The first thing we ordered when we sat down for lunch at Block 7 was the "whole pig" flatbread, a thin, flattened piece of bread covered with house-made Italian pork sausage, San Danielle prosciutto and baby arugula. With crispy bits of sausage, bright-green, spicy arugula and salty, chewy pieces of prosciutto on a crunchy crust, it looked like a mini thin-crust pizza. And it rocked.
Sitting just inside the huge, garage-like door that opens up to the patio and scanning the wine "book," we ordered something we hoped would go well with pork on a warm spring day: a $35 Grüner Veltliner, an easy-to-drink white from Austria. The bottle described it as a wine you could sit by the pool with on a hot summer day and finish without even noticing. I am not a wine sniffer, but I know when it's good. The Grüner Veltliner was.
Our second course was the stuffed chicken salad, a chicken breast rolled and stuffed with grapes, cheese, almonds and golden raisins and wrapped with thin slices of bacon. It was sliced on the bias and came on a bed of romaine lettuce dressed with a poppy seed vinaigrette. It was delicious. The wine worked perfectly with the mix of white meats, fruits and crisp lettuce. We were really starting to enjoy Block 7.
Block 7 Wine Company
720 Shepherd Dr., 713-572-2565.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays, 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays, 3 to 11 p.m. Sundays.
The "whole pig" flatbread: $12
Stuffed chicken salad: $14
Croque Monsieur: $10
Meat and cheese plate: $19
Simple salad: $6
Sloppy Giuseppe: $10
Sweet potato frites: $5
Halfway through the bottle of wine, our next course came to the table. My companion chose the Croque Monsieur, while I opted for the artisanal cheese plate with house-made charcuterie. The cheeses included a Hopelessly Bleu from Pure Luck Dairy in Dripping Springs, some Havarti, a hard French cheese that looked and tasted like Cantal, and a soft Irish cheese. Head Chef Miguel Hernandez, formally of Rainbow Lodge, makes his own charcuterie. We got a duck pâté with hints of ginger, duck prosciutto and some soft, peppery duck sausage, all made in-house. I gobbled up the prosciutto — it was really smoky and tasted more like duck bacon.
I would have considered my companion's croque, the classic grilled ham and Swiss sandwich with béchamel, to be a little dull, except it was made with raclette, a very stinky French cheese that is unmistakably strong-tasting. I really like the twist on this French classic, although it could have used a little more béchamel, and the B7 frites with aioli were crispy and seductive. After I took a bite of the croque, the intense flavor of the raclette overpowered all the other cheeses. I swished some wine around in my mouth to neutralize the flavors so I could taste the other meats and cheeses. The Grüner Veltliner continued to work with the mélange of flavors.
The sultry spring afternoon carried on. There are only two desserts on Block 7's menu, bread pudding and something they call "krack," a chocolaty Rice Krispies thing. There is no way you can call something sweet "krack" without me having to try it. B7 didn't have many dessert wines, but our server was more than happy to let us taste some wines that would go well with the "krack," made with brown butter Rice Krispies, chocolate ganache, toasted marshmallow and passion fruit caramel. We chose a fizzy red from Bugey, France, at $9 a glass and a sweet Lambrusco di Sorbara from Italy at $6 a glass.
Both wines were fantastic, and the "krack"...well. If you're going to name something after a drug that's as powerful as crack, then it should be over-the-top good. Rice Krispies treats are like crack when you first make them, all soft and gooey. But B7's version was a little dry, and there wasn't enough chocolate or marshmallow. It was also cold, and I had to cut it with a knife. Somebody in the kitchen needs to channel his or her inner gastro-child and really think about B7's desserts.
Block 7 is part of a growing trend of restaurants and wine bars that offer a wide selection of wines at retail prices. Unlike most places that mark wine up, Block 7's are offered at the same prices you'll find at Spec's or Kroger. Inside the restaurant behind a large glass wall is a retail store where you can buy wines by the bottle or the case. There is also a huge tasting bar where you can try the wines on offer.
The menu and the food are meant to be a backdrop for the wine, or what they call "wine-inspired cuisine." Printed on the menu is a quote from Alice Waters: "Good food depends almost entirely on good ingredients." Waters is a well-respected chef and restaurateur who opened Berkeley's Chez Panisse back in the '70s. A pioneer in the farm-to-table concept of using local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients, Waters is also the VP of Slow Food International, which works to promote local artisanal food traditions. In short, she is awesome, inspiring. It takes a lot of cocksureness to put her name right on the front of your menu. I am a big fan of hers, and I think Block 7 embodies her philosophy with its menu: simple food with fresh, local ingredients.
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My next visit to B7 was for a late dinner. Two menu items that caught my attention were the venison "Sloppy Giuseppe" — ground venison, wild boar confit and house-made "joe" sauce on an onion challah bun, and the pappardelle coniglio, house-made pappardelle with braised rabbit and shiitake mushrooms. The "Sloppy Giuseppe" was just that, sloppy. I even got a shot of the "joe" sauce down the front of my shirt. It was finger-licking good.
I know B7 is a wine warehouse with great prices, but that night I couldn't get past the beer options. Old Chub on tap for $4 a glass! A craft beer from Colorado by Oskar Blues Brewery, it was awesome — not too hoppy or fruity, with just hints of caramel and herbs. And it wasn't a bad combination with the Sloppy.
My trusty food companion, who is also a level 2 sommelier, got the pasta, a simple salad and a glass of Tempranillo blend Rioja from Spain for $9 a glass. The pasta was phenomenal, with tender shreds of rabbit meat strewn between perfectly cooked noodles. I couldn't stop eating it, even after I was full. We also got an order of sweet potato frites. Usually when a restaurant serves fried sweet potatoes, they are limp, greasy sticks of disappointment. The B7 sweet potato frites were perfect — super-crispy and light. I could have eaten a small mountain of them. Actually, I think I did.
I finished the meal off with Schneider Wiesen Edel-Weisse, a Hefeweizen from Germany. Both the Old Chub and the Edel-Weisse are 8.2 percent APV. Filled with great food and beer, I was as happy as a drunken clam. And I resisted the urge to order any more "krack."