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Photo courtesy of Sugar Land Skeeters

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S. Sugar Land has the nation's 15th highest average holiday budget, a study reports.

2. City of Houston announces boil notice updates, timeline, and important tips. The boil water notice prompted school closures and generally disrupted life around Houston.

3. Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas. It's one of Disney's "less successful films," our critic opines.

4. New sushi restaurant by Hidden Omakase opens in Rice Village with affordable, 30-minute meals. The new restaurant offers an expedited version of Hidden Omakase's premium tasting menu.

5. Innovative, gluten-free Montrose restaurant returns with new breads and pastries, coffees, and hours. The yearlong closure allowed the restaurant to give customers more of what they want.

Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Cue/Facebook

Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Tilman Fertitta's new SoCal beachfront resort tops week's most popular stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning oceanfront resort in sunny Southern California. The craftsman-style resort features the luxurious 20,000-square- foot Spa Montage.

2. Downtown Houston lights up the holidays with 8 winter wonderlands, ice skating, markets, and more. Visitors can enjoy holiday markets, winter lights, a hot chocolate bar, and more.

3. 13 Houston restaurants serving up Thanksgiving feasts to-go. Simplify the Thanksgiving cooking process by ordering mains, sides, and desserts from the professionals.

4. Houston Astros pitcher ties the knot with longtime partner in post-World Series wedding. The happy couple were joined in Florida by Astros ace Lance McCullers, Jr. and wife Kara, as well as pitcher Ryan Pressly and wife Kat.

5. Alex Bregman rocks the red carpet with wife Reagan and returns to meet hundreds of Houston fans. “This offseason is going to be focused on getting back into great shape and getting ready to win another one,” the slugger tells CultureMap.

Photo by Daniel Ortiz

Houston Astros wives and Mattress Mack lead our week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Houston Astros wives dish on their favorite game day foods, styles, and superstitions. Kara McCullers, Kat Pressly, and Janelise Maldonado shared their game day rituals.

2. Mattress Mack explains f-bomb-laden exchange with Philadelphia fan. The viral clip showed a different side of the usually good-natured store owner.

3. Texas' Big Bend named one of the world's must-see destinations for 2023. The park welcomed a record 581,000 visitors in 2021.

4. Houston's beloved Jewish bakery opens in Tanglewood with fave treats and coffee drinks. It's the bakery's first new location since 2014.

5. Barstool Sports founder-internet celeb Dave Portnoy tears into 2 Houston pies for famed One Bite Reviews. One restaurant earned a strong 7.8 score, while the other left Portnoy shaking his head.

Photo by Quy Tran

Lovely ladies luncheon for red-hot Houston men's event leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Lovely ladies lunch in chic tease party for Houston's hottest men's fashion show. While a tad bittersweet with the news of the final Una Notte, the day proved to be a fun tease of the red-hot event.

2. Guy Fieri-approved Montrose barbecue joint fires up hot new Memorial location. Located just west of Memorial City Mall, the restaurant will serve its Central Texas-style barbecue and Mexican-influenced sides and tacos.

3. Chris Shepherd's star-studded Southern Smoke festival scorches with record $1.6M raised in big return. The event raised more than $1 million more than the 2019 edition.

4. Luxurious new mid-rise makes waves in Galveston as first upscale beachfront condo in 15 years. When it opens in 2025, the property will offer 63 residences on 10 stories.

5. Posh Italian restaurant and electric car brand headline new additions to Uptown Park. The Dallas-based hospitality group behind Toulouse will open its second Houston restaurant.

Courtesy of Niko Niko's

Houston's fave Greek casual restaurant's big Woodlands news tops week's top stories

This Week's Hot Headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Houston's favorite casual Greek restaurant heads to The Woodlands for fourth location. LuAnn platters are out, and gyros and kebabs are in for this prime location.

2. Houston’s Masterchef champion and husband plan new gourmet sandwich shop in Spring Branch. Expect the chef to put her spin on classic sandwiches such as grilled cheese, tuna salad, and fried chicken.

3. Elton John cancels highly anticipated Farewell Tour show at Minute Maid Park. A potential conflict with the World Series prompted the cancellation.

4. Iconic Houston modeling agency names longtime star to lead search for America's freshest new faces. The new creative leader started modeling for the agency at age 12.

5. Houston's most sizzling Tex-Mex restaurant rolls out hot new Galleria-area location. The former Palm space on Westheimer now serves fajitas, enchiladas, margaritas, and more.

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New legislation would let Texas say no to puppy mill sales statewide

no more mills?

A Texas legislator has introduced a bill to help animals: On December 2, Representative Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) filed HB 870, which would help put an end to puppy mill practices by requiring that pet stores can sell only healthy animals from shelters or rescues.

Pet stores across Texas would no longer be allowed to sell puppies or kittens from unscrupulous, out-of-state puppy mills, protecting pets and consumers -- similar to laws that have already been enacted in a number of cities across Texas.

Patterson previously filed a similar bill, HB 1818, in 2021. And as he notes in a statement, the law would affect only one major retailer: Petland.

"Out-of-state puppy mills store puppies in poor conditions, take them away from their moms too soon, and truck them hundreds or thousands of miles across the country to be sold in retail pet stores,” Patterson says. “There’s a reason why only one of the top 25 retailers still sells dogs from these conditions. I’m proud to once again file HB 870 to provide the necessary restrictions to protect pets and their owners."

If passed, HB 870 would not preempt local ordinances. Instead, the law brings consistency across Texas’ largest counties – those with a population of 200,000 or more – primarily suburban and urban areas.

In 2022, Dallas, Houston, and New Braunfels all passed ordinances like HB 870, demonstrating the need and support for a statewide law, says Stacy Sutton Kerby, Director of Government Relations at Texas Humane Legislation Network, a nonprofit group that advocates for animals and has been involved in prior efforts.

“While 14 cities across Texas have passed retail pet store ordinances, millions of Texans are still vulnerable to the deceptive business practices used to sell puppies sourced from inhumane puppy mills. All Texans deserve to be protected from buying sick, defective puppies,” she says.

During the 87th legislative session in 2021, HB 1818 received huge bipartisan support but couldn’t get past the finish line before the session ended.

“There is widespread support and momentum for this policy," Kerby says. “We are excited to work with Representative Patterson again on this issue. His early filing of the bill shows his dedication to halting the puppy mill pipeline into Texas and alleviating the burden on shelters of having an overwhelming number of healthy, adoptable pets in need of loving homes."

Canada's favorite coffee and doughnut shop opens second Houston location

More Tims for H-town

Canada’s favorite coffee and doughnut shop will expand its Houston presence next week. The city’s second Tim Hortons will open December 16 in northwest Houston at 5312 W Richey Rd.

Founded in 1964 by NHL legend Tim Horton, the coffee shop is well known for its freshly brewed coffee and other beverages such as lattes, juices, and teas. Customers can pair their drinks with a range of sweet and savory bites such as breakfast sandwiches and muffins. Doughnuts come in a variety of flavors, including the signature Timbits doughnut holes.

The appealing menu and friendly service have allowed it to grow to 5,000 locations worldwide, with over 600 in the U.S. Tim Hortons made its Houston debut in late August with a location in Katy.

A grand opening celebration begins at 5 am on December 16. The first 50 customers will receive free coffee for a year. Expect prizes, food samples, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Once open, the store’s hours of operations will be 5 am to 8 pm daily. Customers may order via dine-in, drive-thru, or an app that features a rewards program for frequent diners.

Tim Hortons partnered with Houston's CSM Group, which operates Popeyes locations in Texas, Kansas, and Missouri. CSM Group CEO Ali Lakhany told the Houston Chronicle in March that his company plans to open 30 locations across the Houston area, including 10 in the first three years.

“We’ve received such a warm welcome from the Houston community since our grand opening in Katy earlier this year,” Ekrem Ozer, president of Tim Hortons, U.S., said in a statement. “We’re excited to continue to grow our presence in this community and get to know more Houstonians with the opening of our Richey Road restaurant.”

CultureMap Wine Guy Chris Shepherd reveals the ultimate holiday 'death match' party game

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 his favorite way to win more wine. Take it away, Chris.

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If you’re looking to throw a killer party — one that’s unforgettable — I have an idea for you. It doesn’t have to happen during the holidays, but it will make your holiday party more fun. Let me introduce you to Wine Club Death Match.

My friend Ellen Hur, whose classmates at graduate school first started this game, introduced Wine Club Death Match to us here in Houston a few years back. It’s a game that combines things that I love — tasting wine, talking to friends, talking about wine, and, as part of a little friendly competition, you can win the ultimate prize, more wine!

“I had heard about Wine Club Death Match and thought it sounded really fun,” Ellen explains. “I started playing with a few friends in our little New York City apartments, back in 2007 or so. We liked the idea that we could entertain ourselves without having to go out all the time. Plus, if you weren’t too discerning, which we were not, or if your friends had good taste in wine, you could grow a decent wine collection pretty quickly.”

Here's how it works:

  • Every person who comes to the party is asked to bring two bottles of the same wine that fit the night’s theme (more info on that below) and the night’s price point (e.g., each bottle must be under $25).
  • When each guest arrives, one bottle is immediately stored out of sight, and the second bottle is put in a paper bag and labeled A through Z (or however you want to distinguish the covered bottles from each other).
  • As the party goes on, guests taste each wine (responsibly) and keep their own notes about which bottle they like the best.
  • Once everyone has tasted — or the tasting portion of the party is over — everyone votes for their favorite bottle. The host takes the ballots and tallies them up for the big reveal.
  • The person who brought the bottle that gets the most votes is crowned winner of Wine Club Death Match and wins the entire stash of the second bottles that have been stored away. If you have 10 people at the party participating in WCDM, the winner takes home 10 bottles of wine. Not too shabby!
  • Spend the rest of the party lobbying the winner to give you your favorite bottle (or two) as a consolation prize.

We’ve played with our friends a few times, and it’s a fun, unique way to bring a little extra excitement to a party or gathering. It’s an automatic conversation starter. Plus, there’s a lot of strategy involved. If you’re fighting to the death (or, in this case, fighting for all the wine), you’ll need to have a game plan to take home all the spoils.

A few of my favorite themes:

  • Region + Grape/Varietal or color + Price Point is always a good theme (Oregon Pinot Noir under $30, South American reds under $27, French rosé under $20, Spanish Cava under $25, or my least favorite option— Gewürztraminer from anywhere in the world at any price point—not my favorite varietal)
  • Wine from a region you didn’t know made wine.
  • Wines mentioned in music lyrics
  • Wines from a vineyard named for a person

The beauty of this game is that it’s flexible. Want to pair the tasting wines with a specific dish and make it a more hearty affair? Go for it! Want to go all champagne and deal with the consequences later? Do it! Want to tell everyone to bring magnums? Why not? Want to bring the concept to more of a dinner party atmosphere? Cool. Have fun with it, and learn something.

Let me make a few suggestions to optimize your Wine Club Death March:

  • For WCDM to operate most optimally, the sweet spot is 8-12 guests. If you live in a city like NYC, you must consider how you are transporting all the wine home. For example, 12 bottles on a subway is tough. Luckily, 12 bottles in a Houston Uber is much more doable.
  • That being said, make WCDM yours! If you want a bigger party, go for it – you can have two winners, or be creative about how to divvy up the winnings and how to make sure everyone can taste the wines.
  • Set the price point based on your guests. If your guests are bigger spenders who want to bulk up their cellars, you can have a higher price point. But I think everyone would love a solid stash of $20-$30 wines.
  • Go heavy on the apps. Even small tastes of wine can add up.
  • The wines for WCDM are for tasting, not imbibing during the party, so have other drinks available – especially if you have guests who aren’t participating in the competition.
  • Water should be plentiful, and ride shares are a must.

Let me know how this works out for you. Invite me!

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Contact our Wine Guy via email at chris@chrisshepherdconcepts.com.

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.