Photo courtesy of Painting With a Twist

Looking to bring a bachelorette party to the next level, or want a family reunion that results in a memorable keepsake? Painting With a Twist is the interactive event that's turning birthday parties, office team-building outings, and girls' nights out into the new must-try experience. And perhaps the best part is that there's likely a Houston studio located near you.

The BYOB studios (they provide the cups and corkscrews) are helmed by teachers who can help anyone — even if you think you can't draw a straight line — turn a blank canvas into art. Though you must be 21 and up to drink alcohol, artists of all ages are welcome to attend. Regularly scheduled classes are 18 and up, and FUN 4 ALL classes are recommended for children ages 6 and older.

When you book a private party, the benefits become even more personal. Perhaps there's a sassy saying that's an inside joke for your bridal party, or your family would love to pay tribute to the lake house where you all spent summers growing up. Painting With a Twist can take almost any photo and break it down into easy-to-follow instructions for your group to paint.

The Houston studios also make it a priority to give back to their communities. Through a program called Painting With a Purpose, they partner with local nonprofits and schools to raise money through special painting events. Each studio does one fundraiser per month, and half of the proceeds from these "pARTys" go to the host's choice of charity or nonprofit organization.

Painting With a Twist will also go offsite when needed, especially to local schools to deliver free Art Against Bullying workshops. Need a raffle or auction item for a PTA event, or looking for artists to paint faces at school and community festivals? Just call your local studio and inquire — they're often happy to help out.

While walk-ins for classes are occasionally available, it's a much better bet when you call ahead or go online to make a reservation. Better yet, book a private party and receive a special upgrade. Mention the special code "CM" code in the special requests section of the online booking form, and you'll have your pick of perks: either the person of honor gets to paint for free, or your group gets an upgrade with a free customized painting.

Head online to book at the studio closest to you: Westheimer Road, Sugar Land, Katy, Cypress, Memorial, The Heights, or Midtown.

Can't even draw a straight line? Don't worry — the teachers can help anyone be an artist.

Woman painting
Photo courtesy of Painting With a Twist
Can't even draw a straight line? Don't worry — the teachers can help anyone be an artist.
Photo by Emily Jaschke

Houston’s culinary all-stars and food fans toast the biggest Tastemaker Awards yet

tastemakers 2018

A crowd of 1,000 of Houston’s most influential restaurant, bar, and hospitality leaders — mixed with passionate fans — packed Silver Street Studios for CultureMap’s largest-ever Tastemaker Awards. The event, sponsored by Woodford Reserve and benefiting Second Servings, is the crowning moment of our annual, weeks-long program that highlights and celebrates the hottest, most innovative, and most visionary of Houston’s culinary and bar scene.

As Houston rap legend and emcee Bun B, along with CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler welcomed the crowd, guests made a beeline for the Smilebooth, where they snapped Insta-worthy selfies, as freshly spun DJ beats pumped everyone up. Partiers pre-gamed at the Woodford Reserve Lounge, which offered up a potent Old Fashioned, a TexaTucky Tea, margaritas, and more. There were also brews from Deep Ellum, Alaskan and 11 Below breweries, and a collection of choice vino from OneHope. Korbel offered plenty of garnished bubbly at the Bubbly Bar, and folks paced themselves at the Topo Chico Hydration Station, while immersing themselves in a cool virtual reality tour of a Woodford Reserve distillery at a VR Lounge.

Lines quickly formed for small plates and samples of some of Houston’s most of-the-moment restaurants: A’Bouzy, Alice Blue, Beaver’s, Doris Metropolitan, Emmaline, Field & Tides, Himalaya, Kiran’s, Maison Pucha, Moku Bar, Pappas Delta Blues Smokehouse, Pokeology, Potente, Roka Akor, Roostar Vietnamese Grill, SeasidePoke, Star Fish, The Pit Room, and Yauatcha. (The instantly smoked beef tartar from Beaver's was an instant scene-stealer and one of the crowd favorites.)

Meanwhile, Bartender of the Year nominees Stuart Humphries of The Pass & Provisions, Sarah Troxell of Nobie’s, and Kristine Nguyen of Nancy’s Hustle mixed up signature cocktails inspired by Woodford Reserve. Attendees then moved to the Tastemaker Hall of Fame, which boasted raw oysters and a lox and a bagel ice cream cone from State of Grace — the 2017 Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year — and cocktails from 2017 Bartender of the Year Leslie Krockenberger, who poured two Woodford Reserve cocktails: an Apple Mignonette Cobbler and D’You Got A Good Sarsaparilla.

Dessert came courtesy of the Sweet Suite, which featured bread pudding from Pinkerton’s Barbecue, popsicles from KicPops, petite fours from La Table, truffles and macarons from Masion Pucha, cream puffs from Killen’s Restaurants, and cupcakes from Whole Foods. After-meal fun included a raffle for hip items from Kendra Scott.

As the awards were announced, Bun B built the drama and anticipation for each winning category, including Brewery of the Year, Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year, Bar of the Year, and the hotly anticipated Chef of the Year, and Restaurant of the Year. The awards were determined by CultureMap’s Sandler, and a group of insiders and former Tastemaker winners: Bobby Matos (executive chef, State of Grace), Brandi Key (culinary director, Lasco Enterprises), Felix Florez (owner of Black Hill Meats and Cherry Block Craft Butcher & Kitchen), Jonathan Horowitz (CEO, Legacy Restaurants), Lee Ellis (formerly of Cherry Pie Hospitality), Leslie Krockenberger (BCK Kitchen & Cocktails), Ryan Pera (co-owner of Agricole Hospitality, 2017 Chef of the Year, 2017 Restaurant of the Year, 2017 Bar of the Year), and Victoria Dearmond (pastry director, Underbelly Hospitality, 2017 Pastry Chef of the Year).

Chef of the Year honors went to Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, One Fifth, UB Preserv, and Georgia James), who, in a very aw-shucks demeanor, says he “appreciates the love,” and is “blown away” by the award.

Upon Xochi winning Restaurant of the Year, veteran Houston restaurateur Tracy Vaught accepted the award on behalf of her husband, chef Hugo Ortega. “We weren’t sure that something so specific would work downtown,” says Vaught of Xochi’s success, “but we followed Hugo’s dream, and it did.” Vaught adds that the mix of industry insiders who helped name Xochi as Restaurant of the Year makes the award that much more special. “ This is a group of young, high-energy, well-informed people who voted,” she says, “so I’m very honored.”

Among the merrymakers were David and Audrey Gow, Lauren Gow, Lonnie and Candace Schiller, Angela Walls, Carla and Cole Dawson, Shana Jones and Felice Sloan, Lindsey Brown, Jamie Alvear, Dustin Windham, Logan Lester, Grant Guthrie, Dan Zimmerman, Anastasia Hansen, Shana Hamid, Natalie Harms, Kendra Lynch, Tiffany Halik, Lisa Gochman, Lindsey Word, Chris Beverly, Danielle Dubois, Madison Payne, Jenny of Breakfast at Lilly’s, Asad Ashraf, Anthony Compofelice, Melissa Lampe, Gray Thornton, Keri Henry, Ted Bowen IV, and a host of Houston food VIPS and fans.

Read up on our full list of winners, make your necessary reservations, and plan to be at the hottest food event in Houston, next year.

Chris Shepherd, Philippe Gaston, and Wade Elkins.

Tastemaker Awards 2018 Chris Shepherd, Philippe Gaston, Wade Elkins
Photo by Emily Jaschke
Chris Shepherd, Philippe Gaston, and Wade Elkins.
Courtesy of MLB Capital Partners

Sneak peek: See historic Farmers Market's exciting transformation

Farmers Market Update

MLB Capital Partners has revealed new details of its stunning plan to transform the Houston Farmers Market into a dining and shopping destination for food-obsessed Houstonians and tourists.

Better known as the Canino’s Market after its primary tenant, Canino Produce Co, the almost 18-acre tract on Airline near 610 will be transformed into a facility that provides a “ into a destination retail experience offering more diversified products, renovated facilities and community programming with the goal of creating value for its vendors and guests,” according to a press release. Construction will add more climate-controlled areas, shaded markets, and additional seating areas. Groundbreaking on the project will take place this spring, with the aim of being fully operational by 2019.

The new animation shows some of the additions MLB aims to make to the market, including a fish monger, dedicated children's play area, a restaurant, and better separation for vehicles and pedestrians. MLB is working with consultants, including Underbelly partners Chris Shepherd and Kevin Floyd, who have been tasked with recruiting tenants for the new spaces. Other participants in the project include landscape architecture firm Clark Condon Associates, Studio RED Architects, Houston-based consulting firm Gunda Corporation, and Arch-Con Construction.

While the proposed changes are undoubtedly exciting — the project has the potential to become Houston's version of a facility like Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market or the Pike Place Market in Seattle — some have expressed concerns that the changes will sacrifice the market's shabby charm and drive away its current customers. "Based on this animated short, it will be great for a handful of silent, mainly white people," freelance food writer David Leftwich tweeted Tuesday.

Speaking to CultureMap last summer, MLB founding partner Todd Mason said he understood the concerns about losing key tenants, but his primary goal is to the facility's overall comfort and usability.

"When you really start talking to people about what they like, what they like is there’s a lot of different cultures and there are things you can get and see there that you can’t get anywhere else," Mason said. "We’ll keep those tenants. I don’t think we’ll have to charge them much if any more rent. We’ll still have an open air market with vendors selling directly to you. All of that experience will still be there, but it will be a cleaner, safer environment."

As the project moves forward, expect more details on which operators are bringing what concepts to the area. With multiple food halls slated to open downtown over the next year or so, the Houston Farmers Market will have to balance preserving its heritage with a mix that will justify MLB's investment.

Courtesy photo

See how quickly you can put together this festive holiday appetizer

Holiday Entertaining

Need something to take to a holiday party — and fast? Head to Whole Foods Market to pick up the ingredients for a festive appetizer that's so easy, even the kids can help make it.

In this video, Alice Kerley of the lifestyle blog Lone Star Looking Glass shows you how to assemble this crowd-pleasing caprese salad "wreath."

This quick, delicious snack might just become your next holiday tradition. We've even included a handy shopping list below, so you can replicate this as often as you like.

If you want to enjoy all the festivities this holiday season without any of the work, reserve your seasonal favorites at shop.wfm.com or call 1-844-936-2428.

Shopping list

Cherry tomatoes
Mozzarella balls
Fresh Italian herbs
Balsamic vinegar
Brown sugar
Wood skewers

Courtesy photo

Watch this Houston bartender bring the heat with a classic cocktail

The Cocktail Chronicles

Sweet drinks can pack a punch, as local bartender Amber Wims demonstrates with her take on the old fashioned.

Using higher-proof liquor accentuates the smoothness of the bourbon and rye, while the orange, cloves, and anise provide a sweetness that's balanced by the smoke and fire of the preparation.

Watch the video and then (safely) stir up a glass of your own with the recipe below.

Clove & Anise Old Fashioned
Yields 1 drink

1 ounce Old Forester 1897 Bourbon Whisky
1 ounce Woodford Reserve Rye
0.5 ounces clove and anise simple syrup
4 dashes orange bitters
4 dashes angostura bitters
1 fresh orange
Cloves for garnish

Combine the whisky, rye, simple syrup, and bitters in a large mixing glass and set aside.

Set the cocktail glass on fire, then squeeze an orange peel on top (yes, there will be flame bursts!).

Strain the mixture over a large-format ice cube in a rocks glass. Stud another orange peel with cloves and flame it to release the smokey flavor of the cloves.


Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, 43-50% Alc. by Volume, Brown-Forman Distillers Company, Louisville, KY.


OLD FORESTER is a registered trademark. ©2016 Brown-Forman Distillers. All rights reserved.

Courtesy photo

How this Houston bartender uses fun flavors to make a damn good cocktail

The Cocktail Chronicles

Channel the Jazz Age with a cocktail that mixes bold flavors and a classic base.

Bartender Carla Espinoza uses a simple syrup that's anything but — it's got maple syrup, chai tea, and mandarin oranges — to complement the notes of Old Forester's Signature 1920 Bourbon Whisky.

Watch the video and then stir up a glass of your own with the recipe below.

1920 Damn Old Fashioned
Yields 1 drink

2 ounces Old Forester Signature 1920 Bourbon Whisky
0.25 ounces maple chai mandarin simple syrup
3 dashes bitters
1 orange peel

Combine the whisky and simple syrup in a large mixing glass, then add ice.

Add the bitters and stir.

Strain the mixture over a large-format ice cube in a rocks glass. Squeeze the orange peel and rim the glass with it before adding to the cocktail.


Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, 43-50% Alc. by Volume, Brown-Forman Distillers Company, Louisville, KY.


OLD FORESTER is a registered trademark. ©2016 Brown-Forman Distillers. All rights reserved.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Whataburger weighs in as healthiest cheeseburger in the nation


With its love of greasy enchiladas, gluttonous fried steaks, and fat-speckled brisket, Texas isn’t always known as a healthy eating mecca. But it turns out that one locally beloved dish isn’t as unhealthy as one might think.

Inspired by February’s American Heart Month (albeit belatedly), Gambling.com decided to dig deep into which fast-food burger was best for the ticker and the body overall. What that has to do with online slots is anyone’s guess, but perhaps open-heart surgeries are not conducive to risk-taking.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Local favorite/ food cult Whataburger took the top slot, earning honors with its standby cheeseburger. Assumably, the gambling site considered the mustard-slathered original, eschewing calorie bombs like bacon slices and creamy pepper sauce.

Where’s the fun of Whataburger if you can’t get it just like you like it?

To arrive at the rankings, Gambling.com analyzed each burger for sugar, fat, salt, and calorie content per ounce. Each metric was given a one to ten score that factored into the final report card shared with content-hungry food journalists everywhere.

Coming in a close second was In-N-Out’s cheeseburger, a comforting fact for Texans who enjoy complaining about Californians. Rounding out the top five were Checker’s Checkerburger with Cheese, Culver’s ButterBurger Cheese, and Del Taco’s del Cheese Burger.

For those trying to make better eating choices, that list should give some pause. Yes, Whataburger beats out other fast-food faves, but it was competing against a chain that literally toasts all their buns in churned cream. Health is a relative concept.

Elsewhere on the list was another Texas darling, the No. 6 ranked Dairy Queen. Apparently, all that “hungr” is being busted by a hefty dose of sodium. Yes, we will take fries with that.

Upscale new Japanese restaurant serving sushi, robata, and more docks in familiar River Oaks District space

ouzo bay replacement revealed

Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group has revealed its plans for the former Ouzo Bay space in River Oaks District. The company will bring Azumi, an upscale Japanese restaurant, to the development this winter.

Named for a Japanese word that means “safe harbor,” Azumi will serve a mixture of modern and traditional Japanese dishes. Similar to its sister location at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore, the menu will include sushi, tempura, robata, and more.

Atlas Restaurant Group’s executive concept chef Alisher Yallaev plans to move to Houston to open Azumi, according to a press release. He’ll oversee menu development that will utilize premium ingredients such as wagyu beef, freshwater soft sell crab, and fish that’s flown in from Japan. An extensive beverage program will include cocktails, sake, and Japanese whisky.

Designer Patrick Sutton will lead the transformation of Ouzo Bay’s dining room into Azumi. Look for a 130-seat main dining room, a private room for omakase tastings, and a 78-seat dining room.

“We’re excited to bring the culinary artistry of Azumi to Houston’s vibrant dining epicenter, River Oaks District, and look forward to creating lasting memories for guests,” said Alex Smith, President and CEO of Atlas Restaurant Group. “At Azumi, our focus will be the presentation of a sophisticated and immersive Japanese dining experience that finds harmony and balance in both the traditional and innovative.”

Ouzo Bay, Atlas’s European-inspired seafood restaurant, closed April 30. The company still operates Loch Bar, an East Coast-inspired seafood tavern, and Marmo, an Italian steakhouse.

Azumi will join a dynamic mix of restaurants in River Oaks District that includes Steak 48, Spanish restaurant MAD, and Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial. The district recently welcomed two new arrivals: Bari, an upscale Italian restaurant, and Ojo de Agua, an all-day cafe with locations throughout Mexico.

Azumi exterior rendering

Courtesy of Atlas Restaurant Group

Azumi will open this winter.

Eat a delectable dessert from this sweet Houston cafe and donate to help kids

Crepes for a Cause

This summer, Coco Crepes & Coffee wants you to indulge for a great cause.

During the entire month of June, the popular creperie/neighborhood cafe will donate a portion of its sales from the Banana Split Crepe to Texas Children’s Hospital. Eat gelato to help children? Okay!

This sweet move is in response to International Children's Day on June 1. Being a noted family-friendly eatery, Coco Crepes & Coffee decided that one day simply wasn't enough, so it's helping future generations for the entire month.

Ready for details on the featured crepe? It boasts chocolate sauce-covered banana slices nestled inside a sweet crepe, all drizzled with vanilla, chocolate, and caramel sauces, and then finished off with your favorite flavor of gelato.

But there's no rule that says you can't sample the rest of the menu while you're there. Take your pick from a wide range of dishes that includes sweet and savory crepes, gourmet coffee drinks, salads, paninis, waffles, and smoothies.

Special for summer is the dragonfruit smoothie, a mouthwatering mix of dragonfruit, banana, and mango.

All locations, including the newest one in the Greenway/Upper Kirby area which is set to open in mid-June, are participating in the featured crepe give-back.

So get ready to satisfy your sweet tooth this June while eating for a bigger cause.