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The newest, hottest places to nosh.

By Marene Gustin

More dining:
Spring Sips (including drink recipes from the Hotel Icon)
Recipes (from El Tiempo, the Rainbow Lodge, and Field of Greens)

BB’s No need to head to NOLA for that Cajun fix. BB’s (2710 Montrose Blvd., 713/524-4499, www.thebetterbite.com) may look small—it’s wedged into a Montrose strip between a drycleaner and a gas station—but it’s huge on authentic taste. From the Crazy Cajun Chips to the Bedtime in the Bayou fried Gulf Coast shrimp po-boys, this place is packed with authentic Cajun goodness. A lot of menu items are called Maw Maw’s, and not only are they owner Brooks Bassler’s Grammy’s recipes, she even came over to train the kitchen staff herself! Breakfast (think beignets and fried catfish) is served all day and the joint is open late nights (until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday). The perfect spot to chow down on good cookin’ to sop up a night’s libations.

Open City Does Midtown need another über chic bar/eatery? It does when it’s Open City (2416 Brazos, St., 713/522-0118, www.ochouston.com). Chef Tamir and wife Nadine Aly bring their restaurant experience to Houston with this trendy spot named for Roberto Rossellini’s artistic 1946 flick Open City. Expect lots of arty décor, a rooftop bar with a divine view, and American comfort food with a fashionable flair. Mac and Gruyere cheese and Not Your Mother’s Meat Loaf are ingredient-driven twists on classic dishes. Even the Wonton Ravioli nods to regional flavor with a touch of butternut squash. Wash it down with a pitcher of Texas Ruby Red sangria or a signature cocktail like the Pop-Rocks Martini. And, no, it won’t explode in your tummy like the urban legend of Mikey, but it will leave you with a pleasant fizz in the mouth.

Bells & Whistles New this year to the Minute Maid Park explosion—and in keeping with the whole train theme there—is Bells & Whistles Café (1501 Texas Ave., 713/224-1501). It’s down-home dining for the downtown lunch set. The café is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. “Diners appreciate that they can come in, enjoy a good lunch, and be back in their offices without wasting a lot of time,” manager Rome Hickey says. Plus, the smallest of the three dining areas offers audio-visual equipment, and the whole place has free Wi-Fi, making it perfect for business meetings. Fruit smoothies and fresh coffee are the drinks of choice here, which pair well with the daily specials of Americana classics. Think pan-fried pork chops, and blackened tilapia, rib eyes and fried catfish, and good ol’ fashioned burgers. Finish lunch with a slice of made-from-scratch coconut meringue pie and you’ll never want to head back to the office.

The Grove Discovery Green, our new downtown park, is a jewel in itself, but now that The Grove (1611 Lamar St., 713/337-7321, www.grovehouston.com) is open, it’s also the city’s newest must-see restaurant destination. Lonnie Schiller and legendary chef Robert Del Grande (of Cafe Annie fame) teamed up to create this eco-friendly, super trendy spot with a rooftop tequila bar—the view at night is astounding—and a downstairs with floor-to-ceiling windows looking over the park’s lake. Visually astounding and the food is nothing less than you would expect. Del Grande created the menu, but it’s chef Ryan Pera (recently of Alden’s 17) who is winning acclaim as master of the open kitchen domain. Food here is unpretentious with just the right mix of local flavors, fresh ingredients, and culinary quirks. What Pera does to a deviled egg puts grandma’s church potluck appetizers to shame. If you only visit one new restaurant this year, it must be The Grove.

Hotel Icon’s Voice There’s a new voice in Houston’s culinary world and it’s singing loud and clear. The $4 million first floor makeover of the Hotel Icon has given birth to Voice (220 Main St., 713/224-4266, www.hotelicon.com). The shades of amber, crimson, and taupe with accents of black and bronze, offset by two rows of white Doric columns, create an inviting atmosphere where chef Michael Kramer holds court with a menu of straightforward American cuisine, kicked up just a notch.

“I’m truly ingredient-driven,” Kramer says. “Simple, clean, layered flavors.” Check out his Mushroom Soup Cappuccino with Truffle Foam for starters. You can eat it with a spoon or just sip right from the cup. It’s a fun starter, but the meal gets serious with his Coffee-Rubbed Filet of Beef. Kramer uses South Texas venison and beef, local honey and cheeses, and the freshest Gulf Coast seafood for his creations. Come hungry.

 

Salud
Salud! Winery

Salud! Winery

Our fave little Montrose winery now has a full lunch and dinner menu. Salud! Winery (3939 Montrose Blvd., 713/522-8282, www.saludwinery.com) has been a trendy sipping bar since it opened its doors—and its vats where patrons make their own vino—but now it’s also a super place to eat while you sip. Chef Kyle Turney has a lunch and dinner menu of Italian treats that work just right with the Italian piazza atmosphere here. Simple hearty foods from appetizers, salads, and artisan pizzas to crostinis and desserts. For some heavy imbibing try the Italian Pizza full of meaty prosciutto, Genoa salami and pepperoni. At $14 it’s a steal. Plus it will leave you with enough pocket change for a hunk of Double Chocolate Chunk Brownie with ice cream and hot fudge.

SoVino SoVino Wine Bar and Bistro (507 Westheimer Road, 713/524-1000, www.sovinowines.com) isn’t just another wine bar-cum-café. This chic, 3,000-square-foot locale designed by architect Ferenc Dreef is the brainchild of longtime restaurateur Manfred Jachmich and Elizabeth Abraham of the Abraham’s Oriental Rugs family. The duo hooked up after Abraham gave up a career in law for one in food. Late last year they opened SoVino on Lower Westheimer to rave reviews. With an extensive wine list concentrating on Southern Hemisphere wines and some fabulous foods like Shiraz-braised short ribs with Gruyere polenta and grape leaf-wrapper salmon, this spot is a real foodies’ delight.

Beaver’s Ice House No, this isn’t like the iconic West Alabama Ice House where the extent of food comes when someone brings a grill in for weekend burgers and dogs to go with the cold ones. The resurrected Beaver’s Ice House (2310 Decatur St., 713/864-2328), www.beavershouston.com) is the latest culinary child of chef Monica Pope and Andrea Lazar of t’afia fame. They’ve retained the bare bones building, although spiffed up the place and added a barbecue pit out back. And while the menu is pure country, the ingredients are top notch. The Harris Ranch all-natural beef brisket is mouth watering, but come early. Once the smoked meats are gone, there are no more until the pit master fires it up the next day. Which means you’ll just have to make do with some Texas Cheddar Beer Dip, and Gabey-Baby’s Fried Pickles, hardly a hardship.

Marene Gustin contributed to OutSmart’s January 2008 People To Watch spotlight, interviewing foodie Carlos Meltzer and activist Steven Haynes.

More dining:
Spring Sips (including drink recipes from the Hotel Icon)
Recipes (from El Tiempo, the Rainbow Lodge, and Field of Greens)

Eat Now
The newest, hottest places to nosh.

More dining:
Spring Sips (including drink recipes from the Hotel Icon)
Recipes (from El Tiempo, the Rainbow Lodge, and Field of Greens)

BB’s No need to head to NOLA for that Cajun fix. BB’s (2710 Montrose Blvd., 713/524-4499, www.thebetterbite.com) may look small—it’s wedged into a Montrose strip between a drycleaner and a gas station—but it’s huge on authentic taste. From the Crazy Cajun Chips to the Bedtime in the Bayou fried Gulf Coast shrimp po-boys, this place is packed with authentic Cajun goodness. A lot of menu items are called Maw Maw’s, and not only are they owner Brooks Bassler’s Grammy’s recipes, she even came over to train the kitchen staff herself! Breakfast (think beignets and fried catfish) is served all day and the joint is open late nights (until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday). The perfect spot to chow down on good cookin’ to sop up a night’s libations.

Open City Does Midtown need another über chic bar/eatery? It does when it’s Open City (2416 Brazos, St., 713/522-0118, www.ochouston.com). Chef Tamir and wife Nadine Aly bring their restaurant experience to Houston with this trendy spot named for Roberto Rossellini’s artistic 1946 flick Open City. Expect lots of arty décor, a rooftop bar with a divine view, and American comfort food with a fashionable flair. Mac and Gruyere cheese and Not Your Mother’s Meat Loaf are ingredient-driven twists on classic dishes. Even the Wonton Ravioli nods to regional flavor with a touch of butternut squash. Wash it down with a pitcher of Texas Ruby Red sangria or a signature cocktail like the Pop-Rocks Martini. And, no, it won’t explode in your tummy like the urban legend of Mikey, but it will leave you with a pleasant fizz in the mouth.

Bells & Whistles New this year to the Minute Maid Park explosion—and in keeping with the whole train theme there—is Bells & Whistles Café (1501 Texas Ave., 713/224-1501). It’s down-home dining for the downtown lunch set. The café is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. “Diners appreciate that they can come in, enjoy a good lunch, and be back in their offices without wasting a lot of time,” manager Rome Hickey says. Plus, the smallest of the three dining areas offers audio-visual equipment, and the whole place has free Wi-Fi, making it perfect for business meetings. Fruit smoothies and fresh coffee are the drinks of choice here, which pair well with the daily specials of Americana classics. Think pan-fried pork chops, and blackened tilapia, rib eyes and fried catfish, and good ol’ fashioned burgers. Finish lunch with a slice of made-from-scratch coconut meringue pie and you’ll never want to head back to the office.

The Grove Discovery Green, our new downtown park, is a jewel in itself, but now that The Grove (1611 Lamar St., 713/337-7321, www.grovehouston.com) is open, it’s also the city’s newest must-see restaurant destination. Lonnie Schiller and legendary chef Robert Del Grande (of Cafe Annie fame) teamed up to create this eco-friendly, super trendy spot with a rooftop tequila bar—the view at night is astounding—and a downstairs with floor-to-ceiling windows looking over the park’s lake. Visually astounding and the food is nothing less than you would expect. Del Grande created the menu, but it’s chef Ryan Pera (recently of Alden’s 17) who is winning acclaim as master of the open kitchen domain. Food here is unpretentious with just the right mix of local flavors, fresh ingredients, and culinary quirks. What Pera does to a deviled egg puts grandma’s church potluck appetizers to shame. If you only visit one new restaurant this year, it must be The Grove.

Hotel Icon’s Voice There’s a new voice in Houston’s culinary world and it’s singing loud and clear. The $4 million first floor makeover of the Hotel Icon has given birth to Voice (220 Main St., 713/224-4266, www.hotelicon.com). The shades of amber, crimson, and taupe with accents of black and bronze, offset by two rows of white Doric columns, create an inviting atmosphere where chef Michael Kramer holds court with a menu of straightforward American cuisine, kicked up just a notch.

“I’m truly ingredient-driven,” Kramer says. “Simple, clean, layered flavors.” Check out his Mushroom Soup Cappuccino with Truffle Foam for starters. You can eat it with a spoon or just sip right from the cup. It’s a fun starter, but the meal gets serious with his Coffee-Rubbed Filet of Beef. Kramer uses South Texas venison and beef, local honey and cheeses, and the freshest Gulf Coast seafood for his creations. Come hungry.

Salud! Winery Our fave little Montrose winery now has a full lunch and dinner menu. Salud! Winery (3939 Montrose Blvd., 713/522-8282, www.saludwinery.com) has been a trendy sipping bar since it opened its doors—and its vats where patrons make their own vino—but now it’s also a super place to eat while you sip. Chef Kyle Turney has a lunch and dinner menu of Italian treats that work just right with the Italian piazza atmosphere here. Simple hearty foods from appetizers, salads, and artisan pizzas to crostinis and desserts. For some heavy imbibing try the Italian Pizza full of meaty prosciutto, Genoa salami and pepperoni. At $14 it’s a steal. Plus it will leave you with enough pocket change for a hunk of Double Chocolate Chunk Brownie with ice cream and hot fudge.

SoVino SoVino Wine Bar and Bistro (507 Westheimer Road, 713/524-1000, www.sovinowines.com) isn’t just another wine bar-cum-café. This chic, 3,000-square-foot locale designed by architect Ferenc Dreef is the brainchild of longtime restaurateur Manfred Jachmich and Elizabeth Abraham of the Abraham’s Oriental Rugs family. The duo hooked up after Abraham gave up a career in law for one in food. Late last year they opened SoVino on Lower Westheimer to rave reviews. With an extensive wine list concentrating on Southern Hemisphere wines and some fabulous foods like Shiraz-braised short ribs with Gruyere polenta and grape leaf-wrapper salmon, this spot is a real foodies’ delight.

Beaver’s Ice House No, this isn’t like the iconic West Alabama Ice House where the extent of food comes when someone brings a grill in for weekend burgers and dogs to go with the cold ones. The resurrected Beaver’s Ice House (2310 Decatur St., 713/864-2328), www.beavershouston.com) is the latest culinary child of chef Monica Pope and Andrea Lazar of t’afia fame. They’ve retained the bare bones building, although spiffed up the place and added a barbecue pit out back. And while the menu is pure country, the ingredients are top notch. The Harris Ranch all-natural beef brisket is mouth watering, but come early. Once the smoked meats are gone, there are no more until the pit master fires it up the next day. Which means you’ll just have to make do with some Texas Cheddar Beer Dip, and Gabey-Baby’s Fried Pickles, hardly a hardship.

Marene Gustin contributed to OutSmart’s January 2008 People To Watch spotlight, interviewing foodie Carlos Meltzer and activist Steven Haynes.

More dining:
Spring Sips (including drink recipes from the Hotel Icon)
Recipes (from El Tiempo, the Rainbow Lodge, and Field of Greens)

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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