I don't know about you, but I can easily hole up in a coffee shop, start writing (and by that I mean scouring Facebook and watching cat videos on YouTube) and not realize until three hours later that I haven't moved or refilled my cup. But coffee-shop owners, it seems, are noticing.
I've read a number of recent articles detailing the measures taken by coffee shops around the country to ensure that "laptop hobos" aren't taking up space that could be used by paying customers. As early as August 2011, some New York City Starbucks locations began covering outlets so people could partake of free Wi-Fi only as long as their batteries lasted. A Denver shop called Wooden Spoon recently stopped offering free Wi-Fi and banned laptops and cell phones altogether. Some businesses are taking an even more passive-aggressive route, changing the Wi-Fi password every two hours or placing an automatic time limit on Internet access so you have to buy something else if you want to continue to use the free service.
I talked to a few Houston coffee shops to see what the baristas thought about "laptop hobos," and the responses from employees of Agora, Blacksmith and Antidote were surprisingly pro-technology. All agreed that the use of free Wi-Fi on laptops and tablets was generally not an issue.
"The only time it's egregious is when they don't buy anything," one of Antidote's coffee gurus told me. "It's okay if you buy the cheapest thing and stay as long as you want. But I have kicked people out for not buying anything."
Fair enough. With that in mind, and after talking to some customers as well, I came up with this list of coffee-shop etiquette tips. And no, I didn't write it while drinking one cup of tea for three hours at Starbucks. Not this time, at least.
5. One chair per butt.
Yes, that is a nice laptop case. And I bet you spent more money on that purse than I do on my rent. They're both lovely. Now put them on the floor. No matter how empty a place is, it's rude to take up an extra chair for your belongings. It's especially inconsiderate in a busy place with little seating such as Blacksmith and most Starbucks locations. Don't be a table hog, either. If it's just you and your laptop at a giant table, don't fill it up with papers and plates and empty mugs. It's not your personal desk. Make it clear that someone else can sit there too by keeping your clutter to a minimum.
I don't care how funny that guy inhaling cinnamon is. I don't want to hear him hacking. I also don't want to hear the theme song for last night's episode of Dexter or listen to your grandma tell you what she had for lunch. Coffee shops are a gathering place, so feel free to talk. Any sound that comes out of your computer or tablet, though, should be funneled through headphones.
3. Clean up after yourself.
I know, I know, waiters and waitresses get paid to clean up after you, right? Well, sometimes. If all you've had is a cup of coffee and a roll, it's pretty easy for you to take your mug and plate back up to the counter so a barista doesn't have to bus your table. This is especially true if there's a designated spot for dirty dishes. Also remember to put chairs and tables back where you found them if you had to move them for any reason.
2. Share bandwidth.
Don't download huge files or stream movies for hours. It uses a lot of bandwidth that should be shared among everyone. And if you're just watching movies, maybe go home. But if you know you'll need to download a large file, try to do that at home or at work before you get to a coffee shop so as not to slow down the Internet for everyone else. I realize that sometimes people work in coffee shops because the Internet at their house or workplace is down. I suppose in that case it might be okay. Just don't make a habit of it.
1. For the love of God, buy something!
Most places don't seem to care what you buy, but it's pretty much a rule that there's no such thing as "free Wi-Fi" (unless you mooch it off your neighbor, but that's definitely something I know nothing about...). Many articles about coffee-shop etiquette online maintain that it's common courtesy to buy something new every 90 minutes to two hours. Oddly, in this case the shop employees didn't agree, but the customers I talked to did. At Blacksmith, they said folks can stay as long as they want to if they've bought something to eat or drink. Agora concurred. The customers I talked to said they'd probably feel guilty (or at least get hungry) if they continued to work for hours without purchasing something else. With good, honest citizens like these, perhaps Houston shops won't have to resort to covering outlets.
On the Menu
In-Season Menu at Lucille's
Sidecars and summer fare.
Fall was the last time I visited Lucille's, where I enjoyed some terrific oyster sliders and a warm plate of shrimp and grits. In the months that followed, Houston grew much colder, then warmer, then, oddly, a bit cooler, then searingly hot. Lucille's likewise has experienced its own ups and downs, not so much in terms of temperature but in regard to public reception. After its much anticipated opening, the restaurant received early accolades for its upscale Southern food, but criticism regarding slow service and inconsistent preparation grew. "What's the deal?" Katharine Shilcutt asked Lucille's a few weeks before Christmas, noting among other sins its lackluster chili biscuits and "wooden chairs that look rescued from a restaurant which closed in 1998."
I didn't much notice the chairs during my most recent visit one a weekend night in mid-July, but I did take note of some other things, beginning with a Sidecar cocktail served in the unconventional "on the rocks" fashion. I wrinkled my nose; I usually prefer (or am used to) my Sidecars straight up. But Lucille's was onto something with the inclusion of a few large ice cubes, which did little to mar the perfect balance of liquors and ensured that each sip was equally frosty.
My friends and I did start with a few orders of the biscuits, which were warm, flaky and imbued with sweet, spicy chili. They were very good, though I'll admit I enjoyed even more the skillet of sweet cornbread, whose almost cake-like texture received additional moisture from an errant pat of butter. I briefly considered ordering an additional pan to take home for dessert and replacing the butter with a scoop of maple walnut ice cream. But that thought was the type of overly ambitious musing that occurs early in the meal when you've had one cocktail and you're just starting your journey to satiation. When I ordered the Backyard Tomato Salad, I offered to share it with my companions. When it arrived, I wanted to rescind that proposal. The colorful collection of small to medium-size cherry red, scarlet, rose and green tomatoes was dressed in light herbal vinaigrette made pleasantly richer by the interspersed bits of bacon and blue cheese. I did claim for myself one of the crostini, which proved surprisingly useful in scooping up the more slippery tomato halves.
The arrival of our entrées meant that unfortunately I had to stop picking at the salad, but I wasn't sad for too long once I started extracting every last bit of battered juicy meat from the monstrous chicken pieces placed in front of me. Lucille's doesn't serve the best fried chicken I've ever had (that honor goes to a Korean place in DC), but it definitely deserves to be placed on the list of go-to spots for fried fowl in Houston for its wonderfully textured, crisp coating that just verges on greasy (and I don't mean that in the pejorative sense). A side of collard greens was soft and well-seasoned, and the hoppin' john was nothing but plump black-eyed peas and moist white rice. Earthy, simple and sure, I think, to bring you luck if consumed on the first of the year.
Despite being significantly distracted by very good food and conversation, we did notice our server's relative slowness in refilling drinks and taking our dinner orders. The restaurant was crowded and he was understandably harried; I think whatever gaps in service we experienced can easily be remedied by tweaking the staffing on busier nights. And while the cocktail list is creative and comprehensive, the beer selection, as my husband pointed out, is confined to a few bottled varieties. Just adding one or two options on tap would secure the affections of a wider range of drinkers.
If you've been deliberating whether you should try Lucille's for the first time, the answer is an easy "yes" lest you miss out on some very solid and occasionally artful Southern food. If you're wondering, however, whether you should go back to Lucille's, the answer is not just "yes" but "yes, soon." Summer will not last forever, and while I'm sure the cornbread, tomato salad and fried chicken will be prepared equally well in the cooler season, I think they taste just about perfect right now.
On the Menu
Crave's Gone Healthy
Gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free cupcakes.
If there's any dessert in the world that can bring a smile to someone's face, it's a cupcake.
Unfortunately, a lot of people can't eat certain sweet treats for various reasons, whether they're watching their sugar intake, are on a vegan diet or are gluten-intolerant.
Crave has added several cupcakes using alternative ingredients. We got to try some of their new cupcake flavors last week. These alternate versions are available at no extra charge every day of the week at both Houston locations.
Of the three healthier cupcakes, the gluten-free was the fan favorite. Crave has created a dark chocolate gluten-free cake with a dark chocolate buttercream frosting topped with chocolate sprinkles and one with a vanilla bean frosting with chocolate sprinkles. Both these flavors are also available as Crave Minis.
Surprisingly (given our newsroom), the vegan cupcakes were well-received as well. Crave has made a vegan red velvet cupcake with traditional Texas red cocoa cake and a non-dairy cream cheese frosting. The cake is made with vegetable oil instead of dairy and eggs and the frosting with soy-based tofu cream cheese. You can taste the alternative ingredients, but it's definitely not a turnoff. Crave has done an excellent job of creating the same tasty red velvet cake without dairy and eggs.
The sugar-free cupcake is the regular vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, both sweetened with maltitol. For a sugar-free cupcake, it's not half bad.
Whether you want to lower your sugar intake, follow your vegan diet or stay away from gluten, Crave wants you to know that now you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Bravo's 'Real Housewives' Create Food & Drink Products
Here are five you should try.
I hope the modifier "Bravo's" as well as the scare quotes around "real housewives" have sufficiently alerted you to the fact that this post is not about admirable culinary innovations made by normal Jane Schmo women who happen to work in the home. Nope. I'm referring to those mass-marketed foods and drinks created by the PR reps of the cray-cray cast members of The Real Housewives ( of Orange County, New York, New Jersey, etc.) reality shows. Some of them actually do manage to squeeze in some food entrepreneurialism in between throwing chairs at each other. Here are five of their products to try:
5. Fabulicious Cookbooks. One word (that's not even a word): INGREDIENTSES. And don't even get me started on the horrific portmanteau that is "fabulicious." Sigh. Teresa's parents certainly seem to know a thing or two about food (see the sausage-making episode). Let's hope maybe some of those skills are genetic.
4. Ramona Pinot Grigio. Talk about temerity. Despite often explicit requests to the contrary, Ramona Singer brought her own personal supply of pinot grigio to every single social event she attended on RHNY. So associated with mass consumption of this varietal and this varietal only, she scored her own product line. Now you too can get blotto on vino regardless of what anyone else is serving.
3. Lisa Vanderpump's Simply Divine. I didn't think it was quite fair to relegate Lisa Vanderpump's most well-known "food products," restaurants Sur and Villa Blanca, to this list because she and her husband started these legitimately successful businesses before the show. Capitalizing these ventures post-RHBH fame has, unsurprisingly, been easy for Vanderpump, who offers cute stories as well as tips and recipes for planning seasonal social events in this domestic entertainment guide.
2. Dolci Della Dea Cannoli Kit. Fans of RHNJ can finally re-create Kathy Wakile's scrumptious (supposedly) cannoli with this kit available for purchase on QVC. Although I am not a huge fan of cannoli, I would buy this product as a gesture of respect to Kathy, who, unlike some of the wives (Teresa, ahem), has more than a modicum of class.
1. SkinnyGirl. Love or hate Bethenny Frankel, you must recognize that at least she managed to turn a homemade light margarita into an international food and drink empire (well, with a little help from Beam Global). Her white cranberry cosmo is decent, but I found the original margarita to be lacking in lime flavor and, um, alcohol. Drink a whole bottle and you'll be neither skinny nor drunk.
Openings and Closings
Houston gets first Fresh Market; Food Network star coming soon.
Exciting news all around this week! In my hunt for openings and closings news, I found only one place closing its doors, but several new joints have opened in its wake. Hey, the more food, the merrier.
Champions Forest-area Ba Mien Bistro, which had been closed for two weeks to fix the air-conditioning in its sweltering kitchen, reopened July 18 with a new cooling system and a few other upgrades to the back of the house. Houstonia's Gastronaut reported that fans of the Vietnamese restaurant had taken to social media to lament the restaurant's brief shuttering, but they can once again complain about traffic and the weather because Ba Mien is back serving up its signature macarons and heavenly pho.
Also exciting was the July 17 debut of The Fresh Market, the first such location in Houston. According to Gastronaut, the grand-opening celebration offered a slew of free goodies that are similar to what one might find at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. The Fresh Market's first store opened at 2617 West Holcombe in what was formerly a Rice Epicurean location, and three more Fresh Markets are scheduled to open in other former Rice Epicurean spots later this summer. Look out for grand-opening celebrations on Wednesday, August 7, at 3745 Westheimer and Wednesday, August 21, at 5016 San Felipe.
Swamplot reports that two new bars have taken up residence and should be opening later this year. The former Broken Spoke Cafe at 1809 Washington, which was destroyed in a fire last year, will be turned into a bar called Caddy Shack. Broken Spoke's owner, Roy de la Garza, is not listed as a partner in the LLC that's set to open Caddy Shack.
Another new bar on the horizon is Little Dipper, which tweeted a photo of its new TABC license in the window of a space next to Goro and Gun downtown. Eater Houston reports that this upcoming bar is owned by the same people who own Antidote Coffee and the bar Poison Girl as well as Black Hole Coffee House. Little Dipper seems poised to be the alcoholic sister bar to Black Hole, as with Poison Girl and Antidote.
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SHOW ME HOW
B4-U-Eat's newsletter informs us that National chain BurgerFi opened its first Houston burger joint in The Woodlands last week. Though it's a chain, BurgerFi claims to be changing the way people think about the burger by focusing on all natural, grass-fed beef and environmentally sustainable business practices. That's all well and good, but we really want to know how its burgers are. Taste test coming soon.
Food Network Star runner-up Suzie Jimenez is moving to Houston to open an Indian/Latin American fusion restaurant in West Ave. The restaurant, called Trenza, will open in September and will feature appearances by other Food Network stars such as Guy Fieri. CultureMap reports that Jimenez has already created a tentative menu, which is up online. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Finally, we have uncovered vague news about one closing. According to B4-U-Eat's newsletter, Omaha SteakHouse at Sheraton Suites has closed, and a new restaurant called Sage will open in its place this fall.
If every week featured only one closing and several openings, I'd be one happy eater.