By Joanna O’Leary
Since taking your dad(s) to dinner on Father’s Day is par for the course, why not supplement the meal with some pre- or post-prandial art, history, and culture? Houston’s robust museum scene offers a wide selection of exhibits guaranteed to appeal to diverse interests, providing the perfect opportunity to create your own themed “dinner and a museum” experience. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Mummies on Father’s Day? Why not, especially those on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science? Their Hall of Ancient Egypt exhibit offers a well-curated array of artifacts that have a way of making you consider changing careers to become a hummus-craving Indiana Jones-style archaeologist. Although there is a dearth of specifically Egyptian restaurants in Houston, many of that country’s culinary staples—such as kebobs, dolma, schwarma, moussaka, and baba ganoush—can be found at many Middle Eastern establishments. For quality as well as quantity, take Dad to Fadi’s Mediterranean Grill or introduce him to that wondrous condiment known only as “white sauce” with a gyro platter from The Halal Guys.
For a belated Father’s Day, check out the Degas: A New Vision exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (opening in October 2016), a comprehensive survey of the painter’s rich body of work that pays special attention to his lesser-known pieces (i.e., those not involving ballerinas). Before or after perusing the exhibit’s more than 200 works, indulge in some dishes from the French capital (birthplace of Edgar Degas) at Au Petit Paris. Located in an unassuming cottage in the heart of Montrose, this restaurant is known for serving creatively constructed dishes in a welcoming atmosphere. Standouts include the house-made foie gras terrine paired with spring salad dressed with a black truffle vinaigrette infusion and brioche toasts and the unctuous coq au vin with fingerling potato puree, sautéed spinach, onions, and bacon.
An afternoon spent in the Museum of African-American Culture, which chronicles the lives and experiences of prominent people of color in Houston, will remind you of the significant contributions these residents have made to our culinary scene. Pay homage by visiting Houston’s This Is It Soul Food Restaurant where, since 1959, hungry patrons have gobbled up bountiful plates of ham hocks, oxtails, smothered pork chops, macaroni and cheese, and (in this author’s humble opinion), the best candied yams in town. Alternately, prepare for your museum visit with some hearty morning fare at The Breakfast Klub. The long lines on weekends testify to the enduring popularity of this Midtown joint, with its Southern breakfast classics like wings and waffles, catfish and grits, and biscuits and gravy.
Dads who are young at heart (or have kids) will get a kick out of the series of permanent and short-term interactive displays at the Children’s Museum of Houston. At Explore Yalálag—A Mountain Village in México! that runs through November 6, you’ll gain insight into the customs and rituals of life in a small town in Oaxaca. Learning about Yalálag’s cooking practices is sure to whet the family’s appetite for some Mex-Mex food. For authentic Oaxacan specialties, go to Hugo’s for, well, just about everything, but especially the crispy don’t-knock-’em-’til-you-try-’em chapulines, pan-sautéed grasshoppers accompanied by tortillas, guacamole, and salsa. Diners less enthused about insects should try the signature Oaxcan dishes at Arnoldo Richards’ Pico’s, such as the sweet-savory mancha mantales, pork and chicken braised in a peanut and chile ancho mole with plantains, sweet potatoes, apples, and pineapple, and the pato en dos moles, a succulent breast of duck and its hindquarters bathed in mole de ciruela, an earthy sauce made with ancho peppers and prunes.
If Dad has a pleasantly dark sense of humor, take him to the Museum of Funeral History for a thorough education on the history and methodology associated with mourning, funerals, and corpse preparation. Then continue to engage with “preserved meats” (get it?) by sampling the elegant salumi offering at newcomer Enoteca Rossa. Papas who love pizza absolutely must try the chef’s signature pizza stuffed with ricotta and crowned with a softball-size piece of burrata.
Finally, the highly active but underappreciated Russian Cultural Center is home to classes, screenings, and rotating exhibits that will delight even dads who aren’t serious Russophiles. Follow up with a shopping trip to The Russian General Store to pick up caviar, smoked mackerel, and pelmeni (Russian dumplings) for a socialist-style picnic.
Joanna O’Leary is a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.