Earlier this month, Houston was supposed to be treated to a little nubbin of Baja Oklahoma taste, sophistication and glamour, something sorely needed in our sultry, sweaty, sodden, sinful port city on the Mexican Gulf. Shannon Wynne, the Dallasite who introduced Houston to his celebrated Metroplex watering hole, 8.0, back when the Greenbriar/ Shepherd area still had a heartbeat, has leased space at 705 Main (at Capitol) for a spot named The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium.
The site is still, despite Wynne's best efforts, in the early phases of construction. (We older Houstonians wonder how that name will sit with the owners of The Flying Saucer Pie Co. [436 W. Crosstimbers (713)694-1141], which has been a Garden Oaks institution since 1967. But the young Houstonians for whom the Flying Saucer is intended could probably care less. And so could Wynne.)
The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium is a concept that answers the question, at least in large part, "If you could have any beer in the world, right now, which would it be?" The establishment will have 80 brews on tap, according to Wynne, plus no fewer than 175 bottled beers. A Dallas branch offers 114 draft beers, but you have to start somewhere. There are also Flying Saucer Draught Emporia in Addison -- the alcohol locker of North Dallas -- as well as in Fort Worth and Arlington. Where do you put so many kegs? "A very large walk-in cooler," Wynne offers. To complement the multitudinous suds, there will be "upper-crust oven-baked sandwiches."
The problem slowing the opening of this public quaffing space is, according to Wynne, the landlord. The Flying Saucer has leased space in the old H.S. Kress building, a Randall David Company property now renamed the St. Germain. Davis is, of course, putting lofts upstairs. His company has also leased the other half of the street-level space to an upscale restaurant-to-be, David Edwards's Zula. The powers-that-be in Houston, according to Wynne, want Davis to purchase "additional waste-water rights." The Randall Davis spokespeople are not returning our calls, so we will gladly quote Wynne, who states "We've been sitting with our thumbs up our asses."
This, ladies and gentleman, is not a good situation.
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As most of the Houston foodie population knows by now, Whole Foods Markets has opened a new supermarket at Kirby and West Alabama to replace the old establishment at 2900 South Shepherd. The new place offers much better parking than the old, abandoned movie theater and strip center and has 36,000 square feet of space (compared to the 20,000 square feet on Shepherd). Soon, there will be a another Whole Foods (or, as a certain Houston wag refers to it, a Food Hole) on Bellaire Boulevard at Weslayan.
What else does this expanded market serve up? To begin with, a lot more prepared foods, including a pizza bakery, a juice bar and many feet of take-out display coolers. Otherwise, it is much the same operation that the Austin-based corporation offers in 99 other stores throughout the United States. There are the signature staffers, amiable young people for the most part, who appear to have wandered in from a road-show revival of Hair. There are neat piles of produce, indistinguishable from regular supermarket produce, which possess the ineffable quality of being "organic." There's a middling wine and beer selection of not much interest in a town that has a Spec's Warehouse [2410 Smith, (713)526-8787]. There are some interesting frozen meats for the semi-serious foodie, such as frozen quail, pheasant, Muscovy duck and rabbit. There is the always excellent fresh seafood, some excellent cheeses, and olives at prices higher than at superb ethnic outlets like Droubi's Bakery and Delicatessen [7333 Hillcroft, (713)988-5897; 3223 Hillcroft, (713)782-6160].
At the end of the day, to quote my London cousin, what you have is an expensive supermarket that caters not so much to gastronomic needs as to the peculiar psychological needs of a particularly conscience-stricken sector of the middle class. If you really care about immigrants from the Third World, after all, you can mingle with them at any Fiesta market -- and save money at the same time. If you care about the environment, trade in your Chevy Suburban on a compact sedan. And plant veggies on your great, wide front lawn, the neighbors be damned.