Thursday, May 28, 2015

Beckrew Wine House

Some weather we've been having lately, huh?

In all seriousness I sincerely hope all of you reading this got through/are getting through the floods with as little damage to your homes and belongings. These storms are no joke - Stay safe out there!

On Tuesday my office was closed due to the madness, and I spent the day inside with my stir-crazy pup. Once the dust (errr- rain?) settled, my friend Kate (who had been stuck inside studying for an exam all day) and I stretched out and ventured over to Beckrew Wine House for some vino and bites.

I had been wanting to try out this Upper Kirby spot ever since it took over the old Tasting Room location and opened back in January. 

The inside is beautiful. White brick walls, exposed industrial ceilings, and funky geometric hanging lamps adorn this open, airy, minimalist space. It's a photographer's dream.

And here's Kate looking adorable under a dome lamp:

The menu at Beckrew lends itself to sharing small plates among your party, something I'm always a fan of. We started off with two of the crostinis - the walnut pesto & parmesan crostini and the honey & chevre crostini.

The walnut pesto & parmesan crostini (pictured above, left) was so unique and SO delicious. Not your average pesto, the toasted walnut/parmesan/thyme combination created a soft, almost stuffing-like spread. Amazed by this odd, tasty creation, I inspected it to make sure it didn't have meat in it! (it didn't.)

The honey & chevre crostini was light and playful. The sweet truffle honey balanced nicely with the creamy goat cheese chevre and almonds. While the walnut pesto & parmesan crostini was my favorite of the two, this one certainly was also an excellent choice.

Beckrew has an entire section of the menu devoted to different honeys, so we had to try one. Not only did we have to try one, we had to try the raw honeycomb from Savannah, as neither of us had ever eaten raw honeycomb.

Folks, if you've never tried raw honeycomb, I urge you to do so.

The fresh, textured honeycomb - albeit waxy of course - was a delightful treat. Spread atop a piece of bread, the sweet comb was outstanding. It was yet another light, enjoyable starter. Perfect for sharing with a buddy!

Oh, but y'all?

THIS PIZZA.

Served with a side of freshly grated parmesan, the funghi pizza is topped with cremini and oyster mushrooms and a light layer of mozzaralla. The mushrooms are incredibly textured, chewy, and pronounced, so if you are a mushroom-hater, do not get this pizza. But if you are a mushroom-lover like me, and you enjoy the intricate composition of mushrooms, this pizza is for you. The asymmetrical, uneven, fluffy dough was actually a welcome, perfect vessel for the 'shrooms and cheese. Also, the pizza was incredibly peppery, which Kate and I were big fans of. The end result was an interesting, unique, careful dish, bursting with flavor and texture. It was by far my favorite thing we ate that night!

And because #thunderstorms, we ordered a second pizza!

(like I ever *actually* need an excuse.)

The lombardia pizza was unfortunately probably my least favorite dish of the evening. Topped with gorgonzola, spinach, and sliced green apple, we were pretty excited about this one, but it ended up falling flat. I expected the spinach to be sauteed, but it was raw and a bit overpowering. I could hardly taste the gorgonzola, a surprising discovery since it's such a pronounced cheese, and the few thiny slivered apples did not do anything to enhance it. I would not order this pizza again.

But I WILL order the funghi pizza again and again and again and again.

Beckrew Wine House is a lovely new(ish) addition to the Upper Kirby neighborhood. The wine we had (prosecco for me) was complex and delicious, and the food for the most part was an absolute delight. The interior is open, relaxed, beautiful, and inviting. It's the perfect spot for a romantic date or for catching up with a good friend!

Seriously, photographers. Go now.

Beckrew Wine House on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 22, 2015

Little J's

Iiiii wanna know, have you ever seen the rain?

Why, YES, Creedence Clearwater Revival, I HAVE seen the rain. We've all. SEEN. THE. RAIN. It seems as if it will NEVER stop raining here in Houston these days. Yesterday and days before, sun is cold and rain is hard. I know. Been that way for all my time.

......

But I get it, this is actually very good for the drought and farming and the state of Texas as a whole. So as my girl Hillary Duff would say, "Let the rain fall down and wake my dreams."

Just...not on my kickball team please?

Yes, Jon and I are on a kickball team, and it seems that one out of every three games has actually not been rained out this season. On one of those fortunate, rare, dry(ish) days recently, Jon and I joined our team for after-game drinks and food at Little J's, a bar on Washington Avenue.

On that particular evening there was a veteran/biker meetup going on, and the bar was decked out in patriotic decor of special artwork, American flags, and a chalkboard memorial wall filled with names of veterans. I don't know if the motif is always like that, or if it was just for this specific evening. Regardless, it was cool to see, and my former Army Ranger boyfriend was definitely into it.

Little J's is a low-maintenance, no-frills bar. As to be expected, the menu is quite small. Unexpectedly, however, the offerings are unique dishes orchestrated by the talented Bourbon and Bacon team. I put my creative vegetarian cap on and discussed my best options with our friendly bartender. At his recommendation, I ordered the burrata blt (sans the b), and it was wonderful. Served open-faced, the sandwich is comprised of a fragrant basil pesto, fluffy burrata cheese, arugula, herbed tomatoes, and sweet espresso balsamic vinegar atop two large hunks of freshly toasted bread. The sweet/salty/garlicky combination of everything was perfect. For a seemingly simple dish, the end result was anything but. I absolutely loved this sandwich and savored every bite!

Jon ordered a lamb meat taco that was a daily special, as well as their suino Italian meat balls. He didn't go crazy over the tacos, but I went crazy over his salty, hot fries. He was definitely a fan of their meatballs though.

Little J's is super laid back, super unpretentious, and super welcoming. The nice folks there didn't bat an eye at the muddy, sweaty 20- and 30-something kickballers who rolled in at 8:00 on a Thursday night. The bartenders also will host a fun/terrifying game where you flip a coin with a friend, and the loser has to drink whatever shot said "friend" concocts for them. I lost against my "friend" Caleb that evening and would prefer not to discuss what he made me drink. So if you're looking for a low-key, easy-going night on Washington Avenue complete with great food, look no further than Little J's!

When it's over, so they say, it'll rain a sunny day. I know, shinin' down like water...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Springbok

I was going to title this "Happy Hour: The Springbok" because I recently met some of my lady friends there for Happy Hour, but we technically did not participate in Happy Hour, as I don't think The Springbok has a set "Happy Hour," so we just had a happy [couple of] hour(s) at The Springbok, while not actually a "Happy Hour" with special deals and whatnot.

Another alternate title was "That Time it Took Kim AN HOUR to Drive 6.9 Miles to Meet Her Friends for Happy Hour because Houston Traffic is the Absolute Pits: The Springbok," but then that negative title would indicate that it was not in fact a happy [couple of] hour(s), when in actuality it was a very happy [couple of] hour(s), and it made seeing my beautiful friends and drinking the refreshing alcohols and eating the satiating noms all the more appreciated.

Does your head hurt?

Lets look at a picture of booze.

My friend Heather had been telling me I needed to try this South African pub located downtown, mainly because of their brussels sprouts. We finally scheduled a time to meet up for a happy [couple of] hour(s) with our other friends Kate, Ashley, and Leah after work one day.

Unsure of what drink to start with, I told our server that I am more into savory drinks like martinis, and that I also am open to a hint of spicy. I was presented with a "Hal-a-peno," created by a very talented man named Hal. Garnished with a lemon and baby jalapeno, the drink was light, refreshing, and had just the right amount of kick.

For food, we of course began with the highly acclaimed brussels sprouts. 

What makes this brussels sprout dish so unique is that it is strictly made up of the leaves. The hard cores (ha, hardcore...anyone...?) of the sprouts were nowhere to be seen, so what we were left with were the charred, crispy remains. They were wonderfully smokey and had a beautiful, wafer-y crunch to them. Squirting a little lime on them added a playful juiciness. They were so light that according to Ashley, the experience was "like eating air."

So we ordered a second helping, #duh.

As the old adage goes, no dinner is complete without a double order of carbs, so next we ordered the handcut fries with smokey aoli, as well as the slap chips with white vinegar and sea salt.

Pop quiz time: which are the chips, and which are the fries?

Yes, we were every bit as confused also.

I completely understand that America is probably one of the only English-speaking countries that refers to fries as fries and not chips (or chips as fries, and not chips? Does your head hurt again?). And that in a foreign pub, chips may very likely refer to fries. But but but...... since the menu offered fries AND chips, we were expecting a difference between the two. A "these are clearly chips and these are clearly fries" kind of difference. Maybe the distinction comes with the use of the word "slap," which is Afrikaans for drooping, not firm (why thanks, Wikipedia!). But darnit, we didn't think to Google it at that moment. So I'll help you guys out.

Fries:

Chips:

And let me be clear, both of these were great. Ultimately, I think it would be helpful for us patrons who aren't well versed in South African lingo to add a description under these menu items, but regardless we enjoyed the heck out of them. The creamy aoli with the crispy "fries" was smooth and tart, proving to be the perfect complement. And the salt and vinegar slap "chips" were pleasantly acidic and finger-lickin' good. Out of the two, I'd probably order the slap chips next time. Or both.

Because, #doublecarbs.

For my main entree I ordered the seasonal vegetable curry.

This dish consisted of mielie pap (African grits), assorted veggies, and a green curry, coconut milk, mango sauce. The grits are definitely not your standard Texas grits, as they had more of a porridge-like consistency. But the vegetables were firm, so the contrasting textures went very well together. I could definitely taste the coconut in the sweet - yet earthy - curry, and it also packed some serious - yet manageable - heat. Overall, this was an incredibly interesting, aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable dish!

The Springbok is a fun pub serving unique, inventive South African fare. The environment is warm and inviting, and the service is incredibly attentive. Go there for an enjoyable [couple of] happy hour(s), or maybe grab lunch if you work downtown.

But for the love of all that is sweet and holy, try to avoid that hour commute.

"That Time Kim was a Total Hipster and Pulled out my POLAROID CAMERA (!!!!) at a Bar to Take a Picture of all of the Alcohol: The Springbok"

The Springbok on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 15, 2015

Radical Eats

This little vegetarian went to market.

This little vegetarian stayed home.
This little vegetarian had did not have roast beef.
This little vegetarian [also] had none.

AND THIS little vegetarian? SHE took freaking   f o r e v e r   to finally eat at one of the best vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Houston, but she recently went! And she fell in total love!

I made a new friend named Clint at last week's media preview for Bollo Woodfired Pizza, and he invited me to join him for lunch at Radical Eats in Montrose. He said I'd be a fan of their many vegetarian dishes.

(And don't worry my meat-lovin' friends - There are meat options here as well. But the vegetarian choices are extensive, fresh, and creative, and they satisfied a huge void I didn't even know was missing from my life.)

Soon after Clint and I sat down, we were greeted with crisp tortilla chips, accompanied with sides of  super spicy, thick green sauce and tart, tangy salsa.

There are several fresh juices offered at Radical Eats, and Clint and I both ordered their watermelon juice. It was sweet, light, and wonderfully refreshing. Absolute summer in a cup!

Based on past experiences, Clint enthusiastically suggested we start off with the buffalo cauliflower.

I can't even stress to you how wonderful this appetizer was. I've tried my own hand at making buffalo cauliflower in the past, and it was mediocre at best. The cauliflower bites at Radical Eats, however, were anything but mediocre. Generously coated in a robust, aromatic, spicy buffalo sauce, the flavor was full and sensational. If I closed my eyes and someone had told me I was actually eating boneless chicken wings, I just might believe them.

(but that might be a mean trick, so please don't do that to me.)

For my main entree I ordered one of their daily specials - the bibimbap with fresh avocado.

And again, what an astounding dish.

The quinoa base was topped off with a rainbow assortment of freshly sliced tomatoes, raw cashews, sauteed mushrooms, leafy greens, tofu, kimchi, and avocado. Each ingredient was beautiful, fresh, and distinctly different in taste from one another. Regardless of the contrasting flavors, the end result was an impressively perfect blend. Furthermore, our server asked if I wanted a side of sweet chili sauce which, when added to the dish, gave it a playful sweetness that brought it to a whole new level.

It's seriously offensive how long it took me to dine at Radical Eats. The spirited, spunky food is prepared with utmost precision and care. The options are healthy, flavorful, and beyond satisfying. Radical Eats is now absolutely a part of my regular lunch rotation!

This little vegetarian took a nosedive into some watermelon juice and discovered the meaning of life.

Radical Eats on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On the Road Again: Hill Top Cafe in Fredericksburg, TX

Note: After posting this writeup, the folks at Hill Top Cafe informed me that it is technically located in Cherry Spring, just north of Fredericksburg.

We're going to hop in our little time machine here and back up a bit...

...to last month.

If any of you have been following along, you might recall that we had a big ole' 30th birthday celebraysh in April in Fredericksburg for my main squeeze Jon. I work for a nonprofit, and one of our awesome volunteers had suggested I try Hill Top Cafe. So on our last day there, Jon and I hopped in our little time machine and took a trip to an old historic Texas gas station, located just 10 miles outside the center of town, which has been converted into a quirky, comforting, down home restaurant!

Being the early birds that we are, we got there before the place even opened, so we were the first ones there. The inside of the restaurant is wall-to-wall adorned with eclectic knick knacks from various decades.

To start, Jon and I ordered an appetizer of eggplant, stuffed with different cheeses, and topped off with freshly shaved parmesan, marinara, creamy sauce, and balsamic vinegar.

(no I didn't write down the name of the dish, why do you ask?)

This was absolute h e a v e n .

Not gonna lie, my first bite from one of the edges wasn't completely warmed through. But after that bite, the whole thing was amazing. The rich, fluffy filling of the eggplant was beautifully contrasted with the tart marinara, savory parmesan, and tangy sauces drizzled atop. It was exceptionally delicious, and quite an intricate dish for such a laid back spot!

For my main brunch entree, I ordered an omelette, which they happily catered to my vegetarian needs by adding fresh asparagus. The omlette was pillowy, cooked perfectly (not runny, not overcooked), and was not lacking in asparagus. The accompanying toast and hashbrowns were your standard, yummy, homestyle brunch sides.

By time us early birds were ready to hit the road and time travel back to 2015, the place was packed. While it's definitely not a touristy spot, Hill Top Cafe certainly is not a secret. Go for a delicious, satisfying, relaxed brunch, or make your way there for dinner one night when there is live music playing. This personable, quirky, historic restaurant was one of the highlights of our weekend away, and I definitely recommend it if you're in Fredericksburg!

And yes you read that right, the rifle in the top right corner of the picture below says "For Formal Weddings only." 

Naturally.

Hill Top Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Brunchin' at Liberty Kitchen

Houston is continuing its mission to prove me wrong, and I feel exceptionally good about it.

I recently made the statement that Houston's brunch game isn't the strongest. Houston got t.o.'ed about it, shoved Weights + Measures into my hungry belly, and now has smacked me in the face with Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar.

And I repeat: I feel exceptionally good about it.

^ I also feel exceptionally good about the fact that the olives and PICKLED OKRA ARE YOU KIDDING ME atop my bloody mary resembled a face!

(Or maybe that was my friend vodka talking.)

My good friends Lenny and Christy were visiting from Massachusetts recently for Christy's birthday weekend. After having a completely tame large Saturday night out, a big group of us made our way over to Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar the next day for brunch.

Besides loving the funny face on my bloody mary, I also simply loved my bloody mary. The mix was full and not watery, and it had a nice kick. But the garnishes were what really sealed the deal for me. The course salt on the rim and the pickled okra (omg) were just the little zingers I needed!


The beautiful mac and cheese pictured above was ordered for our table. I tried to pick around the meaty bits to give it a taste, but I couldn't really do it. It looked delicious though, and my friends were all fans!

If we're being honest with each other here, I must admit I was very disheartened when I first looked at the menu. There wasn't really anything in the way of vegetarian entrees to choose from, aside from a plain mac and cheese (but sometimes you go to brunch already having had leftover cold Kraft mac and cheese for breakfast, IF we're being honest with each other). Seeing as I am living in the 4th largest city (almost 3rd, WHATTUP H-TOWN) in America, I've gotten used to restaurants - especially popular ones - having a couple of veg options for me to choose from. Maybe I'm spoiled. Fortunately, I've also gotten used to getting creative and piecing together my own meals.

So piece together I did!

I ordered the liberty eggs benedict without the pork belly. I also asked them to add in sauteed spinach.

And holy cannoli was it ever amazing.

The beautiful, runny, oozy poached eggs swirled around with the gorgeous, garlicky, sauteed spinach, and divine, silky hollandaise, and the end result was sensational. The thin English muffins were a bit soggy underneath the food symphony overhead, but I wasn't too put off by it. I was too busy going crazy over the other stuff.

They forgot my breakfast potatoes (which come with the eggs benedict), so when I asked about them, our beyond friendly, bubbly server sped away and brought me some almost immediately. They were standard breakfast potatoes, nothing out of the ordinary. And FYI, here's my simple measurement for determining if a side of breakfast potatoes is extraordinary or not: Whether or not I need to add ketchup. If it needs ketchup, it's ordinary. I enjoy it for what it is, don't get me wrong (because, hullo, POTATOES). But if it does not need ketchup? EXTRAordinary. This side of potatoes needed ketchup. But darn it, I still enjoyed it.

Brunch at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar is hella good. While it is a bit on the pricey side, I was able to justify the higher bill with the higher quality of food I received. And while I was disappointed in the lack of obvious vegetarian options, the staff was quick to accommodate my diet, and my disappointment quickly dissipated. The lively environment, excellent service, and top notch food have made Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar one of my new favorite Houston brunch spots!

Being wrong never felt so right.

Liberty Kitchen and Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bollo Woodfired Pizza

"Our bellinis are incredible" the enthusiastic bartender confidently stated.

Which is how I ended up drinking a frozen bellini at 7:30pm on a Monday.

Ever since I've seen the bright red awnings appear at West Alabama and Kirby (seriously, if you've driven by that intersection in the past couple of weeks, there's no possible way you've missed them), I've been dying to try Bollo Woodfired Pizza out. Actually, ever since I met owner Ray Salti during the Menu of Menus Extravaganza where he told me about the restaurant's opening this month, I've been dying to try it out. I've lamented on here about how much I miss the much beloved Sorrel Urban Bistro, so Salti's new venture brought high hopes.

Last night Jon and I attended Bollo's media preview. As we walked in we discussed the subtle new differences in the interior. The large space of Sorrel was open, light, stark, sleek, and trendy. The interior of Bollo, while still large, is made to appear smaller and more intimate through the use of dim lighting and darker accent colors. While still on the modern side of decor, Bollo has more of an inviting warmth to it now.

We made our way over to the bar area and were informed that several appetizers, pizzas, and a mango ice cream would be coming our way throughout the evening.

As previously mentioned, I was advised to try the frozen bellini.

While it seemed strange to have a bellini outside of my usual noon to 4pm brunch block, it was a very nice drink. It was not too sweet and subtly tart, garnished with a syrupy, luscious, dark maraschino cherry. Overall it was a refreshing drink that I'd definitely try again (...during brunch).

The first appetizer we tried was the charcuterie board, made up of sopressata, prosciutto, asiago, cheddar, olives, fresh oregano, and bread. This simple meat and cheese board was clever, yet unpretentious. The cheddar and Asiago contrasted each other well, and the salty olives accented them nicely. What I loved the most about this board though was the fresh oregano. It really kicked everything up a notch. And Jon gave the meats two thumbs up!

Next up were the crispy calamari, served with marinara and tzatziki, followed by some spicy Italian sausage with marinara. I did not try either of these, but Jon declared the sausage his favorite bite of the evening! He also loved the unique inclusion of tzatziki with the calamari. He said the fresh, light, cucumbery sauce went perfectly with it.

My favorite dish of the evening was far and away the pizza bianco. The white pizza (a good portion size for two, if you're also having appetizers) included mozzarella, basil, and a generous amount of olive oil to create a lovely, decadent, sensational dish. Although a tad soggy in the middle (albeit from the olive oil I'm sure), this pizza with a crispy crust and bubbling cheese was a truly knockout dish.

We were also brought some freshly baked garlic bread. It was a bit tough to get into with a knife, and a bit hot to just rip apart with your fingers. Once we were able to get into it, I wasn't completely blown away by it on its own. I do recommend dipping it in the accompanying tart, earthy marinara, which made it work better. it was not my favorite dish of the evening, but it was not bad.

The caprese, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, and garnished with a few healthy sized pieces of basil, was light and fresh. What I really liked about it is that the tomato slices and pieces of mozzarella were more bite-sized than normal, making this a much more approachable, shareable appetizer.

Okay friends, confession time: I hate kale.

Am I the worst vegetarian ever or what? Believe me, I've given kale its proper fighting chance. I've tried it in salads, sauteed in portobella caps, in juices, in smoothies, you name it. Just yesterday I was in Trader Joe's and spotted some kale chips. Against my better judgement I bought them, hoping against hope to love them. Spoiler alert: I didn't.

So for some crazy reason I asked our bartender if we could possibly try the kale and garbanzo beans.

Okay friends, confession time, take 2: I now LOVE kale!

At least in this form I do. Sauteed in silky olive oil with garbanzo beans, red pepper flakes, garlic, and shaved parmesan, this is a savory, thoroughly enjoyable side.

We never did get to sample the mango ice cream, but we we'd had so much to eat, we honestly didn't mind.

After we had satisfactorily stuffed our faces, Ray took us back to into the kitchen to check out the massive, impressive wood oven, which was imported from Italy. This oven is what will be pumping out the amazing pizzas listed on the menu, or customizable pizzas made to order.

Ray told us his goal in opening Bollo is to create a local, neighborhood restaurant where people feel welcome and don't have to spend a premium on quality food. As a resident of the Upper Kirby area, I've been witness to new luxury highrises being erected almost daily, the bulldozing of local joints to make way for yet another CVS, and a never-ending sea of construction. So I am hopeful for Bollo, and I think it's just what this neighborhood needs. The Grand Opening is tonight, and doors officially open tomorrow. I urge you to make your way over for some decadent pizza and good conversation with friendly, soon-to-be familiar faces in the personable Bollo Woodfired Pizza.

And stay a while.