In the wake of neighboring Goro & Gun's transition from a restaurant with a killer bar into the more streamlined bar-only concept Moving Sidewalk, it may seem odd that The Honeymoon Café & Bar is positioning itself as a sort of one-stop shop for downtown residents and visitors. Goro's split personality proved confusing to would-be patrons hopping the block in search of bars, who took it for just a restaurant and kept on moving. What's to keep The Honeymoon from suffering the same fate?
The light and lovely space, for one, open from 7 a.m. on through the night. Those early hours mean a simple place to grab a cup of coffee and maybe a quick bite before heading into the office. If you're in a rush, it's worth noting, you can be in and out in about six minutes with far better than average coffee in hand. With a program installed by the highly caffeinated minds behind Boomtown Coffee in The Heights, it's easily the best cup in downtown.
On the espresso side, drinks occasionally come out a bit under-extracted compared to those at the city's best shops, but it's not a wide margin. If your drink includes milk, it will also include a tastefully drawn rosette or heart, set in white foam against tan coffee whose slight paleness hints at not-quite-perfection. Still, your cup will boast a depth of flavor and an integrated quality you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the ZIP code, a welcome addition for downtown's coffee lovers.
If you have a few extra minutes, snag a seat and watch downtown fill up as you enjoy a Kalita Wave pourover of a single-origin coffee roasted on site, with notes of grapes, citrus and slightly smoky chocolate. Since you've got a few minutes, why not enjoy that coffee with a proper breakfast?
The smoked salmon, perhaps; a twist on eggs Benedict and probably the best item on the breakfast (and brunch, more on that later) menu. Two perfectly poached eggs, their centers trembling in anticipation, rest atop potato latkes whose only flaw is a slight limpness at their very center. Tarragon aioli- stands in nicely for hollandaise, though a bit more brightness would be welcome. The salmon is silky and understated, melting into the spreading yolk and undergirding the resulting richness with a ribbon of smoke and a pop of salt.
Would that the same pop graced the soft scrambled eggs on rye. Reading like a sure thing, a simple take on luxury light enough to kickstart the day, the execution just doesn't live up to expectations. Such a simple thing has to be done perfectly to work as intended. A bit light on seasoning or a too heavy hand over the heat, and the dish loses its luster. Had the eggs been creamy and flowing, more appropriate for a spoon than a fork; had the eggs been sprinkled with just a bit of good salt after plating; had the fines herbes whisked into the scramble been just a little more abundant, or the rye toast given a more authoritative crunch, this might be the best thing to have for breakfast in downtown.
If you don't have time to stick around, though, there are a handful of grab-and-go options to complement your coffee. The sweeter end of the spectrum is the surest fit, including an apple turnover whose graceful shatter and burnished top reveal a lush and yielding filling with just the right notes of spice and a restrained sweetness.
As the rush of breakfast slows, the seamless transition to lunch begins. Office workers stroll in, students spread their studies across marble-topped tables. A brave or foolish few sit at the bar, taking a partly liquid lunch. You might be tempted to take advantage of the relaxed attitude toward boundaries, ordering off the breakfast menu well into the noon hour as some do, but the kitchen has a deft hand with the prescribed lunch offerings.
A salad of roasted vegetables and goat cheese might sound standard, but the carrots involved boast an uncharacteristically meaty chew. What must be a slow and low cook leaves the roots slightly dehydrated, concentrating both flavor and texture into something altogether unexpected and undeniably delicious. You'll find yourself searching them out among the arugula, beets, pecans and pillowy tufts of local goat cheese that round out the bowl. Against those carrots, a just-slightly-too-heavy hand with the herby vinaigrette seems a slight quibble.
The house burger comes with an impressive crust, the result of a hard and determined sear. It peeks out from under a tangle of caramelized onions and a spread of blue cheese and aioli, beckoning. The cook under that beguiling crust might be a bit past your requested medium rare, but all is forgiven as the savory meat juices mingle with tangy cheese. One of the cleverest touches on the menu, that cheese doesn't overwhelm, as is so often the case with blue cheese burgers. Instead, its slight funk augments the meat, lending it an intense richness reminiscent of dry aged beef. An unexpected delight.
The fries that come with the burger, or any sandwich for that matter, are similarly impressive. Hand-cut and twice fried, they are impressively crispy specimens and only made better when dragged through their little cup of tarragon aioli, the herbal lift almost making the spuds seem lithe. Skip the quinoa. It sounds good on paper, with its nods to elotes con crema, but fails to deliver the promised punch of roasted corn, jalapeño and cilantro.
Don't skip the fried chicken liver po-boy. Cornmeal-crusted livers are creamy and rich on the inside and well-seasoned directly out of the fryer, a simple step that far too many cooks seem to miss. When they tumble out of the slightly stodgy baguette, and they will, they stand up perfectly well on their own, even without the one-two punch of a sweet-tart green tomato and onion jam. They stand better with it, of course, as they do nestled up against soft tangles of rainbow chard, bumped up with a dice of jalapeño and a swipe of mustard that layer on heat and astringency to cut through the richness. It's a sandwich to linger over.
The Honeymoon invites you to linger, and if you take advantage of its wicker chairs long enough, you might find yourself surrounded by the bar scene that takes over the space come nightfall.
The cocktail program, envisioned and installed by Justin Burrow of nearby Bad News Bar, is arguably the best part of The Honeymoon's ensemble. Picture-perfect classics show that technique is a focus, with drinks like the Corpse Reviver No. 2 rendered in high definition. Choosing Cocchi Americano in lieu of the Lillet specified in many classic recipes is a nice example of the bar's attention to detail, the somewhat lesser-known aperitif bringing in the quinine notes missing from contemporary formulations of Lillet. That slight bitter tug is integral to the drink and a sign that The Honeymoon isn't just going through the motions or pulling pages from a book, but practicing and refining those motions and truly studying the recipes on the page.
There is a handful of coffee-based cocktails, split between cold and hot forms, the latter available only until midnight. The Faded Annual is a nice pair for the cooling weather, all warm brandy and spice rounded out with cold brew coffee. Though it leans sweet, it never loses its sense of balance, as is typical of the bar offerings here.
A short and sweet wine list helps prevent the paradox of choice, listing two wines each in sparkling, white/rosé, red and fortified categories with reasonable by-the-glass prices. The selections aren't out there to challenge any purpose-built wine bars for supremacy, but they're served at proper temperature and are perfectly respectable. Take a dry, lightly spicy sparkling Vouvray with notes of baked fruit and a lightly creamy body, or a gently tannic Rhone Syrah whose dark fruit notes are tempered by herbal elements and a slight charcoal finish. It's always nice to see red wine, in particular, served with just the slightest hint of chill to it, instead of being allowed to slowly stew on a shelf.
The "Boards" section is the intended target for late-night bites. A jar of finely textured chicken liver mousse with a slight and unwarranted tilt toward sweet-tart, owing to its cap of balsamic glaze, fares much better if you know this going in, the crumbled pistachios better able to bridge the flavors if you retrieve your potted meat from deeper in the glass. A glass of Amontillado pairs particularly well here, with a determined finish that goes toe-to-toe with the liver, complex flavors swinging between roasted nuts and dried citrus peel, honey and green almond, hinting at sweetness more than delivering it.
Be forewarned that the semi-service format of the restaurant -- order at the bar, where you'll await your drinks; food makes its way to your table -- can complicate things a bit. Note the self-service station along the bar, next to the espresso machine, lest you wind up eating your snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich with a fork still bearing the traces of your chicken liver. Or avoid that issue entirely by opting for beignets.
Beignets, drizzled with cafe sua da caramel in a nod to The Honeymoon's mash-up of Houston and New Orleans cultures, are also available at brunch on Saturday and Sunday, which is a perfectly delightful place to recover from your evening spent at The Honeymoon, or at any of its many boozy neighbors for that matter. They're not perfect, tending to be just a bit dense and just a shade pale, but they're still impossible not to eat, dredged through the coffee-laced caramel of which there never seems to be quite enough. Ask nicely, and your server just might give you a little dish for dipping.
Breakfast BLT $11 Smoked salmon $12 Beignets $7 Soft scrambled eggs on rye $6 Grillades & grits $14 Salad lyonnaise $11 Burger and frites $14 Chicken liver mousse $10 Meat and cheese board $18 Cheese and chocolate board $18 Crispy chicken liver po-boy $11 Roasted veggie and Texas goat cheese salad $10 Snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich $7 French 75 $9 Corpse Reviver No. 2 $10 Pastis mimosa $7 Bloody Mary $8 Pichot 2012 Vouvray Méthode Traditionnelle $9 glass/$36 bottle J.L. Chave 2011 Crozes-Hermitage "Silène" $10 glass/$40 bottle Fernando de Castilla NV Sherry Amontillado "Antique" $12 glass/>$72 bottle