Hot Plate

Bread Bowls Aweigh
The bread-bowl invasion is upon us, courtesy of the Houston Bread Company's new location in the Rice Village. There they are busy ripping out the innards of sourdough or French rounds so they can fill them with soups and salads. Is this a good idea or just another cute packaging ploy? I'm leaning toward the latter.

Maybe I'd feel more sanguine about the bread-bowl concept if the HBC kitchen were gifted in the soup department. Alas, their cream of broccoli suffered from a split personality: celadon-tinted cream interspersed with big hunks of vegetable does not an integrated soup make. Gumbo of no particular distinction soaked right into its bready home -- and into the substantial bread hunks that swam throughout. The end result was more like a solid stew than a soup.

Only the French onion soup, with a costs-you-extra mantle of Swiss cheese, made for a reasonably happy effect. Simple and sturdy and unsubtle, rife with big flaps of onion, it rested easy in its sourdough shell. Dismantling the crusty, emphatically sour bowl seemed like the natural thing to do; the fat topknot of sourdough that came along with it, jack-o'-lantern style, would have been more welcome had it not dried out at the edges.

Salad, I am sorry to say, has even less business in a bread bowl than soup does. HBC's pleasant-enough (if overly mild-mannered) Caesar was hard to get at inside its French-bread sphere. Its dressing left the bread bowl limp and sodden. The crust shattered apart in unappealingly dry shards. Not copacetic.

Sadly, the HBC kitchen in general is not copacetic. The focaccia pizzas are strangely inert. The chicken salad is dismayingly sweet. The cafe latte is weak. So why go? For good nine-grain and sourdough loaves to take home. And for the juice bar, where the tropical "Fab Five" smoothie is a delight, the "Citrus Apple Tart" smoothie wonderfully bracing and the "Celery Dance" juice a mysteriously subtle cocktail of beet, celery and apple, crowned with splendidly lurid pink froth.

--Alison Cook

Houston Bread Company, 2365 Rice Boulevard, 526-5891.


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