We park in front of some tennis courts on a narrow street crowded with luxury vehicles before heading in to have breakfast at Tiny Boxwood's (3614 West Alabama, 713-622-4224). It's just past 7 a.m. We walk past the garden gates and escape into another world. Untouched by the rigmarole of Houston, Tiny Boxwood's, located inside Thompson & Hanson Nursery, feels like a secret garden. Did I fall down a rabbit hole? I don't feel like I'm in Houston anymore.
We go past the sleek glass doors and find a chalkboard menu with the day's breakfast and lunch offerings. The morning cheese plate sounds good, but I can't pass up the Lovin' Canada, a plate of boiled eggs and toast with housemade strawberry jam. This to me is perfect to eat this early, when all I really want is a hot cup of coffee.
My breakfast mate orders the tomato and artichoke quiche. The crust is flaky, and the filling is creamy and light. I take a bite and immediately taste Gruyère. I sip my bottomless mimosa and peer around the small, square dining room filled with urban professionals. It's not a word I want to use to describe this place, but what comes to mind is "beautiful."
3614 West Alabama, 713-622-4224.
Breakfast hours:7 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Lunch hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Late-afternoon menus: 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Dinner menu: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Brunch hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.
Lovin' Canada: $6
Steak avocado salad: $15
Fish tacos: $15
Turkey burger: $12
Lone Star: $3
Lunch Punch: $6
Brussels sprouts pizza: $15
Shrimp and risotto: $25
Buffalo filet: $28
Mojito crumble: $9
My second trip to Tiny Boxwood's is for lunch. There's a line out the door, and there are no empty tables. My lunch mate and I stand outside waiting in the quickly moving line to place our order at the counter. The chalkboard menu is the same one I saw at my breakfast visit, but now there's a smaller chalkboard listing the lunch specials of fish tacos and something called Lunch Punch. A young man working the dining room announces that seats are available at the bar with full service. Perfect.
My companion and I sit at the marble bar and order the steak and avocado salad, fish tacos and a turkey burger. I ask about the Lunch Punch, a mimosa-like concoction with fruit. I find myself wondering, if I drink it, will I shrink? I gaze at the wood-burning oven. It wasn't in use at breakfast, but now it's fired up. The young woman behind the counter is putting goat cheese toasts inside.
We split the salad. Besides greens, steak and avocado, it has cheddar cheese and tortilla strips tossed with a zesty lime vinaigrette. It perfectly coated everything, counteracting the creaminess of the cheese and the salty beef chunks. The beef is chewy, but I like that. I like to feel the flesh being ripped apart by the jagged molars in my mouth. I always hear people complain that their steak is too tough. Some steaks are meant to be that way — not everything is a damn beef tenderloin. Those teeth in the back of your head are sharp for a reason.
The turkey burger is incredible. Spicy, smoky and juicy — you can really taste the seasoning in the meat — this burger is gourmet. The goat cheese on top is smoked, and there's just the right amount. It's not oozing out or taking over the other flavors. The spicy burger makes me thirsty. Next to the counter at Tiny's is a reach-in cooler with sodas, bottled water and beer. Peroni, Stella Artois and...Lone Star? It's an odd choice for such a fancy restaurant in River Oaks. As much as I love Stella, I opt for the Lone Star precisely because it seems so out of place.
I'm on my second beer when I take the last bite of my burger. I ask the woman behind the counter if the potato chips that came with my burger were made in house. She says they were, and I'm inclined to believe her. But my lunch mate swears they're Zapp's. Why would she lie, though? Maybe she didn't know.
The fish tacos came with baked tilapia, and I ask my companion to save me the last bite. I am really picky about my fish tacos — I won't just stick any old fish taco in my mouth. It's decent, although not my favorite, but like I said, I am picky. The best part about the tacos is the Cholula aioli.
I sit back and take a gander at the busy crowd in the restaurant. My first impression of TBW at breakfast was: "beautiful." Looking around at lunch, "money" is the first word that comes to mind. Again, it's not the one I want to use.
I'm really starting to like this place. The food is fabulous and the atmosphere is transporting. Next time a friend comes to town and wants to get a good taste of what the Houston food scene has to offer, I'll definitely bring him here. Having a cafe inside a nursery is pretty cool. And it must be said, there are a ton of hot women here.
My next trip down the rabbit hole is for dinner. This time I want to eat near the garden. I grab a wine and a beer and take my dinner companion to a bench across the nursery. The wonderland of interesting River Oaks women has grown. Now they are all wearing funny hats and drinking wine: the Mad Hatters.
We sit at our table and I order a seasonal appetizer of squash blossoms stuffed with artichokes and goat cheese from our waiter. Squash blossoms are coming into season now; they only last till the end of summer, when they stop pollinating and the fruit begins to mature. I try to order them when I see them because you can't always get them, and they're delicious. The stem of the artichoke pokes through the blossom, and it is fresh and cooked to perfection. The goat cheese adds a nice finish.
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We also order another app, a wood-fired pizza with Brussels sprouts and prosciutto. We pick Château d'Astros wine to go with it, which I kinda thought was funny because we are in Houston. But damn, this wine turns out to be profound, and for $35 a bottle, it's even better than a great buy. I am no wine sniffer, but this little French rouge is excellent — soft on the front and finished with aromatics and hints of raspberry, licorice and honeysuckle.
The wine goes well with our burnt pizza. Yes, I know what a crispy, thin-crust wood-fired pizza is supposed to be like, and yes, this pizza tastes and looks burnt. Having been pretty excited about eating this ever since I first laid eyes on that oven, I feel like crying a river of tears. I eat half of it anyway and take the other half home.
My companion orders the shrimp and risotto: fresh jumbo shrimp with Parmesan risotto and a champagne beurre blanc. It's wonderful. There's enough risotto on the plate for both of us, and we put a huge dent in it. I get a buffalo filet with blue cheese risotto. I've had chicken-fried buffalo, buffalo burgers and buffalo hanger steak, but never a filet. I'm intrigued, to say the least. It's tender and juicy, with a nice coat of fresh cracked pepper, and it melts in my mouth. Talk about doing a piece of meat justice.
The night is going so well, and each course seems to flow perfectly into the next. We order the mojito crumble for dessert. Perfect. Nobody does a crumble anymore. I love this simple preparation; here, it's more of a deconstructed dessert with lots of fresh fruit and mint. The mojito flavors are a nice twist. With our wine glasses getting closer to being empty, I feel the evening ending. I take a bite of dessert and wonder, will it cause me to grow to a tremendous size?