that night as I perused the rest of the menu. The prices had dropped considerably, and the plates looked good. There was even an option to "build your own breakfast," with a little from Columns A, B and C at $2, $3 and $4 a selection. Of course, that can get a tad expensive. But the option itself is indicative of Down House's intrinsically useful nature: The restaurant is open every single day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., it offers both breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, and you can get coffee and/or cocktails at nearly any time of the day or night.

It was coffee that we grabbed on Sunday morning as we waited for our table to be ready. At peak brunch time — 11 a.m. — we only waited 20 minutes. It was astonishing. And the newly built patio wasn't even full, which meant that we could have been seated even sooner if we'd decided to sit under one of Down House's colorful umbrellas.

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