Draught House of Rock

One of the winners: the braised short rib sandwich.
Troy Fields

Take a tour through Shepherd Park Draught House's own rock 'n' roll shrine.

I don't know what I expected the first time I walked into Shepherd Park Draught House. I certainly didn't expect a little Houston tribute to New York City rock and roll circa 1978, complete with replica red-and-white CBGB OMFUG awning and one wall in the narrow space plastered with old concert handbills. In fact, I had no idea that owner Ken Bridge — who also owns Lola's, Dragon Bowl and the Pink's Pizza empire — was such a collector of rock and roll memorabilia.

I thought those handbills were fake, something purchased from the same theoretical store that supplies TGI Friday's with its tchotchkes. It turns out they aren't fake: They're photocopies of old handbills from Bridge's own collection. He's seemingly poured himself into every nook and cranny of this little endcap restaurant next to a Pink's Pizza on the edge of Garden Oaks.

The music played at Shepherd Park Draught House matches the rock and roll atmosphere, but one of the most striking things about the new pub is how mature that rock and roll feel is.

While there is no whiskey at the bar — just wine and beer, much of the latter brewed locally — there are late-night hours, at least through midnight every night. There's also a relaxed Sunday brunch that sees patrons soaking up the sun while tucked into one of Shepherd Park's cute picnic tables outside. Amber-shaded chandeliers hang above the bar, and salvaged seating, in the form of an old row of auditorium seats, calls to mind authentic Houston dives like Leon's Lounge or Shoeshine Charley's Big Top Lounge, if they were populated by a more suburban clientele. It's a Grand Prize Bar for grownups, many of whom happen to have moved into the Oak Forest and Garden Oaks areas.

In that regard, Shepherd Park Draught House is a perfect addition to the area. Hardcore craft beer fans have Petrol Station; hardcore wine fans have Plonk; those who take both a little less seriously have Shepherd Park Draught House. You'll have to take your food a little less seriously as well to enjoy it here, but it still offers above-average pub grub and a few of the type of eye-winking dishes that are signatures at Bridge's restaurants.

One of those tongue-in-cheek favorites is the Donut Waffle served at brunch, wherein a Belgian waffle is topped with chopped bacon, whipped cream and a Shipley's glazed donut. Its over-the-top gleefulness reminded me of the $100 Hand Roll filled with lobster, foie gras mousse, white truffles and Beluga caviar that Bridge briefly had on the menu at Dragon Bowl. But while I was never able to afford a taste of that hand roll, my three friends and I were quite happy to indulge in this $8 luxury over brunch on a recent Sunday morning.

It's not the best brunch item in Houston, nor is it the worst. Several of its sister items on the brunch menu are better, in fact: biscuits and gravy in a brown, peppery cream gravy with much-appreciated chunks of spicy Italian sausage (even if the accompanying goat cheese grits are runny and flavorless) or a simple breakfast sandwich served with a smooth tomato bisque on the side. This adult equivalent of the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo that comforted us during childhood is equally comforting on a Sunday morning — especially with a mimosa if you're an adult with a hangover.

Just steer clear of the Bloody Marys, which are made with sake (remember: There's no hard liquor served here) and what tastes like watered-down, Diet V8. In fact, that's the trick to dining successfully at Shepherd Park Draught House: Finding land mines like these and navigating around them.

One such land mine was the first thing I tried at Shepherd Park Draught House on my initial visit. I loved the punny name of the Shepherd Park Pie — a traditional English shepherd's pie gone mod, with Kobe beef underneath Gruyère mashed potatoes — but was disappointed in the speed with which it arrived at my table. Even with terrific mise en place, a shepherd's pie just doesn't come together in three minutes unless it's preassembled. Which it was.

The molten cheese atop the mashed potatoes suggested a brief stint under a broiler or salamander in the kitchen, but the lukewarm interior told me that this stack of meat, peas and potatoes had been sitting back there for some time waiting to be ordered. The viscous pool of grease underneath it all spoke to its wait as well, and the entire dish fell short when all I could taste was the aggressive stab of garlic throughout both the potatoes and the meat.

I was equally disappointed in the grease-sodden goat cheese ravioli — which was far too oily to be "crispy," as the menu suggests — and which contained perhaps a tablespoon of goat cheese between the four ravioli. I eagerly washed the grease of both dishes out of my mouth with a few gulps of Karbach's Sympathy for the Lager (an excellent palate cleanser, as well as an all-around drinkable local beer).

That said, I was surprised to see my dining companion eagerly tearing into her smoked Gouda and bacon burger across the table. It was a huge thing, making me briefly forget its $11.50 price tag. And stacked atop the rugged-looking patty was a golden-brown mess of caramelized pears and onions mingling with the smoky, melted cheese. I stole a few delicious bites from her and sat dejected, contemplating what could have been.

On the other hand, it was that burger that convinced me to give Shepherd Park a second shot. And I'm glad I did. A second dinner visit turned out far better, with a round of creamy Left Hand Milk Stout serving as a rich dessert after a table full of goodness: Thai chile-spiced hot wings coated with a sticky-sweet kick of heat; a turkey-avocado-Swiss melt livened up with a spread of roasted red peppers and cream cheese; and a braised short rib sandwich with a cabbage and balsamic onion slaw that cut keenly through the fatty beef.

My only complaint was with those wings: You only get four for $6; I consider the cut-off for my disappointment in wing prices to be $1 each. Charge any more for them, and I get mad. Restaurants have fountain drinks and bottles of wine upon which to place their blatant (some would argue "necessary") markups; foods like wings should always be cheap, especially at a pub.

Yes, even at a grown-up pub like Shepherd Park Draught House. Fortunately, the place makes up for it with weekly happy hour specials like Texas Tuesdays, which sees local favorites Shiner Bock, Lone Star and Bombshell Blonde on draft for $2 each, and at Sunday brunch, when everything on the menu is only $8 and you can drink bellinis by the pint. It's the perfect solution for fighting rock star-size hangovers.

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Shepherd Park Draught House

3402 N. Shepherd Dr.
Houston, TX 77018


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