I was shocked when someone told me Dragon Bowl had been around for seven years. It was always one of those places I figured I would get to eventually, but that was not to be. In the past six weeks, owner Ken Bridge has shuttered Dragon Bowl and quickly revamped and reopened it as Witchcraft, promising a focus on craft beer and upscale sandwiches.
While some restaurants labor for months and even years to finish a build-out, the revamp -- including a complete overhaul of the decor and a custom draft beer setup in the dedicated walk-in -- took only a matter of weeks. This, of course, isn't the first time at the rodeo for Delicious Concepts, Bridge's restaurant group, which also owns and operates Pink's Pizza, Lola and Shepherd Park Draught House. The quick turn around, hands-on approach and willingness to adapt can all be attributed to Delicious Concepts' success in the past half decade.
The newest concept is simple enough, and while drastic changes have been made, this is structurally-speaking still the same restaurant as Dragon Bowl. The counter now sits under an imposing draft menu chalk board and provides a bulk of the restaurant's seating, while a small dining room offers booths and tables. The kitchen is still semi-open, and Bridge himself was patiently walking new cooks through recipes behind the bar the day I visited.
One of the things that has struck me most about many of Witchcraft's sister restaurants is the design aesthetic present, from the 90's-era concert posters at Pink's to the incredibly awesome punk-era handbill wall paper at Shepherd Park Draught House. Witchcraft is no exception, and a friend and I spent a good five minutes awestruck by a collage hanging on one wall which has been entirely constructed of vintage speakers. Touches like these aren't always necessary or expected in fast-casual restaurants, especially in Houston, so the fact that all of Bridges' concepts brim with personality is a fun change.
But on to the important stuff, like that giant chalkboard of beer and -- of course -- the food.
As it was only the second day open, Bridge was still training his staff when we ordered -- so I honestly expected a soft opening-type menu and service. Not so. The full menu was ready to go and even with Bridge's careful instruction, our food still hit the bar so quickly my friend and I hadn't even dented our first half-pints of beer. Pork lollipops were my favorite, easily shared over beers, but our burgers were pitch perfect as well. A lot of the menu seemed share-able which is what I tend to appreciate in a place I want to have a few beers at.
And the beer list itself is no slouch. It's smartly laden with a lineup of very approachable beers like Buffalo Bayou 1836 and Deschutes Inversion. The real highlight for this beer nerd, however, was the walk-in cooler our proud bartender was very happy to show off when we showed interest. The cooler shows like a baby Hay Merchant, complete with individual regulators for every keg and two dedicated nitro lines. There is also plenty of extra room to let Witchcraft stockpile some special kegs if it so desires.
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SHOW ME HOW
Coming in to Witchcraft, I was interested to see which took center stage: the beer or the food. Since Shepherd Park Draught House seems to be a beer place that serves food, would Witchcraft be an eatery with good beer? The answer, it seems, is neither -- and that's a good thing. Both the impressive beer lineup and the small but well-rounded menu seem to shrug and say, "Well, of course we do that; why wouldn't we?"
This lack of intent focus on one or the other is actually a welcome change in the way that Houston restaurants are beginning to view craft beer. To me at least, it signals an idea that elevated ideas like a giant tap wall of craft beer are no-brainers for a young, fast-casual joint. And that's something that was only a pipe dream just five years ago.