While we are certainly excited about their newest venture, Voodoo Queen, we revisited Evan Shannon and Brand Young's first baby, Moon Tower Inn, to remind ourselves just how great it is.
Here are 10 Reasons Why You Should Visit (or revisit) as well:
10. The Dogs
First and foremost are the dogs. Moon Tower's shtick is wild game, but it really isn't a shtick at all; these guys pump out some serious game dogs. Plump and meaty with over-the-top fillings, gourmet sausages such as the wild boar, filled with garlic, marsala and provolone, and the venison, cased with red wine and blueberries, will not disappoint. And if wieners aren't your thing, the burgers are just as fantastic. Oh, and their seasonal sides...ask for those, too.
9. The Crowd
Moon Tower Inn attracts an eclectic, unpretentious crowd — from tatted-up dudes with gauges to pretty young things knocking back weenies and beer, everyone's here to have a good time.
8. It's Bicycle-Friendly
Work up an appetite with a bike ride down the bayou and into the Second Ward. Then park your bike at the rack and load up on that sausage. You deserve it.
7. The Bathrooms
Bathrooms may be an odd choice for a reason to visit, but the guys have done a lot to revamp them this time around (bye-bye men's Porta Potty). Plus they make us laugh every time. Tacos unite!
6. The Tap Wall
Moon Tower Inn has truly stepped up its brew game. With a 66-tap wall housed inside a shipping container, MT proudly sits among the big boys as one of the top craft-beer spots in the city. Plus, they are now brewing on-site, with two three-and-a-half-barrel fermentation tanks to crank out fine house brews.
5. They Have Tons of Specials
As if their massive hot dogs and wall of beer weren't enough to get us there, Moon Tower offers tons of specials, such as dollar beer nights, BOGO burgers and the monthly growlers giveaway. Check their Twitter account (@bdaddymeatstacks) or Facebook page to follow the specials.
4. The Awesome Weekly Events
With horror-movie nights, all-you-can-eat crawfish boils, beer dinners and the occasional bonfire, Moon Tower really gives you that small-town, everybody's-family feel. That is, if your small town was the coolest and your family was made up of some of the weirdest, most fun people ever.
3. A Great Yard
You won't have any problems finding space out on Moon Tower's covered patio or in its giant, fantastic yard. There are plenty of long wooden picnic tables to fill with friends, pints and sausages. And don't worry, they still have room for wild games of horseshoes.
2. The Extras
The wild-game dogs already have tons of flavor packed in, but it's the topping choices that really throw these sausages over the top. Choose from add-ons such as feta cheese, sambal mayo, sliced jalapeños, creole mustard and beer kraut, or (and this is probably what you should do) just trust the kitchen. Tell them to dress it as they please, and 15 minutes later you'll be handed the most intricately topped, Picasso-like dog you've ever seen.
1. You'll Be a Hero Among Your Friends
Bringing newcomers to this East End gem is one of the quickest ways to up your Houston street cred and make you the hero of your crowd. After all, people don't forget who showed them their first Moon Tower weenie.
Christine Ha takes over MKT Bar for Her First Pop-Up Dinner
A successful farewell to summer.
Neither rain nor the Texas A&M versus Alabama football game could stop them from coming to Christine Ha's first pop-up dinner, titled "Episode One: A Farewell to Summer."
The season 3 MasterChef winner took over the kitchen at MKT Bar inside Phoenicia Specialty Foods on September 14. Word traveled quickly that the chef would be serving street-style dishes from her cookbook, the MasterChef competition and her family; anyone who wanted to taste Ha's food made sure he or she was at MKT Bar that day.
No table was left empty; in fact, additional tables and chairs were brought in to accommodate the crowd of people wanting to sample Ha's creations. She crafted the menu as an ode to the last week of summer, with street-food dishes utilizing season-appropriate ingredients.
In street food-style, each dish (excluding the dessert) was served in a paper basket. Ha created a green papaya salad inspired by her winning dish on MasterChef: Crisp, thin strips of green papaya were tossed with sweet beef jerky, crunchy jicama slices, candied peanuts, and a fermented shrimp and honey vinaigrette, all topped with two flaky, delicate prawn chips. If there was one item that embodied summer cuisine, this was it. The light, crisp, refreshing salad was the perfect start to Ha's dinner.
After only a few bites of the salad, you couldn't help digging into the chicken wings, which were prepared two ways. One batch was caramelized in fish sauce, which made the skin extra crispy, sweet and addicting. Ha also incorporated garlic, lime zest and mint to enhance the sweet fish sauce, and bird's-eye chile and cilantro to add a spicy kick. You can find this recipe in her cookbook, Recipes From My Home Kitchen.
The other chicken wings she coated in a spicy red-bean paste (which definitely helped distinguish the two kinds of wings) and vodka, caramel, garlic, apple cider vinegar and sesame seeds, making for one heck of a spicy wing.
The meal ended with a Thai-inspired dessert drink made with coconut milk, cream, lychee, longan, green grass jelly, palm seeds, jackfruit and coconut jelly. The top of the drink was only liquid, but once you dug your spoon down to the bottom, you could scoop out all the tropical fruits and jelly pieces. It was a welcome sweet refreshment after the spicy chicken wing.
Judging by the looks of satisfaction on the faces of diners, Ha's first pop-up dinner was a success, and the Houston community is even more excited about the prospect of the chef opening her own restaurant. If we're lucky, "Episode One" means there will be a sequel to this fine freshman outing before then.
Houston's Top 10 Wine Bars
Enjoy good vino and good food with good friends.
In an effort to make new friends and explore more of what this fine city has to offer, I've been venturing out to wine bars across town.
The last time we ranked wine bars was in 2011. Since then, some on that list have closed and newer ones have blossomed. So here's the list, updated for a new year and a new crop of wine aficionados. Cheers!
Honorable Mention: French Country Wines isn't a wine bar per se, but it hosts great tastings on Saturdays and imports some of the best wine in Houston.
10. Memorial Wine Cellar
Memorial doesn't have a kitchen that prepares fanciful dishes to pair with wine, but it does have a great selection of wines from all over the world. There's absolutely nothing wrong with not having a full restaurant at a wine bar, of course, and food trucks like GastroPunk do a great job of providing grub to the hungry masses. The wine prices are very reasonable, and owners Dwayne and Mary Harrison are always on the hunt for new and different products to stock. This is a small family business, and they aim to please. If there's something you want them to try to get, just ask. They'll be happy to oblige.
9. Sonoma Wine Bar
There's a distinct California theme to the wine lists here, but what else would you expect from a place named after one of the best wine-producing regions in the U.S.? Sonoma is a comfortable place to sit and sip surrounded by plush Persian rugs, modern woodwork and warm track lighting. The food menu is extensive and diverse, with great hand-rolled pizzas and a variety of French- and Italian-inspired dishes. The wine is very California-centric, but there are also some great European wines to be ordered by the glass and an even larger selection of bottles.
Its tagline is "Over 200 wines for $20 or less!" And as budget-conscious journalists, we love that. The wine list features bottles from all over the world, with an emphasis on California, but the food platters are all Texas. Choose from the Texan, the Houston, the Austin or the Lone Star, none of which are fancy, but all of which provide great sustenance to go along with a glass or three of wine. The laid-back but chic atmosphere makes this a great place to meet friends or even host a fancy event in the Founder's Room.
Wine-bar chain CRÚ prides itself on being unfussy and seeks to demystify wine for everyone from experts to newbies. The by-the-bottle list is 21 pages long and offers wines from all over the world at a variety of price points. CRÚ tends to have a great selection of European wines available by the glass, and even though it's a chain, the food menu changes seasonally to reflect availability. It's a trendy joint, so you'll find plenty of young professionals stopping by for a drink after work. A note for gentlemen: Many say it's a great place to pick up chicks. While I can neither confirm nor deny this, I can say it's a great spot to get happy-hour drinks and appetizers.
6. Absolve Wine Lounge
This small wine bar is quirky, with large reproductions of famous Baroque and Pre-Raphaelite paintings in gilded frames adorning the dark purple walls. The by-the-glass list features 21 wines (the bottle list has many more), but it's a diverse one with something that will appeal to everyone. On Monday nights, you can get half-price wine by the glass, and the food menu is lengthy without being overwhelming. I mainly love Absolve for the decor, though, which is wonderfully funky.
5. Vine Wine Room
The wine selection at Vine is handpicked by the owner, Joe Rippey, who likes to focus on small-production boutique wineries. The food menu is simple, featuring tasting plates, sandwiches and a few pizzas, which are paired with a glass of wine every Thursday for only $10. The ambience is Old Word antique-y with a little country charm. Next door is Two Saints restaurant, co-owned by Rippey, so head to Vine and then wander into Two Saints to make an evening of it.
4. Vinoteca Poscol
We all know Marco Wiles's Italian food is simply fantastic, but pair that with some Old World wines and you've got a killer hangout. The wine list changes often, but the small tapas-style dinner offerings are consistently excellent, and the prices are very reasonable. It's a laid-back (albeit cramped) space that encourages you to relax and get to know your neighbors. The waiters are very knowledgeable about the wine list, so ask them for help in finding the perfect pairing.
3. The Tasting Room
The Tasting Room now has four locations across Houston in an ever-expanding effort to keep local wine drinkers satisfied. Its tagline is "A comfortable place to get serious about wine," and though the vino may be the real deal, there's nothing stuffy or overly "serious" about the place. It's a casual but sophisticated spot to indulge in wine by the glass served at decent prices and comfort food with a gourmet twist.
2. 13 Celsius
For the past several years, we've named 13 Celsius the Best Wine Bar in Houston, and for good reason. The bartenders here are among the best in town, and they're able to figure out exactly what customers who may not be well-versed in wine are seeking. As the name suggests, the offerings are stored at the ideal drinking temperature, and wine-based cocktails add some whimsy to the average glass of vino. On Sundays, all open bottles are discounted to make room for new stock, so you know you won't be drinking something that's beginning to oxidize. The small bites offered up to complement the wine aren't too shabby, either, and the rustic look of the revamped 1920s building in Midtown almost makes you feel like you're drinking in an old-school European dive.
The new kid on the block is quickly becoming an old favorite. It's the only example of a hip, New York-style wine bar in Houston, but it's devoid of pretension, as evidenced by the lack of complicated menu items and a wine list that's headed, "I just want a damn wine list." The list is divided by flavor profile rather than by type or country of origin, which makes it easy to find something "medium, spicy, earthy and potentially funny" if that's what you're looking for. The simple but high-quality food is part of what sets Camerata apart from other wine bars in town, many of which seek to pack too many concepts into one space. The elegant but streamlined decor in shades of gray makes the colors of the wine and food truly pop.
On the Menu
Succulent Samplers and Savory Pies
Gabby's proves Houston has good barbecue.
Thirty-five years ago, I was a twinkle in my mother's eye, and Gabby's BBQ had just begun serving up classic fare to hungry Houstonians. Three-and-a-half decades later, they are thriving and challenging daily that careless assertion I've heard more than once: "Houston has no good barbecue."
Gabby's is one of a handful of BBQ joints in H-town that easily disprove this claim, and while I will make no judgment as to whether they are this town's best purveyor of smoked and grilled meats, I will ardently insist that there are more than a few excellent items on their menu.
Start, for example, as I did, with the pulled-pork nachos. Unlike other, lazier establishments, Gabby's layers (key word) the toppings of cheese and meat among the exterior circle of corn tortilla chips, rather than simply dumping them on top. Cold toppings (sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole) are cleverly arranged in the interior center well. This technique produces a superior nacho-eating experience, for not only is every chip almost equally coated, but the partial separation of topping families prevents, say, the cheese from becoming prematurely cold or the sour cream from warming (ugh). And in case you're doubtful (as I was) of the quality of any sort of meat incorporated into nachos, Gabby's will pleasantly surprise you with its pulled pork, which holds its own in terms of seasoning and tenderness.
The terrific pulled pork on the nachos increased my excitement about the Texas sampler, a collection of three meats of my choosing (I went with brisket, ribs and sausage) plus two side dishes or a baked potato. The brisket left something to be desired in terms of active flavors, and I found myself leaning too heavily on the sauce for seasoning. (FYI, I am a "sauce" person when it comes to barbecue, but I believe it should only enhance the meat, not make up for its shortcomings.) Far better were the supple ribs and sausage, which projected a unique sweetness I haven't tasted in other links. No doubt some form of sugar is involved, but there's another savory element working alongside to produce a more subtle umami flavor. By the way, the sides at Gabby's (I tried the coleslaw and green beans) are fine and dandy, but I suggest declining your two choices in favor of the oversize buttered potato with cheese, chives and sour cream.
I couldn't fit much more in my stomach, but one of my dining companions insisted I try a bite of the "Texas BBQ pie," the restaurant's version of the classic Frito pie, created by one of the owners' daughters, Laurie, who has fond memories of a similar version she enjoyed during college. In addition to corn chips and shredded cheddar cheese, the Texas BBQ pie combines beans, barbecue sauce, onions and sliced jalapeños. After a few strong swirls of a spoon, the "pie" transforms into a buttery, crunchy, oozy confection that screams Lone Star State with every spoonful.
My weekday visit to Gabby's was rather quiet, punctuated only by my loud exclamations of satisfaction, but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights the place regularly hosts local bands. A little music, plus a happy hour beverage, and barbecue is suddenly quite boisterous. I can't wait to check it out.
Openings and Closings
Farmers' market returns, taco takeover & more.
It was a slow week for openings and closings. Let's take a quick look at which restaurants closed before we dive into the openings.
Hollister on Washington suddenly closed after being open for a brief six months. Owner Chuck Pritchett says the BYOB concept wasn't enough to attract new customers for the restaurant to compete with neighbors including El Tiempo and Coppa. CultureMap's Eric Sandler reports that the original Spring Branch location is still open.
CultureMap reported last week that La Fendee Mediterranean Grill on Westheimer announced it will soon be closing. And before La Fendee even has time to shut its doors for good, Jeff Roeske of Tacos a Go-Go already has plans to open a third Tacos a Go-Go where the Mediterranean eatery currently resides. We aren't sure when the switcheroo will take place, but with all the changes happening on lower Westheimer, as noted by Eater, it will be interesting to see how Tacos a Go-Go does in its newest location.
Speaking of switcheroos, Executive Chef Philippe Schmit has left his namesake restaurant after just two years at Philippe Restaurant + Lounge. Thanks to a statement from the restaurant's general manager, Dallas Easterly, we know that Chef de Cuisine Manuel Pucha will take over as executive chef. He has worked with Schmit for 15 years, as reported by CultureMap's Eric Sandler. Now the question is, when will the restaurant's name be changed?
Eater reports that Aaron Webster, owner of the Highland Village Tasti D-Lite, has decided to close the frozen-yogurt shop and open a completely new concept, Drexel House, in October. Webster will serve pizza, soups, salads, wines and desserts at Drexel House.
That's it for this week's closings and disappointing news. Here are the openings.
We reported two weeks ago that Fielding's Wood Grill opened in The Woodlands; B4-U-Eat says in its weekly newsletter that the restaurant stated serving breakfast on September 23. The menu includes bombelini, freshly baked muffins and gluten-free options.
City Hall Farmers Market is finally back after being closed during the summer. Now that the fall season is just around the corner, it's time to stock up on in-season produce and prepared goods from a variety of vendors. This year's market is open every Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., and eight new vendors are ready for your business.
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It's always interesting when ice cream parlors open at the end of the summer, but ice cream is good any time of the year, especially in Houston. B4-U-Eat's newsletter states that SnowBlock Shavery opened in Rice Village last week. SnowBlock offers a variety of cool desserts, like shaved ice, ribbon ice cream, snow ice and regular ice cream. Even though we're transitioning into fall, it still feels like summer.
B4-U-Eat also reports that Conroe Coffee opened in downtown Conroe (what would give you that idea?) on September 18. It's a typical coffee shop that serves all the classics and a few specialty items with catchy and cute names, including the Polar Bear (Ghirardelli chocolate, frosted peppermint syrup, espresso, steamed milk and crushed peppermint) and the Milky Way (espresso, steamed milk, chocolate syrup, caramel, whipped cream and chocolate shavings). Conroe Coffee also serves bagels, cinnamon rolls, scones, croissants and seasonal desserts.
We thought Worhals Midtown would open on September 5, but, alas, they did not. The bar did open on September 19. Eater reports that Worhals Midtown will be open for regular hours beginning on this week.
In brick-and-mortar news, Brooks' Place BBQ posted on Facebook two weeks ago that the barbecue trailer is opening a permanent location at 17045 FM 529, just a mile down the road from its current location. Judging from the reactions and comments of the trailer's Facebook followers, it's safe to say that everyone is excited about the expansion into a permanent location. Construction should begin soon, and Trent Brooks has high hopes for opening in a couple of months, as reported by Sandler on CultureMap. Thankfully, the trailer isn't going anywhere; it will be used as the pit behind the brick-and-mortar.