Can't-Miss Summer Dishes
What to Eat Right Now: Can't-miss summer dishes from six inventive Houston restaurants
With a momentary lull in openings before the summer season kicks into high gear, I've had an opportunity to revisit a few restaurants that had either fallen off my radar or that I had simply neglected due to other demands on my time. Since readers are always asking me what's good or where I've been eating, I thought I'd share a few particularly memorable dishes.
Of course, CultureMap readers still want to know what's new, so I've also included a favorite from Revival Market's recently-unveiled dinner menu. It's exactly the style of dish I hope to be eating all summer.
Pappa Charlies Barbeque: Smoked tri-tip
For a certain segment of barbecue-obsessed bloggers, Pappa Charlies, the barbecue trailer run by former Army Ranger Wesley Jurena that serves three days a week at Jackson's Watering Hole in Montrose, serves the best barbecue in Houston. While I'm not ready to join them in their acclaim, my apartment's proximity to Jackson's means that Pappas Charlies is a frequent stop. Jurena's recent experiments with tri-tip have been particularly memorable; he managed to get enough smoke into the meat to taste like barbecue but still juicy enough to be medium. Hopefully his quest for a brick and mortar space comes to fruition; it's food I want to eat even more often than I do.
Kenny & Ziggy's: Bronx Fried Chicken
Deli Man may be out of movie theaters, but the show goes on at Houston's best delicatessen. For summer, deli maven Ziggy Gruber has brought back his fried chicken recipe that involves a garlic-heavy brine and a batter made with matzah meal for extra crunch. The chicken arrives hot, crispy and juicy. At $21.95, it's not an inexpensive proposition, but, like most dishes at Kenny & Ziggy's, the portion is so generous, especially with the included salad, mashed potatoes and grilled corn, that most people will have leftovers.
Triniti: Sausage & Peppers
Having successfully remade its bar into the cocktail lounge Sanctuari, River Oaks restaurant Triniti has turned to the dining room, where a new menu features a host of highly accessible options. The sausage and peppers small plate is emblematic of this new direction; it features a generation portion of three, housemade sausages: Chinese (seasoned with soy sauce, miring and sake], Seafood (madewith shrimp, bay scallops and crawfish] and Fennel (pork with fennel and apples). Served with pickled peppers, vinegar-glazed pearl onions and three sauces, it's a substantial starter for two that's reasonably priced at $14.
Brennan's: Soft shell crab
Since they're in season, I've been on a bit of a soft shell crab kick; if I see them on a menu, I'm probably ordering them. So far, my favorite has been at Brennan's, where chef Danny Trace fries the familiar crustacean in a light batter and serves it with goat cheese stone ground grits and Covey Rise lima bean succotash. The preparation adds crunch and acidity to the Gulf Coast favorite. Dishes like it serve as a a good reminder that Brennan's is more than just the place to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries; it's a place where educated diners can find fresh, seasonal fare.
Revival Market: Smoked bycatch salad
Ryan Pera's wizardry with salads has been on display since Coltivare opened last year; the newly launched dinner menu at Revival Market raises the bar again. While it's hard to resist the lure of pickled shrimp with fresh Texas peaches, my personal favorite is the smoked bycatch salad that combines fresh caught fish (typically Almanco Jack or wahoo) with thinly sliced cantaloupe, cucumber, cilantro and chiles for a combination of sweet, smoky and spicy that's good from the first bite to the last. Priced at $9, it's easy to split for two or would work as a light entree for one — especially when paired with some of Revival's signature charcuterie.
The Burger Joint: Basic burger
As much as I like cheffy burgers with fancy toppings, sometimes simple is best. Such is the case at The Burger Joint, which is currently on the streets as the food truck companion to the upcoming burger restaurant that will open in the former Little Bigs space next month. The Burger Joint starts with a thin patty made from locally raised 44 Farms beef that's cooked to a juicy medium. It's topped with fresh vegetables, a swipe of housemade mayo and placed on a fluffy, grocery-store style bun. Essentially, it's a great version of a backyard burger, and what could be a better fit for summer than that?