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See more photos from Kraftsmen Cafe's cozy dining room and kitchen filled with baked goods in our slideshow.
As you're sipping a latte from a downy chair tucked into one sunlit corner of Kraftsmen Cafe in the Heights, it's difficult to recall the space's days as ultra-high-concept Textile. Although the cozy cafe is still manned by owner and chef Scott Tycer, that's about the only thing that's still the same in his old-new spot inside a refurbished textile factory in the Heights.
Where Textile was studied and cool — sometimes verging on downright cold — Kraftsmen Cafe is boisterous yet zen. An explosively colored chalkboard greets guests walking into the cafe, while glass cases of fresh bread and pastries remind them that the huge Kraftsmen Bakery still operates in the kitchen space behind the cafe. The bakery supplies bread and other baked goods to some of Houston's best restaurants and is Tycer's main operation these days.
611 W. 22nd St.
Houston, TX 77008
11601 Shadow Creek Pkwy
Pearland, TX 77584
Region: Outside Houston
Freshly baked bread is part of what makes Kraftsmen Cafe so good. You get toasted slices of it with your breakfast plates and are invited to load up on strawberry jam, honey, butter and a slew of other toppings at an antique sideboard on one wall of the L-shaped dining room. At lunch, sandwiches are served on flaky croissants or nutty biologique bread. And you can, of course, buy any of the loaves or bags to take home on your way out.
I'm never in a rush to leave Kraftsmen. Inviting in a way its former incarnation never was, it has become one of my favorite weekend relaxation spots that's as yet unspoiled by huge crowds or long lines for brunch. In fact, the dining room has been expanded since first reopening as Kraftsmen Cafe in late 2010 and now holds lots of comfortable furniture (much of it sourced from Installations, its chic antique-store neighbor) and even more windows to stream light into the bright space through gauzy curtains.
I found my favorite dish at Kraftsmen at brunch, when I was lured to the cafe by the advertisement of something called a "honey badger omelet." If you are one of the few remaining Americans who haven't seen the honey badger video on YouTube, I suggest looking it up (and covering your kids' ears if they're nearby). How could the cafe have come up with a dish based on the hilariously aggressive honey badger and the equally funny but foul-mouthed narration that accompanies the infamous video? I had to find out.
The answer was that the omelet was as interesting and aggressive itself, stuffed with dark orange chorizo and red onions and topped with spicy Havarti cheese. Houstonians shove Mexican chorizo into lots of unusual applications — take the chorizo-and-cheese kolaches at Pena's Donut Heaven in Pearland, for example — but chorizo in an omelet is a new twist on an old breakfast favorite...and one I'm honestly surprised I haven't seen before. It would have been a bit heavy-handed, however, were it not for the crunch of the red onions and the sharp little burn of the Havarti. With those ingredients, the omelet simply worked.
More importantly, it was fun.
Fun was something that Textile always lacked. As a restaurant, it was perhaps ahead of its time. Offering extravagantly priced tasting menus and a wild cocktail program that most Houstonians just weren't ready for in 2009, it closed the following summer, with Tycer at first saying that he intended to take a summer break. That break stretched into oblivion, and before long, Textile's various pieces had been scattered to the wind. Pastry chef Plinio Sandalio departed for Austin, and sous chef Ryan Hildebrand ended up opening his own restaurant, Triniti, a few years later. Tycer began to focus more on Gravitas, his restaurant on Taft that occupied the old Antone's space in Montrose (and would later become The Pass & Provisions).
In a lot of ways, Tycer has been very prescient with his restaurants, his ideas and his plans — whether they panned out or not. The concepts that he pioneered may not have worked out at the time, but you can see Textile's influence in places like Triniti. Hildebrand's restaurant offers inventive tasting menus and à la carte items with great emphasis on pastry and cocktail programs, just as Textile did, but has been more well-received. I think that without places such as Textile to plant the seed in Houston, this new crop of tasting menu-driven restaurants wouldn't be quite as successful.
Similarly, Tycer had the idea to pair a more casual "gastropub"-type restaurant with a high-end tasting-menu restaurant in the same building, sharing the same kitchen. This was his original plan for Textile after its summer vacation, he told me back in June 2010.
"There have been other things that I've been thinking about in terms of doing a multipurpose concept with Textile," Tycer said. Ironically, he ended up closing Gravitas in January of this year, only to see his ideas re-envisioned by the new occupants. By autumn, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan had moved into the completely renovated restaurant with The Pass & Provisions, an eerily familiar concept. Provisions features a casual menu of pizzas, sandwiches and pastas, while The Pass is a high-end, chef-driven restaurant that offers one tasting menu per night. They share a kitchen.
Thanks for the article and for reminding us how fortunate we are to have had Aries and Textile, if just for a short while. One minor quibble with the timeline in the article: Aries was around well before 2003 (in fact, this newspaper reviewed it as early as March 2001).
As an Oak Forest resident, Kraftsmen is fantastic addition to the area. Food is solid. Coffee is above average. But, could we please get some freaking grits? Despite being listed on the menu, grits were never available during my six visits. On my last visit the woman working the counter said, "I don't know why it's still on the menu. We never have them."
I know it's a little thing, but either make 'em or pull it from the menu.
@EatingOurWords Between Kraftsmen, Angela's Oven and Slow Dough products at Revival, plenty of good bread in the Heights. (El Bolillo, too)
@Reader The down helps keep the coffee extra hot.
@Winter_is_Coming Ay yi yi! Thanks for the correction. Not sure how I fumbled that one.
@The_Other_JB Ha! A woman (man? the Internet makes it hard to tell) after my own grits-saturated heart.