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Finally Discovering Down House

Where have you been all my life?

FAST TIMES

SUMMER MENU AT PANERA BREAD
Just order the salad.

CHRISTINA UTICONE

Down House opens early and closes late which means lots of time to linger.
Photos by Troy Fields
Down House opens early and closes late which means lots of time to linger.
Relax with a breakfast croissant and a cortado.
Photos by Troy Fields
Relax with a breakfast croissant and a cortado.

Hot weather does not stimulate my appetite. The other day I was hungry and driving around aimlessly, but nothing appealed to me. I passed restaurant after restaurant, in strip mall after strip mall, and nothing piqued my interest. Burgers? Too heavy. Chinese? Not in the mood. Grocery store? Too much assembly required. I had just about resigned myself to going home and eating a bowl of cereal when I caught the sign for Panera out of the corner of my eye. I loved the idea of a fresh, crisp salad, so I decided to go for it.

But you know what they say about best-laid plans!

I always intend to order the salad...until I remember how much I love simple carbohydrates and then order the pasta. With bread. And why not a creamy soup for the dunking of the bread? The problem is not lack of willpower but long lines that give me too much time to give in to temptation.

Panera Bread was advertising several new summer items: a strawberry, poppyseed and chicken salad; a shrimp roll; pesto sacchettini pasta; and a sweet summer corn soup. I liked the sound of the pesto, and I can never resist a yummy corn soup, so I ordered both items to go and opted for a side of fresh baked Panera baguette.

Given that my appetite was already on the low side of the scale, I can't say that the pasta really wowed me at all. The pesto was a little oily, and combined with the cheese, it felt awfully heavy; the freshness provided by the basil was not enough to lift and brighten the dish on its own, especially given that the pasta was overcooked and gummy. Too rich and hearty for summer, this dish is far better as comfort food — basil alone does not communicate summertime.

The sweet summer corn soup, while delicious, suffered from similar problems. Between the creamy base and the chunks of tomato, it didn't feel quite "summery" enough for a hot June day. I loved the sweetness with a hint of heat behind it, but it just felt too heavy — and so did I after eating it. I can't quite remember the last time I said this and meant it, but...I should have ordered the salad.
_____________________

RESTAURANT NEWS

OPENINGS AND CLOSINGS
Houston Food Park opens and others reopen.

MOLLY DUNN

Last week brought more openings and reopenings than closings, so let's start with the good news. Eater Houston reports that Marfreless, the makeout bar that closed in March of this year, posted an announcement on its Web site June 14 that it will be back in business at the same location in River Oaks by the end of summer.

The Web site notes, "Although we will be under new ownership, we promise the same unique atmosphere, premium menu, friendly staff, and neighborhood charm."

In other reopening news, The Palm Steakhouse announced on Facebook that it will be back July 8. The restaurant has been completely renovated and will also offer new lunch menu items.

Houston Food Park (1504 St. Emanuel) opened June 22 in EaDo. The location can hold up to eight or nine food trucks, but the Houston Food Park team has plans to expand the lot to accommodate more than twice that number. The park began serving lunch every day June 24.

Morningside Thai also reopened June 22 at its new location at 2473 S. Braeswood.

B4-U-Eat's Newsletter also reported that Mark's BBQ & Catering would close June 22. However, the restaurant is working on building a mobile unit, as noted in a post on its Facebook page, should be open by the end of July, so you can still get your favorite barbecue dishes from them this summer.

In other food truck news, Pi Pizza Truck owner Anthony Calleo has decided to create a brick-and-mortar location to sell sandwiches. CultureMap Houston reports that Sandy Witch Sandwich Company has leased the kitchen of Grand Prize Bar in Montrose and will sell his witch-named sandwiches there.

If you can't wait for Dunkin' Donuts to arrive, check out River Oaks Donuts, which opened June 13. According to CultureMap, two billionaires, Mindy and Jeff Hildebrand, decided to open a donut shop in River Oaks because the others were too far from that neighborhood. They serve donuts with colorful and decorated icings and even filled donut holes.

Sadly, chef Aldo El Sharif of Aldo's Cucina Italiana decided to close his restaurant in Shenandoah; the B4-U-Eat Newsletter says that a Bennigan's will be taking the space in July. The Woodlands got a new sushi restaurant on Sawdust Road. Zato Thai & Sushi, originally located in Plano, opened on June 1.

B4-U-Eat also notes that Fajita Jack's opened its new location at Waterpoint Marina off Highway 105 West on June 14 and closed it's old location in Montgomery June 16. Uncle Tony's lost its lease in Porter; however, the restaurant has a new location in Conroe.

Villagio's Italian Grill has closed due to a disagreement with the property owners over its leasing contract. A note on the restaurant's home page says, "We are currently looking at other locations to move Villagio's Italian Grill and will update this website with any new information regarding that search."

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