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Cottonwood Masters the Squirrel (and a few other items, too)

You'll definitely want to discover the food at this lively über-bar.

There were families with kids and dogs at Cottonwood on the occasions I was there, though the children trickled out early in the evening, leaving the young, childless or babysitter-friendly to eat and drink without fear of a good buzz being killed by wailing toddlers. The menu is kid-friendly as well, with items like plain hamburgers and fries to appeal to wee ones (or adults) who might not be as interested in blue cheese burgers or salmon deviled eggs.

The Bleu Cheese Stuffed Burger, by the way, is every bit as magical as the Squirrel Master, and choosing a favorite between the two would be akin to choosing one's favorite child (or in my case, cat). Funky blue cheese can easily overwhelm anything with which it's paired, but there's just enough mold-marbled tang in the middle of the burger to jazz it up without overpowering the salty shoestring onion rings, sweet bacon jelly or juicy Angus beef patty. The waitstaff may not ask for a preference, but order your burger medium-rare, since the kitchen tends to overcook them just a tad. That said, the delightful crisp the chef achieves on the outside of the patty is something all burger spots should strive for.

Alternatively, you could indulge in beef in another form: the Sloppy JoJo, which features tender braised brisket slathered in a secret Cottonwood sloppy sauce and topped with a fried egg, because, as the menu says, "Why not?"

The Squirrel Master Burger nearly topples over under its own heft, so hurry and eat it before it falls.
Troy Fields
The Squirrel Master Burger nearly topples over under its own heft, so hurry and eat it before it falls.

Location Info

Map

Cottonwood

3422 N. Shepherd Drive
Houston, TX 77018

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Outer Loop - NE

Details

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight.

BBQ oysters: $8

Onion rings: $7

CFS Bites: $7

Squirrel Master Burger: $12

Bleu Cheese Stuffed Burger: $10

Sloppy JoJo: $9

Kale salad: $4

Tequila tiramisu: $7

Doughnut holes: $4

Since Cottonwood opened, the menu has been pared down to make it a little less fussy and a little more accessible. Pâté has been replaced by ceviche, and instead of oysters and mussels, the kitchen serves up burgers and wings and fewer salads. Newer items like CFS (chicken-fried steak) Bites with brown pepper gravy appeal to children (and one of my dining buddies), and they're tasty enough. But they're improved upon by forgoing the gravy altogether and instead dipping them in the spicy mayo that comes with the crispy onion and poblano rings.

Pterodactyl wings (so named because they're made with turkey wings instead of chicken and are, thus, larger than the average flapper) are available only as a special and only on certain days, but their heft and zesty buffalo sauce flavor, combined with the slow-cooked turkey meat, make them a great appetizer option if you can find it in yourself to share.

I found only two things on the menu that I'd be willing to share, though: the kale salad, because it was cloyingly sweet and far too watery, and the made-to-order doughnut holes, because by the time dessert was served I was too stuffed to eat them all by myself. Apparently, fried pie was once on the menu (I hear the chef is planning to bring it back), but for now, doughnut holes fill those tiny extra spaces in already-full stomachs still craving dessert. They're baked, then quick-fried, and, unlike most airy doughnut holes, they're substantial and cakey and lightly spiced, little balls of cinnamon-sugar heaven. I shared them out of necessity, not out of choice.
_____________________

In spite of all the pseudo-gourmet pub food and the funky atmosphere that I just can't seem to get enough of, it should be noted again that Cottonwood is first and foremost a bar. And though there aren't enough TVs glowing from every corner of the space to qualify it as a sports bar, it's still more the type of place that I'd go intending to drink, only to discover (or rediscover) how great the food is.

On a typical Saturday night, the patio will be packed with dudes wearing a hodgepodge of plaids and gals just a little too dressed up to be sitting at a picnic table and eating off a tray. There will be people at the bar grilling the bartender on the provenance of a particular craft beer; there will be a handful of beautiful mutts sitting patiently under their owners' legs; and there will be small groups playing bocce ball, not because they truly enjoy it but because they think it looks ironic. And it kind of does.

And then there will be folks kicking back with a Shiner or tearing into a burger with reckless abandon while they contemplate showing off some severely lacking foosball skills. There will be families with kids, biker guys, grandmas, alternative musicians, bros and industry folks. The crowd that gathers at Cottonwood is an amusing cross section of Houston, and, thankfully, the rustic compound is large enough to welcome them all.

You'll probably see me there, too, sipping on a frozen cocktail, even though I don't usually go for frozen drinks. At Cottonwood, though, they are that good. I'll also be spilling chipotle mayo on my teal shorts, eating far too many sugary-sweet doughnut holes and casting sideways glances at that stupid, useless ketchup caddy.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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3 comments
ShitThrowingMonkey
ShitThrowingMonkey

Went there at the end of August and had a few things to eat.  Did not really care for the cornbread fried oyster poboy, but the fish tacos were great.

Anse
Anse

I live nearby and had high hopes for this place, but when it's packed it's impossible. Do they still have the pork belly corn dog on the menu? Trying to eat that thing was like trying to eat a giant rubber eraser. It takes real talent to take a fatty piece of lovely pork and cook all the flavor out of it.

I am with you regarding gourmet burgers, by the way. I like them once in a while but I still stand by the old fashioned fast food burger. Going overboard with the fancypants ingredients just kind of misses the point, in my opinion. 

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Anse I did not see a pork belly corn dog on the menu when I was there, but I'm of the opinion that pork belly should never be in any form except a glorious, wonderful slab of fat. Why turn it into a hot dog?

And I agree that Cottonwood does get pretty crowded sometimes. I went for lunch on a Saturday, dinner on a Monday and dinner on a Friday, and the only time I encountered a huge crowd was Friday. If you want to get drunk with a crowd, go on the weekend during the evening. If you want to enjoy the food, stick to lunch or a weeknight.

 
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