Photo courtesy of Becker Vineyards

There's a lot of talk about flowers springing up with the seasonal blooms around Texas, but visitors are generally discouraged from picking and eating them. Fans of floral flavors can look forward to the Lavender Festival at Becker Vineyards in Fredericksburg, which will serve wine pairings with the unmistakeable aroma on April 15 and 16.

This festival is 24 years running, and still hasn't run out of ideas for the timeless flavor. Over two days, visitors can explore the vineyard, shop for goods like soap and lotion from artisan vendors, enjoy live music, and most importantly, taste the lavender. It's more than a shortbread cookie, too.

Becker's executive chef Michael Lockhart and winemaker Jonathan Leahy invite guests to "Lavender Luncheons" ($125) in the Lavender Haus Reception Hall, a "replica of a barn at the Lyndon B. Johnson Settlement." There's no menu so far, but it will be a meal inspired by the 500 lavender plants in the vineyard. There will also be four "wine and lavender bite pairing sessions" ($60) on Saturday. Less formally, or for those who would rather see the lavender than taste it, there will be three local food vendors on both days: Mac’n Wag’n, Conchita’s, and Garbo’s Seafood.

The history of the festival stretches back almost as long as the vineyard has been producing lavender. The first plants were sown in June of 1998 — that's just one year longer. Although the family struggled to find a healthy variety for the area and lost huge swathes of the three-acre crop, they kept pushing on. Eventually, they discovered that the Stoechas (Spanish) varietal does best in the region.

If readers have struggled with lavender (an extremely likely circumstance), they may find that gardening tips at the festival help this year or next year's blooms. Lavender, unlike the many wildflowers that make the Hill Country famous, does not naturally grow in the region, and instead prefers its native conditions in the Mediterranean. It's starting to make sense that in Texas it thrives in the vineyard, no?

The Lavender Festival at Becker Vineyards is located at 464 Becker Farms Rd., Fredericksburg, Texas. Tickets ($15 general admission, plus add-ons for tastings) are available at beckervineyards.com. The festival is open on April 15 and 16 from 10 am to 5 pm.

Dried lavender at Becker Vineyards

Photo courtesy of Becker Vineyards

Becker Vineyards invites Texans to see the fields and try lavender foods and wine pairings.

Photo courtesy of Savve

New Houston app is your passport to tasty deals and fave restaurants

Yum on Your Phone

If you're looking to create a change in your current restaurant rotation, you can whet your appetite in the meantime with a new Houston-based app called Savve.

Designed to quickly match hungry users with great savings at local restaurants and bars, Savve was created with the revitalization of the Houston restaurant scene in mind, especially as it recovers from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hungry Houstonians can get access to all the city's best deals in one place, plus find restaurants and bars they have never experienced before with the app's unique "Surprise Me" feature.

Savve's algorithm learns user preferences over time to recommend restaurants and bars that match personal tastes at the best price.

In turn, restaurants and bars can acquire customer insights via Savve's early adopter program and expand their current customer base by showcasing their best deals.

As these businesses work to regain revenue lost post pandemic, Savve is showing its support by offering risk-free trials to limited number of restaurants and bars.

"As a Houstonian, I'm excited to do my part to help our city's restaurant and bar owners get back on their feet after a challenging year," says Wes Winn, president and founder of Savve Concepts. "Savve is reigniting the excitement around in-person dining in Houston, making restaurants and bars accessible again while also helping to bring customers back to the places that need them most."

Savve acts as your "passport," allowing you to taste as many restaurants as you'd like with in-app Savve special deals. It also shows the closest restaurants near you with active deals.

Savve is also rolling out new features for in-app restaurant partners that allow them to see real-time metrics of their deal redemption and user participation.

The app is available for free on any Android or Apple device, and can be downloaded here or in the App Store or Google Play.

Interested restaurants can contact wes@savveconcepts.com for an exclusive CultureMap special offer.

Texas' Garrison Brothers plots delicious bourbon takeover for September
Photo courtesy of Garrison Brothers

Texas' Garrison Brothers plots delicious bourbon takeover for September

Cheers, Y'all

Bourbon lovers, get ready: Garrison Brothers Distillery is launching its 2022 Bourbon Takeover of America on September 1.

The nationwide creative celebration of all things bourbon will run for the entire month of September, which also happens to be National Bourbon Heritage Month.

During that time, the award-winning, first-legal Texas whiskey distillery is partnering with America’s best bartenders and chefs from coast to coast to offer unique, limited-edition, bourbon-inspired cocktails and bites.

Wondering where to indulge in and around Houston? Here's your list:

Get even more out of the experience by downloading the Garrison Brothers Bourbon Takeover Passport App and then checking in with what you've just savored.

The more you check in, the more chances you have to be one of the 10 who wins the prize: a custom Garrison Brothers-branded barrel head serving tray, mixing glass, stirring spoon, and jigger.

The Garrison Brothers Bourbon Takeover Passport App is available for download in the Apple App and Google Play stores. Those 21 years of age and older are welcome to participate.

To find out more about 2022 Bourbon Takeover of America, go to www.bourbontakeover.com.

The celebration of all things bourbon will run for the entire month of September.

Bourbon cocktails
Photo courtesy of Garrison Brothers
The celebration of all things bourbon will run for the entire month of September.
Photo courtesy of Simon Property Group

Savvy new app helps Galleria shoppers take stock and avoid headaches

added to cart

The age-old phenomenon of driving to and parking at The Galleria — only to find that the desired item isn’t available — may soon be a thing of the past.

Galleria shoppers can now utilize Simon Search, a new search platform that allows users to research in-stock products available at the mall’s retailers. Simon Search will be integrated into the existing Simon app, the Galleria and all Simon Property Group malls around the nation, and interactive directories.

Current participating retailers include Aéropostale, Anthropology, Athleta, Banana Republic, Bloomingdales, Brooks Brothers, Coach, Crocs, Gap, J.Crew, Kate Space, Lane Bryant, Lilly Pulitzer, Lucky Brand, Macy’s, Stuart Weitzman, Ugg, and UNTUCKit.

“A customer who is seeking a blue tank top in size small, will be able to identify what store has that item quickly and efficiently in stock right here and right now at the Galleria,” Enna Allen, Simon Property Group’s vice president of brand management, tells CultureMap.

She adds that The Galleria was selected as a test site based on retail mix, customer usage, and adoption of technology tools — including use of interactive directories, plus customer feedback. Fair to say, then, that the new platform was created based on customer demand.

“Almost 90 percent of customers expressed interest in an online tool that enables enhanced searches of store inventory at local malls,” says Allen. “Additionally, 75 percent of shoppers told us that they would use this tool on a regular or frequent basis.”

Techie shoppers take note: Allen adds that Simon plans to onboard many more retailers this year.

Photo by Kristen Kilpatrick

Texas-based Bumble sponsors 50 female athletes to honor 50 years of Title IX

Big League Bumble

Bumble is causing a buzz once again, this time for collegiate women athletes. Founded by recent Texas Business Hall of Fame inductee Whitney Wolfe Herd, the Austin-based and female-first dating and social networking app this week announced a new sponsorship for 50 collegiate women athletes with NIL (name, image, and likeness) deals in honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Established in 1972, the federal law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program or activity that receives federal money. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, the number of women in collegiate athletics has increased significantly since Title IX, from 15 percent to 44 percent.

That said, equity continues to lag in many ways, specifically for BIPOC women who make up only 14 percent of college athletes. The findings also share that men have approximately 60,000 more collegiate sports opportunities than women, despite the fact that women make up a larger portion of the collegiate population.

With this in mind, Bumble’s new sponsorship seeks to support “a wealth of overlooked women athletes around the country,” according to the beehive’s official 50for50 program page.

“We're embarking on a yearlong sponsorship of 50 remarkable women, with equal pay amounts across all 50 NIL (name, image, and likeness) contracts,” says the website. “The inaugural class of athletes are a small representation of the talented women around the country who diligently — and often without recognition — put in the work on a daily basis.”

To celebrate the launch of the program, Bumble partnered with motion graphic artist Marlene “Motion Mami” Marmolejos to create a custom video and digital trading cards that each athlete will post on their personal social media announcing their sponsorship.

“These sponsorships are an exciting step in empowering and spotlighting a diverse range of some of the most remarkable collegiate women athletes from across the country. Athletes who work just as hard as their male counterparts, and should be seen and heard,” says Christina Hardy, Bumble’s director of talent and influencer, in a separate release. “In honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we are so proud to stand alongside these women and are looking forward to celebrating their many achievements throughout the year.”

“Partnering with Bumble and announcing this campaign on the anniversary of Title IX is very special,” said Alexis Ellis, a track and field athlete. “I am grateful for the progress that has been made for women in sports, and am proud to be part of Bumble’s ’50for50’ to help continue moving the needle and striving for more. I look forward to standing alongside so many incredible athletes for this campaign throughout the year.”

“I am so grateful to team up with Bumble and stand alongside these incredible athletes on this monumental anniversary,” said Haleigh Bryant a gymnast. “Many women continue to be overlooked in the world of sports, and I am excited to be part of something that celebrates, and shines a light on, the hard work, tenacity, and accomplishments of so many great athletes.”

Last year, the NCAA announced an interim policy that all current and incoming student athletes could profit off their name, image, and likeness, according to the law of the state where the school is located, for the first time in collegiate history.

The 50for50 initiative adds to Bumble’s previous multi-year investments in sports. In 2019, Bumble also launched a multi-year partnership with global esports organization Gen.G to create Team Bumble, the all-women professional esports team.

To see the 50for50 athletes, visit the official landing page.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Retro Montrose pizzeria scores coveted spot on Esquire's Best New Restaurants in America list

Esquire best new restaurants

Two Texas restaurants are basking in the national spotlight. Both are recognized on Esquire magazine’s new list of The Best New Restaurants in America, 2023.

They are Este, a Mexican seafood restaurant in Austin, and Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern, a pizzeria in Houston that’s not on the main list but earns a shoutout for being the Pizza Joint of the Year. The 50 restaurant list is led by Ilis, a New Nordic-inspired restaurant in Brooklyn whose name is adapted from the Danish words for “fire” and “ice” (ild and is, according to the magazine).

Este, the only Texas restaurant on the main list (down from three in 2022), earns recognition for its ceviche, oysters with salsa negra and chiltepin mignonette, fried fish tacos, and more. The Austin restaurant is no stranger to these kind of lists, having earned similar shoutouts from the New York Times, Bon Appetit, and Texas Monthly.

“You might think you’re on the Mexican coast, but alas, you’re in good ol’ landlocked central Texas. East Austin, to be exact,” Omar Mamoon writes. “While the fish has a bit of a journey, many of the vegetables and floral garnishes are plucked from the garden behind the restaurant.”

Mamoon heaps similar praise on Nonno’s, citing its retro design, comprehensive wine and cocktail lists, and Chicago-style cracker-thin pizzas. “Nonno’s in Houston evokes the retro pizza parlors of my youth, Pac-Man and all, but the pizza is much, much better,” he writes.

Published Tuesday, November 28, Esquire writers Jeff Gordinier, Joshua David Stein, Omar Mamoon, and Kevin Sintumuang compiled the 50 restaurant list by visiting more than 200 establishments across the country, according to the magazine. In addition to Ilis, New York City claims eight more spots on the list, including Top Chef alum Kwame Onwuachi’s Caribbean restaurant Tatiana and Torrisi, an homage to New York City’s food culture from the restaurant group behind acclaimed Italian restaurant Carbone.

“Honest innovation doesn’t always work in the kitchen, but when it does, it’s like rocket fuel for the soul,” Sintumuang writes in the article’s introduction. “You leave not just full, not just filled with delight, but with a spark. It’s a rare thing, but it’s worth chasing. Consider this your map.”

Iconic rapper Busta Rhymes brings all the lyrics to Houston's ears on new tour

rhymes in ya ear

Effortlessly clever and a born performer, iconic rapper-actor-performer Busta Rhymes is a living link to the early days of NYC/East Coast hip-hop's origins and modern entertainment. Next year, Houston fans can catch all his lyrics inside their ears when he hits town.

Busta Rhymes will bring his energetic brand of showmanship and raspy-voiced rhymes to 713 Music Hall on March 28, 2024 as part of his just-announced Blockbusta North American tour. Supporting his acclaimed new album of the same name, the Blockbusta tour will also head to Dallas' South Side Ballroom on March 24 and Austin's Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater on March 26.

Tickets are available via Citi presale now, with more presale promotions running the week ahead of the general on-sale, beginning at 10 am Friday, December 1at LiveNation.com. Fans can look forward to VIP packages and experiences, including general admission tickets, individual Meet & Greet, photo op, and Q&A with Busta Rhymes, autographed item, early entry with priority access to the floor & more. Those interested should check out more at vipnation.com.

Fresh off supporting 50 Cent on the historic, global Final Lap Tour, Busta will drop a feast of new Blockbusta material from the Busta co-produced with A-listers Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, and Swizz Beatz. Check out new tracks — including the latest single “OK” featuring Young Thug — here.

The NYC native boasts 12 Grammy Award nominations, more than 10 million albums worldwide, seven Top-10 debuts on the Billboard 200, and a "greatest performer of all time" title glossed by none other than one JAY-Z. He has also starred in notable roles in films such as Higher Learning and Finding Forrester and has even rubbed elbows with Former President Barack Obama.

But he still keeps it real from his East Flatbush Brooklyn early days, with cred such as BET Jams crowning his "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See" as the "Greatest Hip-Hop Video of All-Time." Busta also recently scored the 2023 BET Icon/Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Here is the full list of Blockbusta 2024 tour dates.

3/13 San Francisco, CA The Masonic

3/15 Los Angeles, CA Hollywood Palladium

3/16 Anaheim, CA House of Blues

3/17 San Diego, CA SOMA

3/19 Las Vegas, NV House of Blues

3/20 Phoenix, AZ The Van Buren

3/22 Denver, CO Fillmore Auditorium

3/24 Dallas, TX South Side Ballroom

3/26 Austin, TX Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater

3/28 Houston, 713 Music Hall

3/30 Atlanta, GA Coca Cola Roxy

4/1 Orlando, FL House of Blues

4/2 Miami Beach, FL Fillmore Miami Beach At Jackie Gleason Theatre

4/4 Raleigh, NC The Ritz

4/5 Charlotte, NC The Fillmore Charlotte

4/7 Philadelphia, PA The Fillmore Philadelphia

4/8 Silver Spring, MD The Fillmore Silver Spring

4/9 Boston, MA House of Blues

4/11 Detroit, MI The Fillmore Detroit

4/12 Toronto, ON HISTORY

4/14 Chicago, IL Radius Chicago

4/17 Nashville, TN Marathon Music Works

4/18 Cincinnati, OH Andrew J. Brady Music Center

4/21 Brooklyn, NY Brooklyn Paramount

Inside the new La Griglia: Murals are out, tableside touches are in, and more

First look at La Griglia

The name may be the same, but the new La Griglia is a very different place from the restaurant it replaced. Moving about a mile east to a new location at 2817 West Dallas St. has brought a fresh perspective to both the look and menu of the River Oaks staple.

La Griglia exterior

Courtesy of La Griglia

La Griglia is now open on West Dallas.

La Griglia senior executive Brandon Busch, who has been involved with the restaurant throughout its history, tells CultureMap that he worked directly with CEO Tilman Fertitta to take La Griglia in a more upscale direction. That includes a design inspired by the Italian Riviera and hiring a high profile chef consultant to rethink the menu.

“When Tilman started talking to me about this, we talked about the fact that over the past 15, 20 years that everybody has tried to make everything a little more casual. Nobody wants to get dressed up anymore,” Busch says. “We thought it was time to reverse that. We took this restaurant a little more upscale. We’re white tablecloth throughout, and that includes the outside courtyard.”

White tablecloths aren’t the only change to La Griglia’s interior. The original location’s colorful murals are gone. Instead, the interior features framed black and white photographs, Art Deco-inspired lighting fixtures, and marble floors. Banquettes make the expanded bar area an option for dining as well as drinking.

“People can’t believe how gorgeous it is. People say it reminds them of New York or LA,” Busch says. “I’ve seen the looks on faces of customers I’ve known for 30 years. They’re blown away.”

Three private dining rooms are located upstairs that can host separate events or be combined into one large room. La Griglia’s covered patio is climate controlled and features a retractable roof. Overall costs for the patio, including its posh landscaping, exceeded $1 million, according to a release.

Even the staff uniforms have gone upscale. Managers wear suits. Captains are in white tuxedo jackets, and support staff are in black tuxedo vests. They’ve adopted old school touches like serving from the left and bringing a cold fork for salads.

To transform the menu, Landry’s recruited chef Mark Ladner. Best known for winning a James Beard Award at New York City’s acclaimed Del Posto restaurant, Ladner introduced a number of new dishes, including Burrata di Puglia with heirloom tomato and Castelvetrano and Taggiasca olives; beef carpaccio with arugula, parmesan, mascarpone cream, and sweet peppers; pasta bolognese; veal piccatine; and frutti di mare that’s made with clams, mussels, and shrimp topped with red clam sauce.

Most of the entrees are served a la carte and can be paired with vegetable sides such as broccolini, sweet corn polenta, and a latke-style seared potato cake. Day to day execution is overseen by chef de cuisine Pat Sommers, who had a well-regarded stint as a sous chef at Houston fine dining restaurant Triniti.

“[Ladner] was a pleasure to work with. He’s very pragmatic,” Busch says. “He’s a great Italian chef. He’s more about the ingredients than to make sure you’ve got flowers all over your food. It’s simple and wholesome.”

Thankfully, some La Griglia classics remain, including the shrimp and crab cheesecake, Snapper La Griglia, and autumn salad. Regulars will be pleased to learn that the signature pizza bread remains, although it has a new crust based on a dough recipe Ladner created.

Along with the new dishes, Busch has brought some theater to the dining room with a few items that are finished tableside. Pasta alla ruota gets tossed in a cheese wheel before getting a generous shaving of black or white truffles. “Hanging Hen” is a whole chicken that’s carved tableside and served with roasted potatoes and chicken jus. Even dessert has a tableside ice cream option.

“[On] our opening night, I must have carved six chickens and served six pasta wheels. I haven’t worked on the floor like that in awhile,” Busch says. “It was fun to watch when I was doing that wheel in the middle of the dining room. Everyone turned their heads to see what I was doing.”

Currently, the restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner nightly. If a full house on a recent weeknight is any indication, the regulars are stopping by to check out the new location.

“La Griglia patrons will discover an elevated dining experience with great attention to detail,” Fertitta added in a statement. “No expense was spared for the restaurant’s design and the creation of the new menus. La Griglia is special to Houston, and it required and deserved a great deal of consideration.”