Getting Crafty at Witchcraft Tavern
Take a trip through Witchcraft's rock 'n' roll-inspired dining room and check out its wall-mounted sculpture made of vintage speakers.
If you're expecting a review full of puns on Witchcraft Tavern & Provision Co.'s name — being spellbound by its burgers, or enchanted by its brunch — look elsewhere. That's not to say I don't thoroughly enjoy Witchcraft, the newest restaurant from Delicious Concepts and its owner Ken Bridge. I'm just not falling prey to that oh-so-obvious name, in this case a nod to its massive craft beer selection. Another, more well-known 'wichcraft is both a cookbook and fast-casual chain from celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, which uses the term to refer to its craft sandwiches.
This Witchcraft does feature a few sandwiches on its menu and, as with all of Bridge's concepts, they're anything but plain turkey or roast beef. The God Save the Queen is both a nod to the restaurant's rock memorabilia theme and an Anglophile's dream: With candied ham and a runny fried egg on top of piggy-sweet baked beans, it's the amped-up Texas version of that British snack favorite, beans on toast. The White Girl (which I'm assuming/hoping wasn't named after the U.S.D.A. hip-hop track), meanwhile, tones it down with a very accessible spin on chicken salad, perked up with fresh tarragon, crunchy walnuts and a few strips of maple bacon.
This is Witchcraft at its finest: Spanning two ends of a spectrum that appeals to two types of tastes. To sketch them out in broad, gender normative terms, they are "masculine" and "feminine" in their stereotypical preferences. Witchcraft offers food to feed both tastes. Hearty, heavy stuff for people of either gender who seek out big, beefy burgers and heaping plates of tenderloin champignon with roasted mushrooms, and lighter stuff for those who crave more delicate dishes like a watermelon and arugula salad with goat cheese or seared scallops over a bed of perfectly wilted spinach, with a jalapeño-bacon jam on top adding just enough heat and meat for emphasis.
In this way, it's a natural extension of sister restaurant Shepherd Park Draught House, right down to the excellent cooked-to-order burgers, weekend brunch specials, late-night hours and rock 'n' roll theme. But Witchcraft — which replaced Bridge's seven-year-old pan-Asian bistro, Dragon Bowl, when it opened in November after a three-week renovation — does distinguish itself from Shepherd Park Draught House in a few important ways.
The first, and most noticeable, is a far larger beer selection — as well as a handful of ciders and wines. Not only is the beer selection much larger than any other Delicious Concepts restaurant (which also includes Pink's Pizza and Lola under its umbrella), it offers growler fills in its own glassware — or whatever growler you happen to bring in. The constantly rotating selection offers craft beer from Houston and around the country, with seasonal specials that can be tough to find elsewhere. You can even order half-pints here — something I wish more places offered — the better to taste through all those beers with.
In the back, much of the original Dragon Bowl kitchen has been transformed into one of the finest tap rooms in town. Each keg has its own individual regulators and the lines for the 19 taps (one of which is nitro, or a nitrogen-pressurized pour, which recreates the old-school method of pouring or pumping beer straight out of a cask for a silky texture with a thick head and very little carbonation) are cleaned with inspiring regularity.
That said, Witchcraft is neither wholly craft beer bar nor wholly restaurant, but can be either or both depending on your needs. It's the clownfish of restaurants, with a simultaneous hermaphroditic quality to it that's refreshing and enjoyable. Witchcraft can cater to light or heavy appetites, beer and wine drinkers, vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Personally, the reason I find myself at Witchcraft most often is because I'm craving a burger and a beer. I keep coming away impressed with how well-executed the burgers are, the hand-formed patties always cooked to my requested medium-rare. The skin-on french fries, too, always come out well-cooked with just enough crunch at their long, spindly ends to make them quite addictive.
You can even get a veggie burger here, although my current favorite is the avocado burger, which I tried on my first visit. In place of cheese on that avocado burger, you'll find two ingredients so creamy and plush as to make cheese a moot point: buttery slices of avocado and a tangy, herb compound cream cheese.
Also impressive on that first visit was a shareable appetizer of "pop chops," lamb chops served lollipop-style, with tender chunks of apricot-glazed, medium-rare meat clinging to the ends of long, slender bones. As with the scallop appetizer I tried on a return visit, I ate all of the vegetables underneath — a line of ruby-hued roasted beets, in this case. There's no such thing as a wasted, boring garnish here.
All of the appetizers at Witchcraft are easily shared, in fact. Pot stickers full of spiced pork or lemongrass-tinged beef satay skewers make for excellent bar snacks of the variety I wish were found more often elsewhere. For something slightly heavier, the under-$10 flatbreads are attractive too. The veggie flatbread is topped with whichever vegetables the kitchen's using that day — ditto the meat flatbread — and both are topped with a drizzle of basil-garlic-infused olive oil.
The long bar which used to overlook the sushi chef's area at Dragon Bowl has been revamped at Witchcraft as the main seating area, and it works much better in this arrangement. From the bar and its comfortable stools, you can get a close look at the ever-changing line-up of tap handles and watch the two-man kitchen crew at work right in front of you. Bridge was there frequently when Witchcraft first opened, but the team now functions quite adroitly without him.
Other major renovations to the space include an expanded patio area, which is my second-favorite spot in the house. I do hope that Bridge eventually replaces the metal folding chairs currently in use, as they're not terribly comfortable and will be heat magnets this coming summer. For now, though, they'll do — and if you drink enough mimosas at brunch, you won't notice them after a while.
Brunch is another terrific time to hit Witchcraft. Between the cozy patio with a view into the sleepy, adjoining Heights neighborhood and the egalitarian menu where every brunch dish is $8, it's an easy pick for a day when you're still foggy from the night before — and you've got a few picky friends joining you.
In keeping with the God Save the Queen sandwich, there's a full English breakfast here during brunch (or at least an American version of the fry-up), but you can also choose from breakfast tacos filled with bacon and sausage or omelets filled with smoked pork and chipotle fromage blanc. A classic "two eggs any way" dish provides some of brunch's best items: poppyseed-studded sourdough toast that's both buttery and crispy at the same time, red skin potatoes fried up homestyle with plenty of bacon grease and thick rashers of crispy hickory-smoked bacon.
Whatever brunch dish you choose, I must recommend a candied pecan waffle for everyone to share. The sweet, eggy waffle is so good on its own, you may not even want to top it with butter or maple syrup (and you don't really need to, as it comes with a mound of fresh whipped cream on top). I do wish the maple syrup was served warm — a minor niggle — and that the "fresh fruit" cups that come with each brunch entree were composed of more than a single strawberry, four grapes and five blueberries. If you really need the fruit all that badly, however, I suggest a mimosa with fresh-squeezed orange juice or a bellini made with sweet, pulpy peach juice.
And if you're one of those happy weekend lushes who likes to Sunday Funday your afternoon away, Witchcraft is there to help you along. After a mimosa or two, you may notice the chalkboard beer list calling to you — or perhaps one of the tap handles. After all, that's how I ended up finding and trying a Pyramid beer I actually liked this past weekend.
I spied a waffle ice cream cone-shaped tap handle for the Seattle-based brewery and didn't even care what it was pouring — I just wanted to try it. I ended up trading out my bellini for the smooth, nitro-poured Weiss Cream. A cross between a wheat beer and a cream ale, the Weiss Cream boasted a Dreamsicle-like flavor with notes of orange zest and vanilla — the perfect brunch beer, all in all, and a surprising new favorite I wouldn't have found were it not for Witchcraft.
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