Surprising Houston restaurants get creative with locally grown food served with a Texas swagger
Have you noticed one of the biggest trends at Houston restaurants lately? More and more chefs are cooking with ingredients that are fresh and locally grown.
Of course, the first issue is one of definition. Certainly, restaurants that purchase ingredients from within Texas are keeping things "local," but, when El Paso is farther away than New Orleans, is that too broad? Urban Harvest limits vendors at its weekly farmers market to those whose farms are within 180 miles of Houston. That seems like a better fit.
The other perk of the Urban Harvest market is that diners can get a sign of which chefs "walk the walk" of local sourcing by seeing who shows up. Some of the city's biggest names like Monica Pope, Chris Shepherd and Justin Yu are all regulars. Other times sous chefs like Coltivare's Vincent Huynh represent their restaurants. Their restaurants — Sparrow Bar + Cookshop, Underbelly and Oxheart — are all well-known for their use of local ingredients.
Today's list focuses on those restaurants whose presence at the market might surprise some people.
While the restaurants below don't make up a comprehensive list, it does shine a spotlight on a few places that don't get enough attention for their commitment to sustainability and serves as a reminder that this ethos has become far more widespread than a few stand bearers. Check out LocalLocal for more information; the recently launched website documents which local producers supply specific stores and restaurants.
Chef/Partner Dylan Murray is a market regular who purchases produce from high-quality purveyors like Gundermann Farms, Atkinson Farm and Animal Farm for the company's four restaurants. The items get featured as specials at Benjy's or as side dishes and sandwiches at Local Foods.
"The operative word is community," Murray writes in an email. "Not only from a financial standpoint, but from a truly local neighborhood community standpoint, by buying the local product, it ensures that a) We get the freshest product that hasn’t traveled very far, but also b) We’re re-investing in the community. We buy our farmers’ product and often see those same farmers in our restaurants eating. It’s kind of a win-win-win; it’s great for the farmer, great for the community and great for us."
Diners value Claire Smith's duo of casual, Southern-influenced restaurants for their vegetable preparations that utilize a host of nearby farmers. Black Hill Ranch supplies pork to both restaurants, as well. Market shoppers line up at the restaurants' stand that features quiche and other breakfast treats to patrons.
Not everything at this two outpost mini chain comes from Texans (hello, citrus-glazed salmon), but owner Aaron Lyons and operations director Trent Patterson do utilize local produce from Atkinson Farms, locally roasted Greenway Coffee and locally baked breads from Slow Dough Bread Co. (among other suppliers). Despite the reputation that local means expensive, most dinner entrees at Dish Society only cost between $10 and $15.
Down House executive chef Mark Decker can be regularly found at the market. His restaurant uses produce places that include Gundermann Acres, Knopp Branch and Plant-It-Forward as well as proteins from Black Hill Meats and others. Fitting for a restaurant that won Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year at the 2014 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
In addition, Treadsack, the restaurant group that owns Down House, operates the CHOAM distribution company that supplies Gulf seafood to Revival Market, Coltivare, Rainbow Lodge and Harold's in the Heights. It grew out of the Gulf by-catch distribution business begun by Foreign Correspondents chef PJ Stoops.
Part of what makes chef Anita Jaisinghani's restaurants two of Houston's most reliable destinations for creative Indian cooking is their use of local produce. Both restaurants offer vegetarian options that go far beyond the grilled vegetables plates of days gone by. Jaisinghani is a market regular, but she usually arrives close to the 8 am opening before the crowds descend.
The popular sushi restaurant in the Gateway Memorial City complex still gets most of its fish from Japan, but sous chef Martin Weaver visits the market weekly to source ingredients that become specials at both the sushi counter and in the kitchen. These unexpected ingredients enhance KUU's Japanese perspective with a little Texas swagger.