Now, whether it's a short-lived legend or the kind of legend that becomes a time-worn and well-loved institution like the original Ninfa's, just a few blocks over on Navigation, will depend entirely upon the direction that young -- and I do mean young -- owners Evan Shannon and Brandon Young decide to take with the place.
They've already listened to customers' complaints about long waits for the dogs they serve. (Shannon used to man the grill all by his lonesome.) Instead, the guys now smoke the dogs all day, which means No. 1, the dogs are ready to go almost as soon as you order them; and No. 2, they're throwing other things into the smoker as they see fit, like a blissfully, chest-achingly good brisket with a blackberry-ghost pepper sauce I had a few weeks back. Constant improvement like this without losing touch with its brash [and admittedly green] roots will ensure Moon Tower Inn's continuing popularity.
And what of those roots?
Moon Tower Inn is neither ice house nor restaurant, neither concert space nor late-night dive. It's all of these things at once, and that's what makes it magical. When Houston Press writer Shea Serrano first wrote up Moon Tower for his Nightfly column a couple of months back, he managed to capture the almost indescribable essence of the place in a way that still strikes me as the best description I've seen so far:
Moon Tower occupies about one-third of an acre of land, which means it has the potential to be a fairly large venue. But only about one-eighth of that space is occupied by a building, which is where the employees are.
The customers are left to wander around the remaining acreage, all of which is outdoors. It's a business plan that seems horrible in theory, but is appealing in practice -- particularly when there's a surprisingly resplendent covered patio, garden seating and a horseshoe pit.
He continues later:
All things considered, though, it's hard to imagine a situation where Moon Tower Inn doesn't become an important bar.
It's difficult to tell someone what to expect at Moon Tower Inn except for amazing food. And because this is a food blog -- and because I am a food critic -- it's the food that we'll focus on.
Fat pheasant sausages resplendently cradled in a soft pretzel-dough bun, covered with spiky sambal mayonnaise. Gamy yet rich rabbit sausages peppered with strands of sauerkraut and punchy whole-grain mustard on top. Already fatty duck sausages stuffed with rich foie gras and spicy lamb sausages that come alive when topped with fresh cilantro and a little punch of black pepper ketchup. The young men who run it call it "a full-on gastronomical hot dog assault," but it's actually so much subtler, so much more cunning than that.
Out in the plaintively overgrown wilds of the Second Ward, this is a place where you'd expect good, cold beer and a game of horseshoes. It's not the place where -- despite the pedigrees of the chefs and a striking contingent of its patrons -- you'd expect food of this order. If you haven't made it to Moon Tower Inn yet, what on earth are you waiting for?
To see more photos of Moon Tower Inn's grounds and grub, check out our slideshow.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.