Best Bites at Buc-ee's

Five more awesome things to try.

In America, the utterance of the binomial wine bar seems to elide wine's natural companion. Wine bars are places you go to drink wine, whether paired with food or not. After all, that's the American way, isn't it? In America, the proverbial wine is not for culling the nuance of flavors from a given dish and aiding the digestion by means of balanced alcohol and acidity. No, in our country, it's for gettin' yer drink on. As Merle Haggard sang it, wine take me away / where I can lose myself.

Without naming any names, it's not a stretch to say that the overwhelming majority of "wine bars" in Houston are simply glorified bars — and often singles bars.

But today a new bar has been set for the Houston wine bar scene by classically trained opera singer David Keck's extraordinary Camerata on West­heimer (adjacent to Paulie's), named after the celebrated Camerata de' Bardi of Renaissance Florence, a music salon cited by many as the birthplace of lyric opera.

Buc-ee's apple crumb pies could totally pass for homemade.
Kaitlin Steinberg
Buc-ee's apple crumb pies could totally pass for homemade.
James Nelson made it to the top five on MasterChef season 4.
Photo courtesy of Fox
James Nelson made it to the top five on MasterChef season 4.

The by-the-glass program at Camerata changes daily, and it offers guests an ample selection of European and domestic wines in half and full pours. Wines that have been opened from the previous day are discounted with no strings attached.

Bottles are organized by weight (in other words, light-, medium-bodied or rich) and among other categories, the program includes wines that are "potentially funky," where funk is a gauge of a bottle's low added sulfur content.

Most of the wines are organically or biodynamically farmed and many are "natural" wines (grown without the use of chemicals and fermented with naturally occurring yeast).

But the thing that really sets the enogastronomic experience at Camerata apart from the rest of Houston's "wine bars" is the simple but extremely thoughtful wine-friendly food options.

No, no stinky, petroleum-based truffle oil here.

Keck, a Master Sommelier candidate who lived in New York City while studying at the Juilliard School and who has traveled the world as an opera singer, brings a new and fresh sensibility to the wine bar concept here in Houston.

Absent are the shock-and-awe menu items that pepper the menus of the majority of Houston wine bars.

Instead, his staff delivers intelligently selected cheeses, expertly sliced prosciutto di Parma (not an easy task nor one regularly performed competently in Houston) and other artisanal charcuterie (La Quercia from Iowa and Fra' Mani from California) — classical wine bar fare intended to accentuate the nuances of the wine selections.

It's the type of wine bar where any wine professional or true gourmet — from anywhere in the world — would find her/himself at home: A great selection of wines by the glass and a focused wine-friendly menu that actually allows the guest to enjoy the wine.

Chapeau bas, David and team! It was high time someone raised the (wine) bar.

Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Failed concepts & a mega burger bus expansion.

Molly Dunn

We're just a few days into the month of September, and several highly anticipated restaurants have finally opened for business and a multitude of future concepts have been announced.

But among all of this exciting news, several restaurants suddenly closed their doors last week. So let's get the bad news out of the way first.

It seems like Scott Gertner and Alberto Alfonzo have both hit a rough patch when it comes to their restaurant concepts. Just a few months ago, Scott Gertner's at Houston Pavilions closed and now it appears that Scott Gertner's Sports Bar Live, at 3100 Fountain View in the Galleria area, has closed as well. B4-U-Eat reports that the restaurant's phone is disconnected and no one has responded by e-mail to requests for info.

Alfonzo's newest concept, Pesca World Seafood, also has closed after being open for only eight months. CultureMap reminds us about Alfonzo's previous failed concept, Tintos, which closed in December. Several online reviews of Pesca say that overpriced small portions were a turnoff. But Alfonzo announced that he isn't giving up; Pesca will open in a different location at a later date, according to B4-U-Eat.

The Town & Country location of Skeeter's Mesquite Grill also closed over the Labor Day weekend. The Houston Chronicle reports that the restaurant closed because a new commercial development is being built at the restaurant's site. Skeeter's also plans to reopen in a different location.

After one of our commenters in last week's report informed us about a sign on the door of the Memorial Drive location of Candelari's Pizzeria that said, "Sorry," we did some digging to find out what the deal was. According to one of the employees at the Washington Avenue location, Candelari's on Memorial Drive closed about four weeks ago due to a lack of business.

Due to the inaccessibility of parking and getting into the yogurt shop, as well as increases in rent, Sweet Lola Yogurt Bar will be closing at the end of the month. The Midtown yogurt shop plans to open in a different location sometime next year.

Now for the good news of the week!

Eater sat down with Bernie's Burger Bus owner Justin Turner, who revealed plans to open three brick-and-mortar locations of his burger food truck over the next five years. The first permanent location should open next spring somewhere on Bellaire west of 610. During the interview with Eater, Turner explained what the menu will be like at the new locations.

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