There has been a lot of chatter around the Heights ever since people started to hear that another restaurant was coming to the neighborhood, going in to a little bungalow across from Berryhill. The rumblings got louder and the anticipation more palpable when word got out that it was being opened by Jamie Zelko of Lancaster Bistro and Jeb Stuart, who we all know and love from his time at Shade.
Of course you would be right to assume I stalked the progress, walking by, window peeking and google searching. I follow Jamie Zelko on Twitter, but she was either very tight lipped or just too busy (probably the latter) to spill many details. Finally, the food writers started to come out with more and more information and then Allison Cook finally gave me (and the rest of Houston) what I was waiting for: an opening date!
Water with no ice. Thank you! Yummy chunks of herbed bread with shaved parmesan to nibble.
I woke up last Wednesday giddy with excitement about my lunch date. But you know what- I have never been to Lancaster Bistro. I really didn't know anything about Jamie Zelko until I started reading about her in relation to this project. What I read was stellar and enough to excite anyone even moderately interested in eating. However, it was something subtle about the sign that hung out front of the bungalow during renovation that really excited me. It said "Coming Soon For the Houston Heights." "FOR" the Heights. Not "to."
The bruschetta with amazing Mediterranean flavors- tangy olives, feta, roasted peppers and hummus.
I love that people from all over Houston come to our neighborhood to hit our big (and nationally known) destination restaurants. I don't even mind the traffic that gathers around Studewood and 10th. However, I like us to have things that are "ours." I want those places where I can take my out of town friends and family, where in one dinner they know a little about what it feels like to live in the Heights. Shade gives me this and has been my go-to for the last 5 years. These days, though, everyone who is inclined to come visit me has and now I need somewhere else. From the small and comfortable space to the staff of almost entirely Heights residents, I think Zelko Bistro really speaks about the Heights. Yes, it's going to get a lot of foodie press and people will come from all over the city for the wonderful food but in the end, I hope it is as I see it- as a place where we walk on a balmy summer night, as an early dinner with the kids when we don't want to stray too far from home, as a couple hours away from the kids for a glass of wine at the bar. I see it for the Heights, not just in the Heights.
Fried pickles with house made ranch. What's not to love? Simple and flavorful, left us wanting to eat the ranch with a spoon.
Short ribs (which weren't this blurry in real life!!) were deliciously tender from being braised in St Arnold's Root Beer. As good as they were, the cheddar polenta under them really stole the show for me. I could eat nothing but a giant bowl of it without batting an eye.
My husband had the "Homeless Joe" which translates to meatloaf cooked in a can. It was moist and had perfect consistency with a spicy kick that really snuck up on us. Served over yukon gold mashed potatoes, this is comfort food at its best!
Our lunch companion had the Farmhouse Melt. With multiple cheeses, bacon and prosciutto this sandwich is so good it actually made him laugh when he bit it. Thin, crispy fries remind me of the ones at Cafe Rabelais, which can be taken as a huge compliment.
After shared appetizers, a couple glasses of wine and licking our lunch plates clean, there was no room for dessert. I did spy plenty of other people ordering it, though, and look forward to enjoying the Banana Split on my next visit. Rest assured, it will be very soon.
ETA: My hubs just read this post and wanted me to add a little something: Zelko Bistro had only been open a couple of hours when we rolled in for lunch. Even though this was the "soft opening" our server was well versed in both the menu and the wine list. We didn't make a very challenging order but everything was right. There were plenty of people bustling about and checking to make sure we had what we needed. Our food could have arrived a little hotter from the kitchen but the place was to capacity and I have had worse at more established restaurants. I have worked a couple of soft openings in my life and they are stressful beyond compare in the industry. If every service has this day as a launch pad, the experience of eating at Zelko will be a pleasurable as the food being served.