After a vigorous romp around Centennial Gardens in Houston’s Hermann Park, my husband Marshall and I eagerly join a handful of local pals for a refreshing sustenance break at Local Foods. We’re pleased that our friend Mark has chosen a place where my outfit of yoga pants and tennis shoes fits in.
Local Foods is at 2424 Dunstan Rd. (713/521-7800) and 2555 Kirby Dr. (713/255-4440) in Houston.
It’s a place both casual and interesting in design, with enlarged engineering blueprints of the neighborhood used as wallpaper and liberal use of white tile, glass, and vintage light fixtures.
And as we settle around a round table in the bustling room flooded with natural light, I take a preliminary glance at the Local Foods menu and realize how fortuitous it is that we’ve brought along a small crowd. I’m certain we’ll need plenty of space and mouths to sample the abundance of healthful, colorful goods. And that includes the list of drinkable offerings.
“Try the Mintade. You’re going to love it,” Mark suggests. “And then you’re going to want more.”
Mark’s right: Nothing could possibly taste better after a morning in the sun than this glass of Mintade. A blend of fresh-squeezed grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime juices infused with fresh mint, this light and tangy liquid indeed proves addicting. Almost immediately, I crave a second glass, which I fill myself at the self-service station to one side of the dining room.
Marshall, meanwhile, chooses a bottle of Topo Chico, the super-fizzy Mexican mineral water that he loves over ice with a few lime wedges. We note that the menu also includes a locally made strawberry-Meyer lemon kombucha, iced coffee, and tea, as well as a long list of Texas beer and wine. We already know a return visit is in order.
Upon opening the first Local Foods in Rice Village in late 2011, restaurateurs Dylan Murray and Benjy Levit created a place committed to using ingredients produced by local farmers and food artisans. On Saturdays, Dylan buys produce from the nearby Urban Harvest Eastside Farmers Market, and throughout the week, he buys pork, beef, fish, fowl, and cheeses from area farmers and ranchers. Popular items on the menu include a salad of spinach, arugula, pecans, and onions with house-made mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette; and sandwiches like the vegan-friendly combination of Brus-sels sprouts, avocado, hummus, oven-dried tomato, sprouts, and pickled
onions on ciabatta bread.
The kitchen crew keeps hundreds of customers gratified daily between the original shop and a second location, which opened near River Oaks in the spring of 2014. The strong response from clientele means a third location is due in Houston’s Tanglewood area in early 2016.
While we sip our beverages, our attention turns to Local Foods’ edible options. To accompany my Mintade, I choose the vegetarian falafel sandwich, pairing crispy, fritter-like falafel patties topped with Greek yogurt, spicy Indonesian chile sauce, pickled red onion, and heirloom tomato slices on wheat toast. The combination of tangy, crunchy, sour, and sweet flavors and textures together sends me into a reverie, broken only for nibbles of the side salad of chopped kale with golden raisins, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese.
Marshall shares with me a bite or two of his salad of broccoli, watercress, watermelon, goat cheese, and grilled shrimp, all tossed with a light herb vinaigrette. We chew, we sigh, and we plot our next visit.
We time our next meal at Local Foods’ second location for dinnertime, when an evening menu is available that includes a cocktail section (the original serves wine and beer only). In one corner of the Upper Kirby location, the friendly bar area includes a few cozy booths and access to a breezy patio.
Craft brew enthusiasts like Marshall find no fewer than five draught and five canned or bottled Texas craft beers to keep their palates happy. He struggles with the tempting choices, finally settling on Buffalo Bayou Brewing’s 1836 Copper Ale. Though I’m drawn to the frozen margarita that combines my beloved Mintade with Republic Tequila and Paula’s Texas Orange Liqueur, I can’t resist the pretty pink Belle of the Ball, blending Revolution Spirits Reserve Gin with ginger liqueur, a dash of bell pepper purée, and a basil garnish.
Luscious proteins from the rotisserie include pork loin and free-range chicken, which are served with such sauces as balsamic reduction, salsa verde, Coca-Cola au jus, and tomato relish. We find the pork especially juicy and a sweet, supple foil for the tangy green salsa. We also sample the seared duck breast, which is rich and naturally sweet, tempered beautifully by a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Alongside, baby yellow and green squash, sliced heirloom tomatoes, and a sumptuous gnocchi “mac” and cheese meet every need we have for fresh vegetables with a little side of indulgence.
Our only regret is that we can’t possibly taste everything we’d like. I am certain I need to experience the frozen rosé sangria, which combines Treaty Oak Rum from Dripping Springs and citrus juices with a rosé from one of my favorite Texas wineries, McPherson Cellars in Lubbock. Before departing, we make a vow to return yet again on our next Houston visit.