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Thursday, August 22, 2019 — Houston, TX 81°

Walden Pemantle


A&E 3/21/18 12:07am

Hunting for happy hours

Missing out on the enormous array of cocktail bars, ice houses and dives that make up Houston’s bar scene would be a real shame, and for those willing to hunt, a number of excellent bars nearby offer happy hours cheap enough to stay within your beer money budget.







NEWS 11/4/15 4:20am

Houston’s best late-night bites

It happened to me once. It was past midnight, I was downtown and I was hungry. After being turned away at multiple bars (I swear, I just wanted some food), I went home and made myself a greasy bag of microwave popcorn. Don’t let it happen to you.Houston has great food, but all too often when it’s late at night and you really want it, the good grub is nowhere to be found. These four spots have excellent food, convenient locations and, if you’re still awake when they close (if they close), you either have an orgo exam tomorrow or some serious insomnia.The Best of Downtown:The Flying Saucer705 Main StreetFor late-night munchies when you’re stuck downtown, The Flying Saucer might just be ideal. Open until 2 a.m. on weekends, the bar has a laid-back vibe and impressive list of satisfying sandwiches, appetizers and drinks. Specialty hot sandwiches like the Sheboygan side-by-side brat and Boar’s Head French dip go especially well with the extensive list of craft beers.Worth the Drive:Moon Tower Inn3004 Canal Street When I said that these places were conveniently located, Moon Tower was the exception. Nestled among a block of warehouses in the Second Ward, you’ll probably never find yourself in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, Moon Tower’s wild game hotdogs and incredible appetizers are among the best bar food in Houston. Open until 3 a.m. on weekends, with a monster wall of 66 beers on tap, Moon Tower is well worth the drive regardless of whether you go to drink, eat or both. Closest to Campus:Mai’s Restaurant3404 Milam Street There’s something almost miraculous about Mai’s. Open until 4 a.m. on weekends, Mai’s boasts an encyclopedic menu of Vietnamese, Thai and other Southeast Asian specialties. Occasionally the food can be badly over-seasoned, but friendly service, late hours and sheer vastness of the menu make it an easy choice if you don’t want to stray far from campus. The Classic Spot:House of Pies3112 Kirby DriveThis Rice student mainstay has earned its reputation. Excellent diner food, anytime breakfast and, of course, pies, are all draws for House of Pies. Open 24/7, the restaurant is a serious upgrade from the Waffle Houses and Whataburgers you might otherwise end up in. 


NEWS 9/9/15 3:25pm

Hearsay Lounge balances uneven food with creative drinks

There’s something strange about Hearsay Gastro Lounge. Dim decorative light bulbs and a chandelier are the only lighting aside from candles, making for a particularly dark dining experience. By the stairs to the second floor, articles on the building’s historical importance line the walls as if they’re part of the mystique to promote the historic walls of a room you can barely see. The clientele sends a bit of a mixed message as well. There’s no age limit or cover like one might find at a pub, but the customers are almost exclusively affluent 20-somethings hitting the bar, which stays open until 2 a.m. The cocktails do steal the show, but Hearsay maintains a satisfying, if uneven, menu on all fronts. With good food, great drinks and fairly modest pricing, it’s certainly a place to try for students looking for a night out downtown.The eclectic menu offers food from burgers to ceviche but works best when offering simpler American fare to complement the more involved drinks. Tempura lobster tail and Saint Arnold’s battered asparagus both make an excellent case for more upscale deep-frying. The batters are light and neither dish is too oily, letting the earthy asparagus and buttery lobster’s character shine through the crunchy and salty coating. The sweet corn crab chowder is another particularly good appetizer, rounding out the hearty lumps of crabmeat and sweet body of pureed corn with just enough white pepper for a layered and decadent flavor. However, the more exotic selections tend to fall flat. The Peruvian ceviche has a heavy dose of orange juice in its briny marinade that masks the more subtle shredded mint and carrot chips, making for a disappointingly one-dimensional dish.The large plates follow the same pattern. The burgers, quesadillas and sandwiches are all consistently good while more involved plates like the chicken marsala are inconsistent, and at times, plain bad. Though the pan-fried chicken looks impressive served atop a heap of wilted spinach and mashed potatoes, the namesake sauce has a bitter burnt flavor that ruins the juicy chicken and buttery vegetables. Nevertheless, sandwiches like the Byrd, a gargantuan burger stacked with bacon, cheddar, mozzarella, jalapenos, avocado, onions and a fried egg, more than redeem the other entrees’ misfires. The sides of crispy rosemary parmesan fries and four-cheese mac n’ cheese add an extra incentive to play it safe and opt for a sandwich over the more expensive entrees. The cocktails, while a bit pricier, are the soul of the menu. Specials rotate nightly but creative standbys like the applewood bacon Manhattan and Flaming Leah are always available. Showmanship plays a big role in the serving of the drinks as everything from grapefruit peel to rosemary and cinnamon are lightly burned and served as garnishes to add intense aromas to the drinks. The Whiskey and Cigarettes, a scotch drink with a touch of mescal and Benedictine, makes especially good use of a flaming grapefruit garnish to add a breezy citrus aroma to the peaty drink. Though not as dazzling as the mixed drinks, the beer and wine lists are also impressive. The beer list not only offers standouts from St. Arnold’s and Karbach on draft but also has a few foreign selections worth trying like the excellent Trappist Chimay Triple. For wine, a number of interesting by-the-glass options like the fruity South African Chenin Blanc and rich Zuccardi Malbec are uncommonly good alternatives to the usual domestic wines.The small dessert menu looks like a bit of an afterthought in comparison to the food and drink menus. With standard offerings like New York cheesecake and bread pudding, the dishes are generally unremarkable. However, the domino cake, a chocolate cake with alternating layers of vanilla and chocolate mousse, is an exceptionally satisfying way to end a meal.Even if Hearsay’s clubby atmosphere and uneven cooking can be off-putting, the dishes they do best and the cocktails that they’ve made their name on have enough flavor and flair to mostly redeem them. It may not be for everybody, but the laid-back food and creative cocktails make Hearsay Lounge well worth a try for a Saturday night trip downtown.


NEWS 9/1/15 11:01am

Revival Market serves dinner with style

When Revival Market began clearing space earlier this year for a full-service dining room, there were plenty of questions to be answered. The market has long been popular for its sandwiches and baked goods, but many worried that a full-service dinner menu would detract attention and quality from the cheaper, more casual lunch counter.Moreover, owners Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber had opened Coltivare, a brand new restaurant, not five months ago; it seemed that adding yet another dining room to their charge could be a classic sign of overexpansion. Fortunately, Revival Market’s new dinner menu fits quite well into Pera and Weber’s existing enterprises. The food neither overshadows the market’s lunch specials nor simply duplicates the garden-to-table formula of Coltivare. Instead, it relies on Pera and Weber’s knack for creative butchery to expand the kitchen’s offerings into a full-fledged menu of modern American dishes.The duo describes the market’s food as “preservation” cooking. While it is a little unclear what exactly that means, there are plenty of ways the kitchen touts certain kinds of preservation. Preserves themselves figure heavily into the menu, popping up in the form of pickled sweet peppers in the peanut-jalapeño hummus, lemon preserves on the Texas watermelon and housemade kimchi on the enormous slow-cooked short rib. But beyond that, there is a preservation of flavors and ingredients that elsewhere seem to be going out of style. Pork rinds, fried and sprinkled with za’atar alongside a cream cheese dip with pickled cabbage and chives are a particular standout among the appetizers. Lardo, an Italian delicacy of cured pork fat and herbs, is featured in three separate dishes, served with white bean toasts, whipped into a spread and blended with cherries on warm biscuits respectively. Each dish showcases the silky texture and decadent flavor of an ingredient that, for decades, has been relegated to an alternative for Crisco in American kitchens.The entrees, at their best, offer an entirely new level of sophistication from Revival. They reveal both the wide range of influences chef Pera cooks with and his talent for condensing them into creative, eclectic plates. The by-catch manages to juggle flavors from North Africa, the Middle East, El Salvador and the deep South with marvelous results. The fish is rubbed with harissa and served on a bed of braised savoy cabbage with curtido, a pickled cabbage salad and yogurt to the side. caramelized lemon also comes with the plate, and though there’s no obvious answer to how one is supposed to eat it, it goes very well squeezed over the fish or even eaten by itself. The red meat generally gets a more rustic treatment. The hot lamb sausage is served over cheddar grits with sweet peppers and a tomato broth while the pork collar is glazed and served with pole beans, peas and corn fritters. The most notable beef selection is the 44 farms sirloin, which in a similarly straightforward preparation, is served with hand-cut noodles, mushrooms, sour cream and chives. With a healthy touch of cracked pepper, the sour cream becomes a wonderful compliment to the beef and mushrooms, letting the meat’s flavors shine and lending a creamy mouth-feel to the noodles’ comforting chewiness. The small dessert menu is a welcome end to the meal. For the most part, Pera embellishes familiar desserts with exotic garnishes to mixed results. The luxardo gastrique on the peaches and cream buttermilk pie fits perfectly, but the hibiscus bits on the flourless chocolate cake are muted by the cake’s density and, consequently, hard to taste. The lemon panna cotta is among Revival Market’s most memorable dishes, pairing a perfectly textured panna cotta with aromatic lemon, bitter espresso and crunchy cacao nibs, each balancing the other impeccably.Given how much the management has expanded this year, it’s a bit miraculous how consistent Revival Market’s dinner service is. What’s more, the lunch counter with its excellent pastrami and corned beef is still around too, it’s just the warm-up act to an even more impressive main event. In fact, it seems Pera and Weber have found a way to make their “preservation” kitchen work on every level, preserving their old tricks and recombining them to make something new.


NEWS 8/27/15 12:24pm

Zelko Bistro satisfies with ethically sourced comfort food

“Simple, responsible comfort food” is as common a mantra for Houston restaurants as it is rare in reality. Plenty of hip cafes check one or two boxes, serving southern-style comfort food with locally sourced ingredients only to drown out the natural strengths of their dishes by squeezing every trendy flavor possible onto the plate. Likewise, “responsibly sourced” food all-too-often becomes a marketing ploy, with many restaurants doing little more for sustainable farming than talking about how much they do.  Enter Zelko Bistro, a longtime favorite in the Heights known for what chef Jamie Zelko and Manager Dalia Zelko describe as “new American comfort food.” The bistro’s menu stays true to the phrase. Local greens, house-filleted fish and a variety of meats are supported by seasonings that, while never overbearing, stay true to Houston’s eclectic dining scene. The excellent shrimp and grits are typical of Zelko’s style. The usual southern ingredients such as bay shrimp, cheddar grits and bacon all satisfy, but a streak of garlic soy agave sauce around the rim of the plate steals the show. The sauce is sweet and thin with just enough tang to cut through the grits and perfectly complement the sauteed shrimp. The watermelon salad also showcases Zelko’s knack for restrained seasoning. The vibrant chunks of Texas watermelon are good enough to carry any salad, but a dab of honey hibiscus vinaigrette and smoked paprika round the dish into a superb balance of sweet and smoky.When the food falters, it is usually because such details are absent. The chocolate mousse, while plenty rich, seems ordinary in a way that doesn’t quite justify its $9 price tag. The chopped bleu salad also comes off as comparatively dull. The addition of apples, bacon and pecans all help, but none quite redeem the bland bleu cheese or unremarkable romaine that form the core of the salad.Still, many other seemingly ordinary dishes like the Boss Burger and lamb tacos rank among Zelko’s best. Sharp cheddar, hearty bacon and a wonderfully light brioche bun put the boss burger head and shoulders above other local burgers. On the tacos, toasted cumin, raita slaw and a side of candied plantains add nuanced Middle Eastern and South American flare to the tenderly cooked lamb. Zelko’s bar keeps a rotating stock of domestic beer and wines. However, the bistro’s main focus is its signature brunch drinks: the Mimosa Rossa and the Geisha Zing, a Bloody Mary made with sake rather than vodka. Beyond the bar, guests can purchase honey from the Zelko duo’s award-winning Heights Honey Bee Project. Part apiary, part conservation effort, the project relocates bee hives that would otherwise be exterminated in order to harvest their honey and preserve the rapidly vanishing population of honey bees. The project’s honey is used in a number of Zelko’s dishes and has a smooth, fragrant character that pairs especially well with fresh fruit.Between their conservation efforts and locally sourced ingredients, the Zelko duo present an outstanding template. There’s no pretension in their dining room, just sustainable cooking true to its southern roots.Zelko BistroAddress:705 E 11th St, 77008Phone number: (713) 880-8691Price range: $$Website: zelkobistro.comRecommended DishesThe ‘Boss’ Burger, $12Cheddar, lettuce, caramelized onions, bacon, tomato, pickles, dijonaise on brioche with friesLamb tacos, $12Toasted cumin, raita slaw, side of candied plantains