This collection of thoughts concerning the Houston restaurant scene highlights what I thought were the most salient local trends, at least according to my usually observant, often somewhat warped perspective. At least one is about cheap eats, too.
- Busiest year in memory – High profile openings included Uchi, Artisans, Hay Merchant, Underbelly, L’Olivier, Oxheart, Pass & Provisions, Hawthorn and Étoile.
- A surprising number of French places opened – Artisans, L’Olivier, Kris Bistro, Étoile and Sale-Sucre.
- Downtown – Barnaby’s and Burger Guys opened, and the as-yet-officially-not-yet-opened OKRA garnered some publicity, but there is still a lot of room for the city’s center to grow as a dining destination. The closing of the upscale steak joint, Strip House, was a step in the wrong direction even if downtown is not hurting for steakhouses.
- More local sandwiches are crossing the $10 barrier. The plus-sized versions at Kenny & Ziggy’s entered that territory long ago, as did lunchtime offerings at some of the nicer restaurants in town that do indulge in these not-so-high-brow creations. But, now, even dedicated sandwich purveyors are in the act like Local Foods and Revival Market. At times, $10 and more will get you just a sandwich; sides are extra.
- There are more local beers on tap at local bars than ever before. That there are many more local beers is the big driver. Concerning hometown brews, Houston is starting to resemble Chicago, San Francisco and even Philadelphia.
- Wine lists are getting better and more diverse, more Old World-heavy, and more food-friendly. There seems to be a special emphasis on wines from Italy, but also France and Spain. Following in the recent-years’ success of acidic yet balanced Grüner Veltliner locally, Blauburgunder from Austria is found on even more than a couple local lists.
- Feast has announced it will be closing in August 2013, which is a shame. Not only is this one of my favorite restaurants, but with its deft use of the neglected bits of animals, superlative local and regional foodstuffs, and its expert take on (neo) traditional British dishes served in a comfortable setting with similarly comfortable prices, it has been one of the most interesting and often satisfying places to dine in the area since it opened in 2008. I’m still amazed that I could not convince my fellow nominating committee members for the Houston Culinary Awards to include Feast among the five nominees for Best New Restaurant that year. They redeemed themselves next year, however, and helped me nominate its proprietors James and Megan Silk and Richard Knight in the Restaurateur of the Year category. And, subsequently Feast, not deemed among the top newcomers the year before, had its owners chosen by voters as Restaurateur(s) of the Year in 2009.
There has been at least one exciting new restaurant announced for 2013. I imagine that there will be a few more.