Category Archives: Bar

Honeymoon Cafe

Honeymoon Cafe is one of several craft cocktail bars recently opening in the Market Square area of downtown. I hadn’t noticed before last month but almost all of the spaces on Main St in this part of town are now bars focusing on anything but off-the-rack cocktails. Good on them.

Honeymoon is a little different from the rest of the craft cocktail bars since they also have  breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner menus. I liked that their breakfast menu was available all day which makes possible the almost irresistible breakfast for dinner option.

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Atmosphere
Houston considers ‘old buildings’ anything built more than 50 years ago. Its also prone to yanking those buildings down in favour of shiny glass and steel boxes. Shame, but at least in downtown you’ll find the last remnants of buildings originally built before 1900. Honeymoon is smack in the middle of one cluster.

Historical context and old-world architectural detail aside, you’ll find Honeymoon to be very casual with mixed bag patronage. Early hours usually pulls in post-work suits umbilically attached to laptops, later hours pulls the pre-party crowd getting in some meaningful conversation before the night spins out of control.

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Drink
Yep, there is food and I’ve been happy with my food orders here on previous trips, however  this round was about drinks. And actually I just tried the one, Peter Cottontail,  but with different preparations.

The base layer of the Peter Cottontail is carrot juice. Ginger and lemon are added and then there is the variable; either Green Chili vodka or Mandarin Orange vodka. I tried both but my preference was for the Green Chili version. A little amusing heat from the chili, inherent sweetness of the carrot, a little acidity from the lemon and the zing of ginger all in one glass. Its health drink! I can rationalize with the best of them.

Service
Like most ‘craft cocktail’ venues, each drink is prepared with almost ceremonial process so it will take a bit longer. Food orders are typically a 20-30 minute turnaround. Staff here are mostly friendly and knowledgeable however I did get some impatience from one bartender when I asked some questions about preparation. Who knows, maybe dude was having a bad day but this seems an anomaly rather than the standard.

Price
Pretty fair. $9-12 per cocktail. $8-15 per food main.

Drinks: August2015

Honeymoon Cafe| 300 Main | HTX 770902

Dosi

The Korean sector in Houston is concentrated slightly west of town along Longpoint Rd. near Blalock. There you can find dozens of Korean restaurants and a Kroger-sized grocery dealing mostly with Korean items. However, in town, Korean options are sparse. This in-town restaurant, Dosi, is not strictly Korean, it leans more towards fusion.

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Atmosphere
Dosi did a Madonna; It disappeared only to come back with a new look. The look is sophisticated industrial with a tinge of street thanks to inside murals by Houston’s Aerosol Kriminals. The bright pink murals, light trees and wall of marinating produce broke up the rectangular grid of interior and created interest.

There were not many people for lunch but apparently they had a bumper crop the previous night – a late, last minute party of 20 – and they were out of a lot of items. They were quick to offer impromptu substitutes for missing items and they actually closed the restaurant after we were seated so we had full run over the remaining menu items.

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Food
The food here is mostly great, however Korean purists are going to take exception to the ingredients, preparation and presentation.

Bibimbab: I ordered the bibimbap for lunch and it was mediocre. The chicken and vegetables lacked flavour and the rice was dry. I salvaged the lot by applying liberal amount of gochujang, the Korean hot pepper paste.

Kimchee, Pork Belly Pancakes: Stellar. Crispy on the out, soft on the in, good texture play with the roasted pork belly and just the right amount of kimchee to flavour without becoming overpowering. The vinegar, soy, hot pepper dipping sauce was amazing. The homemade kimchee in pots on every table were a great topping with these.

Gulf Oyster Ssam: Also amazing. Crispy potato-starch fried oysters presented with lettuce for wrapping along with nori strips, red bell pepper, kumquats and a gochujang aioli. This is a good example of how Dosi does fusion with excellent results.

Price
Its in line with other Upper Kirby establishments for lunch, $8-10 per app, $10-15 per entree. For those who know the prices of authentic Korean restaurants, this will seem high, however consider the time and money costs of getting to those from an in-town location.

Service
It was our server’s first day and she was faced with 12 hungry people, serious time restrictions and a lot of missing menu items. I applaud her ability to negotiate with the chef to come up with adhoc substitutes and to offer us deals on those items. I would not want that as my first day experience but she handled it extremely well. Hopefully that is a harbinger of the service level in general.

While I’m still partial to authentic Korean I’ll definitely return to Dosi to try more of their fusion items. I’m also curious to try a few of their Soju offerings which are featured prominently during their daily Soju happy hour.

Lunch: July 2015

Dosi | 2802 S. Shepard | HTX 77098

Moon Tower Inn

Austin is the one city in Texas which seems not part of Texas – its liberal, its dynamic, it does not adhere to the surrounding cultural norms in a way that does not offend those who do. Hence the city’s tag line ‘Keep Austin Weird’. To a large extent Austin has been successful in preserving its weirdness.

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Apparently a seed from Austin’s mindset has escaped and traveled the 200 miles to firmly plant itself in the soil of Houston’s night spots, because Moon Tower Inn is weird, at least for Houston. I hope this trend continues.

Lets check the weird aspects:

  • Located in what is mostly an industrial park in Houston’s EaDo neighbourhood
  • All outdoor seating
  • No website
  • A mostly wild-game hotdog menu
  • Huge, mostly unknown but appealing on-tap beer offerings
  • Crowd defies categorization
  • Unapologetic 45-minute wait for food. Signs will warn you of this, so don’t bitch or you’ll get some well-deserved attitude in return
  • They run out of beer and food items randomly – have a contingency plan
  • Bathroom signs – you are either a taco or corn dog – figure it out

That said, I first tried Moon Tower Inn soon after it opened since their wild game hotdogs became legendary on Chow. They are incredible. If you are not sure what to order, just ask the bartenders to pick something out. They are personable, knowledgeable and will Q&A until they can recommend something you’ll enjoy.

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The Lamb Dog is my second favourite to the Coon Dog but the boudin-based Coon Dog is almost always out of stock by the time my late ass arrives. The Lamb Dog is extremely flavourful and spicy with what seems to be a little hot pepper. I had mine with feta and onion this time, one friend called ‘chefs choice’ for his Lamb Dog and was happy with the Jalapenos and ‘special sauce’. Good luck trying to figure out whats in the special sauce, it tastes a little like catsup and black pepper – whatever it is,  you’ll enjoy. The dogs come on a pretzel bun which is out of this world good; a little yeasty, a little crispy, a little soft, no salt.

Music at MTI swings wildly around the genres. This time when we arrived it was metal for the first hour then switched to early 90’s hip hop. I had to use Shazam to figure out the artists – mostly it was Will Smith during his Fresh Prince days, with a side of  Beasties, Dr. Dre and Young MC. A hilarious but enjoyable time capsule.

Contrary to what you might hear, the neighbourhood around MTI is not that bad. Its not a place I would want to wander miles solo at 2am but I wouldn’t give a second thought to walking solo 2 blocks back to my car at midnight. About parking , street parking  along Ennis, Canal and Commerce is widely available and not an issue, however do be mindful of the no parking signs, which are clearly visible and in red font.

If you are looking for a place to roll up as-is, have a few incredible beers, a noteworthy hotdog and relax solo or with your crowd, you just can’t beat MTI.

Drinks: May 2014

Moon Tower Inn | 3004 Canal | HTX 77003

Plonk

IMG_2029I sat next to the owner of Plonk on a flight out to California. We had an interesting chat, he gave me his card but since his restaurant was outside the loop I didn’t give it much more thought; call me an inner loop snob. A few weeks later friends living close to Plonk also recommended it which I categorized as nationalism at a neighbourhood level but it was enough for me to schedule a group outing.

I’m glad about that.

Atmosphere
Plonk is located in the Oak Forest area of Houston; a lovely, sedate neighbourhood with huge trees and well-kept, mid-century ranch homes. Finding Plonk is a bit of an adventure; you know its at 43rd & Ella but it could be any of one of the strip centers and since there is no sign, you just start at one and work your way through. For those who want clearer directions – NW corner, behind the Wells Fargo.

The interior is amorphous; clean and shiny but lacking any atmosphere. The patio is likewise generic; a functional, blank canvas on which you will paint your own atmosphere.

Drink
There are pages of wine and beer selections covering just about all varieties of both; its an impressive list for the venue size; half of the selections were familiar, the other half, not so much. I asked wine girl for a lighter white with some personality. She brought out this Austrian white : Bründelmayer Grüner Veltliner Kamptaler Terrassen 2012. Slightly effervescent with a clear green apple focus, a whisper of white pepper and lemon with  a chalky goodbye. A enjoyable sip solo, however aggressive enough to pair well with an order of roasted sprouts. I’ll likely pick up a bottle for further investigation.

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Food
The food options are broken down into small plates and large. Since we were mostly drinking we ordered a few small to share. Of note were the roasted brussell sprouts, which were simply prepared – salt, pepper and lemon. The simplicity worked well with the flavours in the Austrian white, lemon combining with green apple, black and white pepper merging in spicy harmony.

Service
Service follows a different, more spontaneous philosophy which they more than adequately cover when you walk in – its table service but not exclusively. They will try to get to you but if its taking too long just go to the bar and get your own. This may not sit well with people used to being waited on but for me the focus was on my friends, so I could not have cared less. In our 3 hours at Plonk all of the bartenders come to our table at least once and our glasses were rarely empty for more than 5 minutes. The bartenders/servers are knowledgeable, friendly and decent at sensing the mood and pace of a table.

Price
The wine/beer prices are reasonable and comparable to other wine bars in the city; you can expect a glass of wine to be between $8-30, depending on variety and year. The food prices however, I found to be somewhat expensive; $8 for one roasted scallop? It was definitely good but not $8 good. Stick with the sprouts at $6

Drinks: May 2014

Plonk | 1214 W 43rd St. @ Ella | HTX 77018

 

LowBrow

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There is no such place called LowBrow in Houston. You should definitely not even look for it, its just an urban legend. I don’t really need to try deflection techniques to keep the glitterati away from LowBrow, they simply will not fit in here and we are all the happier to leave them to their silly, over-shellaced world up high on Washington Ave.

Only 3 months open, LowBrow is a relatively new entry into Houston’s bumper crop of new nightspots. For me, LowBrow may be starting a new, old trend in Houston – the return, in force, of the dive-esque neighbourhood bar. Pairing well with the likes of  EaDo’s Voodoo Queen & Moon Tower Inn and Downtown’s Warrens,  it is a place to go as-is and just have a good time over a few local beers and unpretentious food offerings.

IMG_1740For beer, mostly they focus on the local varieties, No Label and St. Arnold’s, however I spotted a Young’s and Guinness. There are a few wines and the bar seems well-stocked with the requisite spirits.

The crowd defies age range, race and socioeconomic labels. I saw many college-aged who are probably walking over from St Thomas College just down the road. Some middle-aged who probably set out to haunt the Westheimer anchor bars but grew tired of waiting 45 minutes for a drink. And even some later-life kids, who probably live in the area and still want to shake it up a little.

The mood is upbeat and social; birthday balloons anchored one large table in the centre of the room, most of the people here circled about the open space meeting and greeting. Music was almost exclusively late-70s funk with an occasional pre-Thriller Michael Jackson thrown in for fun. Service is great, our server was very attentive and personable, stopping by often to check on us on his way to deliver beverages or turn in orders.

Burgers, sammIMG_1749ys and breakfast tacos pepper the small menu. Since I’ve been here 4 times in the past week, I can say my favourite item is the Chicken Fried Black Bean Burger. Its a handmade black bean mixture, battered and fried, served between a griddled, crispy bun with avocado, cilantro, onion and tomato. At lunch, fries come with. The fries are hand-cut, thick, crispy and lightly dusted with some sort of seasoned salt – delicious.

On my most recent trip, yesterday,IMG_1750 I noticed a poster for a Phil Collins dinner. Phil wasn’t putting on a concert, no, its just that one of the owners loves his music and to honour Collins’ birthday (yesterday) he hired a DJ to spin all-Collins and created a 4-course dinner to pair. Several co-lunchers were giddy with the prospect of returning to LowBrow for an all-Collins dinner evening.

I’m expecting more quirky but extremely compelling offerings from LowBrow, my new standard against which all Houston nightspots will be measured.

Lunch: 30 January 2014

LowBrow | 1601 West Main | HTX 77006

OKRA Charity Saloon

IMG_1192Candy isn’t her real name, its a moniker bestowed one night at a party when her subtle toe-tapping and head-bobbing to the background music slowly morphed into a modified pole dance. I mentioned this to Candy – “Hey, nice pole dance, we should start calling you Candy the stripper”.

A star is born.

We don’t see Candy often, busy girl with her dispersed family and high pressure job, so when she calls for a happy hour, we answer. I always try to find a central location for happy hours since we all work and live in just about every far reaching corner of this ever-expanding maze of freeways we call Houston; this time OKRA Charity Saloon.

OKRA caught my eye some months back while trekking about downtown. I liked the concept – 100% of the profit goes to charity, hence the name. Local bartenders, chefs and otherwise good people donate their time and personalities to the effort. The patrons vote on which charity they’d like their drink money to be applied and at the end of the month, the money is donated to the winner. Patrons also vote for next month’s charities.

Every city should have an OKRA.

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The interior reminds me of every shot gun bar in New Orleans;  more tall than wide with a clear view of everything and everyone. The difference being the large skylight, which really brightens up the place anytime before 8p. Mixture of tables and fabric-covered booths are comfortable and spaced well. The music is good; the standard mix of current and past – what was that I heard – Madonna’s Like a Virgin followed by Vampire Weekend’s Unbelievers? Yep, it was.

Mixed drinks are great in my limited experience here – I had several Pimm’s Cups, both were great however one was more lemon heavy and the other was more orange heavy – different bartenders yield different results. The beer selection is decent, the wine selection is limited. I noticed just about everyone in the bar was doing shots of Cinnamon Whiskey; curious but not curious enough – maybe next time.

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I’m not sure how the crowd changes as the evening wears on but between 6-8p it was a mixed bag, probably heavy on the 25-35 crowd but even they were mixed casual pre-4th shorts/serious just off work suits. The mood was very social and upbeat, singles mixing it up at the large central bar, groups into light-hearted conversation with the occasional table bang of emphasis. OKRA does not feel pretentious nor does it seem a place attracting the see-be-seen.

I’m liking OKRA an evening launch off into other downtown venues. After our cocktails and voting we migrated next door to Batanga for tapas (and even more drinks) however, it would be equally enjoyable to scoot across the street to Hearsay, La Carafe, Macondo or Hotel Icon or even Sundance Theatre in Bayou Place to catch up on the films you meant to see before they roll over to Netflix.

Sucky photos courtesy of my dirty lensed iPhone and lack of focus, you’re welcome!

Double Trouble

IMG_1085Th-upMaybe its my Middle Eastern, East Coast or West Coast roots but I love coffee and anyone who can make it dark and rich.

Double Trouble can; their espresso is strong with crema and the frothed milk on the cap is firm,  creamy and comes with a half shot of espresso, in case its not strong enough. What makes Double Trouble unique is that they have bartenders as well as baristas, since it is also quite the destination bar at night. Local beers are the headliners, but their small space is not indicative of their selection.

I laughed when I first heard their bar/coffeehouse concept, thinking to myself there must be a high incidence of wide-awake drunk syndrome in a small radius around the venue. But actually, it makes sense, since it appeals to drinkers and non alike, both of which just want to be out and enjoying the part of their lives not related to work or school.IMG_1086

Anchored in the edgy part of Midtown south of Houston Community College is fits right in with the other non-conformist, tortured artist venues. Scruffy and minimalist, it is comfortable with its mismatched chairs and tables spanning many an design genre and it lacks any form of pretense. While the night crowd tends to be younger, dressed in black and sporting full body tattoos , the afternoon crowd is a more sedate mixed bag.

Service is very friendly and conversational, but only if they sense you are in the mood. If you want to be left alone, you will.

Coffee: 18 May 2013

Double Trouble | 3622 Main | Houston TX 77006