It was the news heard 'round the local craft beer community when Troy Witherspoon left The Petrol Station on a mission to sate locals’ appetites with off-kilter menu items made to pair perfectly with local brews.
His new venture Craft Infusion will be the newest food truck on the scene with a unique, focused intention. Each menu item will be infused with beer or beer-brewing ingredients, and each will represent a local brewery (except for the beeramisu, which could probably be made with Coors and still taste good).
Anyone who’s familiar with the beer guru knows that he’s one mean cook, but what seems like a natural transition really began several years ago when doctors diagnosed him with a condition that left him unable to drink alcohol. That was motivation enough for Witherspoon to make major lifestyle changes — like going gluten free for a while — and alter his diet entirely, losing 100 pounds in the process.
“I think you’ll definitely see some of that brashness come out because I’m every bit as outspoken as Mr. Fulleleove, but maybe a little softer in my delivery.”
That’s when Witherspoon came to Houston, where he made a name for himself by working for Petrol owner Ben Fullelove and befriending the local craft beer community.
“Everyone who’s on the other side of the bar, they became my friends and family,” Witherspoon says.
Don’t let the scraggly beard and piercings throw you — Witherspoon’s one sweet guy who instantly inspires warmth and friendship. His positive energy is contagious, which may be why so many are eager to help his project in way they can.
“People call me out of the blue, ‘What are you doing today? I’ve got a couple of hours and want to come and help.’ It’s been amazing . . . welders, plumbers, everybody wants to share their knowledge, their beer, sweat and hard work,” he says.
When business partner Mark Zastrow approached him with the eatery idea, Fullelove encouraged Witherspoon to focus on Craft and leave Petrol without any advance notice, which is why his exit lacked the fanfare that many might have expected. Witherspoon says he’s grateful for the encouragement from his former boss who famously started Petrol’s Once You Go Black party, with dark brews and soul food, as a tribute to Witherspoon’s then-girlfriend.
“I learned a lot from Ben about unorthodox business practices, and I’ve been amazed at how he’s gone against the grain and always comes out right on top,” Witherspoon says. “I think you’ll definitely see some of that brashness come out [in Craft] because I’m every bit as outspoken as Mr. Fulleleove, but maybe a little softer in my delivery.”
What you can expect from Witherspoon is a menu of exotic cuts of meat, all craft beer-incorporated options and interesting cooking techniques — he recently used molecular gastronomy to make noodles at Kitchen Incubator. The prices are reasonable, too: Nothing on the current menu is over $7, which is a nice change of pace from some of the new trucks around town.
With ingredients like lengua and oxtail, it will be interesting to see how his (already built-in) audience will respond to the dishes. Maybe he’ll help fill the void that will be left by Feast’s closure.
Nothing on the current menu is more than $7, which is a nice change of pace from some of the new trucks around town.
“It’s a lot of fun for me to use the offal bits,” Witherspoon says. “I like it when I tell somebody I’m making tongue tacos and they give me ugly faces but then they try it and they’re a convert.”
Witherspoon will be collaborating with Cottonwood’s Daniel Ajtai for Sunday brunches at the new gastropub. You’ll also be able to find him converting palates all around town and at brewery tours where customers will have the benefit of tasting menu items served alongside the beer that inspired them: Karbach's Weisse Versa bratwurst corn dogs, poke lettuce cups marinated in No Label's Black Wit-O, oxtail empanadas braised in Buff Brew’s Gingerbread Stout and buffalo chicken livers with Saint Arnold's Elissa IPA bleu cheese.
Although Witherspoon is excited to bring these community and beer-infused bites to the masses, he says that he’s already missing his extended family of patrons and staff at Petrol.
“I miss being there, I miss my family, I miss my co-workers and I miss being behind the bar. I miss pouring beers and handing them to somebody and seeing them smile, but pretty soon I’ll be able to put a nice plate of food in their hands instead.”