Where to Brunch in the Washington Corridor
In Houston, we're pretty serious about our brunch. Whether it be migas and breakfast tacos or chicken and waffles and loaded Bloody Marys, we have no shortage of awesome spots to get our brunch on. Keeping later hours and killer cocktails in mind, we'll be taking a look at some of our favorite spots around town.
This week, we're moving near Washington Avenue, where we'll find bacon, bacon and more bacon with the occasional jalapeño thrown in for good measure.
Note: For purposes of this article, the Washington Corridor is defined as the strip of Washington running from Westcott to Houston Avenue, with a few blocks north or south on either side.
Honorable Mention: Federal American Grill for its $15 bottomless mimosas andWinston's On Washington because dogs like brunch, too.
5. TQLA Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
We love a lot of things about TQLA. We love the bold, vibrant atmosphere. We love that you can build your own vodka Bloody Mary or make it a "Maria" with tequila. We love that said tequila is on tap. And we love that it's totally acceptable to get a margarita for brunch because the margarita has house-made jalapeño jam and jam is brunchy.
Finally, we love that you can start the day with chips and slow-burning salsa and finish it with the XXL gordito cinnamon rolls, blue corn pancakes and fiery carne asada. Love really is a burning thing.
4. BRC Gastropub Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2:30ish p.m.
Warning: Bring your appetite to this cheeky neighborhood hot spot. More is more here, and the plates come bigger than Mickey Rourke's freakishly large head. Start with cheddar biscuits and bacon jam, then dive into a sourdough brisket and egg grilled cheese, some cream-gravy-smothered fried chicken, or a stack of fluffy and decadent buttermilk pancakes with double cream, berries and real maple syrup. And don't forget to wash it all down with $10 pitchers of mimosa and sangria.
3. Benjy's on Washington Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This chic, open and airy restaurant may be less "clubby" than its Rice Village counterpart, but the party's still popping every weekend during brunch. Come with friends and start with bright balsamic brussels sprouts and house-made biscuits and gravy, then dig into nut-crusted challah French toast, shrimp and cheddar grits, or even a bright mahi-mahi salad. Tack on some bottomless fresh-squeezed mintade or, if you're feeling boozy, a champagne mojito.
2. Beaver's Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
You can't not love a place where you can get a bacon- and sugar-salt-rimmed Bloody Mary complete with house-infused bacon vodka and a candied-bacon adornment. The fact that the laid-back, kitschy icehouse also serves killer food — including house-cured duck pastrami, freshly fried beignets, cornmeal-crusted oyster nachos and a breakfast plate that's actually called the "Walk of Shame" — only makes things that much better.
1. Max's Wine Dive Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Max's Wine Dive has Friday brunch. We repeat, Max's Wine Dive. Friday brunch.
It truly is a beautiful thing when you can start your weekend a day early. Especially when it's with what is one of the most awesomely crafted brunch menus in Houston. We can't get enough of their infamous truffled fried egg sandwich, decadent banana Nutella crepes or our favorite, the "Jake's Cakes And Wings." The three golden and griddled corncakes are studded with bits of corn and jalapeño and served with masterfully fried, buttermilk-soaked chicken wings and a saucer of maple syrup. It just doesn't get better. That is, until you add on a $25 bottle of champagne alongside carafes of orange or grapefruit juice.
On the Menu
A Look at Lillo & Ella
Kevin Naderi talks about his new restaurant.
Kevin Naderi has had a couple of big days recently.
The chef of Roost not only opened his second restaurant, Lillo & Ella, on May 19, but also braved the television game-show circuit, appearing on the May 25 episode of the Food Network's Guy's Grocery Games.
He came in second on the show — "I was the winner in my parents' eyes," he says, laughing. "That's all that counts." — but where the restaurant is concerned, things are going great. After officially opening to the public on May 20, Lillo & Ella has been drawing large dinner crowds and a slow but steady lunch clientele.
"If you look around here, everybody's busy at lunch, but it does take some time to build up your name," Naderi says. "My biggest challenge is getting people to spend an extra $2 at lunch instead of wanting to go to the more affordable joints around here."
Based on my recent lunch at Lillo & Ella, though, I'd say it's worth it.
Roost, Naderi's first restaurant, on Fairview in Montrose, has never had a lunch service. It's purely a dinner spot, and it does great serving that one meal a day. But it's smaller than Lillo & Ella in the Heights, which can seat 160 when it's completely full — inside, at the bar and on the patio. Because of its bigger size and vastly different menu, Lillo & Ella has been an adjustment for Naderi.
"It's hard," he admits. "I mean, Roost kind of runs itself. My staff there really cares about what they do, and they've been there a long time. They know that it's a consistent, steady and good paycheck, so they put a lot of effort in. Here it's just a bigger beast. It's like going from owning a Chihuahua to a Great Dane. It's just more to deal with."
Naderi is proud that the restaurant opened with a full menu, rather than holding a soft opening and gradually rolling out items. There are 22 items on the dinner menu and a little more than half that on the lunch menu. Soon Naderi plans to get back in the kitchen and start creating specials to feature daily and weekly, because the menu won't change as frequently as that at Roost, which is more seasonal.
The food at Lillo & Ella is also a bit of a departure for Naderi. Roost has always featured an amalgamation of different cultural influences — from French to Middle Eastern — but Lillo & Ella is firmly Asian-inspired. Naderi calls it "pan-Asian," referring to the fact that the cuisine spans the Asian continent.
"It's just based around things that I like to eat and things that I think are lacking in the area," Naderi says. "Granted, I'd said some stuff about how there was no Asian food in this area, but there is. There's Hughie's. I really like that place. And I didn't really do anything that steps on their toes. It's just fun stuff."
There are Vietnamese wings, Chinese grilled quail, thai muu noodles, Korean fried chicken, and some more continental offerings like calamari and melon with chile salt and lime.
The calamari is one of the best squid dishes I've had in a while. I told Naderi I didn't really want it, but he brought it anyway, and I found myself very glad he insisted. Crunchy, bite-size pieces of squid are fried and topped with-crisp fried glass noodles, chunks of pineapple, cherry tomatoes, red peppers and toasted cashews, then it's all drizzled in a bright, acidic miso dressing that made me want to lick the plate. (I refrained, for the record.)
Thai muu noodles are like typical stir-fried flat noodles, only instead of chunks of meat, this dish features ground pork and chiles. I used the condiments on the table — Sriracha and soy sauce, not salt and pepper — to spice up the dish just a little more.
For groups, Naderi recommends sharing a plate of bao, chinese buns filled with your choice of fried chicken, grilled fish, braised bacon or grilled squash. Order the bacon, and never look back.
Naderi hopes to start brunch service at Lillo & Ella in a few weeks, though he's not yet sure what exactly a pan-Asian brunch might entail.
"For sure, I want to do a really fun version of congee," he says. "We could do a breakfast banh mi or plays on stuff like that."
I suggest a congee bar, like the traditional Bloody Mary bar at so many brunch spots. Only instead of vodka and tomato juice, you have rice porridge and any number of different toppings. If that ends up on the menu, you can thank me.
For now, though, you can thank Naderi for spicing up Garden Oaks and the Heights a little bit. Sure, there's already some Asian food in the area. But does anyone else have Nutella pie on the menu?
Yeah. I didn't think so.
A Taste of Paris
The 10 best macarons in Houston.
We've written about macarons, noted their rising popularity over cupcakes, and suggested them as holiday treats or gifts for friends and family. But we have never ranked the ten best macarons in Houston.
Our great city has a multitude of shops selling the French cookies, and it's no secret why they're appearing everywhere. Macarons are made from almond flour, egg whites and sugar; once they're baked and cooled, a thin spread of ganache, buttercream, fruit jams or preserves is sandwiched between two cookies of the same size. Macarons take much skill and practice to create. But when they're done right, the result is magnificent.
People travel all the way to Paris just to try the macarons at Ladurée, one of the most popular patisseries in the world. Over the past few years, America has embraced the macaron craze and brought the French treat across the ocean. To help you find the best of the best in the Bayou City, here are the ten best macaron shops in Houston.
10. Petite Sweets
It's slightly ironic that the macarons at Petite Sweets are a bit bigger than most of the other treats in the display case. But you don't see us complaining about the larger portions. The macarons come in a variety of vibrant, bright colors just as all of Petite Sweets' desserts do. Don't expect to find standard French macaron flavors like lavender and rose, though. This West Alabama bakery stocks its shelves with American flavors: s'mores, mint chocolate chip, chocolate peanut butter, red velvet cake and cotton candy. Just a warning: You might get an overwhelming rush of sugar with one bite, but that's a good thing.
9. Foody's Gourmet
You know the macarons are popular at this store when there are only three flavors left at 5 o'clock on a weekday. Foody's Gourmet is a French bakery specializing in classic Parisian pastries and desserts. While the French baguettes, strawberry tarts and napoleons are tempting, don't leave without a macaron. The first thing you'll notice is the excellent "feet" (the ruffled circumference) on each cookie, so you know it's well-crafted. Once you bite into it, you discover the soft, fluffy interior, which melts in your mouth. The hazelnut macaron (one of the best flavors) is topped with a hazelnut powder and filled with a smooth cream similar to a caramel spread.
8. Maison Burdisso
It sucks when you can get incredible macarons only twice a week. Maison Burdisso sets up shop at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market at Eastside on Saturdays and the Rice University Farmers Market on Tuesdays. The Parisian macaron vendor always brings a wide range of exotic and classic flavors. Purchase a traditional vanilla bean almond sandwich cookie and a not-so-typical bananas foster macaron at the same time. No matter which flavor you get, the pastry will be sweet and chewy, just as a macaron should be.
7. Ganache Dessert Bar
If you ate a macaron at Ganache Dessert Bar without looking at the treat or knowing its flavor, your taste buds could easily tell you what it is. Pastry chef Michael Jones has perfected the transformation of common and distinct flavors like green tea and cafe sua da into a French delicacy. Kaitlin Steinberg ranked Ganache Dessert Bar's macarons No. 57 on her list of favorite dishes in 2013, saying, "Every single one of the dozens of macarons I've tried at Ganache is 1. Beautiful; 2. Delicious; and 3. Structurally Sound."
6. Bite Macarons
Bite Macarons opened on Buffalo Speedway less than a year ago, and its bright and beautiful macarons have attracted many customers to the store. The cookies are not bite-size but are presented in a rainbow of colors contrasting with the fluorescent white display case. Owner and executive pastry chef Sandia Horng has dedicated much time and effort to creating her macarons, and it is evident with each tender, sweet bite of her masterpieces.
5. Dolce Delights
It's tempting to purchase every type of macaron at Dolce Delights. Do yourself a favor and choose fruity flavors along with one or two "adventurous" ones. The classic rose and tart lemon poppyseed macarons are simple and sweet, while flavors like bourbon bacon maple and mint chocolate chip skirt the edge on modern interpretations.
4. Common Bond
Sure, it's been open for only a few weeks, but Common Bond is successfully showing Houston its baking skills, especially with its macarons. The fluffy shells crumble with one bite, revealing the sticky, soft interior underneath — and that's before you get to the filling, which is smooth and luscious. Be adventurous and try the PB&J macaron or the citrus orange variety.
3. Fluff Bake Bar
Unfortunately, there isn't yet a Fluff Bake Bar storefront where you can purchase any of Becky Masson's sinfully sweet creations, but fortunately, you can get her macarons (as well as those amazing Fluffernutters) at Revival Market. In Fluff Bake Bar style, the flavors are not your standard French offerings; Masson adds her own touch. If you love tart and sweet treats, then choose the green apple macaron. If you can't keep your hands off your grandfather's Werther's caramels, then purchase a few of her Werther's Caramel macarons complete with a smooth filling reminiscent of the dulce de leche in alfajores.
2. Oui Desserts
"Oui" think Oui Desserts is making a name for itself as one of the best French patisseries in town. Oui opened in February inside the same Kirby shopping center that houses Fat Bao and Luna Pizzeria. As soon as you step inside, you're overwhelmed by the scent of cooked sugar, baked bread and coffee. Alongside key lime tarts, gluten-free walnut brownies and beautiful brioche rolls, you will find itsy-bitsy macarons a little larger than a dollar coin. The strawberry cookie sandwich contains not only a whipped filling, but also tiny strawberry chunks, creating a refreshing treat. Hazelnut macarons are filled with a flawless spread of Nutella, and although the pistachio cookies are not bright green, they taste exactly like the nut. Pair any of these mini treats with a cup of Illy coffee.
1. Macaron by Patisse
Sukaina Rajani is the co-owner of Macaron by Patisse, Houston's original macaron shop and the best place to buy the French almond cookie sandwiches. Her cute store features more than 20 macaron flavors in its display cases. Classic options such as rose, vanilla and pistachio sit beside exotic flavors such as cookies 'n' cream, tiramisu, and the ever-popular fig and goat cheese. Your taste buds are instantly hit with the sweet fig cookie, then as you chew the soft filling, you discover the savory cheese — a daring combination that works.
Openings & Closings
Lucky Burger says goodbye
Swamplot broke the news that Lucky Burger at 1601 Richmond closed on May31. Now that the burger joint's lease is up, the restaurant has turned off the lights after 40 years of operation. But if you want to take home a piece of the restaurant, especially if Lucky's was a memorable spot to grab a cheeseburger, then you can buy some of the tables, chairs, cookware and equipment, if items are still available.
CultureMap Houston's Eric Sandler reports that The State Bar & Lounge at 909 Texas held its last service on May 31. A manager told Sandler that the bar was closing but did not reveal the reason.
The Café Express at 3200 Kirby closed on May 29. The chain released a flyer explaining that the Kirby location had closed "due to site development." This Café Express has been serving customers since 1987, but that has come to an end. Fortunately, there are other locations around town for you to get your sandwich, salad and burger fixes.
Remember when John Kiely asked La Fresca Pizza to become a chain? Well, the local pizza shop has opened its second location, at 6603 Kirby. Fans of the thin-crust pizza with super-fresh toppings can now grab a slice in Meyerland and inside the Loop.
Just in time for summer, Gelazzi opened at 3601 White Oak, just behind Revival Market, on May 18. While you can satisfy your sweet tooth and cool down from the rising temperatures outside with gelato, you can also sit down to a flatbread or panini and a cold beer or glass of wine for lunch or dinner once the restaurant receives its TABC license.
Hop Scholar Ale House held its soft opening on May 23. This dive bar at 610 Rayford in Spring serves craft beers from Southern Star, Karbach, Buffalo Bayou, Saint Arnold, B-52 and many more.
The Vintage Park shopping center has welcomed many new restaurants over the past several months, and Donafe's Café is the latest addition. Donafe's, located at 126 Vintage Park, Suite F, serves pastries (savory and sweet), sandwiches and drinks inspired by the cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago. It opened on May 23 next to Facón Brazilian Restaurant, another recent newcomer to the shopping center.
Bandito's Taco Grill opened in Rosenberg at 503 FM 2977 the weekend of May 24. Bandito's serves a variety of breakfast tacos filled with steak, egg, potato, chorizo, beans and cheese, as well as specialty tacos for lunch and dinner. How about a Santo taco with slow-braised shredded beef brisket, grilled onions, jalapeños, cilantro, avocado and cheese? Or the Bonnie & Clyde with blackened seasoned grilled tilapia, slaw, cilantro, pineapple, mango and creamy chipotle sauce?
Siphon Coffee is finally open. The sign on the marquee has changed from "Coming Soon" to "We Are Open." Along with siphon-made coffee concoctions, this new coffee spot on West Alabama serves up savory items such as breakfast tacos as well as empanadas filled with chicken, beef or potato. Kaitlin Steinberg chose the finocchiona sandwich as her No. 93 favorite dish. It's a panini filled with Italian fennel salami made with ground pork and pork fat (finocchiona), melted scamorza cheese, giardiniera tapenade and roasted red bell pepper strips.
VERTS seems to be multiplying locations almost as fast as Dunkin' Donuts — well, not quite that fast, but the fourth location opened in Cypress at 25626 Northwest Freeway on May 24. Now you can get a döner kebap in Cypress.
If you're just looking for a regular sandwich, then head to the newest Subway, at 4807 San Jacinto. It opened on May 30.
Two new frozen-yogurt shops opened two weeks ago.Zoyo Frozen Yogurt opened in League City at 2456 FM 2094 on May 21. Sweet Frog opened in Oak Forest/Garden Oaks at 1210 West 43rd on May 23.
Another Torchy's Tacos is headed to Houston — actually Katy. The new location will open at 23501 Cinco Ranch Boulevard on June 12. Get to this Torchy's between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. for free tacos. But if you miss out on that deal, you'll always be able to get happy hour discounts and beers from Saint Arnold, Karbach and the area's own No Label Brewing Company.
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