Food for Thought
Finally, it's (almost) patio weather: Here are my top five spots for food alfresco
Walking through the lobby of my building the other day, two women stopped their conversation and said: “Oh, there’s Marene! Let’s ask her.”
The question, on that fine-weather morning, was this: Where to eat outdoors to enjoy this great weather?
Yes, it’s finally that time of year again. After a national record-breaking, triple-digit summer, Houstonians can finally enjoy dining al fresco — at least in the evenings. And, well, assuming you have no problem with wildfire smoke drifting lightly over the patio as you sip your wine.
So the next thought is where: Where do you want go?
There are a ton of best patio and outdoor lists, so I’m just going to tell you a few of my personal favorites and why I like them. Maybe you’ll find a new place to chill that’s off the beaten path.
The Brownstone Cafe patio is a little oasis outside the sprawling building that contains the cafe, Red Room and 88 Keys Piano Bar. The outdoor seating provides both umbrella-ed tables and cabana seating around a lovely fountain with a few statues thrown in.
Why I like it: Lots of lush green stuff to make you feel like you’re on a tropical island somewhere. Or may be you’re in Monte Carlo, nibbling a savory chicken and mushroom crepe by chef Olivier Ciesielski while sipping a glass of Champagne. It’s just an imaginative place to daydream while enjoying some delightful food.
The Old Standby
It ain’t fancy, it ain’t got no view (well, not unless you like looking out onto a gravel parking lot), but I just like it. I’m talking about the creaky wood patio on Blanco’s Bar and Grill’s east side. There’s a makeshift canopy on one side with a few overworked fans. That’s where the smokers hang. Just like the rest of this well-worn honky tonk, the patio has been patched together with whatever was at hand over the years.
Why I like it: I love the picnic table under the spreading old oak by the door. Grab a cold longneck and a seat on the bench and just let the rest of the city roll by. Daily specials here can be good, but if you’re sitting under the tree it’s the old fashioned burger you want.
The Fun Spot
Felix 55 Restaurant & Bar, named for the address and owner Pejman “PJ” Jamea’s favorite Hong Kong restaurant (I have no idea why an upscale restaurant in Hong Kong would be named Felix, but whatever) has one of the most cool, eclectic interiors in Rice Village. But it’s the patio with the big red umbrellas that is really fun.
Why I like it: The swings! Who wouldn’t want to swing gently back and forth in the shade while sipping some of the well-priced wines from chef Michael Kramer’s wine list and noshing on one of his flatbreads with fresh herbs and tomatoes?
The One I Sometimes Forget About
Giacomo’s cibe e vino is just right down the street from me, but I sometimes forget about it. And I really shouldn’t, because Lynette Hawkins turns out some of the best and most authentic Italian fare in town. The tortelli di bietola ravioli, stuffed with Swiss chard, ricotta and goat cheese in sage butter, is a simply divine pasta dish, and the selection of Italian wines is very impressive. The interior, deigned by Kathy Heard, is just adorable, but the patio — with its Tuscan-inspired arbor and vine-covered wrought iron fence — is very inviting in the evenings.
Why I like it: There’s no outside gate to the patio, but Hawkins is going to put one in the minute the city passes the Paws on Patios ordinance, so dogs can dine with their owners. And why shouldn’t she? After all, her darling eatery is named for her beloved golden retriever.
A Mexican Fantasy
Maria Selma Restaurant, quaintly referred to by Dad as “Orange,” because of the color of the building and the sports bar next door, has a huge palapa-covered patio with fans and side curtains that keeps it fairly cool no matter what the weather. There’s nothing quite like drinking margaritas under a thatched roof while eating chips and queso, and maybe the crab-stuffed avocado.
Why I like it: Look up! There are the most colorfully painted frog and lizard Mexican pottery pieces wired to the roof. They look like festive creatures crawling around. I don’t know how long I had been eating there until I first noticed them, but now I can’t take my eyes off of them when I’m there.
These may not be the so-called "best" restaurant patios in town, but they are the ones I like. I think dining al fresco, just like dining indoors, is more about the company, the food and the memories you make there.
So what are you favorite restaurant patios?