Category Archives: Beer

Karbach Brewery

I knew about Karbach beer, however not being a huge beer consumer I was surprised it was brewed right here in Houston. I was also surprised when Karbach Brewery Restaurant popped up for restaurant week, so I felt compelled to investigate their 3-course dinner with beer pairings.

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Atmosphere
Disneyland for adults.  Its a modern structure, sporting the ubiquitous soft-loft feel; floor to ceiling windows, lots of steel and polished concrete. The interior is filled with upbeat music, brick walls, wood tables and chairs and people who are arguably the happiest in Houston. From the interior you can see the squeaky clean inner workings of the brewery through large glass windows. You can also see the outdoor seating area which is about as large as the indoors. Its a loud space but not so bad you’ll need to scream. If you were thinking about getting dressed up, there’s really no need, almost everyone was in shorts and flops; I felt over dressed in jeans and boat shoes.

Food
Surprisingly, for a brewery, the food here was great. One of our crew explained that they hired a chef away from another restaurant to create a menu pairing well with their beer offerings. He nailed it.

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Korean Fried Chicken: What’s not to like? Crunchy on the out, juicy on the in, a very spicy glaze of hot pepper, garlic, soy and honey. That they added a bit of chopped kimchi and green onion created a fermented and herbal note that peeked through the glaze momentarily. Very tasty and satisfying in a comfort food way.

Weekend Warrior Chicken: Roasted chicken is uninteresting on its own but here they create a layered approach to the dish both for your eyes and your taste buds.The roasted 1/4 chicken, brined in their Weekend Warrior Pale Ale, sits atop crispy polenta rectangles which sits atop a spicy tomato sauce; a tangle of grilled green onion which, in turn, creates a nest for a grilled lemon. I might have to try it again to confirm that I really liked.

BBH Chocolate Cake: Not a dessert person but who can resist taking at least one bite of chocolate cake made with BBH, Bourbon Barrel Hell-raiser, which is Karbach’s much lighter version of a Chocolate Stout. Still too sweet for me but people with more normal taste buds appreciated, particularly when paired with cinnamon vanilla ice cream and, of course, a 4 ounce pour of BBH itself.

Price
Hard to say about their usual menu since this was restaurant week and the 3-course lot was $35. My guess is the everyday menu is fairly priced.

Service
This is part of the atmosphere. While shorts-clad and very young, the wait staff here know everything about the food and beer offerings. Restaurant week meals come with pre-selected beers (4 ounce pours), however that did not stop us from ordering more beer and our server was spot on aligning particular tastes with what was on tap.

While the brewery is a little out of the way for us inner-loopers who don’t normally travel too far north of the 610 and the parking was a little odd, we all agreed we’ll be back. An interesting note, just in case you like to throw large parties, the entire upstairs is rentable.

Dinner: August 2015

Karbach Brewery | 2032 Karbach St | HTX 77092

 

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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

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

Hitachino Nest : Real Ginger Brew

IMG_1653In a Dublin pub I befriended a group of guys working for Google, Ireland. They gave me a run down on all of the city’s highlights and were great fun. I noticed during our time at the pub that they were all drinking Japanese beers, specifically Hitachino Nest. I thought it odd in a city built on Guinness so I asked. The Googlites explained that in Dublin, Guinness is an everyday beer, when they want something special they turn Japanese.  I didn’t believe it at first but I did notice during the remainder of my trip that sure enough, Dubliners were drinking Japanese beers.

Luckily, back in the US, I can get Hitachino at our Home Depot-sized liquor store, almost all of the varieties, so I thought why not start with ‘Real Ginger Brew’ and see what all the fuss is about.

Its fuss worthy. Amber, almost mahogany in color. A head receding to about 1 finger and lingering. Honey, fig, dried apricot and oatmeal on the nose. It reminds me most of Chimay, Blue on the tongue; definitely heavier and with a apricot-date bent and yes, a slight bite of ginger aftertaste but otherwise clean. Nice solo but I’m speculating it would pair well with a spicy tuna roll.

More research will be required.

Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew | Specs – Downtown, HTX | $5

Portland, Maine

With my vast 6 days of experience in Maine, if had to live in the state, I would live in Portland. Why? Its a vibrant, active city with architecture, history, culture, all-weather outdoor activities and the people are more than friendly, they are engaged in life, not just superficial consumption.

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But that does not overrule the fact that winter in 6 months long.

No doubt my favorable experience in Portland was due in part to an evening I spent with my friend, The Way North New Yorker, who lives in Portland and is not from NYC. Part of a trinity of friends, she is the most outspoken. Like her NYC brethren, if you ask her a direct question, you will get a direct answer; delivered unblinkingly and without apology. Friends like this are invaluable and very difficult to find.

While my meal with the Way North New Yorker was memorable, I did not take any photos nor did I break from my wine consumption to make notes. No matter, earlier in the day I did make a serious attempt to break my lobster-only diet momentarily by stopping for lunch at Portland Pie Company. The pizza here is NYC-style and excellent. Bonus – you get to choose your crust: Basil, Garlic, White, Wheat and a few others I’ve forgotten.

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The most memorable part of this stop was the server recommended beer, a local variety, Sea Dog Blueberry – crisp, refreshing and with a very distinct but not overpowering blueberry flavor that even my hot-pepper-damaged taste buds could detect. I was thrilled when I discovered it could be acquired locally in Houston.

Gumbo Bar

In all the times I’ve lived in Houston, I’ve never traveled the entire hour south to the island of Galveston. Today some friends were leaving from the port of Galveston for a cruise so I thought why not see them off and spend a little time exploring. Glad about that. I had bookmarked another restaurant but it was not open so I poked Trip Advisor and found Gumbo Bar. Glad about that too.

Gumbo Bar is wildly popular with locals and tourists alike but if you are a table for one you will find no wait and better service at the bar. Its also easier to see the selection of beers in the glass front cooler at the bar and you’ll definitely want one or four of those to cool down.

Atmosphere
Galveston is terminally casual and tourism has quite the large presence so the atmosphere everywhere is extremely relaxed. Gumbo Bar is upscale diner with a mixed bag patronage. I saw an elderly couple with walkers seated next to a couple of scary-looking biker dudes (who ironically would later help the elderly couple out of their booth and into their walkers).

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Beer
I was surprised by the variety of local-ish beers, most of which were from Texas and Louisiana. I tried one from each state; Southern Star’s Bombshell Blonde Ale and Abitas Amber Lager. Abitas is a small brewery north of Lake Pontchartrain, LA. Their Amber Lager is smooth, malty with a light caramel flavor and pairs surprisingly well with peppery-hot and salty. Southern Star is a small brewery from Conroe, TX, which used to be a separate town but has now been sucked into the gravitational pull of the HTX (aka Houston, for non-locals). Their Bombshell Blonde is blunt and squeaky clean with a slight “biscuit” flavor, it did not stand up to the hot-pepper as well as the Abitas but it was great with salty.

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Food

All wins.

Fried Pickles with Ranch. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a state law in Texas that anything fried must be served with Ranch dressing. Fried Pickles are something I had never tried but I’m a fan now. The pickles must have been partially dried before frying since there wasn’t a drop of pickle juice when I bit into these. The casing was a grease-less cornmeal mix; pleasantly crunchy giving way to an even crunchier pickle. The combination of creamy ranch and salty pickle is surprisingly good, even if your blood pressure will hate you for your sodium-intake indiscretion.

Seafood Gumbo. But can she make a roux? The most common quip I heard from boys about girls when I was partaking of New Orleans nightlife. Not sure who is making the roux at Gumbo Bar but they can make a serious roux, which you might know, is the flour and butter fry up serving  as a foundation for all things gumbo. Surprisingly, the gumbo, while super rich, dark and ridiculously dense with seafood (oysters, shrimp, fish and crab) was not the least bit salty. I had a choice of four hot sauces, so I tried them all in succession. Alas, my favourite was the least interesting – Tabasco – straight up, no Jalapeno, Garlic or Chipotle distractions.

Service
Outstanding. Again, there is very little wait at the bar. I was seated immediately, the bartender was on the spot with beers, actually talking me out of a couple of choices which would have been too heavy for my meal. My food order started coming out in 10 minutes. I  felt neither rushed nor overlooked.

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Moderate and worthy

  • Beers, $5 a pop
  • Fried Pickles, $5
  • Seafood Gumbo, $10

I’ll be making more trips to Galveston; I like the casual, leisurely beach culture, the surprising 10×10 block of well-kept Victorian houses and the food scene seems good for a town of only 50,000.

Lunch: 3 August 2013

Gumbo Bar | 2105 Post Office St. | Galveston, TX 77550

MOA

While on a wine tour in New Zealand I asked the tour operator if she would be willing to make a detour to MOA brewery, even though it was not on our itinerary. I had discovered a MOA beer at a local grocery in Picton and was curious about their other offerings. Tour Operator was very accommodating, offering to drop off anyone interested in MOA as a swap with Cloudy Bay, which was next door.  When we arrived at MOA the tour group polarized; boys got off at MOA, girls went on to Cloudy Bay.

Cliche, I know.

We sampled 5 beers and they were all great. Or so I remember. The boy-MOA faction was mostly 20’s and were fully focused on childish verbal sparring on our way to being drunk, so recording details on the beers was secondary. I did have sense enough to check the website of our local Home Depot sized liquor store to make sure I could get MOA at home.

Confirmed, continue with verbal sparring focus.

Back at home I have two friends who I consider to be the beer experts; they brew their own and  its always exceptional. Both are MIT educated and I like that they can apply all that knowledge to something fun like beer. By taste they can tell you the ingredients, the brewing method and sometimes what the brew-masters might have done to make the beer taste better. And they even put it in simple terms for a beer neophyte like me!

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I was curious what they would think of the MOA selection; they liked.

  • The Breakfast, however oddly named, is the lightest and most refreshing of the lot. It has almost a floral smell and a very fruit taste, I would say cherry. The MIT crew describe it as a lager. Yeah, what they said.
  • The St. Josephs is a little more dense but still light. It also had a vaguely floral smell and definite fruity quality but it also registered some spice; I was getting pumpkin pie spices. The MIT crew call this a Belgian Tripel. Yeah, what they said.
  • The sledgehammer to the palate is of course the Imperial Stout. Holy crap, I’ve had steak and kidney pies that were less filling. When I poured it out it was jet black and smelled like espresso and chocolate next to a campfire. The taste is about that too; heavy chocolate, dark coffee,  raisin, a tiny bit of astringency I taste in molasses and something that tastes woody.

For someone who isn’t a beer person, I’m really enjoying  MOA. They have other varieties but unfortunately these are the only ones sold in Houston. I see a MOA scouting trip to my standby shoppes when I’m back in NYC.

MOA |  Specs Downtown | $5-6