Houston, the problem is certainly getting solved. That problem would be how to create a marquee cultural city amidst the endless sprawl that is Houston, Texas.
Our fourth largest city in this country, Houston would never be mistaken for one of the four most impressive dining cities. That is not intended to be a slant at all against this excellent city for eating and drinking. Since cities such as San Francisco, New Orleans, and Portland, Oregon (and Maine for that matter) far exceed their modest population size with exceptional dining scenes, Houston faces stiff competition.
With some of the muggiest, sweltering weather around and then the almost daily afternoon thunderstorms, Houston doesn’t exactly have the climate that attracts tourists and screams to young professionals that this is the “it” city they need to re-locate to.
In many ways, Houston out Los Angeles’ Los Angeles. Both have the vast suburban regions that stretch for what seems to be hundreds of miles, complimented by the obligatory freeways. A drive from the Galleria east to Downtown covers really one city, but what seems to be ten cities, just like a drive from Santa Monica to Downtown. Both drives at the wrong time on the wrong day can be slower than if you just walked. Where are the subways when you need them?
Both face major immigration issues being near the Mexico border and both face challenging environmental issues with so much driving and such enormous populations. Los Angeles might have nearly double the population of Houston. Houston, however, covers more land than any other city in the list of the country’s ten most populated cities. A drive north to Dallas from Houston will show you just how vast the city is. It seemed to be at least an hour beyond George H.W. Bush International Airport when finally the suburban world became rural. The airport is almost an hour outside of Downtown to begin with. (more…)
For those of us who meticulously hand select specifically where we dine and drink when visiting a new city, we often don’t even take into account where a restaurant or bar actually is located. I happened to select Hugo’s, Feast, Anvil, and the Hay Merchant as destinations to visit.
I had no idea that they not only were in the same neighborhood, a bit to the west of Downtown Houston, but they all were on the same street!
Westheimer Road is a narrow, winding, pot hole ridden four lane road, that is far more important a thoroughfare than its appearance would make it seem. The roughly mile long stretch runs through the Montrose neighborhood of Houston. It’s residential everywhere with Downtown to the east, the Galleria and River Oaks to the west, and Rice University, Museum District, and the Medical Center District all to the south. The being sprawling Houston, nothing is walking distance. Especially in humid 98 degree heat.
Fortunately, the residents only need this one street. Westheimer boasts one of the country’s most impressive, intensely concentrated stretches of important bars and restaurants. These are national headliners, not just Houston headliners. (more…)
On hot, humid summer days, such as about half the days of the year in Houston, nothing is more necessary than beer. Yes, you can have the worthless, light Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Lawnmower beer that belongs under the lawnmower (fortunately Saint Arnold’s new Endeavour Imperial IPA could be the beer of the week too). Really, you want an enjoyable beer that is not a heavy stout to weigh you down. Something that perks you up while watching another Astros loss.
Houston’s newest brewery, Buffalo Bayou, comes to the rescue. Too new to even have a functioning website, Buffalo Bayou’s sensational rendition of an amber can be found at the Hay Merchant, the new massive craft beer bar from the folks behind Anvil, at some 80 taps strong. The 1836 Copper Ale is named for the year Houston was founded along…the banks of the Buffalo Bayou, a form of a river meandering through Downtown.
A beautiful penny colored copper hue with a stout-like head, definite notes of caramel, orange zest, and sticky toffee hit you, all without being sweet. This isn’t a malty amber at all. In fact, slight hop notes make it almost lean slightly in an IPA direction. At 5.9% ABV, it’s a border-line session beer and would pair perfectly with summer barbeque. I’m certainly thinking beef brisket sandwiches here.
This is one of the best debuts of the summer. Consider it the Bryce Harper or Mike Trout of 2012 craft breweries. Expect Buffalo Bayou to give Saint Arnold and the big names of craft brewing in Austin some Texas-sized competition over the next few months.
Every time I tried to order “The Brave” at Anvil, the epicenter of craft cocktails in Houston on a randomly culinary dense stretch of Westheimer in a very residential neighborhood, the bartender would ask if I really wanted it. Am I brave enough? Can I handle it? It’s 96 degrees and humid…and you want this?
I hesitated at first, instead going a safer route. But I’m brave…or at least with cocktails. I love mezcal and I’d trust anything created by Anvil’s co-owner Bobby Heugel. I enjoyed a drink recently in San Francisco called “None but the Brave,” so this shouldn’t be a problem. None but the brave could enjoy that drink and it has been one of my favorites of the year. I’m brave enough. Right?
My final Houston drink was indeed “The Brave.” (more…)