Here, Eat This

First Look: Taste Bar + Kitchen

Chicken & Waffles from the newly opened Taste Bar + Kitchen
Chicken & Waffles from the newly opened Taste Bar + Kitchen Photo by Jeremiah Jones
What's better than chicken and waffles? Try adding fruity pebbles and condensed milk. Now make them red velvet cake waffles. Now make it General Tso fried chicken. OK, so we went a little crazy. But that's kind of the point at the newly opened Taste Bar + Kitchen. The new brunch and dinner concept owned by Dallas-based entrepreneur Kevin Kelly and executive chef Don Bowie aims to bring a little fun and a lot of comfort into your week with a menu devoted to chicken and waffles, plus a bar program focused on some insanely creative dessert cocktails.

The Houston Press was recently invited to check out the playful fare at the new patio concept inside an historic Midtown house at 3015 Bagby.

Taste Bar + Kitchen is located in the historic, 113-year old Sterling House — the early 20th century home of former Texas Governor Ross S. Sterling. In December, the bar and restaurant named after the house was closed pending "renovations". Turns out those renovations included a change of name, menu and ownership (plus actual renovations).

click to enlarge The sprawling patio is the crown jewel of the renovated historic home. - PHOTO BY JEREMIAH JONES
The sprawling patio is the crown jewel of the renovated historic home.
Photo by Jeremiah Jones
The upgrades breath new life into the old house, as does the chic and artful decor, including a sprawling patio with a green and white checkerboard turf floor. Inside, the two-level home features an intimate first floor dining room and bar, plus a more spacious bar area upstairs leading to an overlooking upper balcony. It's the kind of bar summers and Sundays were made for.

Chef Bowie's menu is a love letter to southern comfort with hints of global cuisine and inspiration taken from his own life. The concept is somewhat familiar for the Houston native who once ran the kitchen at the Red Cafe Jazz Cafe (now OKRA Charity Saloon) and helped open the since shuttered Sweetie Pie's Soul Food. His most recent position was running the kitchen at Houston's first Flower Child location, the elevated health food chain by Fox Restaurant Concepts.

Taste, however, is about as far from health food as it gets. Bowie's fried chicken recipes are the stuff of cardiologist nightmares. We start with a classic rendition of Cajun chicken and waffles — mildly spiced fried chicken with a well-seasoned and crunchy skin, served alongside Bowie's fluffy cake-life waffles. From there the options get a little more unexpected. They include General Tso's chicken and waffles, jerk chicken and waffles, and a gravy-smothered chicken and waffles that'll put you to sleep full and happy.

click to enlarge Collard greens, mac & cheese, and chicken & waffles. Yes please. - PHOTO BY JEREMIAH JONES
Collard greens, mac & cheese, and chicken & waffles. Yes please.
Photo by Jeremiah Jones
The waffles can be upgraded to a specialty batter like chocolate, red velvet, tres leches and cornbread among others. Currently on the specials menu is a chicken fried lobster and waffles recipe that is as fascinating as it is mouthwatering. For those who crave pain, chef Bowie's rendition of Nashville hot chicken (not currently on the menu but available to order) is up there with some of the best spicy fried chicken in town.

Classic southern sides play their own role on Bowie's menu. In particular, a list of five "Elevated Mac & Cheese" creations that include smoked Gouda, bacon smoked Gouda and lobster smoked Gouda. The bacon sauteed collard greens are a standout across the whole menu and should not be passed by.

On the bar side, Bowie and his staff have created a cocktail program centered around boozy versions of classic desserts. These include the Apple Pie with apple brandy, spiced apple butter, crust crumble, grated cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as the Cotton Candy with rosé vodka, fresh strawberry, lime juice, and actual cotton candy stirred into the drink. An early favorite seems to be the Peach Cobbler — Crown Royal Peach, Pinnacle Whipped Cream Vodka, peach cobbler puree, lemon juice and turbinado syrup garnished with whipped cream.

click to enlarge Selection of dessert cocktails from the "Dessert Bar" at Taste Bar + Kitchen - PHOTO BY JEREMIAH JONES
Selection of dessert cocktails from the "Dessert Bar" at Taste Bar + Kitchen
Photo by Jeremiah Jones
The youthful Midtown bar and kitchen will likely cater to the area's 20-something crowd, with plans to host DJs and live music on the huge patio and weekend hours that extend to 2 am. Though, for an outside the box date spot or casual dinner, the weekday dinner service promises a more casual ambiance; in particular the downstairs dining area with the intimate vibe of a European house cafe.

Taste Bar + Kitchen brings something familiar and homey, wrapped in a concept that feels new and adventurous. Not the place anyone should visit with zealous frequency, lest their health take a sudden turn for the worst, but a much welcomed southern kitchen and a playful concept. 
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Houston Press contributor Carlos Brandon is a freelance writer, blogger, and self proclaimed Houston hip hop historian. He contributes to various publications and can usually be found haggling with food truck cooks or talking politics on the METRO Rail.
Contact: Carlos Brandon