Eastbound and Downtown
So you're not comfortable with the EaDo sobriquet. I don't care. The thing has stuck. It's short, easy and to the point. Accept it and move on. EaDo is drawing people east for the first time in a long while, and I'm going to embrace that change.
Besides the spiffy new BBVA Compass Stadium (for the Dynamo) and a light-rail line that will eventually run through EaDo and down Harrisburg into the East End, the area is attracting everything from Aerosol Warfare's homebase and craft breweries — the Eatsie Boys are opening 8th Wonder soon — to wine bars and restaurants. Music venue Warehouse Live is still one of the best in town at attracting interesting touring acts, and that little intersection of The Lofts at the Ballpark, Minute Maid Park, the Dynamo home and all of the bars surrounding Warehouse Live is just about the closest Houston comes to having a seriously dense and walkable urban presence.
Note: For the purposes of this article, EaDo is defined as the triangle bounded by Highway 59 to the northwest, Interstate 45 to the southwest and the lines of the freight railroad that stretch from Commerce to Cullen.
10. Not Jus' Donuts
Not Jus' Donuts is an appropriate name for a place that doesn't sell any donuts at all, right? It's not like the name implies that there are other things besides donuts here but also donuts. Regardless, the goodies that Not Jus' Donuts bakes every day make up for the weird donut deficit. For 13 years, Myrtle Zachary-Jackson has been making some of the city's favorite pound cakes, cupcakes, wedding cakes and cookies — just remember that you'll need to order ahead for the big stuff.
9. Texas Bar-B-Que House
Some may scoff at the inclusion of this restaurant on the list, to which I say: Dude, there are only about 15 restaurants in EaDo right now. Give it some time. Also: Texas Bar-B-Que house has outlasted a lot of restaurants in the area, having served barbecue to downtown workers for over 50 years. It's not the best barbecue in town, but it's a good spot for a chopped beef sandwich on fluffy white bread surrounded by people from every walk of life — suits to hard hats and everything in between.
8. District 7 Grill
District 7 — sister restaurant to the chrome-plated diner underneath the Pierce Elevated in Midtown, as well as Table 7 Bistro downtown — is so well-hidden on its side street in EaDo, you'd never know the cozy cafe was there unless you were looking for it. District 7 is only open for lunch a few days during the week, but it's packed during those days with downtown workers looking to indulge in its huge menu of burgers (everything from beef and buffalo to salmon and seared tuna) and tandoori pizzas on naan.
7. Kim Son
Since 1982, after she fled her first restaurant in Vinh Long, Vietnam, Mama La has been sharing authentic Vietnamese food with Houstonians. Kim Son sparked our love affair with Vietnamese food, so even if you think the massive restaurant is passé, show a little respect. A sumptuous interior is as comfortable as the food itself. The charbroiled Vietnamese fajitas are a fusion of both the old and new worlds, and the Vietnamese crepes, garlic butter fried shrimp and sugarcane shrimp are not to be missed.
6. Alamo Tamale
Alamo isn't much to look at — from the inside or the outside, save a pleasant-enough side patio that was added in recent years — and its machine-made tamales are pretty par for the course. But its homemade tortillas and hand-rolled tamales are out of this world. The tamales are perfectly plump and filled with just the right amount of savory pork (because no one needs chicken tamales; stop it). The important masa-to-meat ratio is always precise here, with the meat incredibly moist and well-seasoned. You won't need any of the incredibly benign salsa that's served alongside your tamales, owing to the grease that seeps out from the filling (which at times can be a little on the heavy side — but it's a price we're willing to pay). Order ahead by the dozen, or you'll be stuck eating whatever's on the steam table if you simply show up for lunch.
5. Sparkle's Hamburger Spot
Sparkle's is known for its popular hamburgers, famous shakes and a long, long wait. Regulars know to call ahead before even setting out for the Third Ward burger shack, and you'd do well to listen to their advice. Not your standard burger-stand burgers, Sparkle's beef patties are much, much larger than you might expect, and maybe that's what takes them so long to cook. Also available are french fries, onion rings, chicken-n-waffles and Kool-Aid (for a dollar). To-go orders only: There's no indoor seating available, and outdoor seating is limited to a picnic table that looks ready to give way in the next strong breeze.
4. Brothers Taco House
Although some people are huge fans of Brothers' daily lunch specials, the breakfast tacos are equally notable. On a hot griddle behind the steam table, you can see a lineup of ladies making the fluffy flour tortillas (and only flour; no corn here) fresh as you order. And from the belly of the kitchen, you can hear an anvil chorus of line cooks chopping and hacking meat apart to fill the metal bins on the steam table with carnitas, lengua, chicharrones, deshebrada and — on the weekends — barbacoa. The chicharrones are stewed in a mild red sauce that's enhanced with the addition of some of Brothers' flavorful green salsa, but the lengua requires no additional accoutrements at all.
Formerly Pho Huynh, Huynh is a family-run establishment that has been serving homestyle Vietnamese cuisine in the East End for over a decade. The warm, modern interior is much more elegant than the restaurant's nondescript strip-mall exterior suggests. Generous portions and a plethora of familiar Vietnamese dining options make this place a popular lunch and dinner destination, and it's widely regarded as one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in the city — not just in EaDo. My personal favorite meal at Huynh is the hu tiu xao do bien, or wide rice noodles that have been smoked and pan-fried before being topped with a medley of seafood and vegetables.
2. The Cajun Stop
The Cajun Stop is as close to a real New Orleans po-boy shop as we've had in Houston since Original New Orleans Po' Boy on Main Street closed. Owner Lisa Carnley recently changed the name — formerly Calliope's Po-Boy — to reflect the fact that she — a Cajun girl from Houma, Louisiana — had decided to stop in Houston and make it her home after Katrina. If you find yourself craving a few pounds of plump crawfish or a roast beef po-boy with a generous application of gravy, the festive, friendly Cajun Stop is your best choice.
1. Cafe TH
The old Thiem Hung Bakery was reimagined and reinvented by former patron Minh Nguyen, who bought the place — recipes and all — from its former owners in 2006 and proceeded to update the Vietnamese menu as well as the interior. The result is a vibrant, cozy neighborhood cafe that harkens back to the good old days of a bustling East End Chinatown and evokes a French bistro vibe at the same time (especially on Thursday and Friday nights, when Cafe TH serves a prix-fixe evening menu). In addition to its trademark banh mi, don't miss Cafe TH's dark, rich pho or the hearty beef soup served with French bread, banh mi bo kho. And vegetarians, take heart: Cafe TH offers plenty of vegetarian options as well as vegan pho. Yes, vegan pho.
RARE BEER ON THE RUN
Growler's Beer & Wine bringing CrafTap system to Montrose.
The craft beer community in Houston doesn't let much slip past them. Growler's Beer & Wine owner Doug Bunze found that out late last year when a few eagle-eyed craft beer fans tracked down the store's Web site and Twitter account after he posted a Craigslist ad about job openings at the upcoming craft beer retail spot.
"The Google spiders haven't even found the Web site yet," Bunze laughed. "You couldn't just Google us." The Web site and the store at 1005 Waugh have since populated into Google as well as Google Maps.
News of Growler's spread quickly on Twitter, although the store's Twitter account, @Growlersmontros, had fewer than 200 followers last week and only six Tweets. Look for that number to grow rapidly as opening day approaches, however.
"We are going to concentrate on social media and building a presence there," said Bunze. "The community here is just so passionate. I've already met so many people who are just crazy about craft beer."
Bunze admits his craft beer knowledge is still growing. To help offset that, he plans to staff the store with knowledgeable people who are just as passionate as his customers. "We are going to do it by committee," he said. "I'm not picking what beers go on. That will be up to the employees." He said the store plans on steering clear of beers you can find in the coolers. The store will have a few mainstays but wants to focus on more limited and rare selections.
But the highlight of the new store itself isn't the high-capacity walk-in cooler with its custom steel racks fabricated in-house or the wraparound wood-top bar. The star of Growler's is the CrafTap system it will be using to fill to-go containers.
Similar to a commercial bottling system, the CrafTap uses carbon dioxide to create a counterpressure pour. When beer is poured into a container under pressure, the carbonation in your beer stays in solution, resulting in a pour with very little foam. Additionally, since the CrafTap pressurizes the vessel, your beer is coming into very little contact with oxygen and receives a seal similar to those in commercial bottling and kegging. This, along with heavy-duty plastic caps, "offers a theoretical shelf life of up to a year," Bunze said.
While we probably wouldn't hold onto a growler full of beer nearly that long, it should be stable for extended periods, meaning you'd be free to pick up a half-gallon growler of a very limited beer and not feel obligated to drink it the same day. Think of the possibilities: Pick up three or four gallons of beer over the course of a month, for example, and then have your very own rare-beer house party with fresh draft beer. The store should be receiving its CrafTap fillers — the first and currently only outlet in Texas to use the system — within the week.
In addition to draft beer, Growler's will be stocking bottled beer in several commercial coolers so that you can build your own mix-and-match six-pack. Bunze admitted they haven't gotten pricing nailed down just yet, but look for news soon. And although beer is mostly what we discussed last week, Bunze said the store will not be limited to beer, as the name would imply. It plans to offer wine as well.
Growler's is waiting on one last permit clearance before they can officially start selling, but the TABC licensing is squared away. The store may be ready to sell beer in a soft-opening capacity as early as next week, said Bunze.
"We may do something quiet, just kind of unlock the door and just say come check us out early."
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
The 10 best spots for oysters.
With oyster season in full swing, many of our readers have asked where to get great oyster deals around town. After all, the chief allure of Gulf oysters aside from their plump sweetness is the low cost. (God, we are so tremendously spoiled down here.)
I called around to some of my favorite oyster-shucking spots in Houston and found ten great oysters-by-the-dozen deals that run the gamut from happy-hour pricing to everyday steals. Even better, these spots are scattered all over town, so there's a platter of half-shells waiting out there for everybody.
Cost: $9.99 a dozen
When: 3 to 7 p.m. every day
Denis' Seafood House
Cost: $7.99 a dozen
When: 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (during happy hour; only available at the bar)
Ragin Cajun (all locations)
Cost: $7 a dozen
When: 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays
BB's Cafe (all locations)
Cost: $6.95 a dozen
Cost: $5.99 a dozen
When: 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays (during happy hour)
Pappadeaux (all locations)
Cost: $5.95 a dozen
When: Mondays through Thursdays (only available at the bar)
Cost: $5.50 a dozen
Tommy's Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Cost: $5 a dozen
When: all day Tuesdays and Fridays, and 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (during happy hour)
Captain Tom's (all locations)
Cost: $6.95 a dozen
When: all day, every day
Captain Benny's (all locations)
Cost: $5.95 a dozen
When: all day, every day
OUR FOIE 5
The five foie gras dishes you must try in Houston.
I enjoy eating foie gras and I'm not going to apologize for it. I don't believe in animal cruelty (and whether force-feeding is actually "cruel," painful or harmful is a matter of debate), but I do believe in an individual's right to choose what he or she consumes.
Furthermore, I would consider myself a hypocrite for castigating foie gras producers when I do not subject other animal-flesh purveyors (many of whose factory-farm practices are, I think, far more despicable than force feeding) to the same scrutiny and product abstention.
Well, now that I've surely satisfied any and all political objections to this piece, here are my top 5 foie gras dishes in Houston.
5. Foie Nigiri at Uchi
Though perhaps not the most "traditional" item on the menu, Uchi's foie nigiri, which combines, as you might expect, foie gras, and as you might not expect, quinoa rather than white rice, is pretty damn delicious.
4. Foie Gras with Gingerbread and Caramelized Oatmeal at Roost
Roost has a way with duck liver. The restaurant first garnered heavy praise for its foie gras butter that accompanied the bread service; now the restaurant offers a more artful but no less appetizing dish of slightly smoky cured foie gras, tart cranberry sauce, gingerbread and a rich caramelized onion oatmeal. It's Thanksgiving meets Christmas meets Meat Butter. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
3. Foie Gras "Breakfast" at Triniti
Some genius at Triniti appreciates that no meal should be safe from decadent perversion and to demonstrate it, tops off the already over-the-top combination of a buttermilk pancake, quail egg and candied bacon with a slab of seared foie gras. To this guy or gal, I say, "Well done, you!" But also, nix the scare quotes. Screw Wheaties; this is the breakfast of champions.
2. Foie Gras and Scallops at Kata Robata
Liver and mollusks are a winning combination, as aptly demonstrated by Kata Robata's luscious appetizer of Hudson Valley foie gras, seared scallops and teriyaki sauce. The only downside is that the main dishes that follow are likely to fall short, except perhaps the lobster macaroni and cheese.
1. B.M.F. Burger at The Burger Guys
Call me crazy, but I don't like bacon on my burgers, and I think at one point I explained this preference by saying something like, "I don't like more meat on top of meat." Well, that was a stupid thing to say and clearly not true, since a fried egg only improves a burger, and foie gras turns it into a heaven-sent sandwich. Case in point: the B.M.F. Burger, which layers Akaushi beef, a generous three ounces of foie gras, onion bacon jam, garlic aioli and a ladle of gastrique sauce. You will have multiple food orgasms despite the fact that you're out $35.
Openings and Closings
Backstreet is back, plus craft-beer-based grub gets wheels.
Congratulations, Katy — your grocers have officially gone green. Two new grocery stores are opening this week in Houston's far west suburbs starting with the Whole Foods Market that opened on Wednesday, January 30. The newest Whole Foods features 34,000 square feet of organic goods at its location on 6601 South Fry Road.
Coming in March is the first Houston-area location of fellow feel-goody grocer Sprouts Farmers Market, which is busy building a 25,000-square-foot store at 23105 Cinco Ranch Boulevard. It's the 24th store for Sprouts in Texas, with three more planned for Houston and one planned for Spring. Like Whole Foods, Sprouts offers a wide selection of organic foods, supports local nonprofits and will employ 100 people at its new location.
What sets Sprouts Farmers Market apart, however, is that the Arizona-based chain is known for offering a more low-cost alternative to what many people term "Whole Paycheck." Sprouts also claims to design its stores with the "feel of an old-fashioned farmers market, featuring prominently displayed mountains of fresh fruits and vegetables; barrels of wholesome grains, nuts and sweets; full-service deli, meat and seafood counters — complete with beef and sausages ground in-store." Personally, however, I always thought Sprouts looked like a cross between Trader Joe's and Whole Foods — not that I'm complaining.
Heading south, Houston is getting another "first" with the opening of Bone Daddy's House of Smoke, which opened on Monday, January 28, at Baybrook Shopping Center in Webster. And although it's a chain, at least Bone Daddy's has Texan roots: Mike Leatherwood opened the first Bone Daddy's in Dallas in 2000 and has since opened four additional locations in Arlington, Grapevine, Plano and Austin.
It also appears to be — from what I can tell — the barbecue version of Hooters or Twin Peaks (whichever floats your boat), "known for its mouthwatering barbeque, ice cold beer and, of course, the gorgeous and friendly wait staff," according to a press release. (Emphasis mine.) This makes the whole "Bone Daddy" moniker just slightly unsettling...
Not to worry, Bone Daddy's assures us in a curiously lengthy segment of the press release: "The leaders at Bone Daddy's have created an environment that encourages personal growth and provides opportunities for all members of the team. They are committed to a culture of integrity and mutual respect. Members of the team enjoy freedoms they don't have at other restaurants. Bone Daddy's enjoys one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the industry by listening to and meeting the needs of its employees." Okay, then.
Bone Daddy's Webster will be open for dinner for a limited time from 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, with plans to open for lunch within the next few weeks.
Speaking of Hooters, the restaurant responsible for proving that neon orange can be used in applications other than traffic cones is ready to prove itself once again: The wings chain is unveiling a "brand-new contemporary restaurant design" at the Hooters on Kirby and Highway 59. This remodeling will eventually be deployed at the 435 Hooters restaurants worldwide. It includes, according to a press release, "many large, high-definition televisions...a more centrally located and prominently placed bar and...new booth seating and high-back chairs at all tables with an enhanced seat size and added padding."
You can check the seats out for yourself this week.
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