When Black’s Market Table serves up ribs, they’re serious about it. The sheer quantity is an eye-opener. Three big chunks cut with three ribs each are carefully stacked up on a plate. Each is tender, smoky and tattooed with criss-cross grill marks and glistens under a thin, bright sheen of house-made barbecue sauce. It comes with a choice of side. We selected seasonal squash and zucchini as a counterpoint, which brightened the plate in vibrant, summery hues of yellow and green.
Black’s Market Table, with its warmly lit patio, twinkles at night like a beacon on a dark section of Louetta Road. The address is in Houston, but it’s just barely outside of Cypress. Spotting the glimmering little place feels like finding an inn at the end of a long journey. Inside, it’s like a rustic country café, but in an upper scale motif. The emphasis is on natural wood and individual seating, not laminate and vinyl covered benches.
The design is a good reflection of the type of food Black’s Market Table serves: Southern classics elevated to more elegant presentations with modern French techniques. They’re calling it “Rustic New American” fare, and that’s a pretty legitimate description.
Black’s is named for its chef, Bart Black. According to its web site, his past work includes being executive chef at Houston Oaks Country Club and head of culinary activities for The Houstonian. His wife, Rachele Black, also works there and had a seven-year tenure herself at The Houstonian as a sales manager. She also has a hand in developing the dishes along with pastry and sous chef Aimee Gunter, whom the couple snagged when Ganache Dessert Bar closed. Gunter previously attended Le Cordon Bleu, where she earned a culinary degree, and her past gigs also include Houston Country Club.
At some restaurants, diners have to look upon “specials” with a bit of suspicion, since that’s often code for “We had leftovers and we had to figure out some creative way to get rid of them.” At Black’s it’s the exact opposite. Here, “specials” means “We got some really awesome meat at a great price and found a way to showcase it.”
It’s always a good idea to check the chalkboard of specials hanging on the wall near the front door. (One minor complaint: It would be nice if the restaurant would actually print those out and bring them to the table so once you’re seated you don’t have to get up again to read them.) There are usually four from which to choose and much variety among them. On one recent evening, Black’s posted barbecued duck, grilled flank steak, cobia fish and a grilled pork chop.
We chose the duck. What we ended up with was one of the best duck dishes in the greater Houston area. The only one of recent note that might be slightly better is the Hunter’s Honey Roasted Duck at Brennan’s of Houston, a Louisiana-meets-China marriage of Peking duck with a gorgeous, slightly sweet mahogany skin and crawfish fried rice.
However, the Black’s rendition could sit proudly on the same table. A confit leg and thigh quarter is glazed with Cherry Coke, while the breast is seasoned with a thick crust of dry rub. The top crust on the fatty side of the breast is simply amazing. It’s seared quickly at a very hot temperature until it becomes taut and crackling. Alongside are sweet-potato cubes fried to golden brown and a slaw of finely shaved Brussels sprouts that helps capture the combined runoff of the jus and the warm, sweet glaze.
There are delights to be found among the appetizers as well. Deviled eggs, a classically homespun snack enjoying a rampant culinary revival, become something special here. Black’s tops them with a crispy battered oyster and a tiny piece of bacon juts out of the yolky filling like a ship’s sail. Dabbed on top of it all is a Creole-seasoned rémoulade. Black’s uses medium-size eggs, which makes it feasible to consume the egg and accoutrements all in one bite — although there’s nothing wrong with taking two and stretching out the enjoyment as long as possible.
The rugged, house-made potato chips piled high on a platter alongside a big dish of cheesy, warm dip infused with bits of kale and dotted with silken nubs and chunks of pale lump crab proved to be another terrific starter. This close cousin of the more familiar spinach and artichoke dip was so flavorful and velvety that it was a challenge to exercise restraint and save room for the main courses.
All that glory aside, Black’s is entirely capable of having an off night or serving a dish it has not nailed down yet. Considering how beloved and ubiquitous fried chicken is, there are few restaurants that actually do a good job with it. Making great fried chicken is hard. Factors to control include batter seasoning, consistency, coating procedure, brining and how long the pieces have to fry to cook all the way through without becoming dry. It’s never really been a simple dish.
Black’s needs to keep working on perfecting its version. It’s on the right track. The peach tea brine permeates the meat and helps keep it moist and flavorful. However, the crust was thick and unpleasantly tough. Smaller pieces, like wings and legs, were dry, although the breast and thigh meat survived with some moisture intact.
While the fried chicken disappointed because of execution problems, the sin of the Knuckle Sandwich — a lobster roll — was that it inspired nothing more than boredom. There was a ton of perfectly cooked lobster, but there was insufficient dressing and what was there lacked tang. Even the beautiful oblong bun — which was tender and quite satisfactory — couldn’t combat the lack of intense or interesting flavors. The lobster roll at Black’s falls far below that perfected by Maine-ly Sandwiches as its stock in trade.
That aside, most items here work very well. Alongside the staid lobster roll were some of the biggest, best onion rings around. These are battered, fried until deeply crisp and speckled with plenty of coarse black pepper. Macaroni and cheese fanatics will find a satisfying rendition here with a deeply toasted panko bread-crumb topping.
Pastry and sous chef Gunter makes all the desserts in-house. Her tart-sweet cherry pie is as fine as any other in the city and is not to be missed. The flaky crust is so tender that it seems impossible it doesn’t include suet or lard, but nothing more is at work here than butter and someone who knows not to overwork the dough.
The drink menu features a selection of local beers from Saint Arnold, 8th Wonder, Southern Star, Lone Pint and Karbach. Inside the 610 Loop, that’s becoming quite standard, but in the suburbs, it’s a trend that has not entirely taken hold yet. Black’s is one of only a handful of places near Cypress that have gotten on the craft-beer bandwagon, so it hasn’t reached cliché levels yet.
For those who eschew beer, there’s a small and unadventurous selection of wine largely made up of “popular” California names: Kendall Jackson, Clos Du Bois, Cakebread, Wild Horse, Rodney Strong. It is here where some inventiveness is desperately needed. It seems as if some of the better Texas wines (yes, they do exist) would fit in quite nicely here, and there are outstanding American wine regions, like Willamette Valley and Finger Lakes, that are being ignored in an almost criminal way.
Dinner hours are rather limited at Black’s Market Table. It’s not open on Sundays and is open only for lunch Monday through Wednesday. So dinner is available only on Thursdays through Saturdays. (This is actually a big improvement, since Black’s was lunch-only with occasional pop-up dinners when it first started.)
So if a hankering for those meaty ribs strikes early in the week, too bad. Maybe, though, in a sleepy, conservative neighborhood where most restaurants close at 9 p.m. on weekdays, that’s the most profitable way to go. By the way, Black’s does not take reservations except for parties of eight or more, so keep that in mind when visiting.
Black’s Market Table adds inventive, gourmet-level Southern fare to the far northwest side of Houston. That’s a part of town that is slowly growing in culinary sophistication thanks to unique, independent restaurants like this one. Black’s Market Table is a boon for people who live nearby and a worthwhile stop for those who happen to find themselves in the area.
Black’s Market Table
11550 Louetta, 281-826-0211. Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays.
Deviled eggs with fried oysters $9.50
Adobo pork belly $10
Kale and crab dip $12
Knuckle sandwich $17
Back ribs $19
Sweet tea fried chicken $22
Barbecued duck $29
Cherry pie $8
8th Wonder Rocket Fuel $6