In this economy, flat is the new up in the restaurant trade. One can't excuse nasty hygiene just because the chips are down, but this week, we'll throw in some good vibes along with the jibes as we look behind the scenes at health code-breaking restaurants in Houston's ever-revitalizing downtown.
Sad to say, there are no hand towels next to the sink at Les Givral's at Downtown (801 Congress), but if it's anything like the Givral's on Milam, just bring your own. Givral's serves delicious Vietnamese sandwiches made with some of the best crunchy French bread in town.
Any three appetizers at Mia Bella (320 Main) can make up a satisfying Italian sampler. So I also have tattler guilt reporting several violations there, including improprieties involving maladjusted food service equipment components, poorly sized plumbing and inadequate food storage.
The Red Cat Jazz Café (924 Congress) kitchen suffered 12 reprimands from the Health Code bureau. A sampling: food not held at the proper temperature, evidence of cross-contamination, non-food contact surfaces not cleaned as often as warranted, no shatter-resistant protection provided for artificial lighting. Though some aren't ecstatic about the food or the prices, Red Cat is located in a classic downtown brick structure and is a great atmosphere for live music.
The ghost-filled Spaghetti Warehouse (901 Commerce) was named Houston's sixth-scariest haunted spot by Citysearch. This tourist trap stranded at downtown's edge may serve food only the newly paroled from the nearby jails could love, with its food surfaces caked with "crusted grease deposits" and "accumulated soil," but go have a Coke, sit in the cavernous upstairs dining hall and imagine the specters amidst the chintz.
In answer to complaints, inspectors listed several infractions at the Grum Bar and Grill (306 Main): no self-closing doors in the "toilet room," employees handling food without using sanitary precautions, and (a new one to me) canvas cloth being used as a food surface. But Grum is one of the most unpretentious places downtown, with open-mic Fridays, a lit fireplace on cold nights and--get this--lobster rolls for $10.50!