Your attention, please. Here are the winners of the 2017 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. These are Houston's best culinary professionals, as selected by a panel of restaurant industry experts.
On Tuesday night, emcee Bryan Caswell revealed this year's winners to a boisterous crowd at the Asia Society Texas Center. Obviously, the night's big champ is Agricole Hospitality. The Heights-based bar and restaurant company took home Bar of the Year (Eight Row Flint), Chef of the Year (Ryan Pera), and Restaurant of the Year (Coltivare).
Let there be no doubt that Agricole owners Pera and Morgan Weber have the respect of their peers. Congratulations to them, and to all of our nominees and winners.
Without further ado, here's the full list of winners:
Restaurant of the Year: Coltivare Pizza & Garden and Chef of the Year: Ryan Pera
As with Adam Dorris and Pax Americana winning last year, it makes sense that the Chef of the Year leads the Restaurant of the Year. At Coltivare, Ryan Pera’s creative salads and vegetable dishes, many of which incorporate ingredients grown in the restaurant’s garden, continue to set a high standard as one of Houston’s most satisfying dining experiences. While we’re still waiting for Pera to get the national respect he so clearly deserves, we think he’s aces.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Martha de Leon
Speaking of Dorris, taking over a popular restaurant after its acclaimed chef depart would be a challenge for anyone, but Martha de Leon has kept Pax Americana running smoothly. Credit her steady work ethic and the relationships she’s cultivated with local farmers and ranchers for helping keep the restaurant at the top. At least while spring temperatures hold, Pax’s patio makes an excellent venue for sampling de Leon’s cooking, especially during the low-key Sunday brunch.
Pastry Chef of the Year: Victoria Dearmond
Recognizing Dearmond for the desserts she creates — everything from vinegar pie and seasonally-inspired desserts at Underbelly to the massive, one-and-a-half pound wood-fired apple pie at One Fifth — doesn’t begin to acknowledge the diverse set of roles she occupies at both restaurants, but it will have to do for today. Whatever the future holds, the skills she’s developed beyond the dessert station with back of the house operations like ordering and expediting will serve her well.
Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: State of Grace
Yes, it’s possible to indulge in big pricey entrees and fancy wine at this River Oaks restaurant, but State of Grace serves its neighborhood well, too. The affordable lunch menu and $1 oyster happy hour make it possible to experience chef Bobby Matos’ menu at a lower cost. This week, it will begin serving a family-style Sunday supper priced at an eminently reasonable $29 per person.
Best New Restaurant: State Fare
Let’s give credit where it’s due; for as much fun as Nobie’s Cinderella run through the Best New Restaurant tournament was, State Fare is a very good restaurant that’s been a valuable addition to the Memorial area. Its diverse menu — everything from salads and sandwiches to shareable appetizers and hearty mains — has enough options to please just about anyone. The restaurant’s stylish look and comprehensive beverage options add to its appeal.
Bar of the Year: Eight Row Flint
“Whiskey. Beer. Tacos.” The simple slogan of Agricole Hospitality’s patio bar doesn’t explain the lengths it goes to honor those three staples. Some of the whiskey comes from barrels selected by co-owner Morgan Weber, the tacos utilize house-made corn tortillas and feature locally-sourced ingredients in the fillings, and the beer features plenty of craft options — and also Miller High Life, because why take things too seriously? Selling its entire allocation of Pappy Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection at cost may have been a bit of a stunt, but it also allowed people to taste great bourbon at a price they may never see again, which is pretty great.
Bartender of the Year: Leslie Ross Krockenberger
Canard may not have survived, but give it credit for providing several very talented female bartenders with the opportunity to develop some incredibly delicious cocktails. The effects will be felt with Akiko Hagio at Star Fish and Rebecca Burkart at Worcester’s Annex and who knows where else in the months and years to come. Krockenberger gets credit for being the bar’s creative soul. Hopefully those energies find another outlet, but if all she does is talk whiskey with Reserve 101’s obsessive patrons, that will still be fun.
Wine Program of the Year: Pappas Bros Steakhouse
Let’s not make this too complicated. Pappas Bros has always had an incredibly wine inventory, but the upgrades its made to its staff by recruiting Master Sommelier Jack Mason and a whole platoon of Advanced Sommeliers to the restaurant ensures that customers receive expert advice when they decide to splurge on a bottle that could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. That investment deserves recognition.
Favorite Taco: Tacos Tierra Caliente
For as much as this publication focuses on new restaurants, sometimes the classics are best. In the world of Houston tacos, it doesn’t get much more classic than this humble taco truck that parks across the street from the West Alabama Ice House. Tacos in well-made corn tortillas are only $1.50, and the diverse meat options make feeding a crowd easy. Last year, Houstonians demonstrated their affection for the business, contributing over $17,000 via GoFundMe for funeral expenses when owner Maria Victoria’s daughter Maria Samano passed away suddenly.