Well, it's not far down to paradise, at least for those who live in Montrose. When the wind is right, diners can sail away to The Toasted Coconut, a new, tiki-inspired concept from Nobie's owners Sara and Martin Stayer.
“It feels good to finally be open. We really had to gut the space and start fresh, but it allowed us to better execute our vision," chef Martin Stayer said in a statement. "It’s not about getting it done, but getting it done right and making it the best it can be. There’s love from the whole team here."
Working with architect Kathy Heard and local firm Forest Design Build, the Stayers and bar director Sarah Troxell, a dedicated tiki enthusiast, have transformed the former Maria Selma's/Texas Shrimp Shack location into a tropical oasis. The space's signature palapa has been upgraded with a fountain and an island-inspired sandbox, dubbed "Cinnamon Cove" after the spice mixed in to keep cats out.
Inside, the design features Polynesian masks, custom furniture, and a vintage poster from the movie She Gods of Shark Reef. A small portion of the 2,850-square-foot interior has been devoted to "the cool kid's lounge," which features an astroturf floor and beach chairs.
On the menu, chef Stayer and chef de cuisine Ben Ruiz have created a menu inspired by the countries within 20 degrees north or south of the Equator. Some favorites from the Toasty Tuesdays preview pop-ups made it to the final menu, including three kinds of dumplings, pineapple pastor skewers, and mapo tofu waffles fries. Additions to the menu include more skewers (beef, lamb, chicken, mushroom, and coconut shrimp), salads, and bar snacks. Larger format entrees include fried chicken, whole fish with mala sauce, and vegan chickpea curry with roti and fried cauliflower.
Troxell, the reigning CultureMap Tastemaker Awards bartender of the year, takes a lighter, slightly less boozy approach to traditional tiki drinks — although most are still served in tiki mugs, coconuts, or vintage glassware. The Low Tide (oloroso sherry, Stolen overproof Jamaican rum, pecan orgeat, etc.) is a refreshing take on the Mai Tai. In addition to rum-based drinks, patrons will find a couple of tequila cocktails, including the Resting Beach Face, a bottled cocktail that must be shaken prior to drinking. Of course, the bar can still make simple highballs (Jack and Coke, vodka-soda, etc.) for those who want to stick to familiar flavors.
Let's give the last word to Holly Beretto. The CultureMap Houston contributor is a dedicated enthusiast who has visited many of America's top tiki bars. She sent along some first impressions based on Toasted Coconut's soft opening during Labor Day Weekend.
When it comes to tiki bars, it's the rare place that seems able to unite both hardcore tikiphiles and those who've never heard of Trader Vic, Don the Beachcomber, Beachbum Berry, Martin Cate, and all the rest. But that's part of the beauty of The Toasted Coconut. The commitment to high-quality food from the Stayers paired with the bar prowess of Sarah Troxell has created a space that nods to tiki tradition without feeling handcuffed by it.
Those craving a traditional tiki bar might find the atmosphere too bright and not enough of an escape into some Polynesian fantasia, but they won't be able to quibble with the drinks. And those who want to explore what this ever-evolving trend is all about will find The Toasted Coconut an approachable place to get a foundation before moving into more traditional tiki spots. At its core, however, The Toasted Coconut brings a fresh perspective and some great bites to Houston's bar scene.
Thanks, Holly. Cheers to finding sanity in Montrose's newest tropical destination.