Photo by © Debora Smail/Greater Houston Visitors and Convention Bureau

After a month-long build up, the time has come to announce the winners of the 2015 CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards. These are the establishments and individuals who have been selected by their peers as the best of the city's dining scene. Collectively, they're setting the standard and pushing the city forward with their talent and hard work.

On Wednesday night, we celebrated the winners at a sold-out awards ceremony that featured food served by many of the nominees. Thanks again to all of our judges for participating in this process. We couldn't have done it without you.

Here are the winners:

Restaurant of the Year: Oxheart
The tiny, 30-seat restaurant in the Warehouse District has already earned a ton of national acclaim. Now it can add a Tastemaker Award to its resume. Chef Justin Yu takes rigorously sourced, high-quality local ingredients and prepares them in creative ways that both enhance each dish's natural flavors and provide some surprises. Sitting at the counter allows diners to watch a team that works quietly and efficiently. For those who still haven't been, make a reservation for early in the evening; the sun setting through the west-facing windows gives the room a decidedly romantic glow.

Chefs of the Year: Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan, The Pass & Provisions
Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan have given themselves the difficult challenge of developing and executing dishes for two completely separate restaurants under the same roof. That they have succeeded so adeptly at both Provisions, with its wood-fired oven and casual cuisine, and The Pass, with its elaborate, multi-course tasting menus, is why they've won this award over some very high-profile competition. On any given night, diners will find Gallivan tending the pizza oven or Siegel-Gardner putting the finishing touches on a dish at The Pass. Just as it should be.

Bar of the Year: Julep
Last year, Julep owner Alba Huerta won the award for Bartender of the Year and now the bar that reflects her passion for Southern culture takes home Bar of the Year. Part of the credit starts goes to the elegant design that gives Julep a romantic, genteel atmosphere. The bar's bourbon selection alone makes it a destination, but diners would be well-served to explore the house cocktails that offer innovative twists on familiar classics. On the culinary side, Julep's decadent seafood tower is a can't-miss splurge. No wonder its become a standard-bearer for Washington Ave's new, more grown up direction.

Bartender of the Year: Lainey Collum, Prohibition Supperclub & Bar
As part of its move downtown from the Galleria, Prohibition realized it needed to step up its beverage program to match the high-quality cocktails at neighbors like El Big Bad and the bars on the 300 block of Main. Enter Lainey Collum, whose extensive resume includes stints at Double Trouble, The Pass & Provisions and Hay Merchant. As Prohibition's beverage director, Collum has maintained the signature barrel-aged cocktail program while also introducing a menu that adds new flavors. Collum further demonstrates her diverse skillset with well-chosen wine and beer lists.

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Patrick Feges, Southern Goods
Patrick Feges' resume includes time at two of Houston's most high-profile restaurants: Brennan's and Underbelly. In 2014, he spent a year honing his skills as a pitmaster under the tutelege of Ronnie Killen at the Pearland barbecue joint that's widely considered to be the best in the Houston area. Someday, he'll chase his barbecue dreams full time, but for now he's taking on the challenge of helping two other former Underbelly employees, Lyle Bento and J.D. Woodward, launch a new restaurant in the Heights called Southern Goods. When it opens in June (hopefully), Feges will help build on the dishes displayed at two recent pop-ups that demonstrate Southern Goods' modern take on classic Southern dishes.

Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Coltivare Pizza & Garden
If the comments to the category reveal are any indication, this selection will be the most controversial because Coltivare has a wait and doesn't serve lunch. While those are legitimate complaints, they ignore all of the other ways in which this Italian-inspired restaurant from Revival Market partners Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera has improved the Heights. It's casual, comfortable and affordable. From the wood-fired pizzas to the signature black pepper pasta, the food is consistently fresh, well-executed and, most importantly, delicious. The salads are enough to tempt the most devoted carnivore. If only it were open for lunch.

Best Restaurant Service: The Pass & Provisions
The Pass & Provisions may be two restaurants under one roof, but it's really three different experiences; dining at the bar or patio at Provisions is a different, more casual experience than the main dining room. No matter where one dines in the space, the educated, efficient staff takes excellent care of their customers. With the variety of the Provisions menu, it's helpful to have someone who can guide diners not just on what to order but also on how much. Meals at The Pass are one of the great luxury experiences in Houston; after all, what other restaurants both begins and ends a meal with carts.

Best Local Beer of the Year: Yellow Rose, Lone Pint Brewery
No other brewery in the Houston-area is more closely associated with one beer than Lone Pint is with its signature Yellow Rose. This single malt, single hop India Pale Ale uses Mosaic hops that give the beer strong citrus flavors with just enough bitter notes to be interesting. Available on draft or in bottles, it's a flavorful choice that's popular in bars across the city.

Best New Restaurant: Prohibition Supperclub & Bar
Prohibition's victory in the Best New Restaurant bracket didn't come easy. The downtown restaurant upset two of the tournament's biggest names, Pax Americana and Holley's, to reach the finale against Tout Suite. Credit goes to a savvy social media strategy, of course, but also to Prohibition's emerging status as one of downtown's best restaurants. Lainey Collum has brought talent to the bar program, and chefs Ben McPherson and Matt Wommack have created a modern, Southern-inspired menu that utilizes high-quality ingredients throughout. Performances by local burlesque troupe The Moonlight Dolls play to packed houses on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Restaurant of the Year: Oxheart

Oxheart Restaurant window diners planter box
Photo by © Debora Smail/Greater Houston Visitors and Convention Bureau
Restaurant of the Year: Oxheart
BCN Taste & Tradition/Facebook

Houston's Best Restaurants: These 7 eateries lead city's dining scene to greatness

Tastemakers Best Restaurants

The final category reveal in the CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards 2015 is the most prestigious of all: Restaurant of the Year. As selected by our panel of industry insiders, these are the seven establishments that are leading Houston's culinary movement.

What's striking is how new they are collectively. Four of them opened in 2014, which once against bolsters the argument that last year saw another leap forward for the city's dining scene. Even Kata Robata only opened in 2010, but it already feels like a staple that will be around for many more years to come.

Without further ado, here are the nominees. We'll be celebrating them at a party Wednesday night. Advance tickets are sold out, but 50 general admission tickets will be available at the door on a first-come, first-served basis.

BCN Taste & Tradition
Chef Luis Roger moved to Houston from Spain, along with his wife and three children, to bring Spanish fine dining to Houston at a converted house near the intersection of Richmond and Montrose. In an era when casual neighborhood restaurants seem to be the norm, BCN has emerged as a Montrose hotspot by being distinctly fine dining. Suit-wearing servers populate the understated dining room and the guests are similarly attired. Dining on BCN’s authentic Spanish fare feels very upscale, but the atmosphere isn't stuffy — just elegant.

As the follow-up to Hugo's, diners had sky-high expectations for this coastal restaurant from four-time James Beard Award finalist Hugo Ortega, but, of course, Caracol's creative menu overcame any skepticism. The ceviches, seafood entrees and the instant classic roasted oysters with chipotle butter have blown diners away since day one. The restaurant is both popular — it's a bona fide hot spot that's routinely packed for lunch, brunch and dinner — and really good. A beverage program that features creative cocktails and a well-chosen wine list means that every dish has a perfect pairing. Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe are already local staples, and Caracol looks to be well on its way to achieving a similarly beloved status.

As promised in the article that profiled the Tastemaker Awards Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year nominees, Coltivare is back. This Italian-inspired spot from Revival Market principles Morgan Weber and chef Ryan Pera features an evolving menu, reasonable prices and a sophisticated selection of wine, beer and spirits. Coltivare charms diners by being casual and comfortable, especially when the weather is nice enough to sit on the patio adjacent to its 3,000 square-foot garden. The sourdough pizza crust may not be traditional Italian, but it serves as a flavorful, hearty platform for the flavors that Pera and his chefs place atop it. That's why Coltivare is the current holder of the unofficial title of "the restaurant Houston chefs are most likely to dine at on their own time." The only downside is famously long wait times that tag Coltivare as the victim of its own success. Go early (before 6 p.m.), late (after 9 p.m.) or during the week to mitigate them.

Kata Robata
Under the direction of chef Manabu Horiuchi, usually known as Hori-san to friends and diners, Kata Robata has become Houston's premier destination for sushi. Of course, the kitchen excels beyond raw fish; dishes like the lobster mac and cheese or uni chawanmushi make it appealing for just about anyone. No wonder Kata's dining room regularly hosts Houston chefs in search of Hori-san's clean flavors. While an omakase tasting allows the kitchen to show off, going in for a bowl of ramen at lunch shows that even the most humble dishes are well-prepared.

Outside of Underbelly, Oxheart continues to be the Houston restaurant that receives the most critical acclaim: chef Justin Yu earned his second James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef: Southwest; Oxheart appeared as one of only two Houston restaurants on Eater's list of the country's 38 most essential restaurants; and it's at the top of Chronicle critic Alison Cook's list of the city's top 100 restaurants. While all the acclaim could lead to complacency, Oxheart continues to evolve; last year, Yu slimmed down the menu, dropping the four-course option and focusing on two, six-course menus: one vegetarian, one omnivore. Experience has also allowed Yu to pickle and preserve ingredients and then reuse them in interesting ways a year or more later. Oxheart's subtle flavors aren't for everyone — radio and television personality Cleverley Stone was apparently so underwhelmed that she ate dessert at Del Frisco's steakhouse after her recent meal there — but enough Houstonians and visitors are intrigued by the restaurant to keep its 30-seat dining room full.

Pax Americana
This Montrose hotspot has been packed since day one thanks to Rising Star chef nominee Adam Dorris's creative cooking. Under the direction of owner Shepard Ross, the fast-moving service staff brings order to Pax's boisterous dining room while guiding diners through the menu. Newcomers are advised to go in a group of six and order, well, pretty much everything that sounds interesting — and the things that sound challenging. They'll be rewarded with balanced flavors, precise cooking and combinations that don't exist at other Houston restaurants. That doesn't mean Ross can't execute classic fare, too. The restaurant's massive, two-pound, 30-day dry aged ribeye that's cooked precisely medium rare and served sliced for the table might be the city's best steak. That's why Pax landed onGQ critic Alan Richman's list of 2015's 25 most exciting restaurants.

Chris Shepherd's restaurant that tells "the story of Houston food" has emerged as the symbol of Houston's rise as a nationally prominent food destination; after all, Shepherd ended the city's 22-year-long James Beard Award drought. For food-obsessed visitors, a meal at Underbelly may be more important than shopping at the Galleria or visiting the Menil. Shepherd has reloaded with new talent in the kitchen; he calls pastry chef Victoria Dearmond "my 23-year old grandmother" for the way she organizes the rest of the kitchen. The menu continues to offer lots of interesting flavors that are inspired by restaurants on Bellaire, Hillcroft and Long Point and executed using the best locally-sourced vegetables, meat and fish. Even the bar menu has received some tweaks thanks to new offerings that are "covers" of famous dishes from other Southern restaurants. Now diners can wait with fevered anticipation for the inevitable collaborations that will occur once Mala Sichuan opens across the street.

BCN Taste & Tradition.

BCN Taste & Tradition exteior
BCN Taste & Tradition/Facebook
BCN Taste & Tradition.
Photo by Morris Malakoff

Houston's top chefs: Meet 7 kitchen masters who make dining out in the Bayou City special

Tastemakers 2015

Time now to consider the CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards Chef of the Year nominees. These are the men and women who lead some of the city's most dynamic kitchens. Collectively, they've earned national press and possess Michelin-starred resumes, which is why our group of restaurant industry insiders has nominated them for the award.

Of course, in a city bursting with so much culinary talent, choices have to be made. These seven nominees are all outstanding, but, realistically, we could swap them out and have an almost equally accomplished group.

Come celebrate all of our nominees at the Tastemaker Awards party Wednesday May 13. Advance tickets have sold out, but 50 general admission tickets will be available at the door.

Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan, The Pass & Provisions
Known affectionately around town as the Tweezer Twins for their attention to detail, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan have already earned recognition from their Tastemakers panel when The Pass & Provisions won Restaurant of the Year in 2014. Now they're up in the chef category, where the committee recognizes the difficulty of keeping both concepts operating at a high level. The Pass features both a vegetarian and an omnivore menu that changes about four times per year, while Provisions makes some seasonal adjustments of its own.

On any given night, diners will find both chefs in the kitchen working with their cooks to turn out each plate of food. It's sort of refreshing to see Gallivan tending the oven and making each pizza or order of shisito peppers. No wonder they picked up their first James Beard semifinalist nomination this year.

Jose Hernandez, Radio Milano
Diners familiar with Jose Hernandez's work at Philippe, La Balance and Etoile know the man is fluent in French cuisine, but, at Radio Milano, he shows he's equally adept at Italian cooking and taking on the challenge of proving that an independent restaurant can thrive at chain-loving CityCentre. The chef seems to have found a permanent home, and his handmade pastas have won raves from diners and critics alike.

Sample the full range of his skills with a multi-course tasting menu that features items that aren't on the regular menu; he's even dabbled in reviving aspic. Look for it to evolve as Hernandez builds a rapport with his new customers.

Manabu Horiuchi, Kata Robata
If a chef's chef is the person who prepares the food other chefs most like to eat, then Manabu Horiuchi is Houston's cheffiest chef. From his post at the sushi counter at Kata Robata, Hori-san (as he's universally known) serves a who's who of Houston's top culinary talent screamingly fresh seafood in simple ways that subtly enhance each fish's natural flavor.

Next month, we'll get to see the non-sushi side of Hori-san's skillset when he and chef Philippe Gaston launch Izakaya in Midtown. Expect raw items, small plates and innovative cocktails. And, of course, a lot of chefs in the dining room.

Bobby Matos, Ciao Bello
As the executive chef of Tony Vallone's casual, neighborhood restaurant, Bobby Matos is responsible for upholding the same standards as at fine dining restaurant Tony's and west Houston steakhouse Vallone's. Even though Ciao Bello is more affordable than those restaurants, Matos consistently delivers well-executed cuisine that respects Italian traditions while appealing to local diners. The butternut squash pansoti is one of the city's best pasta dishes, and the thin, Roman-style pizzas are a legitimate deal on Sunday evenings when they only cost $10.

Matos collaborates directly with Vallone on special wine dinners that highlight the cuisine of one region of Italy. Diners also got to see another side of the chef's skills at a Kipper Club dinner in November where he united with Rising Star chef nominee Patrick Feges and fellow Chef of the Year nominee Erin Smith for a smoke-filled, sold out extravaganza.

Ryan Pera, Coltivare
At Coltivare, Ryan Pera has brought the same respect for ingredients that he established at Revival Market to an Italian-inspired menu of wood fired pizzas, wood roasted meats and produce sourced from the restaurant's 3,000 square-foot garden. In the year since it opened, Coltivare has become a legitimate destination for the Heights and beyond.

This week Pera will oversee Revival's transition to a full-service restaurant with the launch of dinner service that trades on strengths in charcuterie, seasonal salads and high-quality proteins. Soon, he and partner Morgan Weber will offer some ideas about a modern ice house at 8-Row Flint.

Erin Smith, Main Kitchen
During stints at both Plonk! Bistro and as a culinary director the Clumsy Butcher group, Erin Smith established her reputation for carefully prepared cuisine that respected both local and seasonal concerns. As chef for the restaurant within the high profile JW Marriott hotel downtown, Smith brings those same values, along with her resume as a veteran of Thomas Keller's New York restaurant Per Se, to an effort to create a hotel restaurant that attracts local diners as well as guests. It's a colossal undertaking, but one Smith has risen to meet. The result is a modern, steakhouse-style menu with pizzas, hearty vegetable dishes and enough red meat to keep business travelers happy.

Justin Yu, Oxheart
​Houston may having the reputation of being a meat-and-potatoes kind of place, but Justin Yu has spent three years teaching us to eat our vegetables — and the results have been delicious. Perhaps no chef in Houston is more obsessed with sourcing the best possible ingredients than Yu, which is why he's been named a Food & Wine best new chef, earned two finalists nominations for the James Beard Award: Best Chef Southwest and landed a coveted slot as one of two Houston representatives on the Eater National list of the country's 38 most essential restaurants. Yu even got to grow a little bit this year by introducing Oxheart-style bar snacks at Public Services Wine & Whisky, the downtown concept he co-owns with sommelier Justin Vann. If only he'd resurrect the Moneycat brunch.

Erin Smith, Main Kitchen.

Chef Erin Smith JW Marriott Houston Downtown January 2014
Photo by Morris Malakoff
Erin Smith, Main Kitchen.
Courtesy photo

Best Bar of the Year: Tastemaker Awards highlight 7 special Houston watering holes and hangouts

Houston's Best Bars

Bars are special places. They're the places people go to celebrate a special occasion or ruminate after a bad day. Clumsy Butcher head Bobby Heugel offered an almost philosophical perspective on bars and bartending when The Pastry War opened in 2013.

"Bars aren't important. It's not noble work," Heugel said at the time. "But really great things happen in bars. Whenever we open a new place, I like to think of all the people that will meet one another and then go on to start families. Or all the birthdays, first dates, all these different things that will happen in bar spaces. It’s just cool."

"Really great things happen in bars."

As selected by our panel of restaurant industry insiders, the seven CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Bar of the Year nominees stand out for the way they provide just the right setting for just the right moment. It's fun to think about all the occasions they have played host to and will host in the future.

Tickets for the Tastemaker Awards party on May 13 at Silver Street Studios are sold out, but there will be 50 General Admission tickets available at the door on a first come, first served basis for $50 each.

​One of only two holdovers from last year's nominees, this Montrose wine bar makes service its calling card. Led by advanced sommelier David Keck, the staff can recite details about every selection's varietal, style and flavor profile. Whether a patron is in the mood for a fruit forward red or a crisp, acidic white, count on Camerata's bartenders to suggest just the right bottle. They've even started to share that knowledge with their customers by holding wine classes on a variety of topics. As for the selection, it's sufficiently diverse that wine professionals from across the city frequently drop in to taste the new arrivals.

El Big Bad
This nomination probably reflects the essential truth about El Big Bad. Although it was originally intended to be a more food-focused version of El Gran Malo, people, or at least our panelists, seek it out for its lengthy selection of infused tequilas and agave cocktails first and foremost. Now under the direction of well-traveled Houston chef Jonathan Jones, the food is good, if not quite destination-worthy in the same way the cocktails are. For those who've never been, El Big Bad is at its absolute best enjoyed on nice days when patrons fill the third-story patio that looks out over Market Square; have a blueberry-jalapeno margarita, pair it with a couple of tacos and enjoy the sunshine.

At Julep, Alba Huerta's passion for Southern culture comes through in the elegant design that gives the room a romantic, genteel atmosphere. The bar's bourbon selection alone makes it a destination, but the decadent seafood tower is a can't-miss splurge. No wonder its become a standard-bearer for Washington Ave's new, more grown up direction. Thankfully, as Julep's oyster-shucking contest demonstrated, it doesn't take itself so seriously that it can't host a silly good time.

Lei Low
This tiki bar in a North Main street strip center blends owners Russell and Elizabeth Thoede's passion for tiki culture with a space that transports patrons to a tropical island — or, at least, a tropical island with a healthy dose of post-World War II kitsch. The drinks mix fresh fruit juices (the bar goes through a staggering amount of pineapple every day), with house-infused rums and complimentary spirits to create cocktails that deliver layers of flavor while being extremely strong. Two is an absolute limit for all but the most experienced drinkers.

Mongoose vs Cobra
Potent drinks, a great craft beer selection and a tidy food menu of tempting snacks all contribute to Mongoose versus Cobra's status as one of Midtown's best bar. Part of the Midtown mini-empire developed by 13 Celsius/Weights + Measures co-owners Ian Rosenberg and Mike Sammons, this place provides a respite from the nearby party scene while still providing an atmosphere that feels both upscale and welcoming. Credit the bar's staff for maintaining that tricky balancing act. No wonder it's our other two-time Tastemakers nominee.

Moving Sidewalk
Moving Sidewalk swapped out its former life as Goro & Gun for a second act as a cocktail bar with a subdued look that puts the focus squarely on co-owner (and Tastemakers Bartender of the Year nominee) Alexander Gregg's talented staff. While it might seem that the block already has enough places to get a drink, Moving Sidewalk takes advantage of its full kitchen to create syrups, infusions and a custom ice program that separate its drinks from neighboring establishments. The bar's service-oriented attitude means that drinks come out quickly, even when patrons are three deep on a rollicking Saturday night.

Neil's Bahr
No establishment in Houston caters to geek culture as well as this EaDo spot that opened in 2014. Dressed up like a superhero? Come on in and read about your character's adventures from one of the comic books on a shelf. Need a GoldenEye or Mario Kart fix? Neil's Bahr offers retro video games and even hosts occasional tournaments. Yes, the weekly trivia nights are very competitive.

Moving Sidewalk.

Moving Sidewalk interior
Courtesy photo
Moving Sidewalk.
Courtesy photo

Which of these two finalists is Houston's Best New Restaurant? Vote now

Best New Restaurant Final Round

After three rounds of voting in the CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards Best New Restaurant bracket, it's time for the matchup everyone predicted from the start to determine a winner: Pax Americana versus Common Bond.

Wait. What do you mean they both lost in the first round? How is that possible?

Turning to the actual final matchup, it would have been almost impossible to predict that Prohibition Supperclub & Bar, the downtown restaurant that features "nostalgic and decadent fare" and burlesque shows on the weekends, would square off against Tout Suite, the all-day cafe and bakery that's been a boon to EaDo and the Second Ward.

Yet, here we are.

Credit Prohibition for emerging as one of downtown's most exciting dining destinations. Under the direction of chefs Ben McPherson and Matt Wommack, Prohibition has evolved into an establishment that serves ingredient-driven, seasonal, modern Southern cuisine like smoked fried chicken, a variety of roasted oysters and innovative vegetable dishes (try the kobacha squash with a fermented, kombucha-style sauce).

Bar director (and Tastemakers Bartender of the Year nominee) Lainey Collum has brought her experiences from places like The Pass & Provisions and Hay Merchant to Prohibition's beverage program, which features both innovative cocktails and a well-chosen wine list.

As one of the few independent establishments to thrive in chain-heavy CityCentre, Sweet has been a good success story for owners Annie Le and Sandy Tran. But nothing about the small bakery's success with cupcakes and macarons could have prepared diners to expect their success with Tout Suite.

Open from morning until midnight every day of the week, Tout Suite serves a variety of needs: Grab-and-go coffee shop, sit-down destination for lunch and brunch, flexible space with lots of outlets for students who are studying and more. With plans to add beer and wine, Le and Tran are on their way to making the cafe a local institution.

Both are exciting new establishments that have raised the standards for dining in Houston. Polls are open until Monday at midnight. Vote now.

Tickets for the Tastemaker Awards party on May 13 at Silver Street Studios are sold out, but there will be 50 General Admission tickets available at the door on a first come, first served basis for $50 each.

Prohibition features a romantic interior.

Prohibition Supperclub & Bar interior
Courtesy photo
Prohibition features a romantic interior.
BCN Taste & Tradition/Facebook

Houston's best new restaurants: Big surprises in Tastemakers Final Four

Tastemakers 2015

Just as it did in the process of winnowing 16 to eight, the second round of the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Best New Restaurant bracket produced some surprising results.

Mark Holley may be a local legend, but his Midtown seafood restaurant lost a close matchup with downtown hotspot Prohibition. Korean fried chicken restaurant Dak & Bop prevailed over Bernie's Burger Bus even though Bernie's promised free burgers if it won the whole tournament.

In the battle of flexible spaces with bakeries and savory food, Tout Suite edged out Weights + Measures by fewer than 100 votes in a battle that came down to the final hours. Meanwhile, BCN Taste & Tradition has proven to be the bracket's most surprising contender, as it crushed Table 57.

The final two matchups have been underway since Tuesday, and they're both going to come down to the end. Time may be running out, but fans still have a chance to vote for their favorites and swing the outcome as voting end tonight (Thursday, May 7) just before midnight.

Dak & Bop vs Prohibition Supperclub & Bar

We're past the point where the bracket pits restaurants that have something in common against each other. Dak & Bop is casual, inexpensive and focused on serving really great Korean fried chicken. Prohibition is a little more formal, but not stuffy, with a menu that elevates classic Southern comfort food. Diners are getting a good meal and solid cocktails either way.

BCN Taste & Tradition vs Tout Suite

Once again, BCN has jumped out to a lead over its opponent, but don't count Tout Suite out. The cafe that's become a destination in the rapidly growing intersection of EaDo and the Second Ward has proven surprisingly resilient in this competition. Maybe Tout Suite should offer $1 macaroons to anyone who votes for them. Then BCN could respond with $5 gin & tonics, and we'd really have a party.

BCN has been one of the biggest surprises of the tournament.

BCN Taste & Tradition exteior
BCN Taste & Tradition/Facebook
BCN has been one of the biggest surprises of the tournament.
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Rock icon Bono's daughter makes her own sweet music in Flora and Son

in bloom

The new Apple TV+ film Flora and Son centers on a single mother and her teenage son, a situation that typically calls for an uplifting story about the mother’s struggles trying to support the two of them, and the bond that develops between them as go through the troubles together. While that element exists somewhat here, it goes down a much different path that’s both saltier and equally as rewarding.

Eve Hewson and Oren Kinlan in Flora and Son

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Eve Hewson and Oren Kinlan in Flora and Son.

Set in Dublin, Ireland, the film follows Flora (Eve Hewson), a single mom to Max (Oren Kinlan), who gets in a fair bit of trouble. She shares custody with her ex, Ian (Jack Reynor), and their antagonistic relationship, along with Max being a teenager, likely has an effect on how Flora and Max get along. A typical interchange between mother and son has them calling each other all sorts of bad names, although there rarely seems to be any true animosity behind their arguments.

When a guitar Flora refurbishes for Max goes unappreciated, she instead starts taking online lessons herself with an American named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). She’s no less brash with him, but her sincere interest in learning how to play and in finding out more about Jeff’s music opens a new door for Flora. Soon, a discovery that Max is making music of his own on his laptop helps them communicate better than they have in a long time.

Flora & Son is the latest music-focused film from writer/director John Carney (Once, Sing Street), and he once again finds the sweet spot in telling a personal story enhanced by song. Flora has more than a few rough edges, making her a less-than-ideal protagonist, but the heart of the character shines through precisely because she has no filter. Once music is added to the equation, it become that much easier to see the type of person she is and why you should root for her.

Both Hewson and Gordon-Levitt are charming actors, so they establish a connection through a screen well. Fortunately, though, Carney chooses not to leave it at that, adding a slight fantasy element to some of their scenes by having Flora imagine Jeff in the room with her. A romantic element naturally arises, but it’s the unexpected way in which two lonely souls find each other from across the world that makes them the most interesting.

There are a couple of decent songs that come out of the process of all of the music-making, but nothing that you could truly call an earworm. Instead, it’s the feeling you get seeing the characters interact when they’re sharing music with each other that makes the film sing. Only one character could be classified as a professional musician, with the rest of them making music for the pure joy of it, an emotion Carney translates well in his storytelling.

Hewson (the daughter of U2’s Bono, in case you were unaware) is having a moment after 15 years in the business. She has a boldness that serves her as well in this role as it did in the recent Apple TV+ limited series, Bad Sisters. This is Kinlan’s first major part, and he acquits himself well. Both Gordon-Levitt and Reynor are seasoned actors who know how to make the most of their limited scenes.

The depiction of a mother/child relationship in Flora and Son is atypical, but it still winds up in a great spot thanks to the power of music and some fine performances. Carney’s love for both songs and filmmaking has yielded some memorable movies over the years, this one included.


Flora and Son opens in select theaters and on Apple TV+ on September 29.

Spectacular SPI sandcastles, F1, ACL, and more Texas travel tidbits in October

where to travel right now

Fall is finally here, and with the (hopefully) cooler temps will come the chance to get outside and enjoy autumn activities all around Texas. Can't decide where to take a quick vacation, road trip, or staycation? Here are 11 events, special celebrations, and hotel happenings to help plan a getaway in October.

Along the Gulf Coast

What better way to celebrate the arrival of spooky season than by seeking out haunted ghost experiences in Corpus Christi? The Heritage Park Museum will showcase four reportedly haunted houses, and phantom chasers will delight in visiting the USS Lexington during the "Haunting on the Blue Ghost" event, October 6-31, to glimpse any ghostly crew members lurking about the vessel. The abandoned Nueces County Courthouse also has some ghouls of its own, with reports of voices, noises, and screams being heard following a hurricane that devastated the area more than a century ago.

Summer might be over, but a trip to the beach is always in the cards on South Padre Island. The annual Sandcastle Days falls on October 5-8, drawing the attention of sandcastle-building experts, food and craft vendors, and free family-friendly entertainment. Then, from October 19-21, classic cars and motorcycles rev up the brand new Chrome in the Sand Festival. The weekend will consist of live performances, car shows, a poker tournament, and more. Tickets for the Chrome in the Sand Festival begin at $20 for general admission, $55 for VIP, and $500 for VIP tables.

Around Austin

It's finally festival season down in the Texas Capital, beginning with the iconic Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park for two consecutive weekends from October 6-8 and 13-15. Luckily for Texas travelers, CultureMap's got the scoop on all things ACL – from can't-miss acts, to new eats, and more. One-day general admission tickets begin at $170. Weekend One tickets are waitlisted, but there are still one-day general admission tickets available for Weekend Two. Weekend passes for both weekends are waitlisted.

Following ACL, Austin will race to the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas from October 20-22. Red Bull Racing has already won the 2023 Constructors' Championship after its longstanding driver Max Verstappen won the Japanese Grand Prix, and Verstappen is well in the lead to win his third-consecutive World Drivers' Championship title. Three-day general admission wristbands are $475, two-day GA is $425, and three-day parking passes are $275.

F1 racecarRace to Austin for the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of Circuit of The Americas

In the Hill Country

It's never too late for a day by the pool, and the luxurious Lantana Spa at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa has opened reservations for their renovated pool cabanas with a special VIP poolside service and deluxe amenities. The private, two-person Canyons, Preserve, and Oaks Spa Cabanas each include an unlimited mimosa service, shaded seating and chaise lounges, a dedicated server from 11 am-5 pm, and more. Cabana reservations can be made by resort guests or in addition to a spa service, and rates begin at $400.

Nonprofit trade association Texas Hill Country Wineries is bringing back its Texas Wine Month passport this month for a self-guided journey through 45 local wineries with special discounts scattered along the way. With participating estates scattered throughout popular weekend destinations like Fredericksburg, Johnson City, and New Braunfels, it’s a chance to explore the Hill Country and soak in those autumn vibes. Wine passport-holders can visit up to four wineries daily to get the most out of a weekend getaway. Individual passes are $85, and couples' passes are $120.

Speaking of wineries, one Marble Falls-based winery is hosting regular events throughout October, which is perfect for those holding a Texas Wine Month passport. Every Saturday and Sunday, folks can venture out to Flat Creek Estates & Vineyard for their effervescent Bubbles and Brunch from 11 am to 3 pm. And if the trip transforms from a brunch outing into an all-day affair, guests catch live music from local Texas bands during the winery's weekend music series from 2-6 pm. Ernie Vasquez and Evan Grubbs are scheduled the weekend of October 7-8, and Stephen Daly and Andrew Lopez will play on the weekend of October 14-15.

Throughout Texas

If searching for beautiful fall foliage around Texas is at the top of the priority list, cabin rental agency Smoky Mountains' prediction map is the perfect guide to help estimate when the leaves will begin changing throughout the state and the U.S. The map predicts most of Texas will have minimal-to-patchy changing leaves by the end of October, and most of the state's trees will be at their color-changing peak in November.

Dallas-based luxury bus operator Vonlane added 60 new weekly departures to meet anticipated high demand for the fall travel season. There are now more than 430 trips per week departing Vonlane hubs in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Travelers can book their trips online for both one-way or round-trips, with fares beginning at $119.

Two unmistakable cutesy pink trucks are going on tour throughout Texas this month, with stops in several major cities. That's right – the cult craze Hello Kitty Cafe Truck and Barbie Truck are bringing a horde of new branded clothing and accessories to adoring fans in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Houstonians can head to First Colony Mall to say hi to Hello Kitty on October 7, then head to Baybrook Mall in Friendswood to catch the Barbie Truck on October 21. Barbie will stick around to visit The Woodlands Mall on October 28.

In Waco

The annual Magnolia Silobration at The Silos will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chip and Joanna Gaines' Waco-based home design and lifestyle empire from October 19-21. Fixer Upper fans can visit the Silos to enjoy a three-day adventure of local artisan and food vendors, live music performances, shopping, and more. The festival is free, but note that certain ticketed experiences like the 20th anniversary tour, weekend rooftop passes, and Evenings with Chip and Jo are sold out.

Houston’s oldest craft brewery taps new chef for its buzzy beer garden and restaurant

Saint Arnold's new chef

Houston’s oldest craft brewery has found a new chef to lead its popular restaurant. Chase Reid is now the executive chef at Saint Arnold Brewing Company’s beer garden and restaurant.

Hired a couple of months ago, Reid replaces chef Ryan Savoie, who had been with the brewery since 2013. A French-trained chef, Reid came to Saint Arnold’s attention after well-regarded stints at Hop Scholar Ale House in Spring and the Historic Hill House and Farm in Willis.

“I’m thrilled to join the talented team at Saint Arnold and build on the legacy they’ve created in Texas,” Reid said in a statement. “I love the creativity that comes with cooking and have always been passionate about craft beer. I’m very much looking forward to combining the two.”

Recent visitors to Saint Arnold have gotten a first taste of the chef’s work with pizza specials and new additions such as a house made bratwurst burger. He’s also the culinary mind behind Saint Arnold’s recent Doughnut Sunday offerings that pair freshly fried treats with different beers from the company’s portfolio on the firs Sunday of every month. Overall, he’s focused on maintaining the quality and consistency that has been the restaurant’s hallmark since it opened in 2018.

Reid will more formally introduce himself to the brewery’s fans at the upcoming Great Pumpkin Beer Dinner. Held on Halloween night, the meal will feature a five-course menu paired with seasonal and limited release beers, including 2013 Pumpkinator, 2023 Pumpkinator, and 2020 bourbon barrel-aged Pumpkinator with cocoa nibs. See the full menu and purchase tickets ($125) on the Saint Arnold website.

“Chase’s enthusiasm for both food and beer got all of us excited to have him joining our team,” Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner added. “Our Beer Garden & Restaurant is a welcoming place to enjoy our world class beers. We have the same standards for our food as we do for our beer and are always working to elevate and create an experience that will keep our guests coming back again and again.”