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Hearsay’s Byrd on the Square

Market Square spot gets its cocktails, and some of its dishes, just right.

A friend of mine mentioned the same sense of unwanted nostalgia when looking at Hearsay's food offerings, and I have to agree with him for the most part. There are items on the menu — a chicken caesar wrap at lunch, Tuscan pasta or a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes at dinner — that seem to be deliberate throwbacks to at least the 1990s.

These are the dishes I don't understand. Are they on Hearsay's menu because they're safe? Because they play well to the downtown lunch crowd? The dishes seem at odds with Hearsay's excellent, aggressively modern cocktail program and chic, elegant interior that's all sky-high ceilings, sexy banquets and dazzling chandeliers.

One recent lunch found me puzzling over a dish of overcooked salmon that was served with broccolini ruined by an excess of sautéed garlic and a cold quinoa salad with a tart but sweet vinegar bite that was like nails on a chalkboard against the soft grains and the other muddy mash-up of flavors on the plate. Underneath the puny salmon filet was supposed to be a "Chai pomegranate drizzle," but was instead a virtually unidentifiable puree of either raspberry or strawberry — and a puree that was mostly seeds, at that.

The Byrd is a glorious wreck of a burger.
Troy Fields
The Byrd is a glorious wreck of a burger.

Location Info

Map

Hearsay Gastro Lounge

218 Travis
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Niko Niko's Market Square

301 Milam St.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Restaurant > Greek

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Warren's Inn

307 Travis
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Char Bar

305 Travis
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

La Carafe

813 Congress
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Details

Hearsay
218 Travis, 713-225-8079. Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight, Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays, noon to 2 a.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays
Macaroni and cheese $5
Beer-battered asparagus $6
Hearsay hamburger $12
Fish tacos $14
The Byrd $15
Potato-crusted salmon $20

READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Hearsay: At Home on Market Square
BLOG POST: The High Price of Hearsay

How can such a disaster coexist on a menu with such dazzling cocktails as the Modern Man or the Bill's Derby? Along with The Byrd, Hearsay's cocktail menu is the other main attraction here, featuring drinks concocted by bartenders long since departed (try the jalapeño- and sugar-infused Hal-apeno from former barman Hal Brock, now at Anvil) and fresh faces alike. The drinks are unique and wholly Hearsay, especially that Modern Man.

Scotch, dark rum, Swedish punch, Pernod, lemon and bitters come together in the Modern Man — a risky, strong, bracing and complex concoction that's irresistible to anyone bored by cocktails filled with St. Germain and Cocchi Americano. The Bill's Derby stands alone as the only bacon-based cocktail I've ever liked, the pork tempered by Kentucky whiskey. And the sultry Whiskey & Cigarettes is an almost literal interpretation of its name, with a smoky rim that comes courtesy of an open flame and a peaty Laphroaig giving it another layer of charcoal underneath.

And although an establishment like Hearsay is exactly what Market Square needed to help further its revitalization efforts, Hearsay itself — like the square — still has room for improvement.

The square has been busy doing its part by hosting well-attended open house nights and bringing in new tenants to fill the vacant spaces along its north side: Although the massive ERA space remains empty, Barnaby's has opened on one corner to the great satisfaction of downtowners who love the Houston chain's simple fare, while Latin tapas joint Batanga is set to open soon in the vacant building underneath Market Square's historic clock tower.

I give Hearsay a wide berth on nights when "Come On Eileen" is blaring out of its open doors, or I hear the sad strains of an acoustic guitarist warbling Radiohead's more depressing hits into the night — even if those are the nights which inexplicably draw the largest crowds. No, I'm happiest at Hearsay when I can sit at the bar uninterrupted and sip slowly on an Angostura-and-bourbon-laced Twelve Spot, enjoying the sense of history that oozes from the exposed brick walls and the sight of a reborn Market Square just outside.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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6 comments
stgeorge
stgeorge

katherine...the burger itself looks quite pale/grey...is there any char on there at all?

luminese
luminese

"...a chicken caesar wrap at lunch, Tuscan pasta or a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes at dinner....". Yeah, that is a little bordering-on-Bennigan's weird. Agree with hit and miss nature of the food. Space is great. Drinks are good, but pricey. Think you nailed it Katharine.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

Mainly because I haven't been impressed with Hearsay, I'll just make a note of your music comment.  In 1986, you never heard "Jessie's girl" on any radio station in Houston.  In fact, it pretty much disappeared after 1982.  It only got a reprisal in 1997, for whatever reason, when '80's hits started popping up again.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @stgeorge Yeah, it looks pretty wan up there huh? To be honest, the appeal of The Byrd is - to me - more about its sweet bun and its toppings than the actual meat itself. Some days the patty is nicely charred, other days it looks like that.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @FattyFatBastard Heh. Okay, to be fair I was only 5 years old in 1986. All I know for certain in this world is that I the ladies' water aerobics class that I lifeguarded for twice a week for two years played "Jessie's Girl" at the beginning of every damn class to warm up and that now I will loathe that song for the rest of my life.

 
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