Best Of :: Shopping & Services
There is nothing quite like Christopher's in Houston. The creation of the husband-and-wife team of Christopher and Donna Massie, this 6,000-square-foot, single-venue operation offers rare wines that sometimes are allocated by growers and importers to less than one case for the entire state of Texas. French wines are showcased here, as Massie himself has lived and worked in French vineyards and is a certified sommelier with more than 15 years of experience. Other countries and, of course, California are also represented. The inventory usually runs to about 50,000 bottles, so there is likely to be something for every serious oenophile. And the inventory is properly stored, a detail that unfortunately not many Houston wine retailers attend to with the required rigor. On Saturdays, "Customer Appreciation Day," there are tastings and lectures on the products for sale.
"The world was silent except for the shrill cry of insects, which was part of the night, and the sound of wooden mortar and pestle as Nwayieke pounded her foo-foo," writes Chinua Achebe in his 1959 novel Things Fall Apart. He is describing a scene as basic to traditional Nigerian life as the beat of the udu drum -- the pounding of yams into the glutinous mass known as foo-foo or fufu. African Variety Food Store offers big beautiful yams for those with time and energy to pound. For others, this purveyor of West African goods sells a powdered form of yam (as well as cassava and plantain) that can be whipped up in minutes into a delicious mound of fufu for dipping in soups. The smell of dried fish pervades the establishment, which is tucked amid Chinese businesses in a sprawling strip mall. In addition to the desiccated cod, shrimp and bony bonga fish, one can find cans of palm oil, melon seeds, and a variety of herbs and vegetables that provide the city's thriving African population with tastes of home.
Got a pampered pooch with persistent problems? We heard about Pete Stewart's Good Manners Dog Obedience School through a friend who owns three huskies. Figuring someone with a pack of dogs oughta know, we checked it out for ourselves. Like most "parents," we were a little apprehensive about dropping our little one off for two weeks, but our fears were unwarranted. We watched as Pete, armed with a collar, leash and a handful of treats, took his 47 years of experience training dogs and matched it up against the powerful will of three-month-old Molly. She was sitting, staying, heeling and lying down with nothing more than the gentle command of Pete's voice in just about two shakes of a dog's tail.
A scratchy tape of "The Wedding March" blasts from a boom box in a room in Kipperman's Pawn Shop, the walls of which are painted pink and gold with a mural of flowers splashed across one wall in hues of Mercurochrome and MD 20-20. Owner Ted Kipperman, dressed in red vestments, has pronounced another couple man and wife. The wedding service, for which Kipperman provides a free Polaroid memento, also comes free if the couple buys their wedding rings (or a gun) at the pawnshop. During the mid-'80s oil bust, people were pawning everything, but they just weren't buying. Kipperman, who likes to stay on top of the times, came up with the idea, in part because rings and guns are the most expensive items in a pawnshop. He obtained a minister's license, and he has married scores of couples since he started. A few years ago the idea man took convenience to the next level, converting a guard shack at the shop into a drive-thru wedding chapel. Couples can use their own cars, or they can rent a limo from one of Kipperman's fleet of three. Roll down the window, say "I do" and roll down the road, either admiring your shiny new ring or packing your new piece. Kipperman likes to give people choices.
Like connoisseurs of fine wine, vintage shoppers have their high standards. While those in search of the perfect merlot might sniff the cork, hold the glass up to the light and sip with discernment, vintage clothing shoppers must know: Are there any noticeable stains? Does the zipper work? Do polyester pants make my ass look huge? Fans of these queries, take heart: The Way We Wore is the store for you. Friendly owner Pam Nunnally will be glad to help you find just the right smoking jacket, or honestly tell you if those '70s-style heart-shaped purple sunglasses make your head look freakishly large. The store (an old house in Montrose) is well organized, the clothes are in good shape, and the tremendous selection of '40s swing dresses, ruffled tuxedo shirts and '70s disco gowns seems to go on and on. And if you're looking for an outfit for a special onetime affair, you can rent instead of buying. Yes indeed, if The Way We Wore were a bottle of wine, it would be a $300 bottle of some fine chardonnay. Except when you leave this store, you'll be drunk with happiness and looking really sharp.
A few weeks back we heard a woman walk into the bakery and say she was new to the neighborhood and needed to find a good place to order a cake for her mother's upcoming birthday celebration. If there were such a thing as the dessert jackpot, this woman had hit it. She asked a few of the people in line about the bakery's reputation. One person gestured to some of the letters on the wall -- letters from a former governor and president, as well as one from a former governor-turned-president. Another person told her to walk into the dining area (Acadian Bakers also serves lunch) and take a look at the pictures on the wall. There are photographs of cakes in all kinds of shapes and sizes and colors, a sign that the bakers of Acadian are up for any decorative challenge. More than mere bakers, they are cake designers. So what can you get ready-to-go should your sweet tooth cry out for immediate satisfaction? Go for a lemon bar, but only if you're a lemon lover. If chocolate's your thing, try the brownie chocolate mousse cake. Those are the favorites of the woman behind the counter, and she should know.