A food destination is nothing new for Houston. Even in a town whose boundaries seem to stretch on forever, the faithful head past the city limits for cutting edge cuisine at Bootsie's in Tomball, for French fare at Chez Nous in Humble and Aura in Missouri City, for steak at Killen's in Pearland and even to Round Top for pie from Royer's and to Washington to experience the farm-to-table goodness of The Inn at Dos Brisas.
To this list Joe Schneider is hoping to add Alvin, a rural outgrowth past Pearland about 26 miles from downtown Houston. That's where he has created The Barbed Rose, a small but ambitious steakhouse, as well as an ever-growing number of culinary operations.
Barbed Rose, helmed by executive chef Jason Chaney, sits in Alvin's tiny downtown, with all the imposing presence of a former Department of Public Safety building from the outside. Inside a stately bar and heavy dose of wood and muted green walls add some simple country charm in the small dining room.
The proteins here are front and center, with a rotating butcher board of a la carte options split into fins, feathers (ostrich, quail), horns (antelope, venison, water buffalo) and hooves (tomahawk chop, other premium beef and pork cuts). The entrees don't let you down — the wet-aged antelope was tender and flavorful and the redfish had a simple, hearty character — but where Chaney and Barbed Rose really excel are at appetizers and sides.
I'd also be remiss not to mention the Bananas Foster bread pudding (I think the name says it all, doesn't it?), which has climbed to the top of my list of the most irresistible desserts in Houston.
The country fried oysters, breaded thickly and served with thick squares of house-made bacon and jalepeño slices, were a revelation. The oysters themselves were great, but in combination with the other components, the dish makes a certain kind of mad scientist sense: chewy, crunchy, spicy and delicious. I also loved the diver scallop, pan seared and served in a thin cauliflower puree underneath a salad of curly carrot tendrils.
Barbed Rose's proximity to Froberg's Farm and LiveGreen farms means the vegetables are also particularly good. The Livegreen spinach is so fresh there's a pleasant crisp to it even after it's been cooked in bacon fat (per Chaney's grandmother's recipe). The asparagus was mild, lightly buttery and ever-so-slightly bitter.
And of course there are less-green sides, like the unusual blue corn grits, ground at the old-fashioned Homestead grist mill near Waco, which manage to be both creamy and a bit sandy. The popular truffled mac and cheese struck me as just a bit too rich and too creamy, with too much truffle oil, though I know there are many who like it served exactly that way.
I'd also be remiss not to mention the Bananas Foster bread pudding (I think the name says it all, doesn't it?) which has climbed to the top of my list of the most irresistible desserts in Houston.
But for Schneider, the steak house is just the beginning. To the side of the Barbed Rose is the Burger Bar, a casual patio outgrowth with picnic tables, cheap beer, plenty of TVs and a build-your-own-burger menu that includes beef, buffalo, poultry and vegetarian patties as well as a kobe hot dog with crazy-fresh relish that challenges Moon Tower Inn for Houston hot dog supremacy.
Now the operation is branching out even more. Butcher Jay Peek and baker JP Fleming are each getting their own space a couple blocks away — although in Alvin a couple blocks might be considered the other side of town. Though both will continue to produce for Barbed Rose, their adjacent spaces will include storefronts to sell deli meats and breads, respectively. Both deli and bakery are scheduled to open this summer.
Have you made the trip south to Barbed Rose? Could Alvin be the next small town foodie destination? How far would you go for a good meal?