Quantcast
Photo by Michael Ma Photography

A well-regarded vegan restaurant will soon close its doors. Verdine, a restaurant in the Heights, will shutter on July 31.

Opened in April 2019, Verdine evolved out of the Ripe Cuisine food truck and built a following at the weekly Urban Harvest farmers market and other venues. In a lengthy message posted to the restaurant's social media feeds, owner Stephane Hoban explains that she has accepted an offer to end her lease early. She thanks the restaurant's customers and staff for their support.

"When I sold my first meal the Urban Harvest farmers market almost 10 years ago, I could only dream that I would one day open a restaurant as beautiful with outstanding vegan food that would ultimately elevate the Houston vegan scene," Hobart writes. "It was a long road to get to our opening back in April 2019, and the cliche 'it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears' could not describe it more accurately."

Hoban also reveals that the space in the Heights Waterworks development won't stay empty for long. It will soon be home to a new vegan concept from the Sugar Land-based restaurant group behind Japaneiro's Sushi Bistro & Latin Grill, Guru Burgers & Crepes, and Jupiter Pizza & Waffle Company. Verdine's employees will have the opportunity to interview for positions at the new restaurant, Hoban adds.

Verdine will operate with its normal hours through Sunday, July 31. Customers are invited for one last bite of signature items like orange cauliflower and jackfruit carnitas.

"I love forward to saying 'farewell' in person this week," Hoban concludes.

Photo by Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Cult-favorite Houston restaurant redefines 'local' with long-awaited Austin opening

New Locale

Local Foods just got even more local — to Austin. The popular Houston-based restaurant opens its first permanent Austin location on Saturday, June 25, anticipated since 2020. Technically, it’s already been here in pop-up, ghost kitchen capacity since last summer, in the space formerly occupied by Bonhomie. But this time it’s here to stay.

The new restaurant is nestled with dividers into the corner of Second and San Antonio streets in the Second Street District, an area where foot traffic is sure to bring new fans along with its Houston devotees from over a decade in business. It is a return, of sorts, as founders Benjy Levit and Dylan Murray, as well as partner Martin Berson, all went to school at the University of Texas, and are excited to make a home in Austin once again.

Berson, the long-time Austin resident, talked about that feeling in a press release announcing the pop-up in 2021. “What [Levit and Murray] have created with this unique approach to everyday sandwiches and salads is best in class in a growing space of fast-fine concepts. The local farms, vendors, and amazing Austin vibe is a perfect fit for Local Foods.”

It’s all in the name. The restaurant is committed to highlighting ingredients originating in Texas, centering relationships with “local farmers, ranchers, fishmongers, artisans, and vendors.” Most of those ingredients go into sandwiches and salads, piled high with proteins, veggies, and vegan options. Diners know that Local Foods follows the more-is-more philosophy, and these offerings may surprise someone with starker notions of health-conscious foods. (Hello, there, crushed chips on the crispy chicken sandwich!)

The expanded menu at the new brick-and-mortar looks similar, focusing on those two categories, plus some specialty sides including pozole, fruit salad, and house-made pickles. It will also offer wine and beer, the former with some non-local whims, and the latter consisting entirely of local selections including Austin brews by Fairweather Cider, Live Oak, Hops and Grain, Pinthouse, and Independence Brewing.

The beautiful new interior boasts a natural light-bathed design by Austin’s Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows, turquoise accents, and woody colors. Seating spreads out over two floors and onto the patio, and the local ethos means sharing the space with plants from nearby.

Some Austin-area vendors joining the Local Foods menu are:

  • Joe’s Microgreens
  • ToGoCo
  • Hifi Mycology
  • Basic B Chai
  • Dos Lunas
  • Mill King
  • Flying Brothers Tempeh
  • Good Flow Honey
  • Vital Farms

“At Local Foods our goal is to always be a landing place and partner for local and regional farmers and purveyors, with the ultimate objective of symbiotically expanding their businesses along with ours,” said Murray in a press release about the Second Street location. “Bringing this longtime Houston favorite to Austin furthers our purpose and commitment to supporting local in an approachable, neighborhood setting.”

The new Local Foods is located at 454 W. Second St. and opens Saturday, June 25. For more information about hours and ordering, visit localfoodstexas.com.

Here in Houston, CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler named Local Foods to the coveted Top 100 list of best restaurants in the city.

Local Foods is making a new home on Second Street, in a wide-open space with great foot traffic.

Photo by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Local Foods is making a new home on Second Street, in a wide-open space with great foot traffic.
Photo by Michael Ma Photography

Houston tops Texas as the best place for vegans in new report

a healthy ranking

Houston made the top 10 in a new survey of the top cities in the U.S. where it's best to be a vegan, coming in at No. 6 on the list — making it the best city in Texas, ahead of Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Fort Worth.

The survey by the team at Meal Delivery Experts set out to determine which cities have the most vegan food options. They compiled the 20 most populous cities in the U.S., then used data from TripAdvisor to count how many restaurants or food venues in each city offers at least one vegan option.

New York is No. 1, blowing everyone else away with 1,464 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options — more than double the number than any other city on the list.

No. 2: Los Angeles is in second place, with 705 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options. Los Angeles has among the widest variety of cuisines including vegan Korean, Ethiopian, and Thai food.

No. 3: Chicago, with 489 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options, which is a surprise since Chicago is such a big meat town, although the city is best known for deep-dish pizza, and many Chicago restaurants now offer a vegan alternative.

Houston earned its No. 6 ranking thanks to its total of 312 restaurants. Diners have a range of options, from dedicated vegan restaurants like Verdine and Mo' Better Brews to vegan-friendly fine dining options like Theodore Rex and Le Jardinier, the restaurant at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston with sisters locations in New York and Miami that each hold one Michelin star. The city's Indian and Pakistani restaurants offer plenty of vegan fare — think of chef Anita Jaisinghani's Meatless Mondays at Pondicheri as one example.

Whether motivated by health, environmental, or ethical reasons, the number of vegans in the U.S. is rapidly increasing, reaching new heights in 2022. One in ten, or 10 percent, of Americans now consider themselves vegan or vegetarian.

The dollars are also there, with the plant-based industry worth over $7 billion in the US in 2022.

The milk substitute market is valued at over $3 billion in 2022, and the meat substitute market is valued over $1 billion in 2022.

Austin was the only other Texas city to make the top 10, coming in at No. 8 with 286 restaurants.

Dallas was No. 12, boasting 209 restaurants that are vegan or offer vegan options, followed by San Antonio at No. 13, with 202 vegan- or vegan-friendly establishments.

Fort Worth came in last place, with 68 restaurants or food venues offering at least one vegan option, despite Fort Worth's buzzy vegan scene with places like Pizza Verde, Zonk Burger, Mariachi's Dine-In. Fort Worth is also home to Texas' most famous vegan restaurant, Spiral Diner.

The full list, by ranking:

  1. New York - 1464
  2. Los Angeles - 705
  3. Chicago - 489
  4. San Francisco - 467
  5. San Diego - 385
  6. Houston - 312
  7. Seattle - 309
  8. Austin - 286
  9. Denver - 261
  10. Philadelphia - 258
  11. Phoenix - 234
  12. Dallas - 209
  13. San Antonio - 202
  14. Charlotte, NC - 176
  15. Jacksonville, FL - 140
  16. Indianapolis - 140
  17. Columbus, Ohio - 137
  18. San Jose - 80
  19. Oklahoma City - 80
  20. Fort Worth - 68
Misha's

Houston's Central Market gets on vegan train with Jay Z's fave cheese

hova loves it

There's a vegan cheese in town and it's kind of a big deal. The cheese is from Misha's, a Los Angeles-based company that makes what they claim is the best dairy-free cheese on the market, and it's making its debut at Central Market.

Misha's does a spreadable cheese flavored with herbs and spices. Central Market will carry the following six flavors:

  • Lox – dill, capers, carrots
  • French Connection – herbs de Provence, grains of paradise, black olives
  • Smoked Cheddar – smoked paprika, chipotle
  • Sari – sundried tomatoes, garlic, cilantro
  • Seven Point Five – jalapeño, habanero, strawberries
  • Black Truffle - black truffle, shallots

Previously, Misha's was available only on the West Coast and online. The new partnership with Central Market brings Misha's to Texas' seven top cities, including Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Southlake, and Plano. Five of those cities have CultureMap bureaus, so Misha's is on to something (and meanwhile CultureMap might need to open bureaus in Plano and Southlake?).

Central Market has been less quick to embrace vegan foods than other chains like Sprouts and Kroger's. But Misha's possesses extra assets: They're Black-owned and have a celebrity backing buzz from a group that includes Jay Z and NBA All-Star Chris Paul.

Misha's cheese is made from cashew and almond milk, the most common ingredients used to make vegan cheese. And the cheese is spreadable, versus firm. Spreadable vegan cheese is far easier to make than firm vegan cheese — a lesson Misha's cofounders learned early in the game, as they told medium:

The first product we launched was an aged, sliceable cheese. It was fairly complicated to produce, and package and it was a bit volatile. One night, right as we were preparing for the next day's farmers market, it got the best of us. Our refrigerators failed and the cheese didn't set up properly. Ian and I looked at each other nearly defeated… all that time, all that effort, all that money… and then, almost in unison we said 'let's sell it as spreadable cheese!' Less time, less energy, cheaper to make and package."

Founders Chef Ian Martin and Aaron Bullock, who began operating in 2018, have an unusual background for cheesemakers: They were previously in the music and entertainment industry. But Martin had begun exploring raw vegan cooking, and worked with two well-known raw vegan names: Matthew Kenny and Juliano's Planet Raw. Bullock, meanwhile, had an interest in naturopathic medicine and had opened a clinic.

They've earned backing by Marcy Venture Partners: Jay Brown and Jay-Z, Pendulum Holdings: Robbie Robinson, Lisa Shamus, and 11-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul, and hope to reimagine the dairy aisle not only with their non-dairy cheese, but also other products such as milk, butter, and yogurt.

Emphasizing the gourmet/health vibe seems to make vegan food easier for foodies to swallow than the whole inconvenient "humane concern for animals" angle. Misha's is also certified and licensed in California as a Dairy Company, which allows them to legally use the word "Cheese."

Assets such as these have earned them attention on food websites such as Food 52 — and now a spot on the shelves of Central Market's 10 stores.

"With Austin, Houston and Dallas all consistently named most friendly for plant-based consumers, expanding into Texas is a perfect next move for Misha’s," Bullock says in a release. "We're a purpose-driven and community-focused company that believes in spreading kindness and committed to lifting as we climb. We're proud to join hands with the great people of Texas."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

RodeoHouston announces ticket sale dates for  Lauren Daigle, The Chainsmokers, and Cody Jinks

rodeo tickets on sale

The time has come to start making plans to attend the 2023 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Tickets for three concerts go on sale this Thursday, December 8 at 10 am (online waiting room opens at 9:30 am) via rodeohouston.com.

They are:

  • Christian country star Lauren Daigle on March 2
  • Electronic DJs and production duo The Chainsmokers on March 10
  • Texas country singer Cody Jinks on March 13.

Ticket prices start at $25, plus a $4 per ticket convenience fee. The other prices are:

  • Upper Level: $25 – $30
  • Loge Level: $40
  • Club Level: $50 – $55
  • Field Level: $44
  • Chairman’s Club: $150 (includes food and hosted bar)
  • Action Seats: $155 (includes hearty hors d’oeuvres and cash bar)
The Rodeo notes that those who enter the online waiting room between 9:30 and 9:59 will be randomly selected to purchase tickets when they go on sale at 10 am. Furthermore, being in the online waiting room does not guarantee that a person will be able to purchase tickets.

All tickets will be delivered electronically. To access their tickets, concertgoers will need to download the AXS Ticketing mobile app and login with the email address they used to purchase the tickets.

In September, the Rodeo announced that Conroe-born country star Parker McCollum would be the opening night performer. More acts will be announced as next year's event draws near. The 2023 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and all RodeoHouston performances are scheduled for February 28–March 19, 2023 at NRG Park.

Lauren Daigle/Facebook

Lauren Daigle will make her RodeoHouston debut.

University of Houston powers up smart robot food server in on-site restaurant

tip your robot

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings. “Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

Only one burning question remains: Just how does one tip a robot waitstaffer?

Photo courtesy of University of Houston

Servi bots are now delivering food at UH's Eric's Restaurant.

Acclaimed Hill Country winery pours onto list of the world's 100 best for 2022

Wine List

One Texas winery just landed on one of the most exclusive wine lists of them all. At an event held in Argentina's wine capital, Mendoza, the World’s Best Vineyards organization revealed this year’s top wine destinations for 2022. Texas' own William Chris Vineyards came in at No. 56, the only Texas vineyard on the list and one of only seven wineries from the U.S.

Founded in 2008 by Chris Brundrett and Bill Blackmon in Hye, Texas, the vineyard started out in the historic 1905 Dieke Farmhouse and has been rapidly expanding ever since. Now, the company partners with local farms to source the highest quality Texas fruit, utilizing a hands-off, low-intervention approach to allow the fruit's characteristics to shine through in the final product.

“It is such an honor to be included on the prestigious list of World’s Best Vineyards, especially as the first and only Texas winery,” said Brundrett in a release. “We’ve worked tirelessly to show the world that Texas has a place among the great wine destinations of the world, and we see this as a victory not just for William Chris Vineyards, but for the Texas wine industry as a whole. We’re excited to celebrate this with our partners and peers.”

Released annually, the World’s Best Vineyards list highlights the top must-visit vineyards globally, aiming to promote wine tourism around the world. 500 leading wine experts, sommeliers, and travel experts comprise the group's voting academy, submitting their nominations based on a wide range of criteria — from quality of overall experience to cuisine, value for money, and more. Submissions are voted on, and the collated results become the coveted World’s Best Vineyards list.

For a full list of 2022 winners, visit worldsbestvineyards.com.