Funny man with good taste
by Marene Gustin
“It’s tough being gay and from the South,” says Cody Melcher over margaritas and fajitas at Vida Tex-Mex, the hot new adults-only eatery in Highland Village where he’s a co-owner.
“But not because of what you would think,” he adds. “I was raised on a very gentlemanly code that outdates Doc Holiday. So when I date a guy, do I hold the chair out for him? At the end of the date do I punch him in the eye and call him the F-word or does he do it to me? When we’re at a lynching, does he quote the Bible’s justification or do I?”
Clearly, Melcher is not your typical restaurant owner. In fact, the 23-year-old Houston native spends most of his time in Chicago on the stand-up comedy circuit at bars and open-mic clubs. Despite hailing from a long line of Houston businessmen, developers, and philanthropists, Melcher knew at an early age that he wanted to be funny. And he is.
“When I was in the third grade I did a stand-up routine for the school talent show,” says the baby-faced Melcher with his Buddy Holly glasses, striped shirt, patterned tie, and two-day stubble. He’s adorable, yet politically savvy and with a whip-smart sense of humor. “It was half stolen from Louie Anderson and half my own material. In the fifth grade I did a Bill Clinton impersonation. I’ve just always been a very introverted extrovert.”
Melcher admits that it’s hard for him to meet guys, because he’s not an “out person.” In fact, he mainly stays inside working on his comedy and his weekly podcast and only leaves the confines of his Chicago apartment for work or the occasional gym workout.
“I live in Boystown, so the gym is full of cute guys. I was raised to be friendly so I’m always saying ‘Hi’—and they’re like ‘Right, old man.’”
He is on Okcupid and tweets some pretty funny stuff on Twitter as @eccentricgent. “Twitter is great for comedy,” he says. “But I can’t get into foursquare. Stalkers don’t need to know where I am 24/7.”
Melcher gets up every morning to read the newspaper and write comedy headlines for the stories. He’s nonpartisan yet versed in politics, having done radio shows in college riffing on Rush Limbaugh. He also bemoans the reality-TV genre as the downfall of civilization, yet harbors a love of TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras. And he once did trailers for erotic paranormal fiction.
“That’s an odd thing to put on your résumé,” Melcher muses. “Because if you’re applying for a job at Build-A-Bear, they don’t really care about that.”
Melcher admits that he’s just paying his dues in Chicago right now, hoping for that big break in comedy. He supports himself in Houston with his real-estate ventures and his part ownership in Vida and Railyard Bar, which anchor the remodeled Melcher Crossing shopping center.
Yes, that Melcher.
His grandfather, LeRoy Melcher, built the center and the U-Totem empire, and his mother Yvonne Melcher’s love of animals led to her involvement in the founding of Citizens for Animal Protection (CAP)—which explains the paintings of cute pups at Vida. In fact, Vida is also the brainchild of his mother, his stepfather, Magic Schwarz (a former Hollywood stuntman), and his older brother Trey. None of them had any previous restaurant experience, which may account for Vida’s rocky start and a scathing review from the Houston Press. But the family is undaunted.
“The first year of a restaurant is like the first year of a marriage,” says Melcher. “It’s hard. But we are first and foremost about quality and consistency.
“The concept was my mother’s and Magic’s, who thought ‘Why can’t you have a nice date-place for adults who want to eat good Tex-Mex?’”
And that pretty much sums up Vida.
It’s a little sexy, with a dark interior punctuated by blood-red accent walls, hanging blown-glass light fixtures, and some wonderful paintings by Mexican artist Lolei Pavao—including some bare-breasted ladies in repose. The horseshoe-shaped bar fronts the Magic Circle, a round private dining room draped in black curtains.
And although the décor suggests a contemporary lounge that might serve trendy small plates, the menu here is actually traditional Tex-Mex served up in huge amounts.
Start with a cocktail—preferably a strong margarita dressed with an orchid—and some of the chili con queso topped with spicy beef or the artfully plated guacamole. Entrées come with a side of Spanish rice shaped into a compact square, because, as Melcher says, “Even though we don’t allow kids doesn’t mean we don’t serve primary shapes.”
The fajita platter comes with all the fixin’s, including some nice housemade tortillas and a selection of fajita beef, chicken, and/or grilled shrimp. The Magic Stack Enchiladas Verdes is like a lasagna of layered chicken enchiladas with baked cheese and tomatillo sauce and a dollop of sour cream. Nacho platters are pretty standard, but there are some Naughty Nachos with fried oysters for a twist.
Melcher enjoys indulging at Vida when he’s in Houston—but what does he do about food when he’s in Chicago?
“I don’t think they even have Tex-Mex there,” Melcher says. “In Los Angeles, I once ordered queso and they brought me a bowl of shredded cheese.”
Which explains why he comes home whenever he can to eat at Vida.
Open for lunch and Happy Hour, Tuesday–Friday, and dinner Tuesday–Sunday.
4224 San Felipe
713/961-9200 • vidatexmex.com.
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.