Local Foods True to Its Name

The roast beef sandwich isn't just a quick lunch — it's an experience.
Troy Fields

Have a look inside Local Foods' beautiful open kitchen with our slideshow.

Although it's a deli in every sense of the word, there is no such thing as a plain, boring roast beef, deli-style sandwich at Local Foods, the new Rice Village restaurant from the owners of benjy's.

Sure, you'll get spicy horseradish on that roast beef sandwich in the form of a tangy aioli. But you'll also get some of Local Foods' crunchy kale salad for your greens as well as a thick layer of curried cauliflower that elevates the entire sandwich from "quick lunch" to "experience." Ditto the egg salad sandwich, which takes boring boiled eggs and lights them up with the light musk of truffles under the sharp and salty bite of Parmesan cheese on a pretzel bun.

All of the sandwiches come with a choice of two generous scoops of freshly made sides like couscous with carrots and pickled vegetables or a bowl of soup (lately, it's been a melon gazpacho with a garlicky zip that I've been ordering), all of which are more exciting offerings than a traditional bag of chips — and which make the price tags on these sandwich package deals quite affordable.

The pretzel buns come from the ovens of local baker Slow Dough Bread Co., and they epitomize most of Local Foods' offerings: They're all-local when possible — whether it's cheese from Pola, produce from Atkinson Farms, seafood from Texas Wild Gulf Shrimp or meat from Black Hill Ranch — or otherwise Texan. The short-and-sweet wine list features only a handful of choices — most of them from the best vineyards in the state — Duchman, Becker, McPherson and Pedernales among them. And they're correspondingly pricey, but that's usually what's called for when sourcing the best ingredients and products for your restaurant (and the mark-up is relatively slim, all things considered).

Aside from just wine, you can also find local beers on tap from breweries like Buffalo Bayou, Karbach and Southern Star. If you don't drink, try the Houston-made root beer from 8th Wonder Brewery or the upcoming summer soda that Local Foods has commissioned from them. And if you happen to like the products that went into your meal, you can buy them there — wine, pretzel rolls, even some of that hard-to-find cane-sugar Dr ­Pepper.

But these aren't the only reasons I find myself eagerly anticipating each visit to Local Foods, opening its purposefully heavy front doors while walking across the timeworn tiles that once marked the entrance to Antone's.

Just as much affection for Local Foods is reserved for its overall feel, a sort of hybrid between its big-sister restaurant next door and the Antone's it replaced. It's a mod and highly modern deli, its design an expression of the space's roots and the exuberant aesthetic blend of mid-century design gone futuristic and minimalist: Exposed large-scale brick and duct work are offset by effortlessly chic whites, blues, greens and deeply saturated yellows in pop art tones, all of it congregating under a tall, sky-lit ceiling that makes the place seem larger than it really is.

Oversize booths in shiny cerulean next to pub-style tables that glow a bright, glistening polycarbonate white sit here; rustic wooden tables alongside olive-green banquettes huddle there. A huge neon sign proclaims both the restaurant's name and its motto — Local! — against geometric wall art of clean white rectangles. A deli case holds jewel-toned kale salads and beet slaws in front of a guilelessly open and furiously busy kitchen ringed by aluminum buckets full of Texas wine, displays of locally made chocolate and desserts, and taps flowing forth with Houston beer.

All of these things combine to make Local Foods one of my favorite new restaurants to open in Houston recently. Unlike the terribly decayed Antone's that preceded it, Local Foods is a highly useful spot for not just lunch but dinner. Lines at lunch can be quite long (although they move quickly), and tables can be hard to come by unless you're willing to brave the patio during the brutally hot summer. At lunch, I typically find myself getting my sandwiches to go and grabbing a few sides from the deli case for dinner: ratatouille with thick cuts of squash, zucchini and tomatoes over orzo, or perhaps an Asian-inspired coleslaw with purple cabbage and edamame in a bright lemongrass vinaigrette.

At dinner, you can order off the menu — which is blissfully simple, featuring a few sandwiches, two soups, a handful of salads and sides — or you can usually choose from one of the two dinner entrées that the kitchen has whipped up that night. It's not something that Local Foods advertises, and I think I'm glad of that; the dining room is usually much quieter in the evenings and perfect for catching up with friends over a few glasses of wine or a cocktail.

On a recent evening, the two entrée selections included lamb kebabs over Israeli couscous and kale with a sour dollop of yogurt on the side and a partially deconstructed, produce-packed veggie lasagna, both of which came with a choice of salad or soup. My dining companion and I relished them both — especially the subtly spiced and nicely cooked, slightly pink lamb — along with a glass of Duchman Sangiovese and a copper-colored pint of Buffalo Bayou 1836, a beer named after the date of Houston's founding (and the original name of the Houston Dynamo).

Another dinner there saw my boyfriend and me blissing out over an enormous arugula salad topped with huge handfuls of shrimp, honey-glazed pecans and cranberries under a lemon-thyme vinaigrette, a bowl of rich posole brimming with chicken, green chiles and hominy and that aforementioned roast beef sandwich — itself big enough that he remarked in awe, "I didn't think a sandwich for dinner was going to be enough, but..." before trailing off and admitting defeat.

But if you do go at lunch, prepare for not only the hassle of a long line of well-dressed folks who typically look like they just wandered off the set of a Vampire Weekend music video (the more to make you suddenly regretful of your all-Target wardrobe) and limited seating, but the second-worst parking lot in Houston (right behind the pothole-ridden nightmare that swallows cars whole outside Hobbit Cafe).

If I could write an open letter to the landlords who manage the parking lot that serves not only Local Foods but also benjy's and Kelvin Arms, it would consist almost entirely of expletives and the repeated question: "Why did you paint the stripes so close together that only Vespas and subcompact cars can fit in your parking spaces?" I can't address enough how much this parking lot sucks. Ride a bicycle if you must. Or find a friend who drives a Fiat, because that and Smart Cars are about the only things you can reliably park there.

On the other hand, the fact that I will brave that awful parking lot is a testament to Local Foods and its bounty of delicious offerings. Nearly anything is worth going through to get at that Gulf shrimp and blue crab sandwich with green goddess dressing, or that house-smoked salmon with onion jam and garden-fresh greens on a chewy poppyseed bagel.

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Local Foods

2424 Dunstan Road
Houston, TX 77005


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