Food Fit for Drinking

Angry rumblings reached our ears recently, rumors of drastic changes made at the Houston Brewery [6224 Richmond, (713)953-0101]. "They've ditched their whole menu and fired all the kitchen staff," one irate customer told us. "Now all they're serving is disgusting fried bar food."

Like many such apocalyptic stories, this latest news contains some shreds of truth. On April 6, the brewery did in fact unveil a new menu, which is dominated by pizza, burgers and -- oh, dear -- buffalo wings. The brewery's former chef, Joel St. John, has moved on after an allegedly amicable parting, taking his trendy Tex-Cajun creations with him, stuff like the Gulf Coast seafood pizza and the Cajun egg rolls. Lawrence Berry now helms the kitchen, along with the remaining kitchen staffers who were not, it turns out, fired.

"Well, sure, it was a drastic changeover, and our restaurant patrons were grumpy about it at first," admits the brewery's general manager, Janelle Hardin. "But our pub patrons were really pleased. Our new food goes well with a pint of great beer, which is what the Houston Brewery is all about." For private parties, the bygone highbrow fare is still on tap. "Of course, out of respect for Joel, we won't ever try to do his special things, like the egg rolls or the Gulf Coast pizza," she notes.

Michael Holliday and Shaun Wymes, the Brits who own the brewery as well as the Ale House and the Richmond Arms, had lately grown concerned that the upscale dining was an uneasy match, at best, with the brewpub concept. "They felt that it overshadowed what our brewmaster, Tim Case, is trying to do," Hardin says. "Tim is making great beers and winning lots of medals. Plus, that high-end menu meant high overhead, on top of this great big building and the investment and expense of running the brewing operation."

Hardin reports that the simpler pizzas, sans seafood, are the most popular item on the new menu. "So far, it's going really well; sales are up," she says. Even better for the barflies, the average dining tab from the new menu is considerably cheaper than the old bill of fare. Pizzas are $8 each (and only $5 on Monday nights), burgers run from $5 to $7, and chicken sandwiches top out at $7.50. Chicken wings are sold by the basketful, ten, 20 or 30 pieces, starting at around $6.

Add to that a 120-inch projection television screen and a satellite linked to 24/7 sports coverage, and you've got what sounds like any one of a hundred Houston sports bars. "Oh, no no no," exclaims Hardin. "We've always been completely different from anyplace else on Richmond Avenue, and we're going to maintain that difference. See, what Mike and Shaun wanted to do was bring a little bit of that inside-the-Loop atmosphere out here. I mean, not everybody can afford to live inside the Loop now, it's getting so expensive. People who have to move out here need someplace to go, too.

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