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Check out the charming interior and vegetable-packed paninis at Doshi House in our slideshow.
3419 Dowling St.
Houston, TX 77004
Region: Third Ward
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Driving south on Dowling, downtown Houston's skyline behind you, it's easy to drive right past Doshi House. It's on a quiet corner in the Third Ward, just past Emancipation Park and the Project Row House galleries. Not too long ago, Doshi House itself used to be an art gallery. That was before owner Deepak Doshi decided to deepen his roots in the community by turning Doshi House into a full-fledged cafe.
Months later, Doshi House has already drawn a crowd from both the Third Ward as well as downtown, Midtown and EaDo — people who come on a daily basis for the locally sourced coffee and pastries in the morning, the vegetable-loaded paninis at lunch, and the egalitarian Evening Meal, wherein everyone gets the same filling vegetarian dish for less than $7. The dish rotates based on the night — Creole red beans and rice on Mondays, a Thai red curry on Tuesdays, Indian butter "chicken" on Saturdays — and there's a comfort to the ritual, like attending a family dinner of sorts where everyone knows it's chili night and everyone digs in together.
Coffee comes from local roaster David Buehrer of Greenway Coffee, whose beans are put to excellent use in well-made cortados and frappes that contain Doshi's own homemade caramel or chocolate. Pastries come from local bakeries La Unica or Ashcraft, the latter of which makes addictive blueberry muffins with a crackly-crunchy top that gives way to a sweet interior tinted purple from all the fat berries that go into the mix. Deepak Doshi is also in the process of seeking out a vegan baker to fill out his pastry case, but for now there are vegan and vegetarian options such as black bean and potato or a vegan scramble from Oh My Pocket Pies to round it out.
But Doshi doesn't just support local food producers; it's still as much an art space as it is a cafe. It hosts everyone from musicians and body painters to visual artists and participates in block parties with its neighbors, the Project Row Houses and St. Philip Baptist Church. It's all very much in keeping with Deepak Doshi's vision of helping to refurbish and revitalize a neighborhood that's currently in transition.
"Do you feel like you're cheating on your own curry?" I teased Cafe TH owner Minh Nguyen over dinner one recent night. We were at Doshi House on a Tuesday night — vegan Thai red curry night, with plump nuggets of textured seitan "wheat-meat" mimicking meat surprisingly well in the creamy curry — and we were both busy scooping huge spoonfuls of the stuff into our mouths between sips of chai and coffee. Once he found Doshi House a few months ago, Nguyen also found a kindred spirit in owner Deepak Doshi and quickly became one of the cafe's regulars.
"No," laughed Nguyen. "I eat my own stuff all the time." Nguyen's vegan Vietnamese curry is my favorite in the city, although the restaurateur has more in common with Doshi than just the fact that both serve an excellent vegan curry.
Both offer a wide array of vegetarian and vegan options in their cafes. Both are University of Houston alumni. Both have taken an old space and made it new again. And both are thoroughly committed to rebuilding the neighborhoods around them — Nguyen just a few blocks away, in EaDo, from Doshi in the Third Ward.
In Doshi's case, the old space he took over was a 76-year-old building that has housed — at various times — a liquor store, a meat market, a law office, a medical supply store and, most recently, a gallery. He stripped it down to bare bones and concrete sub-floors, then refinished the place almost entirely on his own. The result is a wide-open cafe that belies its small footprint, with plenty of cozy nooks in which to tuck yourself while sipping a freshly squeezed juice — Doshi has everything from Mexican-style vampiros with beet juice to all-raw smoothies with kale, spinach, bananas, cucumbers and blueberries — or a latte.
The worn-in furniture is charmingly mismatched, but looks as though it's been in place for decades and is well-suited for the space, with its similarly mismatched artwork (all of which is for sale) and menu that spans every cuisine from Creole to Indian to Thai to Mexican.
On Thursday nights, match your vegetarian fajitas with a vampiro to drink, or enjoy a chai — hot or iced — with your butter chicken on Saturdays. And if you can't find something off the menu to pair with your Creole red beans and rice for dinner on Monday, don't fret: Doshi House lets you BYOB for a very nominal fee. And after a few glasses, you may find yourself attempting to bang out a few songs on Doshi's beautiful black century-old piano, an appropriate centerpiece in the quirky space.
While dinner starts every night at 5:30 p.m., Doshi House's small lunch menu is served during a generous window from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There's a rotating menu of vegan soups — coconut Thai on Mondays and Tuesdays, Goan lentil on Wednesdays and Thursdays, creamy garlic and mushroom on Fridays and Saturdays — as well as a short list of three panini, two of which are completely crave-able despite the absence of meat.
The first — and my favorite — is a sandwich after Deepak Doshi's own heart. The Mumbai Streets panini takes all the garam masala-laced innards of a potato samosa and spreads them out between two slices of hearty wheat bread. The potato filling is perked up with crunchy cucumber slices and sweet tamarind chutney, then made spicy — and even crunchier — with the addition of some pickled jalapeños in a very Texan take on an already twisted sandwich.
The second panini, the Tuscan Red, seems boring at first: That tired old trope of goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes grew stale in the 1990s. But despite my misgivings, it was as delicious as the Mumbai Streets and altogether different.
Where the Mumbai Streets spills over with samosa filling and grilled onions, the Tuscan Red holds together neatly and compactly, its layers almost resembling the familiar goat cheese, pesto and sun-dried tomato terrine (last seen at every single party my mother throws, ever). But the addition of those same caramelized onions found in the Mumbai Streets as well as roasted red peppers and melty mozzarella cheese give it the necessary oomph to be enjoyable instead of forgettable.
Each panini comes with its own odd little side of banana chips and spinach leaves. I wasn't sure what to do with these at first, then decided on adding some extra vitamins to my paninis by sticking the spinach between the grilled bread. It worked splendidly, leaving the banana chips as just enough dessert for this sweet-tooth-lacking girl to be quite happy.
While Doshi House clearly hasn't set out to be a full-scale restaurant, the homemade meals it serves are good enough for it to be considered one of the best new restaurants the Third Ward has seen in years. Art space, coffeehouse, community meeting spot or cafe — whatever it is to you, Doshi House is nothing if not welcome.
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