Granita at Agora
Granita at Agora

Keep Cool and Caffeinated

TOP 10

August is nearly here, and the summer ain't getting any cooler. But at least your coffee can.

I'm not the type of person who can make it through a morning without getting caffeinated, but it requires a special kind of fortitude to grimly chug a few cups of hot coffee when beads of sweat are already rolling down your back at 9 a.m. — and you haven't left the house yet.

You can, of course, purchase cold-brewed coffee concentrate and make your own iced coffee at home (which is something I recommend for the hardcore coffee drinker). But if you're in the custom of stopping by a coffee shop on the way into work for your morning joe, then try one of these cooler drinks instead.

10. Cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) at QueHuong

You can get a Vietnamese iced coffee at nearly any Vietnamese restaurant in town. But I like Que Huong for the wide array of other excellent Vietnamese dishes (nearly 350 on the menu at last count) that you can get along with your coffee — many of which are perfect for summer, too, such as the tempura soft-shell crab and light, tangy jellyfish salad.

9. Vanilla iced coffee at McDonald's

There is no shame in this game. McDonald's makes a very respectable iced coffee that's even better when you have them throw a little vanilla syrup into the mix. It's inexpensive, it's not terrible for you and the ingredient list is short and contains instantly identifiable things like milk and espresso.

8. Granita at Agora

This is more an espresso milkshake than anything else, but what a milkshake it is. Imagine a Starbucks Frappuccino that was actually good — that's a granita at Agora. It comes topped with whipped cream and floats on a layer of chocolate syrup. I like to mix it all together for a decadently sweet and creamy treat that I can't help but indulge in at least once a summer.

7. Cafe sua da milkshake at The Burger Guys

This is the sole milkshake entry on the list (not counting the milkshake-like granita at Agora), but it deserves a spot both for being highly caffeinated and for improving upon the traditional Vietnamese iced coffee — something we never thought was possible. Pro tip: Order this at lunch and dip your duck fat fries into it. Your arteries may not thank me, but your stomach will.

6. Iced Mayan mocha latte at Dirk's

The "Mayan" mocha at Dirk's is a welcome twist on the standard mocha latte, giving the coffee the flavor of bittersweet chocolate that finishes clean and doesn't come off as cloying. If regular mochas are far too sweet for you, try a Mayan mocha instead.

5. Honey bear iced latte at Catalina Coffee

This isn't technically called a "honey bear latte," but it makes the kids at Catalina laugh when you order it that way. If you don't like your super-serious baristas cracking a smile every now and then, you can order it by its regular name: iced latte with honey. Either way, it's a simple and refreshing treat in the hot weather from a place whose hot coffee is usually too good to pass up.

4. Iced cajeta latte at Antidote

Antidote is already renowned for its cajeta latte, made with a goat's milk dulce de leche that gives your standard latte a nutty, caramel-sweet depth. But you can also get it iced, which is my number one recommendation for anyone getting caffeinated at Antidote during the summer.

3. 24-hour cold brewed coffee at Inversion

This is exactly what it sounds like: coffee that's been cold-brewed over a 24-hour period by being allowed to steep slowly in cool water, making for an intensely complex and flavorful iced coffee — without any sugar or cream added. If you're watching your diet but craving something sweet and rich...Inversion's 24-hour cold brewed coffee is your ticket.

2. Iced coffee at Revival Market

Revival Market's coffee is so damn good on its own, I hate to add any sugar to it. The coffee is naturally sweet thanks to the roasting processes used by the local roasters like Amaya that Revival stocks, and a hot espresso drink like flat white on its own is perfect just as it is — no sugar added. The same is true for its iced coffee. Stunning in both its richness and simplicity, this coffee doesn't need anything besides a straw.

1. Iced mocha toddy at Boomtown

The "toddy" in this coffee's name doesn't refer to alcohol (alas), but rather to the brewing method: Toddy is a trademarked cold-brewing system in which coarsely ground beans are steeped in cold water for at least 12 hours. The resulting coffee is caramel-sweet and even better when mixed with a bit of chocolate, cream and sugar at Boomtown. Surprisingly, this is a light-tasting drink despite its heavy-sounding ingredients.


Yellow Rose of Tomball, Texas
Area's first legal bourbon distillery set to launch soon.

Master distiller Troy Smith points to a few sacks of corn on the floor of the small warehouse that houses Yellow Rose Distillery in a quiet, residential area just north of Tomball. "We use organic corn from North Texas," he says. "And we grind it all by hand."

That corn is the most important ingredient in the bourbon that he and partner Ryan Baird are distilling here. Important because unlike most bourbons — and especially the Kentucky sour mash bourbons most Americans are used to — this whiskey is made entirely from corn. A small amount of barley, only 1 percent of the entire recipe, is added to encourage natural enzymes to develop in the bourbon before it's fermented for four days, separated in a curvy copper still and then aged in small oak barrels for four to six months.

What's equally intriguing about the steam-powered still that Smith and Baird run is that it's the first legal bourbon distillery in the Houston area. And that's just how the two partners planned it.

Smith was a homebrewer and winemaker who experimented in his garage; Baird lived next door and was finishing a graduate degree at Rice University. Their wives were friends. They were good neighbors to each other. Except that Smith kept good-naturedly harassing Baird for years to go into business together.

"He'd be waiting in the driveway for me when I got home every night," chuckled Baird, standing in the barrel aging room of the small distillery. It's carefully climate-controlled, kept at an 80-degree temperature that encourages the bourbon to develop a sweet flavor.

"The oak comes through too heavy when it's any hotter," Baird explained. The result is a viscous, honey-sweet whiskey that finishes surprisingly lean and clean — and not at all like most other bourbons, thanks to its sweet corn mash.

Clearly, Smith's badgering paid off: The pair's Yellow Rose Distillery is a product of two years of careful planning, obtaining licenses and searching for real estate. "There's not a lot of places that will let you make alcohol," Baird pointed out. But before any of that could be accomplished, Baird and Smith had to decide what to make. Bourbon wasn't always the plan.

Instead, the two men wanted to capture a market segment that hadn't yet been pioneered in Houston. While there are bourbon distilleries in other areas of Texas, there wasn't one anywhere near Houston, nor were there any planned. Smith and Baird consulted their friends and business partners, who all told them to jump on the idea. Even their wives encouraged them — and their little copper still — to go full steam ahead.

Now their signature product — Outlaw Bourbon — is just a few short months away from hitting the market. Spec's has already arranged to purchase 20 barrels a month; that's 20 percent of the distillery's entire output each month. The liquor store plans to stock the bourbon everywhere from its downtown Smith Street hub to stores in The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Kingwood and — of course — Tomball.

Smith and Baird still live in the area and are still neighbors, and would have preferred to open their distillery in Tomball proper. But local regulations prevent them from operating anywhere near the city limits, so the pair have set their sights on Houston. Within a year or two, they hope to have relocated into the heart of the city and hope to be making far more than just 100 barrels of bourbon a month. At both its current location and the future location, Yellow Rose will be offering tours of the facility and — of course — tastings.

For now, though, Baird and Smith are just trying to get their grand opening under way. Reserve 101 will be the first bar to stock Outlaw Bourbon and will host the release party in September. And after that, the team plans to keep tackling the emerging American whiskey market with their trademark vigor and insight.

"Rye whiskey," says Baird, who aims to start making batches in October. "There's a huge market for rye whiskey right now." By ­Katharine Shilcutt


Every Kitchen Needs One
The top five kitchen appliances

When I walk into Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, it's hard for me not to want to buy everything I see. Especially those silly gadgets like the whipped cream canister...I have to remind myself that even though it's super cool, it's a waste of money.

There are some kitchen appliances that may seem too expensive or a waste of space, but every kitchen needs them. Here is my top-five list of kitchen appliances you should invest in.

5. Spice and Nut Grinder

With a spice grinder, you can grind spices, nuts and other seasonings you would like to reduce to a fine powder. Whether you're making a spice rub for fish or chicken, need to grind your black peppercorns to season any dish or you need to add nuts or spice to whatever you're baking, a spice grinder will save you time and will get the job done. Taking spices or nuts in their pure form and grinding them yourself just tastes so much better, and it allows you to be more creative when combining seasonings — who knows, you could come up with your own recipe for an outstanding spice rub.

4. Mandoline

Mandolines can be quite intimidating and scary to use if you've never used one before, but once you do, you'll figure the technique out fairly quickly. With a mandoline, you can cut and slice vegetables and fruits extremely fast. Making a scalloped potato dish is a breeze with a mandoline; all you have to do is hold the flat surface of a whole potato on the mandoline, slide up and down and you'll create perfectly symmetrical slices. Most mandolines come with several blades to make different cuts, like julienne, waffle and other shapes. The prices range anywhere from $15 to $250, so if you're an avid chopper, buy the one with the most blades and the best quality.

3. KitchenAid Stand Mixer

I never actually appreciated the stand mixer until I left for college and quickly realized baking was quite difficult without it. This appliance offers endless possibilities when you're baking or cooking. With low to high speeds, it allows you to easily incorporate a cake mix or whip egg whites to stiff peaks. If you love to make pizza dough, buy add-on attachments to blend dough in the mixing bowl. There are even attachments you can use to make ice cream. Although KitchenAid stand mixers are expensive, they will last many years — my mom has had the same stand mixer since before I was born, and it still works perfectly. They also come in many cute colors!

2. Immersion Blender

If you're making a sauce or a soup, or you're emulsifying a vinaigrette, the immersion blender is your best friend. They're easy to store, so they won't take up too much space, and they come in handy when you need a powerful appliance to do the work for you. One of my favorite uses for an immersion blender is to thicken my tomato soup by pureeing the tomatoes — I can use the immersion blender in the soup pot and don't have to transport my soup to another bowl and then transfer it back to the pot. Because immersion blenders are small, they can be used in smaller dishes to quickly whip egg whites, blend oil and vinegar, and make your own condiments. If you usually cook for two or just yourself, an immersion blender is a handy tool to have in the kitchen.

1. Food Processor

You'd be surprised what a food processor can do for you. There's no need to chop ingredients before you add them to the appliance. I love using my food processor to make pesto or a sauce that uses a lot of ingredients that take a lot of time to chop, a.k.a. garlic and herbs. Recently I made macaroni and cheese and instead of killing my arm by grating eight ounces of cheese, I stuck the cheese into the food processor and voilà! — my cheese was perfectly grated, and it took five seconds instead of 15 minutes. Seriously, a food processor is a necessary appliance in every kitchen. You don't have to buy the jumbo food processors; the small four-cup appliances will do the trick, and they take up less space. By Molly Dunn


Hope for Houston
Monica Pope dishes on what she has in store for her transformed t'afia.

You've heard of burning your boats. But what about burning your apron? It's this striking visual that is currently greeting visitors to the Web site for t'afia, chef Monica Pope's acclaimed restaurant, where Pope is determined to start anew once again. Right now, however, t'afia is closed for its annual two-week summer break. When it reopens on August 14, a brand-new restaurant will be in its place.

"It's been an interesting summer," laughed Pope over the phone when I called her to ask what her plans were for the revamped restaurant. "A lot of what I'm trying to do is just reinvent myself and recommit to what I'm trying to do personally and professionally in a world that has changed a lot in the last 20 years since I started."

Pope has been reflective lately, perhaps more so than usual.

She's working on a memoir entitled Eating Hope, and she'll be turning 50 this year. In the last two decades, she's helped transform Houston's culinary landscape by encouraging deeper relationships with local farmers and food producers, helping engineer bigger and better farmers' markets around town, volunteering with food education and outreach programs such as Recipe For Success and raising the city's national profile by appearing on TV shows such as Top Chef Masters. She even offered free cooking classes through her Green Plum School on a weekly basis.

It doesn't seem like it's been five years since Pope was nominated for a James Beard Award for her work at t'afia. Nor does it seem that long since she was cooking at Boulevard Bistrot or Quilted Toque. Time has flown for Pope, too.

"It just blows me away in talking to people," she said. "Re-engaging and realizing, wow, 20 years ago...where I was at, where Houston was at, where restaurants were at."

"Boulevard Bistrot, Quilted Toque and t'afia are interesting expressions of where I was at," she continued. And now? "It's a new chapter. They say it's Monica 2.0, but it feels like Monica 6.0. It's about what gets me excited, and I need that excitement."

Excitement for Pope comes in the form of one important word: hope. On the t'afia Web site beneath that photo of her burning apron is the Latin saying Dum spiro spero: While I breathe, I hope.

"I've been trying to answer myself lately," Pope explained. "What does give me hope? What makes me hopeful? It's what we all have to ask ourselves."

What makes her hopeful are organizations like Recipe For Success, where an ongoing dialog about food is transforming the way young people eat — as well as the way they think about food as community.

"Food is the language of family," Pope said. "Real, good food," she emphasized. And feeding her family — her community — is what's important to her now. She's coy, however, about how the new t'afia will go about doing this.

"Other artists get to do a new album with a new tone, feel, sound that's where they're at now," she said. "It's really hard in the restaurant business to reflect that because you put so much time and effort and money into a concept and hope to God it makes it." Pope is coy, she explained, because she doesn't want the public to view the transformed t'afia as her attempt to jump on the "brand-new" bandwagon that's rolling through town as Houston's dining scene continues to thrive and grow.

At the same time, Pope is as excited for Houston's current culinary direction as she is about her legacy in those new restaurants and her own new beginnings.

"All of what is happening here is all this great conversation," she said of the transforming culinary scene, which is now supporting places such as local produce-heavy restaurants and Gulf bycatch once viewed as trash fish. "The fact that Justin can come in here and do Oxheart and make a restaurant like that — I feel a part of that because it's something I've helped cultivate."

Our current culinary climate is "not something to be taken lightly," she emphasized. "This is an interesting time in Houston. The fact that Uchi decided to come here from Austin...Not that we need to be like Austin," she quickly noted, "but the fact that we can draw something like that into our scene is really fantastic."

As hopeful as Pope is about Houston's prospects for the future, she's equally hopeful that more talented chefs and food purveyors will be drawn back home to help with the ongoing transformation of the city, in the same way that chefs like Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan left New York City for the Bayou City.

"We are Houston people," she said. "We have come back to do what we do here — not in Brooklyn, not in San Francisco." It's a sentiment that grows stronger with every passing day.

"This is our home; we love Houston. We are all demanding in our own ways to be noticed and to get credit for being pretty darn cool."

And although Pope is no longer the new kid on the block herself, that doesn't stop her from being hopeful about her own future here in Houston.

"I have the benefit of 20 years of a lot of interesting experiences and challenges — and I've still got an interesting journey ahead of me that I'm really excited about." By Katharine Shilcutt


News for Nabi and a Taste of Brooklyn in Houston

It's true: t'afia is closed.

It's also true that our beloved Nabi is on the chopping block, as owner Ji Kang confirmed to Eater Houston. However, just because Kang is looking to leave Nabi, it doesn't mean that Nabi in its current incarnation won't continue on in some capacity — nor that Austin-born Kang is leaving Houston. Instead, sources tell us that Kang has something even more exciting up his sleeve to come.

CultureMap reported that Zimm's Little Deck — which had looked dreadfully quiet as of late, and lost its chef, Jeramie Robison, last year — finally closed. In its place will be Brooklyn Athletic Club, a new venture from Shepard Ross of Glass Wall. CultureMap's Sarah Rufca writes of the new spot: "Ross describes the concept as a 'really cool leisure spot' that will have a turn-of-the-century leisure club vibe mixed with casual riffs on classic food and drinks." We're just glad to see someone doing something with those bocce-ball courts.

In other closures, the Chronicle reported that downtown steakhouse Strip House closed its doors after being locked out by its landlord. No word yet on what restaurant, if any, will take its spot.

Finally, two big changes have taken place at two popular eateries: BRC Gastropub has hired a new head chef to replace Jeff Axline, who left in late 2010 (owner Lance Fegen has been holding down the kitchen in the interim). New chef Chandler Rothbard joins BRC from The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Rothbard studied at the CIA in Hyde Park and served for three years in the U.S. Army.

And over at Revival Market, there are three new additions to the team: Carlos Meltzer has been named general manager, Adam Dorris has been named the chef de cuisine and Andrew Vaserfirer has returned after an absence to oversee the store's charcuterie program. Vaserfirer — who originally worked with the Revival Market meat team in 2011 — is fresh from a stint in Chicago, where he staged at L2O, Blackbird and Publican Quality Meats. Dorris was most recently the chef de cuisine at Stella Sola and is noted for his well-attended Ghetto Dinners at Grand Prize Bar. By Katharine Shilcutt


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