James Beard Award winner Bradley Ogden's Houston efforts have gotten off to a rocky start, but that's all set to change. Pour Society, the chef's newest Houston outpost that's been some two years in the making, opened to the public on Tuesday in the Gateway Memorial City development.
Walking in, the space has a clean, simple look with an extensive use of dark wood. The long bar looks at the tap wall that gives the "pour" aspect its name. In addition, 17 TVs ensure that the restaurant will be a football watching destination.
Unlike Bradley's Fine Diner, which featured a menu created by Ogden and his son Bryan with their Californian perspective, corporate chef Greg Lowry and executive chef Matthew Lovelace have given Pour Society's menu a mix of Southern, Mexican and Asian flavors that should appeal to Houstonians.
"We kind of wanted to take a pub outdoors with the smoker and things that we like to eat when we’re hanging out with our friends drinking beer on the weekends," Lowry says. "What we cook for our families we’re off. Stuff that makes us feel good."
For example, Lowry turns traditional seven layer dip into a must-have appetizer that features crab, guacamole and elotes (as well as radishes, refried beans, sour cream, and pico de gallo). Similarly, the Texas banh mi features chicken, chicken liver mousse, chow chow and a barbecue vinaigrette. Unlike a traditional pub that's very meat-centric, Pour Society offers enough vegetarian choices that they should feel welcome, too.
Rising to the challenge
Before signing on with Ogden, Lowry worked at Triniti as chef de cuisine; Lovelace's resume includes stints at Cullen's, Osteria Mazzantini and Paul's Kitchen. Asked about the biggest challenge associated with making the transition away from fine dining, Lowry doesn't hesitate. "The hardest part was how can we make a plate look presentable to a person without having to tweeze everything and do that kind of stuff," he says. "The cool part about it is we still get to cook with the proper techniques and use the right methods. Use great ingredients."
Still, he's risen to the challenge with dishes like an artfully constructed carrot salad and carefully plated fried chicken that's paired with fried enchiladas and an expertly fried egg. Lowry anticipates growing the menu overtime with additional dinner entrees and some additional salads and sandwiches when Pour Society begins offering lunch in a few weeks.
Prior to the interview, Lowry presented some of the dishes for a tasting. While the dishes are new, they trade on the same flavors and style that have made Hay Merchant so successful. In particular, the Texas banh mi's mix of textures and flavors made for a very satisfying bite, and it's easy to imagine it pairing well with a hoppy beer from a local brewer. Lowry admitted that the fried chicken is still a work in progress; the batter's mix of masa, cornmeal and flour still needs some tinkering to developing the proper crispy texture.
On the beverage side, Pour Society offers an extensive selection of craft beer on tap that's supplemented with a creative cocktail menu that also includes draft options for speedy service. The "Pour Some Sugar on Me," which features aged rum, Pimms and Campari typifies the creative direction of the beverage program with its balance of sweet, boozy flavors.
While staffing is an issue for all new restaurants, Lowry thinks he's assembled a good team. "Back of the house, I’ve got some really seasoned veterans . . . The front of the house will be solid. Like everything else, it just takes time," he says.
Hopefully, Houstonians will give a fresh look to what Lowry and Lovelace have constructed. If nothing else, that banh mi demonstrates the kind of culinary creativity that's been a hallmark of Houston's rise as a dining scene. Someone should definitely eat it.