Category Archives: Cafe

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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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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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.

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.

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

Drinks: August2015

Honeymoon Cafe| 300 Main | HTX 770902

Charleston | Persimmon Cafe

Sometimes I tag interesting restaurants I want to try before I travel, other times I ask the locals after I arrive. Since I had success with asking the local teen crowd in Santa Barbara for their favourite spot, I did the same in Charleston. The result was a trip to Persimmon Cafe.

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Persimmon is located near one of the many in-town colleges. Its also housed inside a laundromat. There are a few stools at a window-side bar next to a row of washers. However I noticed most patrons come in to start a set of wash then order takeaway on their way out. Should you decide to eat in, the window-side stools face Calhoun St., a heavily traveled street, which makes for good people watching. The constant swish-swish  of washers and clank-clank of jeans tumbling around a dryer may not appeal to some but I found it quirky white noise.

The menu wins for simplicity – paninis, soups, sides and cookies; most of the paninis were some variation of grilled cheese. The lump crab panini appealed but the ‘adult grilled cheese’ was recommended by a college student I met earlier in the day. An interesting and delicious combination of smoked Gouda cheese combined with thinly sliced green apple and prosciutto. Tartness of the apple combined beautifully with the smokiness of the cheese and the saltiness of the prosciutto. The melty cheese and crispy bread were good textural contrast all the way to the last bite.

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I couldn’t resist trying the peanut butter and candied ginger coleslaw. It sounded just too odd to pass up and I was curious how the flavours would play out. Short answer – they work. The secret seems to be in using small amounts of peanut butter, which added a subtle nutty flavour, and candied ginger adding a sweetness which complimented the otherwise bland flavour of purple and green cabbage. I rarely eat coleslaw since, to me, it usually tastes like crunchy mayonnaise but I would definitely order Persimmon’s version again.

Its counter-order setup and if you do eat in, they’ll walk it out to you. I’m pretty sure patrons eating in get preference since I got my order before the takeaway crowd that came in before me. The people working here are young, knowledgeable and exceptionally friendly, which seems to be the case everywhere in the city.

Reasonable. Adult Grilled Cheese + Peanut Butter and Candied Ginger Coleslaw = $9

If you’re looking for great-tasting, low-cost and casual fare with  quirky atmosphere in the inner Charleston area, Persimmon is good choice.

Lunch: December 2014

Persimmon Cafe | 226 Calhoun | Charleston SC 29401

Santa Barbara | Lucky Penny

Walking the beachfront one day I ran across a skate park. I asked a few of the sidelined skaters for their favourite restaurant in Santa Barbara. I know, its not really a good idea to get restaurant recommendations from a group of teenage boys, however I did add the restriction that it couldn’t be a fast food chain. Minutes and several hundred ‘like dude’s later they agreed on one place, Lucky Penny.

Its a little challenging to find since it takes up a small space in a cluster of structures and there isn’t any street signage. You will however notice that one side of the building is glimmering with copper- pennies, go figure!

Its all outdoor seating at wooden picnic benches. Its small, I doubt 20 people could wedge in at once. Despite that, its a pleasant, casual space filled with interesting artwork and creatively placed plants. I noticed most people come in for coffee or takeaway; the stream is constant and seemingly the locals.

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Mostly locally crafted beers,  pizzas and sammies but not the usual fare. I didn’t have to look down the small menu too far before choosing – Spicy Lamb Meatball Sandwich. The Middle Eastern in me goes straight for lamb when its on the menu. The ciabatta roll was crusty on the out but pillowy and absorbent on the in. That was good since it soaked up quite a bit of the harrissa-spiked tomato sauce. If you don”t know harissa, its a hot pepper based spice mix. If that was not enough heat, they had also added roasted chili. Arugula added bite and herbal flavour and shaved Pecorino added some saltiness and creaminess to the mix. Delicious!

I didn’t know any of the local beers but the girl at the counter gave me a sample of the Paso Robles Peach IPA; I liked. It was definitely a West Coast IPA, heavy hops,  which surprisingly paired well with the subtle dried peach undercurrents. It definitely was a good, soothing companion to the fiery sandwich.

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Its a counter-order, table-delivery setup and delivery seemed to happen almost instantly, of course I was somewhat distracted by the artwork and potted plants hugging the walls of the small outdoor space. Everyone here is very friendly and helpful.

Its about average. Spicy Lamb Meatball Sandwich – $10, Paso Robles Peach IPA – $6

Lucky Penny is only a few blocks from the beach. The other bonus to its location is that the next block north, Yanonali St., is wine alley – many winery outposts and wine bars focusing on Santa Barbara’s local production.

Lunch: November 2014

Lucky Penny | 127 Anacapa | Santa Barbara CA 93101

Niko Niko

IMG_1648Greek restaurants in Houston are few and while Niko Niko is not Greek in its entirety (Buffalo Chicken wrap is not Greek to my knowledge), it comes  close. I’ve been to Niko many times and found myself there twice last week; once in the original Montrose location and another time at their newer kiosk downtown at Market Square.

The atmosphere at the Montrose location is cramped, chaotic and lively. Its preferable to sit outside on the patio if the weather is nice; barriers prevent the con-men indigenous to the Montrose from interfering with your meal. The atmosphere at Market Square is different since its in the middle of a park and there is only outdoor seating. Its a beautiful, relaxing location but you will need skills in deflecting the homeless since invariably they will interrupt.

The food at Niko is good to stellar, depending on which of the many of items from their large menu you order. Largely the menu is plates (meat,falafel, rice, potatoes) and pita wraps (Gyros). The Gyro is consistently excellent; moist, thinly shaved beef and lamb wrapped in one of the best, freshly made pitas in town. A little tomato, a little onion, a little tzatziki sauce – its lunch.

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If you have not tried a Greek Frappe, I recommend. Its loosely water and Nescafe whipped into a frothy concoction; you can request milk and sugar additions. I like this version of coffee not only for the taste, which has distinctly herbal and mineral overtones, but also for its velvety, foamy texture.

Its counter service at both locations; at Montrose a 15-20 minute wait for orders is obligatory, often longer at the lunch rush. At Market Square orders are usually up in 10. In both locations your will be given a buzzer to notify you when orders are up. The staff is all smiles and ‘y’all come back now, ya hear!’

Prices vary depending on whether you go the plate route ($10-20) or pita wrap (generally under $10). Apps and soups are generally under $10.

Niko Niko (Montrose)| 2520 Montrose | HTX 77006

Niko Niko (Downtown)| 301 Milam | HTX 77002

Dublin : Blackboard Bistro

For my last Dublin post, I thought I’d talk a bit about my favourite Dublin restaurant. Like most major European cities, Dublin has a density of great eateries; from takeaway to sit-down-white-linen, its really a matter of desired atmosphere and budget.

In a pub one night I chatted with a group of 20-something Dubliners working for Google. The Googlites had several restaurant recommendations, all of which I tried but Blackboard Bistro was my favourite.

I was expecting Blackboard to be full with a waiting list but I discovered, much to my delight, it was only half full for the early lunch rush at noon. Located in the basement of a building off a main Dublin artery, it compensates for a lack of natural light with very well-thought out architecture, casually-sophisticated decor and music that walks the line between soothing and progressive.

Service here is top-notch in a city priding itself on personable interaction. The measure of good service, for myself, is accurately gauging the mood and pace of the patron. I was down-timing from a hectic morning rushing about the city centre and I was looking for a leisurely pace; I got it. Thanks Declan!

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So, the main focus is food and you could just randomly pick a few items, like I did, and I’m certain you will be thrilled.

Mushroom Soup
Mushrooms, varied, roasted, pureed, condensed, mixed and thickened with what I assume is potato. Put that in a bowl with something creamy. Anything else would not take the edge off of a Dublin damp-cold November day so effectively. Or so deliciously.

Grilled Hake
Locally-sourced and prepared with a bent toward the middle eastern with chili flake, cumin, coriander, saffron and lemon. Served atop baby potatoes mashed with baby spinach and probably just a wee bit of butter. The flavours burst forward from the fish and it’s accompanying spices just a vividly as the colors do in the photo.

Basil Panna Cotta
People who know me know I rarely eat sweets. However I could not resist a try of Basil Panna Cotta with Tomato Jam and Basil Seeds. Panna Cotta is just a step away from being ice cream or at least thickened yoghurt. The chiffonade of basil that found its way into mix gave the dessert a herbal and citrus note which paired extraordinarily well with the sweet but earthy flavours in the tomato jam. This is the most innovative spin on the traditional Italian sweet I’ve seen to date and it would be one of my first requests on a return trip to Dublin.

Price is nudging toward the high side however the quality, innovation and service is likewise high. Compared with the other high end lunch spot I visited, Pig’s Ear, which was certainly excellent, I preferred Blackboard Bistro for service, innovation and presentation.

Lunch: 30 Nov 2013

The Blackboard Bistro | 4 Claire St | Dublin 2

Dublin : Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle held various roles since it’s creation in the 12th century. It was the seat of British rule for quite some time so I get the sense there are mixed feelings about the site from the Irish perspective. But now its basically an Irish government complex and tourist attraction. The interior is well-preserved and decorated in various period pieces,  however it can be crowded and almost impossible to photograph.

Whilst touring the complex there were several Christmas activities in progress, which seemed premature, given it was Thanksgiving weekend, however it did add a bit of color to the otherwise gray outdoors.

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If you are in the Dublin Castle area, ’round back there is an interesting museum, the Chester Beatty Library, which will appeal to history, art and manuscript buffs. Don’t miss a walk about the Garda Memorial Gardens directly across from the Beatty, it is a tribute to past members of the Garda (police).

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Directly across from the Dublin Castle is a NYC-small tart shoppe – Queen Of Tarts. It has a very simple menu – savory tarts and dessert tarts, a few of each. I wedged into a small table and enjoyed a bacon-leek tart (quiche) while watching the density of wool-clad souls hustle down Dame St. Service here was personable but the hectic and cramped space may not appeal to everyone. The tart was incredible; dense, filling, bacon dominated the flavours but the leek, Gruyere and potato refused to be ignored. Side salad was a nice touch as was the apricot chutney. Considering its one of the few meals I had in Dublin under 10 Euros, it was also one of the more memorable.

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Lunch: 30 Nov 2013

Queen Of Tarts | Cows Lane, Dame St | Dublin 2