The Federal Grill

With a lively bar and handsome dining room, this youngster (once Branch Water Tavern) on the Shepherd strip is an up-and-comer. Our hungry party sampled nine items on the appealing, upscale American menu. The only quibble: the luscious-looking Texas wagyu burger that could have stood some seasoning (but the hand-cut fries were just right).


Guests flock to chef Chris Williams’s museum-area abode for upscale Southern comfort food with European touches. We cannot resist the buttery hot rolls à la Great-grandmother Lucille, nor the cornbread laced with peppers. An endive-radicchio salad with crisp apple and almonds was lovely but arrived in a creamy Caesar dressing, not in the advertised citrus herb dressing, which would have made more sense.

Witchcraft Tavern & Provision Co.

nice fit for the Heights, this neighborly gastropub has appeal—friendly service, craft beers, and an ambitious, if offbeat, menu that includes bone marrow, potstickers, and tikka masala. Truffle fries were fantastic—crispy outside, fluffy inside, and sprinkled with pecorino. Likewise, the hefty Angus burger, with avocado, grilled onion, and cream cheese, was happily devoured.

Batanga Tapas + Drinks

Red umbrellas and twinkling lights overhead create a patio setting worthy of a magazine spread at this downtown spot. And the food measures up to the atmosphere: roasted cauliflower with curry, dates, and cashews; miniature fish tacos with jalapeño aioli; grilled hanger steak with truffle vinaigrette; and biscuit-size duck confit arepas. A Brazilian combo playing in the brick-walled dining room enhanced the mood. A hint: order tapas individually instead of a “tasting menu” so you can stagger their arrival and order.

El Tiempo Cantina

With their newest location, the Laurenzo family comes full circle, returning to the East End, next door to the original Ninfa’s. The solid Tex-Mex menu and cantina interiors are the same, as are the potent margaritas and addictive green sauce—we’ve made many a meal out of just that—but the nostalgia of Navigation is undeniable. We often share the fabulous crab nachos but opted this time for caldo xochitl, a hearty chicken and vegetable soup with rice, avocado, and pico de gallo mixed in.

Brooklyn Athletic Club

BAC seems more like an outing than a restaurant, what with a kids’ menu, a large covered patio, a Ping-Pong table, and bocce courts. More sedentary types can dig in to a fine clubhouse salad loaded with lettuces, vegetables, and feta or, our favorite, butter lettuce with avocado, grapefruit, and queso fresco. PEI mussels, tender and plump, gain from their bacon-jalapeño beer broth, while the house burger, thick and juicy, comes with a happy surprise of sweet green-tomato-and-jalapeño jam.

Little Boy Blues

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.

Goodbye Jazz, Hello Pop

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.

Best in Show

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.


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