After a month-long build up, the time has come to announce the winners of the 2015 CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards. These are the establishments and individuals who have been selected by their peers as the best of the city's dining scene. Collectively, they're setting the standard and pushing the city forward with their talent and hard work.
On Wednesday night, we celebrated the winners at a sold-out awards ceremony that featured food served by many of the nominees. Thanks again to all of our judges for participating in this process. We couldn't have done it without you.
Here are the winners:
Restaurant of the Year: Oxheart
The tiny, 30-seat restaurant in the Warehouse District has already earned a ton of national acclaim. Now it can add a Tastemaker Award to its resume. Chef Justin Yu takes rigorously sourced, high-quality local ingredients and prepares them in creative ways that both enhance each dish's natural flavors and provide some surprises. Sitting at the counter allows diners to watch a team that works quietly and efficiently. For those who still haven't been, make a reservation for early in the evening; the sun setting through the west-facing windows gives the room a decidedly romantic glow.
Chefs of the Year: Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan, The Pass & Provisions
Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan have given themselves the difficult challenge of developing and executing dishes for two completely separate restaurants under the same roof. That they have succeeded so adeptly at both Provisions, with its wood-fired oven and casual cuisine, and The Pass, with its elaborate, multi-course tasting menus, is why they've won this award over some very high-profile competition. On any given night, diners will find Gallivan tending the pizza oven or Siegel-Gardner putting the finishing touches on a dish at The Pass. Just as it should be.
Bar of the Year: Julep
Last year, Julep owner Alba Huerta won the award for Bartender of the Year and now the bar that reflects her passion for Southern culture takes home Bar of the Year. Part of the credit starts goes to the elegant design that gives Julep a romantic, genteel atmosphere. The bar's bourbon selection alone makes it a destination, but diners would be well-served to explore the house cocktails that offer innovative twists on familiar classics. On the culinary side, Julep's decadent seafood tower is a can't-miss splurge. No wonder its become a standard-bearer for Washington Ave's new, more grown up direction.
Bartender of the Year: Lainey Collum, Prohibition Supperclub & Bar
As part of its move downtown from the Galleria, Prohibition realized it needed to step up its beverage program to match the high-quality cocktails at neighbors like El Big Bad and the bars on the 300 block of Main. Enter Lainey Collum, whose extensive resume includes stints at Double Trouble, The Pass & Provisions and Hay Merchant. As Prohibition's beverage director, Collum has maintained the signature barrel-aged cocktail program while also introducing a menu that adds new flavors. Collum further demonstrates her diverse skillset with well-chosen wine and beer lists.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Patrick Feges, Southern Goods
Patrick Feges' resume includes time at two of Houston's most high-profile restaurants: Brennan's and Underbelly. In 2014, he spent a year honing his skills as a pitmaster under the tutelege of Ronnie Killen at the Pearland barbecue joint that's widely considered to be the best in the Houston area. Someday, he'll chase his barbecue dreams full time, but for now he's taking on the challenge of helping two other former Underbelly employees, Lyle Bento and J.D. Woodward, launch a new restaurant in the Heights called Southern Goods. When it opens in June (hopefully), Feges will help build on the dishes displayed at two recent pop-ups that demonstrate Southern Goods' modern take on classic Southern dishes.
Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Coltivare Pizza & Garden
If the comments to the category reveal are any indication, this selection will be the most controversial because Coltivare has a wait and doesn't serve lunch. While those are legitimate complaints, they ignore all of the other ways in which this Italian-inspired restaurant from Revival Market partners Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera has improved the Heights. It's casual, comfortable and affordable. From the wood-fired pizzas to the signature black pepper pasta, the food is consistently fresh, well-executed and, most importantly, delicious. The salads are enough to tempt the most devoted carnivore. If only it were open for lunch.
Best Restaurant Service: The Pass & Provisions
The Pass & Provisions may be two restaurants under one roof, but it's really three different experiences; dining at the bar or patio at Provisions is a different, more casual experience than the main dining room. No matter where one dines in the space, the educated, efficient staff takes excellent care of their customers. With the variety of the Provisions menu, it's helpful to have someone who can guide diners not just on what to order but also on how much. Meals at The Pass are one of the great luxury experiences in Houston; after all, what other restaurants both begins and ends a meal with carts.
Best Local Beer of the Year: Yellow Rose, Lone Pint Brewery
No other brewery in the Houston-area is more closely associated with one beer than Lone Pint is with its signature Yellow Rose. This single malt, single hop India Pale Ale uses Mosaic hops that give the beer strong citrus flavors with just enough bitter notes to be interesting. Available on draft or in bottles, it's a flavorful choice that's popular in bars across the city.
Best New Restaurant: Prohibition Supperclub & Bar
Prohibition's victory in the Best New Restaurant bracket didn't come easy. The downtown restaurant upset two of the tournament's biggest names, Pax Americana and Holley's, to reach the finale against Tout Suite. Credit goes to a savvy social media strategy, of course, but also to Prohibition's emerging status as one of downtown's best restaurants. Lainey Collum has brought talent to the bar program, and chefs Ben McPherson and Matt Wommack have created a modern, Southern-inspired menu that utilizes high-quality ingredients throughout. Performances by local burlesque troupe The Moonlight Dolls play to packed houses on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.