Your Neighborhood Coffeehouse: Doshi House Cafe

The gentrification of the Wards has been an ongoing debate, but for those against it, it seems to be a losing battle, as expensive townhomes and gated communities have steadily overtaken the neighborhoods. Many historic buildings have been casualties. Deepak Doshi, a University of Houston alum, is hoping to preserve at least one of these buildings, on the corner of Dowling and Holman, in the heart of the Third Ward.

The 76-year-old building has been a liquor store, a meat market. a law office, a medical supply store, a gallery and a creative space. Its newest reincarnation is as Doshi House Cafe, a place that hopes to bring together the community, both old and new. The coffeehouse is still promoting local artists with weekly performances, openings and events.

The space lends itself to creativity -- the mismatched tables and chairs somehow all work together, and a 100-year-old piano beckons you to make music on it (it still kind of works). The ambience just makes you want to hunker down with a good book, and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't mind if you did. On my first visit there, I found myself staying far longer than I had planned just chatting with friends and enjoying a really good cup of coffee and one of the best vegetarian paninis I've ever had.

Doshi carries his idea of promoting local talent into what he serves. All the dairy is from Way Back When, the coffee from Greenway Coffee, the breads and baked goods from three local bakeries (La Unica, Ashcraft and Ariel's) and the produce from local farmers' markets. The syrups and whipped cream are all made in-house. The food menu is short and simple, with vegetarian paninis, muffins, pies and other sweets, and soups coming soon.

The Mumbai Streets panini was a revelation. I am a meat-eater and can rarely find something vegetarian that doesn't make me feel I'm missing out, but this was a unique and wholly satisfying sandwich. The savory potato filling of a samosa is spread on the bread along with spiced hummus, tamarind chutney, grilled onions, jalapeños, Muenster cheese and fresh cucumber slices. It sounds like it would be overwhelming together, but each ingredient made for a balanced whole -- the potato and hummus were hearty, and the jalapeños and cucumbers added crunch and texture.

Doshi House also offers a number of no-dairy smoothies and fruit juices with special ingredients like beets, kale, spinach and aloe vera. I cooled down after the spicy panini with the Fresh Zen, a concoction of banana, brown pear, cucumber, ginseng, honey, orange juice and chlorophyll. It was refreshing, light and guilt-free.

Doshi is a coffeehouse, after all, and it doesn't disappoint there, either. The Affogato is the house specialty -- espresso, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Although definitely not as sweet as you might imagine, it was addictive. I would come back for this alone as a dessert. My favorite coffee is the Mughul Spice, an espresso flavored with just a hint of saffron, topped with steamed milk. The saffron adds a subtle, pleasant bitterness to the coffee, but the beautiful aroma is what makes the coffee stand out.

This place wants to revitalize the historic Third Ward, and I hope they do just that -- it's one of those businesses you want to see succeed. I'm glad it's in the neighborhood.

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Minh T Truong