Facing closure, Ingredients is hosting IndieGoGo campaign in February

After making national news when it opened in 2012, Austin’s (near) zero-waste grocery store, Ingredients, is having a tough time.

Like Black Star Co-op, Ingredients’ sales have slumped as Austin’s food economy slows down. The market, at 2610 Manor Road, sells local produce and dozens of pastas, beans, grains, vinegar, oil and honey in bulk, as well as some packaged dairy products and meats. They also sell beer and baked goods and have a cool place to hang out in front of the store. Last year was Ingredients’ strongest year in sales to date, but as property taxes have doubled and even more specialty corner markets have opened, the store is struggling to stay open.

Ingredients started as a low-waste grocery store, but it has evolved to become a community hub on Manor Road. In February, the store is hosting an IndieGoGo campaign to improve the store and keep the doors open. Contributed by Ingredients.
Ingredients started as a low-waste grocery store in 2012, but it has evolved to become a community hub on Manor Road. In February, the store is hosting an IndieGoGo campaign to improve the store and keep the doors open. Contributed by Ingredients.

In an effort to raise $30,000 to invest in the weatherizing the pergola outside, improving the playground and other things like adding espresso service, Ingredients is hosting an IndieGoGo campaign that starts on Friday.

They are hosting a kick-off event from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday with live music and samples from local businesses Delysia Chocolatier, MALK Organics, KTonic Kombucha, Zhi Tea, Yellowbird Sauce and Texas Keeper Cider.

You can learn more about the crowdfunding campaign at in.gredients.com/indiegogo.

 

I’m doing a Whole30 in February to reset my eating habits — here’s why

I’ve always loved food. I grew up here in Central Texas with my dad, who makes the best burgers, steaks, spaghetti and “homemade Hamburger Helper” (as we called it) I’ve ever eaten. It’s probably no surprise that as a nerdy, quiet girl who wasn’t good at sports and loved her dad’s homemade hearty meals, I was more than a little overweight as a kid – at least up until middle school, when I joined athletics and lost all the baby fat. From that day on, I was able to inhale Whataburger and Chick-Fil-A and Taco Bell to my heart’s content and not gain an ounce.

That all changed last year, when I gained an unexpected 30-plus pounds for reasons I still can’t really put my finger on. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was going through an earth-shattering breakup, during which I was diagnosed with depression and discovered that apparently I take comfort food to a whole other level when I’ve got the blues. It also probably has something to do with the fact that I’m not exactly a teenager anymore and my metabolism chose this time to turn on me. But regardless of reasons, the weight’s still there. And it’s been…weighing on me (weak, I know. Sorry).

Elizabeth Lindemann, who writes the blog, Bowl of Delicious (@bowlofdelicious, bowlofdelicious.com), shared her photo and recipe for a Paleo chicken salad that’s both mayo-free and dairy-free. It was the most popular recipe on her site last year and is a great fit if you’re on the Whole 30, a 30-day Paleo challenge from Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. Contributed by @bowlofdelicious
Elizabeth Lindemann, who writes the blog, Bowl of Delicious (@bowlofdelicious, bowlofdelicious.com), shared her photo and recipe for a Paleo chicken salad that’s both mayo-free and dairy-free. It was the most popular recipe on her site last year and is a great fit if you’re on the Whole 30, a 30-day Paleo challenge from Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. Contributed by @bowlofdelicious

So, when my friend Melanie told me she lost 12 pounds in November doing this fancy “Whole30” thing I’ve heard some people talk about before, I jumped on board. I kept picturing myself at my high school best friend’s wedding coming up this April, the fabric of the size 10 dress I’d ordered engulfing me and all the weight I’d lost. I got kind of obsessed.

Then I started reading more about the Whole30. It’s more than weight loss. It’s a total lifestyle change. According to the creator, Melissa Hartwig, the Whole30 program is all about changing your relationship with food and creating new habits. Since I read that, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with food. I always considered it a positive relationship: I LOVE FOOD. That’s positive, right?! Maybe not the way I love it, though. Maybe all the food I’d ordered via Amazon or Favor or Postmates when I was too depressed to get to the store or cook my own meals, the food I called “comfort food” because I thought I deserved it when I was feeling down, wasn’t so comforting at all. Maybe it was my enemy. That was when I knew I had to make some changes. I’m undergoing treatment for my depression, so why not undergo treatment for all the negative habits my depression allowed me to form? So, here I am, ready to change the emotionally abusive relationship I have with food (and hopefully lose a few pounds in the process).

So what’s the Whole30 anyway? There are a lot of rules to abide by for 30 straight days. The highlights:

  • No sugar, real or artificial. This is going to mean a lot of label-checking in the aisles of H-E-B and Trader Joe’s.
  • No alcohol. Oh boy.
  • No grains. I love bread like Oprah loves bread, so this one doesn’t sound that fun, either.
  • No legumes, including soy. At first, this one seemed the most doable for me – beans aren’t really a part of my diet anyway – until I read that this includes peanuts, and therefore no peanut butter. I eat about two jars of peanut butter each week. I keep one in my desk drawer. This is so sad.
  • No dairy. This means no coffee creamer. Guess I’ll have to learn to like black coffee.
  • No carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. More label-checking.
  • Don’t recreate these banned foods with “approved” ingredients. These are basically placebos anyway, and are bound to make my cravings worse.
  • Don’t weigh or measure yourself. Somebody take my bathroom scale for the month, please.
  • Eat three meals a day and avoid snacking. This is probably my biggest issue — I’ve never been a breakfast person. I usually have a few cups of coffee and a banana or a granola bar, a small lunch at my desk and a larger dinner at home. Changing that habit is going to require a lot of cooking, planning and meal-prepping. I’ve been wanting to get better about cooking meals at home, so this should help!

Now that we’ve gotten what I can’t eat out of the way, let’s talk about what I can. February is looking like it’s going to be full of meat, vegetables, fruits and good fats. It’s a good thing I love eggs and avocados, because they’re going to be my best friends for the next month.

Another thing the Whole30 encourages: Support. Two of my friends, Melanie and Brittany, have graciously agreed to join me in this strange, harrowing journey. Misery loves company, right?

After talking to my friends about starting the diet together, I turned to Addie Broyles, fearless leader of this blog and the Statesman’s resident cooking guru, for help. She showed up at my desk five minutes later with the official Whole30 cookbook in hand, telling me to blog about my experiences living a dairy-free, sugar-free, bread-free life. I’ll be checking in on here once a week or so to outline my struggles and victories, share recipes and avoid thinking about how much I miss sweet cream in my coffee.

I could use your help, too! If you have any Whole30-friendly recipes you love, advice on how to survive these long 30 days or tips and tricks to finding compliant products at local grocery stores, please send them my way! Comment below or shoot me an email at kpsencik@statesman.com.

Curious about food issues but want a cheaper alternative to SXSW? Check out this symposium

If you’re always bummed to have to miss out on the food programming at SXSW Eco or SXSW Interactive, here is your chance to nerd out about global and local food issues for a fraction of the price.

symposium

The Austin Registered Dietitians Alliance is hosting its annual wellness symposium from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11 with speakers including state rep. Eddie Rodriguez and FARFA executive director Judith McGeary.

This year’s theme is “World Food and Hunger: Think Globally, Act Locally,” and the speakers will cover urban farms, soil and water, food access, the food system, school gardens, public heath during disasters, the global network behind the Red Cross and a workshop about what dietitians need to know about GMOS and ethics. (That’s a lot of food knowledge to be gained in one day, if you ask me.)

The daylong event costs $75 for ARDA members, $85 for the general public and $40 for students, including lunch. Guests have until Feb. 5 to pre-register at http://atxrd.org/2017-wellness-symposium. Day-of registration costs $90 while seats are available.

How will sensors change the food system? Micro-farms? Find out Saturday at Food+City event

Food innovators from around the world will be in Austin this week for the Food+City Challenge Prize, a startup competition that culminates with an event on Saturday where the nonprofit will give out $50,000 to the winners. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the atrium at the McCombs School of Business, 2110 Speedway Avenue on the University of Texas campus. (Disclosure: I worked as an editor for the print magazine side of Food + City when it first launched in 2015.)

Some of the winners from last year's Food & City Challenge Prize. Contributed by Jessica Alexander
Some of the winners from last year’s Food & City Challenge Prize. Contributed by Jessica Alexander

There are 18 finalists from nine countries, and all of them have a food company that in some way improves the food supply chain. Attendees can hear some of the finalists deliver rapid pitches in front of investors and chat with the entrepreneurs at booths throughout the atrium. You can also sample food from True Food Kitchen, Zocalo Cafe, 512 Brewery, Noble Pig, Verts, Easy Tiger, Austin Java, Honest Tea, Wholy Bagel, Tiff’s Treats, Snap Kitchen and more.

The finalists are:

  • Bucketload High-Tech Harvesting, which makes agricultural information available on the cloud.
  • Eat Pak, a customizable lunch packing and delivery company.
  • Epicure, which makes robotic vending bars that sell sustainable food.
  • Evaptainers, which makes electricity-free refrigeration units that run on nothing but water.
  • Farm Fare, a mobile market and logistics app that makes the business of buying and selling local foods faster, cheaper and more sustainable.
  • FreshSurety, a sensor that can report the shelf life of fresh produce.
  • Hazel Technologies, which makes products to extend the shelf-life of fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants.
  • Joe’s Organics, an Austin-based farm that picks up food waste to turn it into soil and then grows produce for local restaurants and farmers markets.
  • Local Libations, which allows manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the beer industry to track the location and volume of their kegs.
  • NÜWIEL is a technology startup from Germany that develops intelligent e-powered bicycle trailers to efficiently move goods in urban areas.
  • Open Data Nation transforms open, public data about public health inspections of restaurants into reliable predictions of when and where establishments will fail and pose a risk to public health and safety.
  • Phenix, which helps food companies cut down on food waste and raise the value of that waste.
  • OriginTrail can show consumers how their food traveled through the food chain to get to them.
  • Rise upcycles spent barley from microbreweries into flour for bakers.
  • Rust Belt Riders helps companies turns discarded food into value-added products.
  • Science for Society is an India-based company that makes solar-powered food dehydrators for farmers.
  • Smallhold sells mushrooms and leafy greens starts to users, who then finish growing the products before consumption.
  • Yarok is a microbiological testing system to help prevent food recalls.

More Whataburger sauces coming to H-E-B

McDonald’s might be trying to steal the fast food news buzz for the week, but Whataburger and H-E-B aren’t having it.

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Larger sizes of Whataburger ketchup are now available at H-E-B. Contributed by Whataburger

Just as McDonald’s issued a limited release of its Big Mac sauce, which people are selling on eBay for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, Whataburger and H-E-B announced the newest products in their ongoing partnership to bring fast food products into grocery stores.

Starting any day now, H-E-B customers will start to see Whataburger’s buffalo sauce, and its Fancy and Spicy Ketchup in a larger 40-ounce bottles.

From a press release:

“At Whataburger, we believe in serving great food that’s full of flavor,” said Vice President of Retail Mike Sobel. “We love hearing from fans about their favorite menu items and Signature Sauce pairings, and we’re happy to expand our lineup of sauces at H-E-B to help satisfy their cravings. Plus, we think our fans will be delighted to know they can get Texas-sized, larger versions of their go-to ketchup condiments.”

buffalosauce-2-of-2
Whataburger’s buffalo sauce is now available at H-E-Bs in Texas. Contributed by Whataburger

Whiskey and garlic lend powerful kick to this Spanish pork dish

These pork fillets are served in a whiskey garlic sauce that is popular in Seville, Spain. Contributed by Octopus Publishing Group
These pork fillets are served in a whiskey garlic sauce that is popular in Seville, Spain. Contributed by Octopus Publishing Group

Few people love sherry and tapas as much as Kay Plunkett-Hogge.

OK, let’s be honest — Plunkett-Hogge, who was born and raised in Thailand but now lives in London, is among the millions of people who adore two of Spain’s culinary delights. But she recently funneled that fascination into “A Sherry & A Little Plate of Tapas” (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99).

The first part of the book is a guide to sherry’s history, production and tasting notes, but in the second part, she explores the vast world of tapas, the small plates of food served in many places in Spain. Because tapas vary greatly from region to region, Plunkett-Hogge takes us on a virtual tour of the country through dishes including ensalada con anchoas (salad with anchovies), gambas al ajillo (shrimp and garlic) and even pulpo a la gallega (Galician octopus with paprika), a traditional way of serving octopus in the northwest corner of Spain.

This solomillo al whisky is a pork dish served in nearly every restaurant in Seville. With a smoky sauce and potent garlic, it’s a memorable dish that’s much easier to make at home than other tapas you might find in a bar in Spain. Make sure you slice the pork fairly thin and evenly so that each piece cooks the same.

isbn9781784722487Pork in Whiskey and Garlic

14 oz. pork loin
10-12 garlic cloves, in their skin
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup whiskey
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley, to serve

Slice the pork fillet into fairly thin slices. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Bash the garlic cloves slightly with the flat side of a knife. You want to bruise them a little.

Heat the 4 Tbsp. of olive oil in a heavy frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and toss them in the oil. Allow them to gain a little color, but not too much. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside. Turn the heat up a little and add the pork slices, seasoning them with more salt and pepper as you go. You want to sear them on both sides to get color and make sure they are cooked through. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside to rest.

Add the stock and lemon juice to the pan and stir to combine. Add the whisky. Bring back to a boil and turn down the heat. Allow to bubble gently and emulsify and thicken slightly. Put the garlic and the pork back into the pan and heat through gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir through the extra virgin olive oil and add the parsley. Serve with plenty of bread or fried potatoes.

— From “A Sherry & A Little Plate of Tapas” by Kay Plunkett-Hogge (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99)

Got cookbooks you don’t want? One week left to donate them

Earlier this month, we announced that we’d be accepting cookbook donations for a little informal cookbook drive I’ve always dreamed of doing.

We've received hundreds of cookbooks through a donation drive we're hosting at the Statesman this month. To donate, bring any extra cookbooks you might have to 305 S. Congress Ave. by Feb. 2. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
We’ve received hundreds of cookbooks through a donation drive we’re hosting at the Statesman this month. To donate, bring any extra cookbooks you might have to 305 S. Congress Ave. by Feb. 2. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

You can imagine how excited I was when the cookbooks started coming in. First, a grocery sack or two at a time, and then I was getting emails from readers who had boxes of books they were ready to get rid of. Now, we have more than 20 boxes of books that we’ll soon be sorting and distributing to local groups who could use them. During a livestream video last week, I took the camera back to the room where we have the books so you can see for yourself how they are stacking up.

(Know of a worthy recipient? Just let me know at abroyles@statesman.com! We’ll have lots to go around.)

We’ll stop accepting cookbooks on Feb. 2, so you have a week left if you’d like to donate in the lobby of the Statesman, 305 S. Congress Ave. Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thanks for your help!

Guest Post: I’m giving up meat, refined sugar and dairy. Send help!

My colleague Andrea Ball is a beast when it comes to reporting. She spearheaded this major investigation into CPS and the state’s foster care system, and right now, she’s digging into what happened with Austin’s failed DNA lab.

But when it comes to what she’s eating and cooking, she could use a hand. Or at least some encouragement.

Here’s the deal: Andrea is undergoing a major overhaul to what she eats. As she explains in this piece, she’s had a lifelong struggle with figuring out what’s best to eat and how to feel about it, and cutting out meat, dairy, refined sugars and other highly processed foods is the path she’s pursuing this year.

The problem is that she loves beef jerky and can’t pull off pea fritters like a pro. I’ve been giving her cookbooks and some advice in the office, but I’ve never gone through such a major change to my diet. So, dear readers, if you have any wise words of advice for Andrea — or recipes, perhaps — could you email her at aball@statesman.com?

We are going to hear from Andrea several times over the next few months to see how she’s doing.

OK, take it away, Andrea:
_________________________________________

The fluorescent green mixture is gloppy and gross as it sticks to my fingers, then plops into my frying plan with a soft thump.

Fried pea fritters. They looked so good in the recipe book, all golden, crispy and molded into perfectly round circles. Mine looked like a green highlighter had fallen into a bucket of wet clay.

These pea fritters didn't turn out exactly as planned for Andrea Ball, a Statesman reporter who is embarking on a plant-based diet. Andrea Ball / American-Statesman
These pea fritters didn’t turn out exactly as planned for Andrea Ball, a Statesman reporter who is embarking on a plant-based diet. Andrea Ball / American-Statesman

Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to use my food processor, so I’d tried to squish them with my fork, then dumped them in the blender. Or maybe it was that half-cup of refined flour I’d thrown in at the last minute.

Whatever the reason, I knew I’d lost this battle. I dumped the peas in the trash and pondered my new life as a vegetarian.

On December 27, on the heels of yet another binge-eating holiday, I became an herbivore. To be more specific, I’m a plant-based eater.

A plant-based diet is one that’s heavy on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains and legumes, and light on (or excludes) meat, dairy products, eggs, and as highly refined foods like bleached flour and refined sugar.

Yeah, that. It’s not just a meat thing. It’s a cookies, cake, milkshake, bread and yummy stuff thing.

I am an unlikely vegetarian. For example, I love, love, love beef jerky. Jack Links Teriyaki Tender Bites is my jam. So tender, sweet, savory and chewy, all in one bite. I’ve been known to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, particularly when I was on the low-carb portion of my diet-of-the-month rotation.

So what made me do this? Several things, but it starts with that diet-of-the-month nonsense.

I have been on a diet ever since I can remember. The words “stocky” and “chunky” were tossed at me my whole childhood, and I quickly developed a highly dysfunctional relationship with food. I loved it, I hated it, you know the drill. I’ve done Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, low fat, high carb, blah blah blah. Cliche and boring, but accurate.

This winter, after coming off yet another low-carb stint, I started feeling like hell. My eating was out of control once again, and a new medication I was taking had messed with my digestion. Meanwhile, I had become involved with Austin Animal Center and had, unknowingly, made friends with a bunch of vegetarians.

Andrea Ball is one month into a new way of eating that doesn't involve meat, refined sugar or heavily processed foods. That means she's eating oatmeal when she goes out to eat at places like Galaxy Cafe. Andrea Ball / American-Statesman
Andrea Ball is one month into a new way of eating that doesn’t involve meat, refined sugar or heavily processed foods. That means she’s eating oatmeal when she goes out to eat at places like Galaxy Cafe. Andrea Ball / American-Statesman

Nobody pushed it on me. But when I started asking questions, my friends Stephanie and Sara extolled the virtues of a plant-based diet. Lots of vegetables and natural fiber would help my digestion and pump me full of vitamins. Some people become more energetic and slept better. Others get better skin.

No one promised any weight loss. Eliminating meat does not a skinny person make. But the idea of seeing food as friend of good health and not an enemy to avoid intrigued me.

Then I watched some documentaries: Forks Over Knives and Food, Inc. made me rethink the way I view cattle farming, chicken production and my long-held belief that only meat and dairy could give me the nutrients I need.

I’m not even going to tell you about the horrible videos depicting the living conditions of the pigs, chickens and cows that end up on our plates.

That’s how I became a vegetarian. And how I ended up making scary green pea patties that wound up in my garbage can.

Every day is a challenge as I try to figure out what to eat, what to avoid and how to cook. I can’t keep track of the number of people who have sent me recipes or given me cookbooks. It’s overwhelming. For now, I’m just sticking to the basics — rice, beans, potatoes, vegetables.

But how long I can keep this up is a question. I want it to be forever, but is this just another one of my diet-of-the-month routines? We’ll see.

As long as I can stay away from the beef jerky, I’m counting it as a win.

AISD serves an amazing salad, but will kids eat it?

As you know, I’ve been trying to eat only home-cooked food this month, but last week, I made an exception.

I stopped by Sanchez Elementary near downtown for a salad. Not just any salad, but one of the entree salads that the school now serves twice a week. The salad they were serving that day was a winter harvest salad with roasted sweet potatoes, cauliflower and carrots, pepitas, feta, homemade croutons and chicken. Students get to pick which ingredients they want and which kind of dressing, just like in a Chipotle or similar restaurant.

Some of the produce came from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, which currently sells the district between 800 and 1000 pounds of sweet potatoes a week, as well as broccoli and watermelon radishes.

That’s a pretty great meal, right? I certainly thought so, and so did the Sanchez students who went after me in line to get their own salads for lunch.

Twice a week at Sanchez Elementary, students can choose an entree salad, such as this winter harvest salad, from the cafeteria. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
Twice a week at Sanchez Elementary, students can choose an entree salad, such as this winter harvest salad, from the cafeteria. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Sanchez is one of 114 AISD schools that has seriously stepped up its school lunch game in the past few years. In today’s food section, you can read about Anneliese Tanner, who took the helm of the food services department with the district about 18 months ago. She came from finance industry, but she also has a degree in food policy from NYU, so she knows a thing or two about just how complicated — socially, politically, culturally, financially — school food can be.

I’d been hearing Anneliese’s name from various people ever since she started, and it was powerful to finally sit down with her to hear about her vision for what is possible with the school food program here. She’s already implemented Breakfast in the Classroom, an initiative I wrote about last fall when it came to my sons’ school, and now they are finishing this salad bar expansion that will put the entree salads served at Sanchez in all of the district’s elementary schools. Next, they’ll add them to middle and high schools.

But salad bars and breakfasts are just the beginning. Tanner is determined to increase how much money the department spends in the local economy. Right now, nearly 50 percent of her budget is spent in Central Texas, and her goal is to boost that to 65 percent, with 25 percent of the overall spending on organics.

One of the biggest surprises was just how far they have come to eliminate what Life Time Foundation calls the Harmful 7. All but two of the chicken products served in AISD schools right now come from antibiotic-free chicken. Next year, they’ll probably be serving hamburgers made with grassfed beef. Maybe even organic milk.

These aren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams; Tanner’s team is putting together the requests for proposals for next year’s food purchases, and it includes the kind of food you’d find at a farmers’ market or Whole Foods: baked goods made with unbleached flour and no preservatives, meat raised without hormones or antibiotics, juice without any artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup, little containers of fruit without added color or flavors.

But the question about whether students will eat the salads — or the banh mi sandwiches or the Moroccan chicken or the Frito pie made with lentils — is a big one on parents’ (and taxpayer) minds.

It’s also on Tanner’s.

“Kids are having moments of discovery, and they are never going to learn to like it if we don’t serve it,” Tanner says. “If a kid says, ‘What are migas?’ this is exactly why we have migas on the menu. Now this kid is going to know what they are.”

I hope you’ll take a minute to read this story today. There are so many misconceptions about school lunches, and that stigma is one of the biggest hurdles for food service directors like Tanner, whose focus is squarely on the future, not the goopy gloppy mystery meat of the past.

In fact, Jake Harris, one of my colleagues on the web desk, reached out to the newsroom to gather recollections of school food growing up for this blog post.

The responses are hilarious, terrifying and, let’s be honest, familiar.

My best/worst school food memory is eating a 50-cent bag of greasy French fries for lunch, and spending the other 50 cents on Starbusts from the vending machine.

You can’t even find a fryer in Texas schools today.

Well, used to. Last summer, Ag Commissioner Sid Miller lifted the ban on fryers and sodas. Tanner says ain’t no way they are coming back to Austin schools. At least not under her watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Bowl brings a restaurant boom to downtown Houston

Flights are starting to fill up for the Super Bowl in Houston on Feb. 5, but if you want to make a wild day trip of it from Austin, you need to know that there are about a million new food places opening just in time for the biggest sporting event of the year.

The Discovery Green district of downtown Houston has expanded quickly over the past year to include several blocks of greenspace downtown surrounded by new restaurants that are gearing up for the flood of tourists who visit Houston for the Super Bowl in early February. Contributed by Discovery Green
The Discovery Green district of downtown Houston has expanded quickly over the past year to include several blocks of greenspace downtown surrounded by new restaurants that are gearing up for the flood of tourists who visit Houston for the Super Bowl in early February. Contributed by Discovery Green

Most of the openings are in the Discovery Green area just south of Minute Maid Park and north of the convention center. I was there for the Houston International Quilt Festival last fall, and both the quilts and the playful greenspace outside were amazing.

We had gyros from a food truck parked next to an outdoor art market next to the greenspace, but the culinary centerpiece of the grassy area on the north side of the convention center might soon be Brasserie du Parc, a French restaurant in One Park Place that will have a walk-up window to the park. (Also in One Park Place is Phoenicia Specialty Foods, a gourmet grocery that will delight fans of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s that is a requisite stop for me when I’m in downtown Houston.)

Literal billions of dollars are being spent ($2.2 billion, to be exact) on construction projects in downtown Houston. Current construction projects including the Aloft Hotel in the former Stowers building; the 20-story Hotel Alessandra in the GreenStreet development; the 40-floor Market Square Tower with its glass-bottomed rooftop pool; Catalyst Houston, an apartment building a block west of Minute Maid Park; and a $175 million renovation project at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Here’s a fly-by of the restaurant news you will want to know the next time you’re headed to downtown Houston for Super Bowl celebrations or just a regular ol’ weekend:

  • Chris Shepherd is debuting his One Fifth concept any day now. The idea? A new restaurant every year for the next five years. The first is called Steak. The fourth location of the gourmet sandwich, salad and seafood restaurant Local Foods just opened in a 10,000 foot space in the iconic Boyd’s Department Store building downtown.
  • Biggio’s, yes, from that Biggio, is one of the many restaurants located inside the Marriott Marquis, a 29-story hotel with a Texas-shaped lazy river on its roof that is located between Discovery Green and Minute Maid Park. (That new Mariott space has something like six new eateries on the block.)
  • Bill Floyd of Reef has teamed up with Astros owner Jim Crane to open two restaurants — the high-end Potene and Osso & Kristalla, a trattoria serving breakfast, lunch and dinner — in 500 Crawford, the luxury apartment complex located directly across from Minute Maid Park.
  • Conservatory is an underground beer garden and food hall that recently opened downtown. Just a few blocks away, the Four Seasons recently underwent its first renovation in a decade that includes the new Bayou & Bottle, which replaces the former lobby bar.
  • The most concentrated place for restaurant openings right now is Avenida Houston, a plaza between the convention center and that fun Discovery Green space, which is great for kids to run around. It’s now a restaurant row, with nearly a dozen concepts scrambling to open and be fully staffed by next week. Those include a downtown location for Grotto, a Caribbean restaurant called Kulture and Xochi, the latest from Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught.

Some of these places are opening as we speak; others will open next week, and some will likely miss the big game.

The good news for those of us who live in Texas is a cool downtown area to explore the next time we’re in Houston and lots of new places to eat, no matter why we’re there.

(Even if it’s quilts.)