As the temperatures rise, Houstonians are taking to backyard burgers, cool ceviches, frosty cocktails and al fresco dining to make it through the blistering hot summer season.
Lucky for us, an abundance of flavorful, seasonal ingredients begins making its way to fine dining kitchens this summer season, and chefs and restaurants are taking advantage of all the beautiful bounty. For those of you on the hunt for unconventional, surprisingly tasty dishes, look no further than your favorite restaurants around town like Haven, The Pass & Provisions and Triniti.
Here are seven menu items worth trying out on your culinary outings this summer:
Haven's Tomato Ice Cream Sundae
Haven executive chef Randy Evans first utilized tomato ice cream when he was at Brennan's. The chef admits the dish didn't sell well at his old stomping grounds, but since adding the odd sweet on the menu at Haven, he's changed diners' minds.
Utilizing different cuts of heirloom tomatoes from Animal Farm and Pine Valley Produce, olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, dehydrated tomato skins and lemon dressing ice cream, Evans has created a riff on a traditional ice cream sundae. Known for his admiration of local ingredients, Evans says diners can look forward to an abundance of produce-driven dishes this summer season.
"I love the start of summer with eggplant, squashes, tomatoes, corn and okra. I use these items all over the menu from our grilled okra to ratatouille," he says.
Carbonara is seen a thousand times over in classic Italian cuisine, but Triniti executive chef Ryan Hildebrand has taken tradition and tossed it aside with his take on the famous pasta. Utilizing kale pasta, pancetta, egg, crab, parmesan foam, tomato, blue cheese panna cotta, baby greens and walnuts, the chef has embraced a marvelous interpretation of the traditionally rustic dish.
"Summer, milkshakes and beer: What else do you need?"
"Much of what we do comes from putting our twist on a classic," Hildebrand says. "We have tried to deliver the classic flavors of a carbonara with the surprises in the crab and parmesan foam."
Though heavy pastas are normally avoided on fine dining summer menus, Triniti has lightened up the dish with the cooling foam and citrusy flavors. The menu changes frequently at Triniti, but customers can look forward to items like rib-eye with charred onion yogurt and wild boar poutine this summer.
Max's Wine Dive's Chicken Liver Po' Boy
You don't have to leave the city limits to indulge in New Orleans-style cuisine this summer. Restaurants like Max's Wine Dive have utilized creole, Cajun flavors to create summer-inspired dishes that will make you feel like you're on a Louisiana vacation.
"It is such a classic dish, but it does not get much love nowadays. I was looking for a way to make this dish more approachable."
Chef Michael Pellegrino has created a Chicken Liver Po' Boy made with a Slow Dough French hoagie slider, fried chicken liver, caper-berry relish, cane syrup aioli and Tabasco onions on Max's menu.
"I wanted to do a fun play on liver and onions," Pellegrino says. "It is such a classic dish, but it does not get much love nowadays. I was looking for a way to make this dish more approachable and I knew that a slider was a vehicle which would allow the guests to try, share and explore it without being fully committed to a whole course, and it's working.
"We are making new fans of liver and onions."
Other summer fare to watch out for at MAX's includes watermelon croutons, saffron creme brulee, lobster salad and tuna surf 'n turf bone marrow.
Revival Market's Pickled Peach Panna Cotta with Heirloom Tomatoes, Cucumber and Blue Cheese
Revival Market has undergone a slew of exciting changes in recent months, including the addition of a daily breakfast menu. One of the restaurant's upcoming summer dishes includes a pickled peach panna cotta, made with three kinds of heirloom tomatoes from Pine Valley Farms, balsamic-glazed local peaches, cucumbers from Circle S Farms and Little Boy Blue Cheese.
"Everything we do, from our prepared foods and housemade items to the menu, specials and bi-weekly dinners are directly influenced by the bounties from the farms we work with," chef Adam Dorris says. "If it is producing in Texas right now, it is somewhere on our shelves and in our food."
Another exciting Revival dish to be on the lookout for is the lamb pastrami sandwich, featuring savory Korean-style barbecue brisket.
Hugo's Squash Blossom Enchiladas
Summer squashes are featured heavily in restaurants throughout the city, but farmers and chefs alike all too often discard the pale yellow flowers the sprout atop these farm-fresh squash. Hugo's, however, has crafted a whole menu around the delicate blossom.
Featured on the restaurant's popular squash blossom menu are savory squash blossom enchiladas, made with corn, poblano pepper, calabacitas, tomatillo salsa and crema fresca. Other unique items on the seasonal menu include goat cheese-stuffed squash blossom and shrimp tostadas with zucchini, beans and squash blossoms.
The Pass & Provisions' Ten Dollar Malted-Left Hand Stout Milkshake
The menu changes frequently at The Pass & Provisions, which makes it difficult to fall in love with any one dish. That being said, one dessert that has found quite the following at the two-in-one restaurant is the Ten Dollar Malted-Left Hand Stout Milkshake.
"Summer, milkshakes and beer: What else do you need?" chef Seth Siegel-Gardner says.
Utilizing an in-house creamy ice cream, malt powder and Left Hand Brewery's Milk Stout, Siegel-Gardner and chef Terrence Gallivan have crafted a boozy, milky concoction. Looking for new P&P dishes to try?
The chefs say they're working on some upcoming dishes that include cucumbers, eggplant, lobster, seafood and corn, among other summer-centric ingredients.
For those who long for campfire cuisine, look no further than Liberty Kitchen's and BRC Gastropub's Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake, created by executive chef Lance Fegen.
"We started doing a lemon meringue pie milkshake and the coolest thing about it was that I could taste the meringue in the shake, so we wanted to burn it a bit and test it that way," he says. "That didn’t really work, so we used marshmallows and burnt them and it created a much more distinct flavor."
Combining ice cream, heavy cream and burned, cracked marshmallows, the two restaurants have created a nostalgic dessert that tastes like fluffy mallows, crispy grahams and Hershey's milk chocolate.
"As soon as you taste it, you instantly feel eight years old," Fegan says. You'll likely notice stone fruit, peaches, plums and summer corn on Liberty Kitchen's and BRC's menus in the weeks to come.
Know of any other exciting summer fare around town? Share the scoop in the comment section below.