Food for Thought
Are you ready for some ... high-end food! Monday Night Football turns into alure for top Houston restaurants
Houston can hang with New York City or Los Angeles' restaurant scene. And we are very food savvy, as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain recently found out.
But it ain’t all roses for restros here.
Celebrity chef Jerry Edwards, owner of Baltimore’s Chef's Expressions Catering and Consulting (whose wife Julie Brown-Edwards is from Houston), says things are about to get tougher.
“The food vendors, who kept prices low during the recession, are about to raise prices by 20 percent,” he says. “It’s going to get very competitive.”
So what are local restaurants doing to lure diners?
Can you say: Monday Night Football?
Buffalo wing shops and sports bars have long lured eaters with big-screen TVs and junk food, but now even high-end eateries, ones often closed on Mondays, are following suit. But with better food.
“Monday nights are slow for everyone,” Phillip Mitchell, co-owner and chef at the newly rechristened Phil & Derek’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, says. “So we decide to open on Mondays, put in some TVs and we’re offering a $12 tailgate buffet. We’re the only wine bar doing that.”
Phil & Derek’s serves up “guy food” like BBQ brisket, nachos, ranchero beans and rice, fried catfish tacos and hot wings. Salads (no lettuce crap!) are usually cole slaw and potato types.
“We had a lot of ladies last Monday,” Mitchell says. “They seem to like it, too. And we offer five white wines and five reds for $4 a glass and $12 a bottle.”
Want football and seafood? Try Danton’s Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen. The Montrose seafood fave, which has a killer Sunday blues brunch, also now serves up the game on TV screens while fans nosh on half-priced, cold, juicy Gulf Coast oysters on the half shell from 4 to 9 p.m., along with happy hour drink prices from 4 to 7 p.m. and all-you- can-eat catfish.
I love a good catfish. I love me some wine specials. I love a great buffet spread.
What I don’t love, or even care a squat about, is football.
There, I said it. No Cowboys vs. Texans. No overpaid, Carrie Underwood-ditching athletes, no ass-grabbing guys in big shoulder pads and tight pants.
OK, Kenny Chesney’s The Boys of Fall is a nice song, but I don’t watch football. I have long passed the stage where I can pretend to swoon over some guy’s favorite team.
You wanna watch football? Go home and watch it. Me, I’d rather stay home and watch Law and Order reruns.
So, shoot me, I’m not a football fan. And yes, I have been to Reliant Stadium and sat in the McNairs' box and watched a game.
It was OK — they had a seriously great buffet — until I told Janice McNair I had the same rhinestone Toro brooch she was wearing (OMG!) and she politely informed me that hers was made of diamonds. Which probably explains why I write this food column and don’t have Shelby Hodge's job.
But last Monday I did hang at Hotel Icon’s Voice to check out its new tailgate menu.
I barely glanced at the flat screens atop the bar and frankly, this swanky, ultra modern open-air eatery doesn’t strike me as a football watching spot. But the food chef Greg Lowry keeps pumping out of the kitchen here is worth putting up with some background cheering.
The Monday tailgate fare is $12 for a longneck beer with skinny-cut, crispy fries and your choice of either a Kobe beef dog or chicken legs. The dog is a big barker, plump and meaty and smothered in chili made of pork, beef, masa and a tinge of chocolate. It’s all stuffed into a bun and topped with jalapenos and onions for a lip-smacking meal. Voice’s dog is definitely a contender for top dog, right up there with canines from Frank’s Chop House and Max’s Wine Dive.
The fried leg of chicken is no slouch either. It’s like a buffalo wing on steroids (just like some players). And it’s covered in Frank’s Red Hot sauce, something that’s turning up in surprising places like atop chef David Grossman’s chicken fried oysters at Branch Water Tavern.
But as good as the tailgate menu is, we opted for some extras. Specifically, chef Adam Garcia’s Mangalitsa coppa from Revival Meats heritage hogs. Poodle pig on a plate!
“It’s great to be able to buy local pork,” Garcia says. “When I’m making salume I know where the pig is from, how it was raised and what it ate.”
Apparently, it ate very well.
Even the lard slathered bread bites went down well with a Thyme-Warp (shout out to The Rocky Horror Picture Show) of vodka, lemon, thyme and soda. Way better than the beer.
Then, just because we hadn’t eaten enough, we ordered the dessert box, sort of a TV dinner tray of divine sweets presented by the equally sweet pastry chef, Audrey Sam, who’s a bundle of fun with some very creative takes on traditional meal enders.
Oh, and then there was a Violette Fizz, because you know we didn’t stop at just one cocktail. This time it was gin, crème de violette, lemon juice, soda and syrup. Very yummy and light lavender color.
Seriously, best game I never watched.