'I kind of stay away from pretentious food, but I try to bring something a little different to the table," Ben McPherson says before launching into an explanation of his reimagined hush puppy. It's more like abeignet than a dense ball of cornbread, but it retains the sense of the South that McPherson and his partner, Matt Wommack, have embraced.
The two chefs are the masterminds behind The Bull and the Pearl, a series of pop-ups and supper clubs that they hope to parlay into a restaurant sometime in the near future. They met while Wommack was at Goro & Gun and McPherson at Batanga, both part of the Market Square revival downtown. When they started talking about their goals, they realized their plans meshed nicely and set out to begin building a brand for an eventual restaurant.
For now, they're feeding hungry Houstonians at pop-ups, most recently at Paulie's and Good Dog, and monthly supper clubs featuring more upscale menus. Even the more upscale ones steer clear of "pretentious food," though. The most recent supper club meal, on April 15, had a seafood theme and featured dishes like red snapper crudo, gulf fisherman's stew and smoked pork rillettes with shrimp toast.
The "pearl" part of the duo's name refers to the seafood-heavy menu. And the "bull"? That's all steak.
"The restaurant that we're ultimately working toward will be steak and seafood," McPherson says. "Hence, The Bull and the Pearl."
He says the pop-ups are more indicative of what the food at the restaurant will be like, calling it more accessible than what's served at the supper clubs. The supper clubs are ticketed events, RSVP only, often held at locations other than restaurants. McPherson says more emphasis is placed on presentation at the supper clubs than at the pop-ups, but based on the most recent pop-up, at Paulie's, the restaurant will be serving some good-looking (and good-tasting) stuff, with a focus on local meat and produce.
On the menu was a dish called "biscuits and briskets" composed of smoked brisket and poached eggs atop flaky thyme and black pepper biscuits with green tomato jam. On the sweet side was the chicken and waffle plate with chicken that had been first smoked and then fried in a peppery batter, along with malted pecan waffles and vanilla syrup.
It's the kind of stick-to-your-ribs Southern food that McPherson grew up with. He was born and raised in the deep South. In spite of these Southern and coastal roots, though, McPherson says his style of cooking shies away from the heavy, fried gulf seafood with which many Houstonians are probably familiar.
"We want to ditch the whole french fry, dense hush puppy and boring coleslaw thing to make it more modern and more composed," McPherson says. "But we're still using ingredients people are used to from the Gulf Coast."
As for the steakhouse component, McPherson says the meat will involve smaller, lesser-known cuts, as opposed to Texas-size steaks, presented with less fanfare than many of us are used to.
Until they're able to find investors for the restaurant, though, McPherson and Wommack are continuing the series of pop-ups and supper clubs. There aren't any scheduled at the moment because the duo have been so busy with private catering and party gigs. But when the time comes for more dinners and eventually a new restaurant, McPherson is ready.
"The idea is a big, communal, lively, festive atmosphere," he says. "I'm not trying to re-create the wheel; I'm just trying to find a new wheel."
And damn, that new wheel looks good.
10 Best Summer Drinks
Quench your thirst and stay cool.
During the summer, we all want to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, but living in Texas, more specifically Houston, that length of time outside tends to shorten as we get closer to three-digit temperatures. Sure, water can help you stay hydrated and cool off your body, but so do other, tastier cold drinks, such as cocktails, teas and other fruity creations.
Have some fun in the kitchen this summer and whip together a few of these 10 best cold drinks.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Plain iced coffee is delicious, but Vietnamese iced coffee is even more special (and sweeter). You can use a heatproof container with a coffee filter to make one serving, or just brew a dark roast coffee as you normally would. If you're making a Vietnamese iced coffee for one, then steep two tablespoons of coffee grounds (dark roast) in two-thirds of a cup of boiling water for approximately four minutes, then pour the coffee through your filter into another heatproof glass. Next comes the best part: the sweetened condensed milk. It's not the best thing for a summer beach bod diet, but everything in moderation, right? For each serving, add two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk to one cup of coffee. Add ice cubes, and voilà! You have a cafe sua da.
Iced Sun Tea
The special part of the summer is the bright, smoldering, hot sun that is present just about every single day. While the sun makes it possible to cook an egg on the pavement, it can also make the best iced tea you've ever tasted. When I was growing up, my mother always placed a large glass jar outside filled with cold water and tea bags. She let it sit in the sun for about three hours, then placed it in the refrigerator. Even just plain black tea bags create an amazing, perfectly strong tea. Add mint leaves, lemons, peaches, mangoes, or any other fruit or herb after you brew the tea.
The best whiskey sour I have ever had was last summer at my fiancé's house. His father is great at making cocktails, and after I mentioned I had enjoyed a whiskey sour but wished it hadn't tasted so artificial, he decided to make one without the sweet and sour mix, instead using fresh fruit. Let me tell you, this is the way to go. With fresh orange juice, lemon juice, a little bit of sugar and bourbon, this whiskey sour became one of my absolute favorite mixed drinks. And it was "topped" with a cherry — a maraschino cherry, that is.
Ice Cream Float
Cool treats like ice cream are wonderful during the summer, but they're even better when mixed with soda. One of my favorite combinations is lime sherbet with ginger ale. But if the tart-sweet combo isn't your cup of tea, you can always stick to something classic like vanilla ice cream and root beer, or take a sweeter route and try this recipe from the blog Eat. Drink. Love. This blogger makes a strawberry syrup, then adds about a quarter cup of the cold syrup to a tall glass, followed by a couple of scoops of strawberry ice cream and club soda.
Now if you want your dessert and your cocktail at the same time, make a milkshake with a little something extra. Try making a salted caramel one with vanilla ice cream, milk, salt, caramel sauce, and bourbon or tequila, or make things tropical by re-creating Bobby Flay's Bananas Foster Milkshake with rum, bananas, caramel, cinnamon, milk and vanilla ice cream. Of course, the standard Baileys milkshake works as well; how about a chocolate milkshake spiked with Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur?
Be careful when drinking a tequila sunrise. The intense sweetness makes it easy to chug...especially if you drink it with a straw. But if you can sip on one of these tequila-based cocktails with orange juice and grenadine, or pomegranate juice instead of grenadine, then you should definitely make one this summer. The bright orange juice layered with the deep pink/purple pomegranate juice will make for a beautiful presentation, too.
Quench your thirst with this tart and sweet cocktail. A classic Paloma includes silver tequila, lime juice, grapefruit juice, sugar and club soda (some recipes suggest grapefruit soda instead of the juice and club soda). Combine all the ingredients except the soda in a cocktail shaker, then pour into a prepared highball glass with a salted rim garnished with a tart grapefruit slice. Topped with club soda (or grapefruit soda) and ice cubes, this fizzy, sweet and zippy drink is just what you need when lounging poolside.
Summer Fruit Sangria
Enjoy the flavors of the season by incorporating them into a sparkling white wine sangria with brandy. Take a whack at this recipe from Cooking Light magazine featuring cherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and nectarines. Combine these five fruits with brandy, and let the flavors blend for approximately two hours. Add apricot nectar and a bottle of your choice of sparkling wine, such as Prosecco or Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine. Red wine is a perfectly acceptable substitution.
If you can't get away to the Bahamas this summer, then bring the Bahamas to you by making a mint mojito. Muddle mint with lime juice and sugar, then add white rum and club soda. Garnish it with a few more sprigs of mint and a stick of sugar cane. As you sip on this refreshing drink, take a bite off the sugar cane stick.
If you're more of a beer lover, then create a beer-based cocktail such as Martha Stewart's easy Orange Shandy. Make your own simple syrup, then combine with orange zest and coriander seeds. After it cools, strain it and add to orange juice and lemon juice. Combine this spiced orangeade with a light beer, such as a pale lager, pale ale or ginger beer.
Julep Nears Opening
Alba Huerta talks Southern cocktail history.
'Who knew I could exercise so much patience?"
Alba Huerta laughed as she recounted the two-year process of getting her new Southern cocktail bar, Julep, from conception to opening. Well, almost opening. According to Huerta, we'll be sipping bourbon from beneath the shade of our wide-brimmed sun hats within the next three or four weeks.
Huerta is more than just an award-winning bartender from Anvil and The Pastry War, though. She's also quite the cocktail historian, as she's happy to prove whenever asked about the concept behind Julep.
"The julep was once medicine," Huerta says, explaining that the strong mint flavor would cover up the taste of harsh medicines. "Then it was a cocktail, and then a status symbol. It became important after the Civil War. The cost of ice was three times more than the cost of dairy, so if you could afford a julep filled with crushed ice, you'd made it."
Soon we'll all be able to feel like we've made it, too, when Julep opens at 1919 Washington. Huerta admits that the neighborhood isn't what it was when she acquired the space two years ago, but she's so pleased to open a lively bar in an area where the neighbors have embraced her and the concept. She says many people have asked about the location; most other businesses under the Clumsy Butcher restaurant group umbrella are either downtown or in Montrose.
It turns out the space for Julep was secured even before Clumsy Butcher started extending its reach downtown with The Pastry War, so Huerta frequently has to defend the Washington Corridor as a hip spot for a new bar.
"I really liked the neighborhood, and the people who live there are really wonderful," Huerta says. "It fit the concept well. I felt like I wanted it to be a neighborhood bar more than anything else. And I think the neighborhood will really welcome it. Downtown wasn't an option at the time, but it turned out for the best. The layout of the space and the type of building — there aren't a lot of spaces like that in Houston."
Befitting Clumsy Butcher's ideals about historic spaces, the building that will house Julep was a uniform factory when it was constructed in the 1880s. Now, according to a press release, "Alba's feminine touch is prevalent with lace curtains, light colors, large windows and other textures. The center bar with a copper bar top complements the Southern cabinetry behind it." And, most important, "There's a large porch in the back, perfect for sipping a julep or a Champagne cocktail."
To create the signature juleps and other cocktails on the menu, Huerta turned to vintage Ladies' Home Journals, where she found recipes for drinks even she wasn't completely familiar with, like a cherry bounce. This ingredient can trace its roots all the way back to Martha Washington, but a more recent recipe in Ladies' Home Journal and Southern cookbooks called for cherries to be soaked in bourbon, rum or cognac, then allowed to rot and ferment, imbuing the liquor with a sour-cherry flavor.
Huerta's favorite drink on the menu is the Embers of Paradise, a julep made with the spices you might find in a classic Christmas Tom & Jerry punch. Burnt cinnamon, allspice and cloves are added to a mixture of rum, applejack and falernum, then combined with the mint and simple syrup, which are necessary for a drink to be called a julep. Huerta says this drink has a nice, smoky flavor that you don't often find in a julep.
Of course, no Southern cocktail bar would be complete without some Southern food, but Huerta's interpretation of that is different from the usual grits and barbecue and fried-chicken sensibility. She notes that throughout most of the 19th century, ice was the greatest symbol of wealth in the South. Juleps indicated a drinker was well-to-do thanks to the large quantity of ice served in a silver cup, but seafood was also a telltale sign of affluence.
The kitchen will be run by Adam Garcia, formerly of Revival Market and The Pass & Provisions, who will create "raw options of every sort — oysters; razor clams; mussels, and a classic, decadent caviar service."
As for Huerta, well, she's just as excited as the rest of us for Julep to finally open. She's looking forward to introducing Houston to her carefully crafted cocktail menu at last.
"Every single drink is the same way — we really thought about it," Huerta says. "I mean, I had two years to think about it!"
Once it opens (we'll let you know as soon as we know), Julep's hours will be 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week.
Openings & Closings
Crapitto's closes after 19 years; Kevin Naderi opens Lillo & Ella.
After nearly two decades of service, Crapitto's Cucina Italiana was due to close on May 24 thanks to a construction project in River Oaks. The Italian restaurant shared the disappointing news on Facebook, saying that the last supper would be held on that date. Other establishments located around Crapitto's are set to be torn down as well.
Kevin Naderi's Lillo & Ella opened on May 20 at 2307 Ella Boulevard. Naderi's new concept has taken over the space that previously housed El Gran Malo and is open for lunch and dinner, serving a multitude of Pan-Asian street-food dishes. Choose from items such as basil flat-iron beef with steamed rice and baby spinach, and blue crab fried rice for lunch, or feast on tuna tartare with shrimp chips, yogurt and curry shrimp skewers, and cane sugar and black pepper rib eye for dinner.
Common Bond is now officially open. The highly anticipated bakery and cafe from pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel is located at 1706 Westheimer. CultureMap Houston reports that customers can choose from a selection of sweet and savory items such as sandwiches, biscuits with bacon gravy, croissants and sticky buns.
Sal y Pimienta is now open in CityCentre at 818 Town & Country Boulevard, Suite 105. The new South American restaurant recently held its grand opening and shared the news on its Facebook page. In a statement, owner and restaurateur Gianfranco Percovich says Sal y Pimienta will serve a variety of products (fish, meat and produce) from all over the world — pair any dish with one of the outstanding South American wines.
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After Ace Chinese Restaurant in The Woodlands closed, the space at 4775 West Panther Creek, Suite 490, was transformed into The Republic Grille. This new addition to The Woodlands serves down-home Texas food such as shrimp and grits with pecan-smoked bacon and andouille sausage, chicken-fried steak and peach cobbler — H-Town Chow Down noted that the CFC was one of its favorite dishes. Currently The Republic Grille serves only lunch and dinner, but a lineup of breakfast options will become available in late June.
BB's Cafe has opened a location at 6154 Westheimer in Briargrove. Hank On Food checked out the newest BB's and gave everything he tasted a grade of A+ or A. Just as the other locations do, this BB's Cafe serves up delightful po-boys and finger-licking-good Tex-Cajun Virgin, fries smothered in queso, gravy and roast beef.
As beach-goers head to Galveston for summer vacations or weekend getaways, they'll soon have a new bar/restaurant to visit along the Seawall. Longboard Pool Bar is set to open at 1702 Seawall Boulevard on Friday, May 30, as reported by Eater Houston. The new establishment comes from Dennis Byrd, owner of The Spot, Tiki Bar, SideYard and RumShack.
Another Salata opened on May 22 at 9050 West Sam Houston Parkway North. That opening marks the salad-bar chain's 18th Houston location — ten more Salatas are set to open in Texas this year.