Spring, located between Houston and The Woodlands, is home to a diverse collection of restaurants and local mom-and-pop cafes. Places such as CorkScrew BBQ and Bernie’s Backyard are quite popular and well-known beyond the community. There are others, though, that are beloved by locals that don’t get much buzz outside of the Spring area. The Houston Press ventured out to Spring to visit a few of these hidden gems and bring you the best.
5. ATE Café, 403 East Louetta, 281-516-5283
The average passerby is completely unaware that inside Inspire Rock Gym you will find gourmet burgers, brick oven pizzas and tasty sandwiches. 5.ATE Café offers counter service and rock climbing is not required in order to dine, although it is quite fun to watch the athletic endeavors of others while stuffing your face.
The burgers are made with freshly ground Angus, served on homemade English muffins, and come in a variety of sinfully delicious options. Choose from garlic butter and kale, avocado butter bacon, sweet and smoky (provolone, smoked cheddar cheese, semi-dried cherry tomatoes and grilled onion on top of crispy sweet potato tots), the Shar-warma (banana peppers, feta cheese, creamy tzatziki and tangy garlic chile sauce), the Farmhouse (sharp cheddar, house roasted pork belly and a sunny side egg) and many more.
Pizzas are made using homemade pizza dough and are cooked in a ceramic brick oven that results in a crispy, slightly charred crust. Sandwiches are served on a roll or in a wrap and come in a choice of Italian, caprese, banh mi or PB&J (pork belly and jalapeño).
Arepa Xpress, 4334 FM 2920, #170, 713-389-5930
In a small strip center along a busy stretch of 2920, you’ll find Arepa Xpress. This family-owned Venezuelan cafe specializes in arepas, which are small corn patties that are split open and stuffed with shredded meats, Venezuelan cheese, roasted pork, black beans or plantains. The menu includes more than 20 different arepa combinations. However, this little gem serves much more than just arepas.
For starters, try the tequeños (Venezuelan cheese sticks), yuca frita (fried yucca sticks), empanadas (stuffed corn patties) or pasteles (crispy fried patties). Lunch plates include a choice of traditional Venezuelan meat, rice, black beans and fried plantain. For a unique twist on a sandwich, try the patacón: Green plantains are fried into crunchy circles and then topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado and cheese, pork, chicken or beef.
Black Sheep Bistro, 326 Main, 832-616-3035
Black Sheep Bistro is located in an unassuming little purple house in historic Old Town Spring. The bistro is open for lunch, brunch and dinner. The menu is seasonal and offers delights that are far from the typical fare found throughout this touristy little town.
Fresh-baked crusty bread will be sent to the table shortly after your arrival. Lunch offers diners an assortment of soups and salads. Items to try include the rich and creamy curried cauliflower soup, Duck and Pig Flatbread (pulled duck confit, bacon, ricotta, arugula, pineapple, shaved Parmesan and balsamic drizzle) and the Crispy Pork Belly and Noodle Salad (sesame-ginger-glazed pork belly tossed with soba noodles, mango, avocado, tomatoes and chile-lime cashews).
Dinner includes heartier options like roasted quail, gnocchi, double-cut pork chops and miso-glazed sea bass. Brunch is available on Saturdays and Sundays. In addition to a variety of items from the lunch and dinner menu, guests can partake in crab cake Benedict, steak and eggs, waffles or lemon-blueberry pancakes.
Papa Amadeus, 25601 Interstate 45 North, Suite 101, 281-719-5873
When it comes to hidden gems, Papa Amadeus is a true diamond in the rough. A diner would definitely not expect to find such an exceptional Italian restaurant in an old strip center along I-45 that has seen better days. Once you’re inside Papa Amadeus, the white linen tablecloths, good service and homemade pasta will transport you to another place.
Papa Amadeus is family owned and has a chef with prior experience at Nino’s and Vincent’s in downtown Houston. The restaurant features an open-concept scratch kitchen with a menu that changes seasonally to use what is available from local farmers.
Appetizers not to be missed include the aged prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella and the cozze bianco (mussels in a lemon garlic Chardonnay sauce). The homemade pasta and sauces are truly the shining stars at Papa Amadeus. Tender pappardelle noodles are covered with a rich and meaty Bolognese sauce that tastes just the way Mama made it (if your mom was Italian).
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Zara’s Mediterranean Kitchen, 415 Rayford Road, #300, 713-575-9272
Zara’s Mediterranean Kitchen promises you a “taste of the Mediterranean” and it definitely delivers. The menu consists of Lebanese recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. The restaurant has stayed true to its roots and not compromised on flavor or spices. Zara’s serves halal meats and no alcohol is available on the premises. It does have an assortment of unique beverages to choose from, like mango juice, a fresh mint mojito (nonalcoholic), Zara’s Special Tea (sweet tea with hints of rose water) and Turkish coffee.
Popular items at Zara’s include the hummus trio (traditional, basil pesto and red pepper) served with warm homemade pita, falafel, gyros, Zara’s mixed grill and the roasted lamb shank. The lamb shank is simmered in house spices for 24 hours and is falling-off-the-bone tender. It’s also quite a bargain priced at $16.95.
Zara’s is currently expanding to double its seating capacity from 45 to more than 90. Renovation is expected to be completed next month. New menu items will be added as well as this small family business grows to serve the community.