Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Houston Fed 50: Nos. 30-26

This week's batch of five brings us to the halfway point of the list. For a recap of the previous spots, click here.

No. 30 The Hay Merchant (Montrose): The craft beer movement has been sweeping across Texas for some time now. New breweries seem to open up in the Houston area almost weekly, and bars specializing in craft beers are benefiting greatly from this growth. The Hay Merchant has been at the forefront of craft beer bars in our city since its opening four years ago. Housed next door to its co-owner Chris Shepherd's award winning restaurant Underbelly, The Hay Merchant boasts dozens of taps of all craft - and mostly Texas brewed - beers of different styles. With a great patio area right in the heart of Montrose, the vast selection of brews would be enough to make this place a worthwhile destination, but my favorite reason to go here is the affordable menu. Straightforward bar fare like the double meat and cheese cease and desist burger (so named after an In-and-Out Burger trademark issue) are well executed, and chicken wings get amped up with sauce options like a Korean style gojuchang for the slightly more adventurous patrons. If one really wants to stretch their culinary horizons, the half pig head entree is a show stopping presentation that could feed a table of four quite comfortably. As Underbelly has gained national notoriety, its menu has become less financially palatable to the average diner, making The Hay Merchant a nice option to get Underbelly style cuisine with a less substantial hit to the wallet.
From Revival Market Left: Zataar spiced chicharrones | Right: Lamb pastrami with potato salad
No. 29 Revival  Market (The Heights): Much has been written about Revival Market's place in Houston's culinary landscape, and rightfully so. I don't think it is overstating to say that the Heights market and eatery has played a crucial role in crafting a more informed diner. From butchery classes to highlighting local farmers and vendors, co-owners Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber have spent the last five years showcasing quality product and educating Houston on the importance of supporting the local food community. The coffee program at Revival Market, which uses Greenway Coffee (more to come on that below), is among the best in the city, and the ever-changing weekend breakfast options are stellar. A few times a year, Revival Market serves up their scratch made kolaches and klobasniky to the fervor of the many locals who line up right at opening time for a fresh batch of both the fruit-filled and sausage breakfast pastries. The weekly lunch menu at Revival features fresh and house-cured meats from the market as well as local produce, and the meat counter always has interesting take-home options. The dining culture in Houston has seen a wide growth recently, and places like Revival Market are a big reason why.
Fresh pastas from Paulie's
No. 28 Paulie's (Montrose): Every food city has a "where the industry people eat" list, and one of the places inevitably on Houston's list is Paulie's. On a given day you may see a well-known chef at a table feasting on one of Paulie's fresh salads or sandwiches at lunch, or one of the city's food writers enjoying a scratch pasta dish or ossobuco special at dinner. It's not a see and be seen place; it just serves damn good no frills food. The portions at Paulie's are hearty to say the least - expect leftovers unless you arrive completely famished - and the prices are more than fair. The daily specials are not to be missed, the Friday linguini and mussels being a personal favorite that harkens back to my childhood. If there's no room for dessert, I recommend at least pausing at the dessert counter on the way out. Paulie's decorated cookies have reached near legendary status with their colorful artwork. With a menu that's approachable to everyone, Paulie's is one of my favorite go-to spots for simple, well-made Italian comfort food.
The seasonal Hatch chili burger at Hubcap Grill is not for the faint of heart.
No. 27 Hubcap Grill (Downtown, Heights, Kemah): Confession: for a long time, I didn't understand the intense praise lavished upon Hubcap Grill. While I had eaten at the location on 19th street in The Heights multiple times and enjoyed my meals, I never could quite wrap my head around why so many of the city's respected food personalities swore by Ricky Craig's burger joint. After some time to reflect, and after a few more trips to Hubcap Grill, I came to the realization that I was simply overthinking it. I was expecting Hubcap to be something more than it was ever trying to be. It's a burger joint, and a very good one at that. Craig's clever burger toppings (strangely, crunchy peanut butter works on a bun) and crispy fries are burger dining in its most creative yet purest form. Unless one adheres to a vegan or vegetarian diet, there is something for everyone at Hubcap Grill. Classic double burgers are hard seared and served up to the burger purists, while options such as the hangover burger topped with cream gravy await those looking for something more off-the-wall. With locations downtown, in the Heights, Kemah, and an outpost inside of Bush Airport on the way, the Ricky Craig burger empire is growing. I'm glad I finally came around.
Blacksmith's square biscuit with either marmalade and crème fraiche (left) or sausage, egg, and cheddar (right)
No. 26 Blacksmith (Montrose): The Montrose area is getting a lot of love on this week's portion of the list, and for good reason. This part of Houston is home to many of the city's most acclaimed eateries and also houses my favorite coffee shop. David Buehrer's Greenway Coffee Company made a name for itself from humble beginnings at their small coffee shop in Greenway Plaza. Word spread quickly and Buehrer's carefully sourced and expertly roasted beans soon began showing up on menus in some of the best restaurants in Houston, including the aforementioned Revival Market and Paulie's. After helping numerous restaurants improve their coffee programs, Buehrer opened Blacksmith in 2013 in partnership with the Clumsy Butcher Group. Blacksmith serves a mostly traditional coffee menu featuring well-made espressos, cortados, lattes and the like. The food menu is small but equally well crafted. The Clumsy Butcher Group brought in well respected and immensely talented chef Erin Smith to develop the original Blacksmith food menu. Though Chef Smith left in 2014 to pursue other ventures, her square biscuit remains a staple of the menu and one of my favorite breakfast items anywhere. Served with your choice of either crème fraiche and seasonal marmalade or with sausage, egg, and cheddar, it's a perfect flaky biscuit that eats well with a cup of Greenway coffee. Houston is home to quite a few excellent coffee spots these days, and Blacksmith remains at the head of that class.

No comments: