A few months ago, my son, Sam, was home in Houston for a very abbreviated spring break, and we were out having lunch in between his incoming and outgoing text messages. Suddenly he looked at his phone and blanched. Before I had a chance to ask what was wrong, he typed a response, a new message beeped, and he clutched his heart and fell back in his chair with relief. Beaming, he turned his phone toward me. I squinted at a photo of something that looked like a wedding announcement, on cream-colored paper with fancy italics.
In many ways, Josh Mease is a typical graduate of Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. After spending years studying jazz guitar under the highly regarded teacher Dr. Robert Morgan, Mease moved to New York City to continue his musical training and take in the city’s bustling live jazz scene.
Jim Burwell spends his days driving between River Oaks, Memorial, and West University with a fanny pack full of moist lamb loaf. The loaf, a two-pound roll that comes in a tightly packed tube like Jimmy Dean sausage, is among the more effective tools of his trade. Burwell is a dog trainer, and his unofficial specialty is handling wealthy pups—ones that split their days between three states, go to camp twice a week, and have agility courses in their upstairs ballrooms.
This handsome, airy space makes a fine backdrop for chef Ryan Hildebrand’s creative fare. Take that old gal the beet salad, here an array of colorful varieties elevated with a sunchoke custard, lemon “crumbs,” and pumpkin seeds. Squashes, often ho-hum, take on new life with black quinoa, rich burrata, and chestnuts. Our Brit friend savored his lamb-stuffed cabbage with lentil piccalilli and root vegetables, all served in a metal pan. But the meaty duck with confit “cinnamon roll,” sweet potato purée, snap peas, and dried fruit chutney proved the most interesting.
We often order the warm pretzel bread with mellow Grayson cheese and black garlic mostarda, the perfect munch while we scope out the crowd and ponder the menu. Massaman soup was rich and full of sweet onions (though the chunks of ginger came on a bit strong). Our hamachi crudo with nori, mustard, and a sprinkling of crunchy buckwheat, all covered in wafer-thin radishes, proved to be the highlight, though the pasta with hen of the woods mushrooms, roasted yeast, and Parmesan always pleases.
Offering imaginative ice cream concoctions, plus breakfasts, sandwiches, and pastries, this little counter-order space in a tree-lined inset of Montrose Boulevard makes a welcome resting place for customers tired of chasing the boys’ food truck. We managed to down an almond croissant and lattes before our Eggman arrived—fried egg topped with cheddar, chicken poblano sausage, and bacon on challah—an item whose habitual consumption would render us more Walrus than Eggman. The lighter mushroom and asparagus strata tasted pretty good, though some of the asparagus was tough.
Longtime chef-restaurauteur Bruce Molzan is hoping to breathe life into the old, often shuttered Brownstone complex. Private-party venues augment the smallish dining area, whose menu offers burgers, pizzas, and even “paleo” dishes, as in the unprocessed foods “our ancestors would have eaten.” We doubt they would have recognized the Paleo Buffalo Wings, and neither did our table’s one-time resident of that fair city.
Several hits and a few misses marked our visit to this pretty inner Westheimer spot presided over by chef Chandler Rothbard. The mantra is “Local, organic, green,” which translates to dishes like raw beet “ravioli,” thinly sliced and layered with cashew crème and tarragon, and fire-roasted oyster and cremini mushrooms served on a stone with a smoking piece of wood. The bone-in pork chop and the braised veal mac and cheese, rich and creamy with white cheddar, fontina, and goat cheese, were both terrific.
We’ve had a few “best pizza ever” moments: Rome, Naples, Chicago, and now, west Houston. The pizzaiolo here turns out seriously good pie, like a white pizza with garlic, cremini mushrooms, Boursin, and house-made mozzarella. We gushed over the Calabrese, with spicy soppressata and basil on a thin crust with a slight char and that delicate crunch that opens to soft, chewy goodness. You can carry out your pizza (no phone orders), but the pizza is primo right after its 90 seconds in the wood-fired brick oven.
You’ll be wowed by the array of mouth-searing dishes at this Chinatown eatery. We opted for milder choices, starting with the delicious pepper prawns, tempura-fried in their shells and served with raw cabbage, caramelized onions, and jalapeños. Stir-fried green beans were tasty except for the tough bamboo; we were also disappointed with the “special fried rice,” which was bland and included inedible strips of gristly pork, none of the promised chicken, and two lonely little shrimp.