Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Houston Fed 50: Nos. 10-6

Welcome to the top ten. If you've followed along from the beginning, thanks for sticking with me. If you're here for the first time, click here for links to the rest of the list.

Beef rib burnt ends and a two meat plate with a sea of creamed corn at Killen's Barbecue.
No. 10 Killen's Barbecue (Pearland): There's not much that can be said about Killen's Barbecue that hasn't already been covered on any number of the local or national write ups that Ronnie Killen's smoked meat Mecca has received since it opened. With one of the state's largest and most well executed barbecue menus, Killen's delivers a full restaurant experience. The array of meat options are of the highest quality, from well rendered brisket to pepper packed beef ribs, and Killen's boasts a roster of sides and desserts that take a backseat to no joint. No corners are cut at Killen's in terms of quality, including some of the best smoked turkey in Texas. There's good reason why the restaurant offers a five meat plate option as choosing what to order is difficult. My advice: don't miss the brisket or the creamed corn, whatever you do. While the line can be cumbersome and the trip to Pearland inconvenient for many, Killen's Barbecue is a pilgrimage every meat eater should make.

Hunky Dory: scones with jam, butter, and clotted cream | HD Burger and fries | lamb sausage with beans and egg.
No. 9 Hunky Dory (The Heights): For fans of the late, great Montrose restaurant, Feast, Hunky Dory was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in recent memory. Way back in 2013, The Treadsack Group (Down House, Foreign Correspondents, Bernadine's) announced big plans to open numerous restaurants around The Heights. One of those restaurants, Hunky Dory, would bring former Feast chef Richard Knight back to a Houston kitchen. Knight's British heritage, which was on full display at Feast, shines through at Hunky Dory as well. A massive wood burning hearth cooks much of the meat on the menu and is quite the spectacle for diners. Black puddings, terrines, and shepherd's pie have their place on the menu, but Hunky Dory excels with vegetables and more conventional dishes. The HD Burger is decadent in its simplicity, with two juicy patties topped with melted cheese and served with fries that cry out for malt vinegar. Chef Knight's kitchen is also serving an excellent, well priced brunch. While service in the early days of this restaurant could be a bit uneven, the food and bar program is more than good enough to keep coming back, and I'm confident that the smart folks behind this project will iron out the wrinkles. Feast was a restaurant a few years ahead of its time; I am hopeful that Hunky Dory has arrived when Houston is ready for it.

The ever-changing lunch special at Himalaya.
No. 8: Himalaya (Ghandi District): Kaiser Lashkari, the chef/owner of one of Houston's greatest culinary treasures, is one of the busiest people I've ever met. Kaiser oversees service at Himalaya every day and never seems to slow down. He's constantly on the phone, taking to-go orders, scheduling repairs needed at the restaurant, and checking on the tables to make sure diners enjoyed their meal. If that seems like a lot, then factor in that Kaiser also prepares much of Himalaya's daily menu. Himalaya is revered by locals and industry people alike for its intensely flavorful meats and curries. The dining experience at Himalaya never feels stale as Lashkari is always adding specials, such as a recent masala spiced brisket. The daily lunch special at Himalaya is one of my favorite meals in Houston. Served in a cafeteria tray, it has a rotating selection of curries along with rice, naan, and usually another savory treat in each of the tray's sectioned squares. Kaiser's newest experiment, spiced fried chicken, was on the tray on a recent visit. The food at Himalaya is among the most authentic and delicious in the city and Himalaya remains one of the most quintessential Houston restaurants.

The baloney at Public Services Wine & Whisky, to be eaten with an ample amount of sherry.
No. 7 Public Services Wine and Whisky (Market Square Downtown): I am not a bar person, but Public Services is not your typical bar. That is just one of the reasons why I love the place so much. Owned by Oxheart's Justin Vann, Justin Yu, and Karen Man and operated by Vann, Public Services has the city's most varied selection of rare wines and whiskies in the city. The enthusiasm the Public Services staff has about their menu is infectious, and service is always attentive but never pushy. It is a delight to walk into Public Services during their splendid happy hour (4:00-6:30 daily) at which time the entire wine list is half off and pull up a seat at the bar. Most trips in, I take a quick glance at the menu and then just put my drinking decisions in the hands of Vann and his talented staff. The food menu at Public Services is small but as strong as one would expect based on its owners. The house-made "baloney" is the perfect fatty treat, served with cheese and ritz crackers, and the smoked fish spread is a great snack, though I recommend making sure your drink order pairs well with it. If you're not a wine or whisky expert, or even if you are, I cannot recommend enough making a trip to Public Services and entrusting its crew to provide you with one of the most laid back and interesting bar experiences in Houston.

Whole branzino from Helen Greek Food and Wine.

No. 6 Helen Greek Food and Wine (Rice Village): Helen is the rare restaurant where every meal I've had there is better than the last. This is an exciting thought for my next visit considering the spectacular dinner I enjoyed there last month. Respected sommelier Evan Turner realized his dream of bringing his version of Greek food to Houston last year when Helen opened in a small space in Rice Village. Chef William Wright leads the kitchen, and though he does not have a background in Greek cooking, Chef Wright expertly executes Helen's menu of traditional Greek flavors with touches of Houston mixed in to create some of the most interesting plates I've had anywhere in the country in recent memory. The trio of dips, available on all of Helen's menus, is a must order on any visit. The flavors change frequently, but much thought is put into each dip and they are a great introduction to the rest of the menu. Whether it be a smoky eggplant or spiced red bell pepper with feta dip, it is a great bite spooned atop grilled pita bread. Turner's love of Greek wine is on full display at Helen, which boasts one of the largest selections of Greek wines in the country. It is a well priced list and the staff does a great job of pairing the wine with the diners' menu selections. The salads at Helen pop with freshness and a perfect amount of acidity, and a grilled whole branzino dish I enjoyed on my last trip in was one of the best fish dishes I've ever had. The lunch menu equals the appeal of dinner at Helen, where a flavorful brined chicken is served with confit potatoes, a generous lunch portion for its $14 price tag. Helen has brought life to a mostly quiet dining area of Houston, and is one of those restaurants that I feel will get better with age.   

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