Photo courtesy of the Butcher's Ball

Something between Cinderella and Sweeney Todd, the Fifth Annual Butcher's Ball is a must-attend weekend for meat lovers concerned with ethics and sustainability. This collaborative festival is a blow-out event featuring 50 Texas culinary talents, but despite the big names in cooking, this one is centered around farmers and ranchers no longer behind the scenes.

This will be a drive for Austinites, as the weekend takes place at Rockin’ Star Ranch in Brenham, about an hour and 45 minutes directly east of the Capital City. It’s a compromise with Houstonians, who also have to drive about an hour and 15, and who make up the majority of the lineup. Visitors from either city can enjoy a road trip out to the country venue, or relax on a $50 round-trip bus, including drinks and snacks. Eat your heart out, Greyhound.

The event kicks off on Saturday, November 12, with a hayride, a farm-to-table dinner prepared by a dozen chefs, and music by unbounded pedal steel player Will Van Horn and the metal-bluegrass Fiddle Witch. The opening bites and following five courses are prepared by pairs of Texas chefs:

  • “Fireside bites” and bread: Ara Malekian of Harlem Road Texas BBQ and Sasha Grumman of Sasha’s Focaccia
  • First course: Alex Au-Yeung of Phat Eatery and Kevin Bryant of Roma
  • Second course: Cullen Holle of Country Sunshine and PJ Edwards of Meadow
  • Third course: Jane Wild and Sarah Heard of Foreign & Domestic
  • Fourth course: Dylan McShan of Easy Wind Catering and Tony Luhrman of El Topo
  • Fifth course: Karla Espinosa of Mad and Alyssa Dole of LuLoo’s Day and Night

Sarah Heard is the only Austin chef on the Saturday lineup, while Dylan McShan travels the farthest, from Marfa. Half of the Saturday chefs are from Houston, and most of the others are from surrounding cities:

The ball itself, on Sunday, is the main event. Most of Saturday's featured chefs are competing for the "Golden Cleaver," alongside 14 other Texas chefs. Jo Chan of Chan Hospitality is visiting from Austin, along with Jack Matusek of Raw Republic Meats. The “best bite” will be determined by guest voting. There will also be non-competitive programming, like live fire cooking, butchery demonstrations, and panel discussions about sustainable sourcing.

Throughout the weekend, the ingredients are the star of the show. They’re all coming from local Texas makers, such as Marfa Meats (as famous as most ranchers get), Good Thyme Farm (just north of Austin), Whitehurst Farm (local to Brenham), and more.

All proceeds from the weekend will go to Urban Harvest to support its farmers market program, which allows more than 100 local vendors to sell in Houston year-round on Saturdays. The market has lasted 18 years so far, and grown from just 7 vendors, now sourcing goods from a maximum of 180 miles away.

There are several options to buy tickets to Butcher’s Ball Weekend events, including just the ball ($175), just the dinner ($200), and a package of both ($350). There is also a kid's cooking class on Sunday for guests 6 to 17. All tickets are available on Eventbrite.

Photo by Lindsey Brown

CultureMap's Wine Guy Chris Shepherd on why his massive food festival will be so vino-focused

wine guy wednesday

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.

In this week's column, he sits down with two of sommelier friends — Houston Wine Merchant manager Antonio Gianola and Southern Smoke Foundation wine director Matthew Pridgen — to discuss wine's role in the upcoming Southern Smoke Festival (October 21-23). Take it away, Chris.


Photo by Lindsey Brown

The trio are drinking Scribe 2021 Sparkling Mission.

Chris Shepherd: We’ve known each other for a long time. We started working together in 2006 when Catalan opened. [Catalan was a restaurant on Washington Avenue where Chris was the executive chef and managing partner, Matthew was general manager, and Antonio was sommelier and managing partner.]

Antonio Gianola: I first met you at a Kistler tasting at Mark’s.

Matthew Pridgen: That’s going back a few years! Antonio, where did we meet? You were at Da Marco when I was at Mark’s. I’m guessing probably at a tasting.

AG: I remember you came to Da Marco on a date with Cindy, and Melissa and I came to Mark’s for her birthday.

CS: I get to sit at this table and watch two of the great wine minds of this city. After Catalan, Antonio went to Houston Wine Merchant, and Matt and I went to open Underbelly.

Let’s talk Southern Smoke. How did we get here? We were doing those Off the Wall dinners at Underbelly raising money for culinary scholarships. We had restaurants around the city come in and cook together. Antonio came in and was the Wine Guy for those dinners.

AG: Pairing and going back and forth with chefs is something I don’t really get to do anymore, and I had fun!

CS: I’ll never forget the night you came in and asked me if we could do a dinner for the MS Society. You said you’d been diagnosed.

AG: I decided to tell people because I’d heard another industry story the night before my diagnosis. I was told a story about a chef who was diagnosed, didn’t tell anyone, and ended up committing suicide. I’m not sure if I’d have told anyone about my diagnosis if I hadn’t heard that story.

CS: That took a lot of guts to do that — to come out and say “let’s do something. I want to be talked about. I can be the poster child for the industry.”

I didn’t know what MS was. I called the MS Society and asked them to explain it to me. And they said it’s like you take a clothes pin every day and randomly put it on nerves — every day is different.

AG: Will it be balance or vision or sensation or neuropathy? You don’t know. I was 42 when I was diagnosed, which is really uncommon to be diagnosed that late in life. I was training to ride the MS 150, and my sister was diagnosed with MS in 2010. During training, I was doing a 65-mile ride every Sunday. One day I rode 75 miles and ran out of energy. I took a nap, and I had carpal tunnel-like things happening with my hand. I went to a sports medicine doctor, and then got an MRI. And another MRI. You know it’s bad when they call you to the doctor’s office for your results. A neurologist told me in person I had MS.

CS: How are you doing now?

AG: The whole thing has been very consistent. The doctor told me I had the best case scenario. MS isn’t heredity but my father’s sister had it, and my little sister has it.

CS: When you came and talked to me that night, I knew we needed to do something bigger [than another wine dinner]. That first Southern Smoke Festival was really special.

MP: It’s crazy to think we actually pulled it off.

CS: Susan Christian at the Mayor’s office changed it all! She turned a dinner into a festival. And all the vendors she introduced us to are still with us today — Greg Bess and Melange Catering, LD Systems. The community really came together for us. We’d participated in a lot of festivals, and we knew that a lot of them served wine that we didn’t want to drink. Since Southern Smoke was inspired by a sommelier, it was a goal for us to serve good wine.

MP: If you start looking for ways to make money, you find yourself pouring wines you’d never drink at home or sell at your restaurant, and we knew we didn’t want to do that. At the time of our first festival, my job was to taste and buy wine — not ask for free wine. I approached every vendor we worked with, told them what we were doing, and why we were doing it. They could relate to the Antonio connection. We got six bottles from one winery, three bottles from another. I took all the donations and figured out what we poured and what we auctioned.

It started really organically, and now we have people approaching us wanting to help. I think it will only get better as we go on. We’re really fortunate that we got off the ground the first year. We had no history. We just went on our reputation and who we were.

CS: That first year, we saw all the Miner, all the Hirsch. If you drank a glass of wine at the festival, it was something badass and different each time you got a glass.

AG: Every bar had something different!

CS: Harvey changed a lot for us. It changed our mission to provide emergency relief to folks in the industry. Our first emergency relief grant after Hurricane Harvey was for fire relief in Napa and Sonoma. And Robert Sinskey Foundation — a winery who has donated to us since year one — is funding our new mental health program in California. So thanks to our friends in the wine industry, anyone in the food and beverage industry in California and their kids now has access to free mental health counseling.

AG: What a coincidence! Sinskey was the first winery I ever saw crush during my very first trip to California.

CS: Wine brings people together. It’s a communal thing. I couldn’t imagine this festival without wine. I’m glad this event has always been wine-focused.

MP: We have a lot of repeat donors this year. The auction is going to be amazing. We’re offering a weekend in Napa as an auction item with Colgin, Bryant Family, and Sinskey. We’re auctioning a week in Burgundy with Antonio and Bertand’s wines. We’ll have special bottles that aren’t available anywhere else: signed magnums; a vertical of Bryant Family Wines; a vertical of Hirsch Raschen Ridge Magnums.

I love that the Friday night event is focused on Texas wines. We’re trying to figure out a way to differentiate the events and make them unique in their own way, so we wanted to take the opportunity to promote some Texas wineries and wines made by Texans. We’ve focused on wines that are doing cool things: William Chris, Alta Marfa, Southold Winery, June’s Rosé, Duchman, Becker, and C.L. Butaud.

For Saturday’s event, we’re focused on grower Champagnes and wines from Sinskey.

MP: Jasmine Hirsch will be pouring both her wines and Cruse Wines in the VIP area on Sunday. We’ll also be pouring Miner in the VIP area — both Jasmine and Dave Miner have supported Southern Smoke since the beginning.

CS: Matt, you have a new job as wine director of Southern Smoke. That sounds fun! [Editor's note: Pridgen had been wine director for Underbelly Hospitality.]

MP: I’m super excited that we’re growing the foundation in a way that can help more people. Having been involved since its inception, I’m honored and excited to be able to grow the mission. It’s different than the restaurant industry, but I’m still working with people I’ve formed relationships with through the years, so I’m really excited about that.

CS: We started this as a wine-focused event, and it will always be a wine-focused event. Back at Catalan, we used to trade off who was pairing wines and who was cooking! Food and wine are ingrained in our souls.

This festival is showing a side of the three of us — inviting people into our home. We’re raising money for good, and it’s why people want to donate their time, wine, and food. It’s why people should come. Plus, the wines will be delicious!


Contact our Wine Guy via email at

Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. He recently parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.

Photo by Michael Anthony

Bludorn team reveals chef and menu details on highly anticipated new Rice Village seafood restaurant

navy blue-dorn casts off in rice village

Aaron Bludorn’s next restaurant is starting to take shape. The chef, along with his wife Victoria Pappas Bludorn and partner/general manager Cherif Mbodji are ready to reveal some details about Navy Blue, the new seafood restaurant they’re opening in Rice Village.

Scheduled to open in November at the former Politan Row space (2445 Times Blvd.), Navy Blue will be, well, the Bludorn of seafood restaurants. That is, a modern fine dining restaurant with highly polished service and an eclectic menu that pulls from a wide range of influences: everything from classic Gulf coast fare like blackened snapper to East Coast favorites and French-influenced dishes.

“Here’s the thing about Bludorn. I don’t think we came down here to open a French restaurant,” Aaron Bludorn tells CultureMap. “Fried chicken and prime rib would tell you otherwise, although it’s rooted in French cuisine. At Navy Blue, we’re leaving it open. We’re calling it American seafood.”

To lead the kitchen, Bludorn and Mbjodi recruited chef Jerrod Zifchak, who worked with them at New York’s Cafe Boulud and took over as executive chef when Bludorn left for Houston. He also brings experience from Le Bernadin, New York’s legendary three-star Michelin seafood restaurant.

“Rarely in this industry do you find people you really like to work with,” Zifchak explains about his decision to team up with Bludorn and Mbodji. “We meld really well together. When I heard about this opportunity, it was really enticing. The fact that it was going to be seafood, and I wanted to get out of New York and go to a new city. That’s how it all started.”

Jerrod Zifchak Navy Blue restaurant Executive chef Jerrod Zifchak.Photo by Michael Anthony

The trio aren’t quite ready to discuss specific dishes that will be served at Navy Blue, although Bludorn acknowledges he doesn’t want any overlap between his two restaurants. Still, he shared some thoughts about the menu’s approach, which will be built around a la carte proteins that can be paired with a wide array of sides. Another detail he adds is that Bludorn’s ability to let people order oysters three ways — raw, baked, or fried — could be expanded to other ingredients such as shrimp, lobster, clams, or even fish.

“What I love to see at Bludorn are four people at a round table and it’s just covered: for the appetizers, for the main course,” Bludorn says. “It’s way more food than you need. It feels like a feast. It’s very lively. That’s the kind of dining I enjoy. I think this menu will make that even more accessible to do with seafood.”

“It’s not going to be limited to Gulf seafood, Zifchak adds. “It’s going to be heavily-inspired with whatever we can get from the Gulf Coast, but we are going to play around with a lot of different things that aren’t necessarily from the Gulf.”

In terms of service, Mbodji says he will apply the lessons he’s learned over the past two years. For example, he knows that drinks need to arrive quickly and parents who are paying babysitters don’t typically want to allocate three hours to their meal. Valet parking will be available for those who don’t want to search for an open meter or a spot in the nearby garage. Other lessons will reveal themselves once the restaurant opens — such as the best path from the kitchen to the dining room to allow for synchronized delivery.

“We know it’s going to be very hands-on. It’s going to be very detail-oriented,” Mbodji adds. “There are elements we’ll bring into play to elevate service as much as possible.”

All the eating will take place in a room with a very different layout than Bludorn. Since it’s essentially a large rectangle, the design began as a blank slate. Expect a private dining room that can also be used for regular service, a bar that’s in the middle of the dining room instead of off to the side, and an open kitchen. At 7,100-square-feet, Navy Blue is slightly smaller than Bludorn, but the shape will allow it to seat approximately the same number of people.

Having grown up in the Pappas Restaurants family, Victoria Pappas Bludorn knows a little about serving seafood to Houstonians. She sees Navy Blue as being a good fit for the city.

“Pappadeaux has their finger on Cajun, and I think they do it super well. Navy Blue has the opportunity to define what they do really well,” she says. “My dad would say he didn’t know how popular Pappadeaux was going to be. It’s left up to Houstonians to decide what’s going to be Navy Blue’s most popular item.”

Courtesy of Andiron

Talented Top Chef veteran with Michelin cred heads up sizzling new steakhouse on Allen Parkway

Andiron's hot new chef

One of this fall’s most eagerly anticipated new restaurants has found a leader for its kitchen. Andiron has named Louis Maldonado as its executive chef.

Owned by Sambrooks Management Company, the restaurant group behind barbecue favorite The Pit Room, Tex-Mex restaurant Candente, and Heights-area seafood concept 1751 Sea & Bar, Andiron will be a modern, live-fire steakhouse. Scheduled to open in December, it will be located at 3201 Allen Pkwy, which is the historic Star Engraving Company building that’s also home to BlendIn Coffee and Clarkwood, the lively bar that’s made a splash since its opening late last year.

SMC owner Michael Sambrooks tells CultureMap that the company found Maldonado after a national search. Although he had a brief run on the New Orleans season of Top Chef, what really stood out about chef Maldonado is that he earned one Michlein star in 2008 as the executive chef at Cortez restaurant in San Francisco. More recently, Maldonado has been working for Michigan’s Pulpo Group at the Dixboro Project, a three-concept venue in Ann Arbor.

“He’s got a record of building teams and achieving extremely high levels of success in the kitchen,” Sambrooks says about Maldonado. “He’s got some wood-burning experience. He likes cooking proteins . . . He’s willing to go on a deep dive into wood-burning techniques with us.”

That experience working with live fire will be essential at Andiron. As Sambrooks explains, the restaurant will serve simply prepared meat and seafood dishes with carefully-sourced, high quality ingredients.

“It’s a pretty deep dive into live fire techniques and sourcing.” he says. “It’s a very ingredient-driven concept. You’re not going to see 15 components on a plate.”

Sambrooks adds that he’ll be working with Maldonado and chef de cuisine Mario Da Silva to finalize the opening menu. He estimates they have six weeks to define the menu’s different sections, establish seasonal dishes, and develop the recipes the kitchen will use. For his part, Maldonado is ready to get started.

“Andiron’s commitment to only the best in terms of the room, service. and cuisine aligns with where I want to be,” Maldonado said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more excited to deliver Andiron to the diners of Houston. I also look forward to settling into Houston, an area where I have friends and family close by.”

Photo by Rebekah Flores

Crafty Houston restaurateur dishes on his pita favorite coming to West U, plus hottest food news

What's Eric Eating Episode 256

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Rafael Nasr joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Craft Pita. First opened in 2019, Nasr and his mother Claudia will open their second location of the casual Lebanese restaurant this fall at Plaza in the Park, the Kroger-anchored shopping center at the corner of Buffalo Speedway and Westpark Drive.

The conversation begins with Nasr providing an update on Craft Pita's operations and his decision to open the new location. He notes that West U. has similar demographics to Briargrove and Tanglewood. The menus will overlap for the most part, but the new location's larger kitchen will allow Nasr to add chicken and beef kebabs.

"Kebabs are definitely popular now. It's also the average person's first exposure to Mediterranean food," Nasr says. "I think that and hummus and number one and two on the list. The nice thing about kebabs is when you use lean proteins it's a healthy option. Our akaushi kafta, when it has that kiss of a flame, it will take it up a few notches for sure."

In addition to discussing the new location, Nasr shares some thoughts from his recent trip to New York. He also teases the possibility of opening a Peruvian concept that nods to his mother's heritage.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Michael Fulmer discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Se7en, the new vibe dining concept coming to Upper Kirby; Bellaire Broiler Burger's revival coming to an abrupt end; and March making Bon Appetit's list of America's best new restaurants.

In the restaurant of the week segment, Fulmer and Sandler discuss il Bracco, the new Italian restaurant that opened near the Galleria. They share some favorite dishes and discuss its place among all of the new Italian restaurants that have opened in Houston recently.

Craft Pita owner Rafael Nasr is this week's guest.

Photo by Rebekah Flores
Craft Pita owner Rafael Nasr is this week's guest.
Photo by Julie Soefer

CultureMap Wine Guy Chris Shepherd toasts his big birthday with rare bottles and vintage bubbles

wine guy wednesday

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.

In this week's column, he shares the wines he drank while celebrating his 50th birthday. Take it away, Chris.

There are certain times in life when the stars align, your friends are there, and it’s time to celebrate major milestones. For me, this was my 50th birthday in a lake house in Wisconsin. I’ll preface this by saying these wines are special — I don’t drink like this every day. Wines like these are what people call unicorns, and we had a whole herd of unicorns on this trip.

Most of the people on this trip work in the world of food and wine. We had three James Beard Award winners cooking — I’ll definitely be talking about some of our pairings — and the wine folks pulled serious wines out of their personal cellars.

When we arrived in Wisconsin, the fridge was fully stocked with Monteverde meatballs and housemade pasta. If you’ve never been to Monteverde in Chicago, it’s a game changer. Fun fact: I hired Monteverde’s chef-owner Sarah Grueneberg at Brennan’s when she was 19. It was her first kitchen job, and she quickly became the youngest sous chef in Brennan’s history. She’s got such raw talent, and her first cookbook, Listen To Your Vegetables, comes out in October right after she cooks at the Southern Smoke Festival (she’s cooking on Sunday, October 23, so get your tickets!).

But, most importantly, what did we drink? We started with Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna del Sorbo Reserva 1997.

The next afternoon was a Champagne- and white wine-heavy seafood extravaganza. We started with a 3-liter bottle of Pierre Moncuit Champagne (Editor's note: Chris will extol the virtues of magnums and other big bottles in a future column). We moved on to Champagne Vilmart & Co Premier Cru. It’s a grower Champagne, which are wines from Champagne that are made and bottled by the same person who grew the grapes. Some restaurant wine lists and wine shops will have separate categories for grower Champagnes, but if not, just ask.

These guys are growing their own grapes and farming their own land, which results in a more unique style of Champagne. You taste the expression of that winery and their land.

The next day was filled with raw oysters on the half shell, pizzas, and anything else we could throw in the wood-burning oven. We brought out the big guns: 2004 Krug Champagne, 2006 Louis Roederer Cristal, and 2012 Cristal.

Let’s talk vintage Champange. Wineries don’t make a vintage Champagne every single year. They make it in quality years when the weather is right, the grapes come in right, and the vinification is right. This provides an expression of that estate on that year, and it’s super unique and fun to drink them. Champagne vintages that I like personally: 2002, 2004, 2010. But, let’s be honest. It’s all delicious.

We then did a beautiful side-by-side tasting of Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Vergers—2007 vintage next to the 2019. It’s simply amazing to taste the difference of 12 years in the same wine. You really get a sense of tasting the vineyard and how Chardonnay ages.

Dinner was a seafood extravaganza from Ryan Prewitt, chef-owner of Pêche Seafood Grill in New Orleans. Anyone who knows me knows that Peche is my happy place. Another fun fact: Ryan married my wife and me in New Orleans back in 2020.

We started with a vertical of 2016, 2018 and 2019 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir. Pisoni has been one of my favorite vineyards since I was the Wine Guy at Brennan’s. When I was at Catalan, we did a wine dinner with winemaker Gary Pisoni, and it set me off to fall in love with this guy and the wines that they make. The legend goes that Gary took vine clippings from a prominent Burgundy estate, shoved them in his pants, flew back to California and grated those vines in a place where his family—and everyone else—said they didn’t have enough water to grow grapes. He secretly during the night drilled for water, and lo and behold, he found water.

Drinking a vertical of wine will tell you about the vintage and show you what the winemakers had to do to produce the wine. Some vintages are higher in acid, tannin, or fruit based on the weather that year. Each vintage tells a story. It doesn’t have to be a fancy bottle — just hold some bottles back of wines you like, and taste through different vintages. It’s really fun.

That night, we opened 1972 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, a wine from the year I was born. Historically, 1972 wasn’t a great vintage. But I wanted to try it. Drinking old wines is always a crapshoot In most cases, you haven’t been the one storing it, so the conditions of most old bottles are unknown. But I still think it’s cool to taste wines from a different time and a place.

If you want to shop for a birth-year wine, there are a lot of auction sites out there, but the website I use to find old bottles is They run weekly auctions, and they’ll store the wine for you until it’s time to ship. They don’t ship directly to Texas. Instead, they ship to a third-party vendor that will then ship to you, so it’s definitely not a last-minute gift. I like to buy on auction throughout the summer and then have everything delivered once the weather cools down. Then, I do it all again throughout the winter and have it delivered before it gets too warm.

For my actual birthday, we all headed to Chicago for dinner at Monteverde — this is when the real heavy hitters came out. First up, 1978 Gaja Barbaresco. I had the honor of meeting Angelo Gaja back in 2017 when we were visiting Italy. He looks like the Italian version of Ralph Lauren and makes the most delicious wines. At the time, he was lobbying the Italian Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin to change the laws about growing Nebbiolo grapes in the area of Barbaresco and Barolo. The grapes were ripening too fast on the lower part of the mountain, and he was pushing for the ability to grow the grapes higher on the mountain. He practiced his presentation on us! I never heard if his lobbying efforts were successful, but he continues to make outstanding wine.

We stayed in Italy for a few more bottles with 1982 Luciano Sandrone Barolo, 2000 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo (magnum), 2005 Giuseppe Rinaldo Barolo, and 2001 Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Reserva.

We finished with 1990 Chateau Lafite Rothsschild. a timeless and absolutely delicious wine. It still had massive tannins and fruits. This wine could age another 20 years easily.

Was it perfect that night? Yes. Will I ever have another weekend like this? Probably not. Although I always recommend opening cool bottles for no reason, sometimes it’s really worth it to save great bottles for special occasions.


Contact our Wine Guy via email at

Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. He recently parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed almost $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.

Chris contemplates his selection.

Photo by Julie Soefer
Chris contemplates his selection.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

'Ridiculously' big Houston freeways drive comedian crazy in viral TikTok video

"It's got spurs!'

Try as we might to explain to Newstonians how ridiculously large the Houston-Woodlands-Sugar Land region is (our fave: it’s literally larger than the state of New Jersey in square miles), few truly understand until they navigate our highways and freeways.

Comedian/actor/filmmaker Kevin Fredericks, known professionally as KevOnStage, has taken to social media to announce what we already know: Houston is ridiculously big.

In a TikTok video boasting more than 55,000 likes and more than 3,000 comments, Kev (who lives in equally sprawling Los Angeles) hilariously sums up our freeway system with declarations like, “Houston has interstates. Four of them!”

He goes: “It’s got toll roads, it’s got loops, it’s got spuuuuurs!”

Perhaps our favorite:

"Houston is so big….that its freeways have a Wikipedia page. Look. At. This!"

Kev then marvels at our farm to market roads: “That means you live on a farm, this road take you to the market!”

He just can’t stop on the Wikipedia page, as he bellows: “It’s got: Planned. Future. Freeways! More. Freeways!”

Sheesh, Kev, no need to shout.

Scratch that: Kev should absolutely shout (as many of us do daily) when his rant turns to our traffic and construction. “It’s too much. If you wanna drive across Houston, you might as fly to Dallas — it’s the same amount of time.”

We’re having trouble spotting any lies told here. Bravo, Kev. We can’t wait for your next rant when you navigate the ongoing and always fun 610/69 construction closures.

Homey new art installation moves into Discovery Green this fall

Welcome Home

Remember the playful, larger-than-life spinning tops that took over Discovery Green in 2015? The team behind that public art installation is back with another unique, interactive exhibit.

Called Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0, it features 16 glowing, house-like play structures on the Sarofim Lawn that create a space for Houstonians to sit, swing, relax, and come together as a community.

The installation from Mexican designers Esrawe + Cadena is inspired by the mercados of Latin America — lively street markets where human connections are made every day.

The goal is for visitors to make new friends, try new activities, dance to music, and enjoy the city’s diverse cultural and art experiences for the duration of the exhibit, which runs October 8-November 14, 2022.

But that's not all. To help bring Houstonians together, there will be public art programming inspired by the installation and sponsored by Houston Association of Realtors, starting with a big opening night celebration.

On October 8 from 6-10 pm, get ready for:

  • Two evening performances of Lifted by Mimbre, an all-woman acrobatic dance group from the United Kingdom on their first U.S. tour.
  • Houston artist Ange Hillz live-painting the newest President's Mural: Discovery Green from A to Z. Hillz will paint accompanied by DJ Monstaa and pianist DJ Pee Wee from The Too Laid Back Band. The painting will be on view through January 29, 2023.

"During the past two years, many Houstonians have felt isolated in their homes and have missed the opportunity to be part of a community," says Jennifer Wauhob, chair of the Houston Association of Realtors, which is sponsoring the public art programming. "Our 49,000 Realtors know how important community connection is and Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 creates a space where strangers can become friends in the comfort of an exhibit that feels like home."

Here's what else you can enjoy throughout the installation's six-week run:

  • Listen to a “Houston Strong” playlist courtesy of ROCO while enjoying the Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 art installation.
  • Catch two more performances of Lifted on October 9 at noon and 2:30 pm.
  • Watch the Houston Pride Band’s SaxWorx and Brass Tax quartet perform on October 14 from 7-9 pm.
  • Enjoy traditional Indonesian music from Gamelan of the New Moon performed live on October 21 from 7-9 pm.

And especially for children:

  • On Saturday, October 8, from 1:30-3 pm, kids can create a mini casa using toothpicks and gumdrops with the help of Girlstart STEM.
  • On Saturday, October 15, from 1:30-3 pm, kids can sing and dance along with Encanto characters Isabela, Mirabel, and Dolores.
  • On Saturday, October 29 from 1:30-3 pm, they can enjoy cultural crafts created by exhibitors visiting from different parts of Mexico.

Discovery Green is a 12-acre park that features sprawling lawns, a one-acre lake, an interactive fountain, a playground, public art installations, gardens, and an allée of century-old live oaks. Since opening in April 2008, the park has welcomed more than 20 million visitors.

As Discovery Green prepares to celebrate its 15th birthday party, Houstonians are invited to “discover themselves” at the park with free concerts, entertainment, relaxation, and more. More info at

Photo courtesy of Creos

Esrawe + Cadena's Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 is on display October 8-November 14, 2022.

Conroe-born country star Parker McCollum headlines RodeoHouston 2023 Opening Day celebrations

parker saddles up for rodeo

A familiar face will headline the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s wildly popular Opening Day performance. Conroe native and country star Parker McCollum will take the NRG Stadium stage on Tuesday, February 28, 2023, the rodeo announced.

Individual tickets for McCollum’s Opening Days show start at $25, plus a $4 convenience fee and are on sale at 10 am on Thursday, October 6 via As always, an Online Waiting Room will open at 9:30 am; customers who join the Waiting Room from 9:30 to 9:59 am will be randomly selected to purchase tickets at 10 am. (A place in the Waiting Room does not guarantee tickets.) Customers can purchase a maximum of eight tickets.

McCollum, who boasts more than 3.3 million followers on Spotify with favorites such as “Pretty Heart,” “To Be Loved by You,” and “Hell of a Year,” has won fans with his mix of Americana and country, infused with a bit of blues, soul, and folk rock. Currently touring with country crooner Thomas Rhett, McCollum is a natural choice to open the 2023 RodeoHouston concert series, as the singer-songwriter drew a crowd of 73,243 at last year’s rodeo, marking the fourth-highest paid rodeo/concert attendance in 2022.

Fittingly, custom-designed caps commemorating Opening Day and McCollum’s return to RodeoHouston will be available for purchase online.

New for 2023, a special Opening Day celebration will feature a performance by a local band on the Stars Over Texas Stage before McCollum’s show. Special giveaways will include 10,000 custom-made Howdy bobbleheads for early arrivers that morning (starting at 10 am). Visitors can expect a host of activities including an Opening Day Parade at NRG Park.

As for the highly anticipated 2023 RodeoHouston entertainer will be announced at a later date, plus more Opening Day details, per the rodeo.

“Everyone looks forward to the upcoming Rodeo season all year long, and we hope all Rodeo fans will circle Opening Day on their 2023 calendars, as this will be a day you won’t want to miss,” Chris Boleman, rodeo president and CEO, noted in a statement. “February 28 will truly be a Houston-themed celebration, as we kick off the 2023 Rodeo season with Houston’s-own country music star Parker McCollum closing out the day with another unforgettable RodeoHouston performance.”

The 2023 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and all RodeoHouston performances are scheduled for February 28–March 19, 2023 at NRG Park.