Local Vendor Spotlight

For every Houston restaurant still using Sysco biscuits, there's a local vendor who's gnashing his teeth, ready to jump in if given the chance. Yes, the "little guy" local trade has grown steadily and profitably over the past few years as more and more chefs and patrons want to know both the source of the foods they purchase -- and the makers, themselves.

Thanks to conscious cultivation by Houston's amiable food community, we now have outstanding outside vendors at many of the best restaurants and markets in town. Here are a few of our favorite local vendors.

Houston Dairymaids WHAT: While cheese is now made and shipped all over the globe, there's something fantastically delicious about savoring a wedge made right down the street, proverbially speaking. The Houston Dairymaids, of course, already knew that... why is precisely why they set up shop, sourcing the best artisan cheeses in Texas and bringing them right to us. Why the local concentration? Owner Lindsey Schechter believes that cheese making is a great way to support small, sustainable farms in Texas. She says, "It makes me happy every day to promote foods that have integrity at every level -- from the way the farmers grow the grass they feed their cows to the care they take when crafting their cheese." It's also thanks to those considerate methods -- and hers -- that the quality of cheese is so high.

WHERE: Look for Dairymaid cheeses at Anvil, 13 Celsius, t'afia, Shade, Antidote, Backstreet Café, The Grove, Haven, and Tiny Boxwoods. Or pick up a wedge of your own at the farmers' markets in Midtown, Highland Village, The Woodlands, Rice University, and Spring Branch. For the most ambitious among you, stop by the Dairymaids' warehouse, which is open on Friday afternoons from 3 to 6:30 p.m.

The Grateful Bread WHAT: Don't let the name of his company, The Grateful Bread, fool you. Marcus's wares are more of the meat and cheese varieties. Al Marcus turns out a maple-smoked bacon that just might leave you breathless. If bacon's not your bag, try the smoked provolone, aged Worcestershire, artisan pancetta, andouille sausage and tart cherry mustard -- or do as I'd like to and throw all of those things on a slice of bread for a sandwich that might move you to heaven. Marcus cites interacting with customers at area markets as one of the true joys of his business. He loves to answer questions about the story of the meats, which he purchases locally, but are sourced from Kansas and Nebraska. He's not considered a vendor of local products, but rather what's known as a value-add vendor. Most customers, he says, are more interested in purchasing high-quality products made locally than in buying products made from locally produced commodities. His entire outlook is refreshing. Marcus even says, "There's a wonderful camaraderie amongst the folks in town who do charcuterie. We compare notes, offer feedback, and foster a gentle rivalry. It's an incredibly dynamic group."

WHERE: Look for Al Marcus and his marvelous meat metropolis at the farmers' markets at Midtown, Eastside, Rice University, Clear Lake, The Woodlands and Pearland.

Trentino Gelato WHAT: Marcelo Kreindel, owner extraordinaire of Trentino Gelato, came to Houston from Argentina nine years ago and immediately noticed a dearth in his favorite dessert. So he did what any entrepreneurial soul would do: created a plan to freeze the problem. Kreindel, who started Trentino four years ago, rooted his business in the local food scene from the beginning. Chef Monica Pope was the first Houston chef to offer a hand, helping Kreindel source local ingredients, giving him space at the Midtown Farmer's Market, and connecting him to various chefs around town. From the beginning, his mission has been to create the best handcrafted, locally-made gelato Houston has ever had -- and he's doing so on a daily basis. Perhaps that's because Kreindel features a little something for everyone -- all the basic flavors, plus interesting ventures like strawberry lavender, Nutella, chile chocolate, and wild Texas honey.

WHERE: You'll find Trentino Gelato by the scoops at Crickets Creamery, Coffee Groundz, the Saturday Urban Harvest market and the Sunday Discovery Green market. Or order if off the menus at t'afia, REEF, Pappasitos, Yia Yia Mary's, Pronto Cuccinino, Grotto and Arturo's.

Stay tuned for more spotlights coming soon. Got any to recommend? Please leave them in the comments below.

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