Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Heights Bites: Lillo & Ella

Last week I shared the Facebook page for a new restaurant in Heights-adjacent Lazybrook/Shady Acres. Today I had lunch there. Lillo & Ella only opened a week ago and I was of the mind-set to give them some time, but the location was suggested by a friend with whom I really-extra-more-than-normal-enjoy eating out. I haven't written a "Heights Bites" in a long time and thought today would be the perfect opportunity to talk a nibble of food again, so I agreed to her suggestion and we headed to northwest Harris county (I kid. I kid).

The first thing I noticed as I pulled up to this familiar corner of Ella, across from Tony's, was how much cleaner the entire lot looked. The building looks bright and inviting and not so much like you'll get tetanus there. Disclaimer: I like to eat and drink at a lot of places where someone might get tetanus from, say, stepping on a rusty nail. That's not a criticism, necessarily, just a point of fact. It was very welcoming. I pulled right up in front of the orange doors, unsure if that was acceptable but there were no signs to the contrary. It wasn't until I left that I noticed they have added considerable parking to the west. Another nice change from its predecessor. 

Inside had the same feeling- crisp and welcoming. I'll admit to having never actually been inside El Gran Malo. I only ate/drank on the patio. I can't claim to know much about how different it is now, but Lillo & Ella is small and tidy, with a lot of natural light. About half the tables were filled with groups of two to four having conversations, but it wasn't loud, even for a small space with all hard surfaces. The music was upbeat but not distracting. It seemed every bit the casual, neighborhood joint.

The menu is pretty small, which can be good and bad. It was good for me today, as I was feeling very indecisive and having about eight choices worked to keep me from over analyzing something as simple as my lunch. Houstonia has the lunch and dinner menus on line here: Houstonia Gastronaut 

I was really tempted to get the Bao because I love steamed buns so very much, but decided to go with one of the handful of entrees. I ordered the flat iron steak, which is not something I would usually get at lunch but it just sounded right. My lunch date was swayed away from the Bao when I ordered an entree; she ended up going with the quail.

Simple succulents and two staple condiments which don't need labels

I know a lot of Texans can eat a steak for lunch. I am usually not one of them. What ever it was that drew me to a hunk of beef for lunch this day, I am grateful for it. My perfectly lunch sized steak was beautifully cooked. It didn't rely on a lot of salt or pepper for taste, just good quality meat. The steamed rice was excellent- lightly sweet and just enough on the plate to have some with every bite of steak and veggie. Mint and cilantro garnishes gave several bites slightly different tastes, all of them good.

The quail was chopped but of course still on the bone. This is one of the reasons I stay away from quail- for me the work always falls slightly short of the reward. My dining companion didn't mind, making quick work of pulling off tender, large pieces of meat to mix with the rice, and, yes, picking up the bones with her fingers to get the good stuff. She was very pleased with the flavor, noting that hers was flavorful but didn't overly rely on spices. Just enough. Like me, she loved the rice. We both cleaned our plates.

When the waitress came over to ask if we wanted to see the dessert menu, I shrugged her off. I just ate a steak. At lunch. The glare that came across the table was one for the ages. I am glad I was ocularly threatened in to another course because, well, Nutella Pie. So.... I can't really say much more except that. And "banana ice cream." It was kind of sick. Our server came to clear our almost-clean-enough-to-be-back-on-the-shelf plate and said "It's so good, isn't it? Sometimes in the kitchen I want to shove my face in the whole pie. The whole pie." I hear ya, sister.

For a restaurant that's only been open for a week, I found the service efficient and friendly. It wasn't very busy, but after a decade in the service industry I know all too well that you often get the worst service when a restaurant is not crowded. Servers and kitchens depend more than most people realize on momentum. If they can get the service right in week 1, they should be in pretty good shape going forward. Go there now. Now it's a cool, neighborhood joint. Get to know the servers, the bartender. Do it now because I don't doubt this restaurant will get lots of good reviews and press and soon will be even harder to get in to than it's sister establishment, Roost. It could end up being much more than a neighborhood joint, despite how much it looks like one. Lillo & Ella could very well end up the second real destination restaurant in the Lazybrook district. More:Houston Press- Kevin Naderi Talks Lillo & Ella and Lunch & Brunch

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Community Helping Community: Near North Side's Wesley Community Center summer food drive

The Wesley Community Center has served the Near Northside neighborhood in Houston for over 100 years. Located in the shadow of downtown and just to the east of the Heights, Wesley has served working poor individuals, children and families of Houston’s Near Northside and surrounding neighborhoods for over 100 years. 

In 1904, women from the First United Methodist Church of Houston developed a goal of strengthening the quality of life and outcomes for their community. When they looked around they saw families in need, including many children who were left orphaned and women made widows by deaths caused during the expansion of area railroads. In the century since then, the organization has evolved to provide a comprehensive range of Early Childhood Education, Out-of-School Elementary and Youth programming, Senior and Social Services, Community Outreach, and Economic Development Services. The Wesley Community Center of today serves over 27,000 community members each year and works in partnership with a number of other organizations to promote the development of the neighborhood and its residents. 

The near north side community has a significant number of residents who fall under the poverty threshold. Many families in this area rely heavily on local schools to provide their children with daily meals. Often the only meals they get are the ones served at school.  Access to food during the summer months is critical for the children of low-income families because without school, many are not receiving nutritious meals, leaving children vulnerable to experience hunger and the myriad issues that go along with being food insecure.

To respond to this pressing need, Wesley Community Center is launching “Stock the Shelves: Summer Food Drive” as a community-wide food drive during the month of May. 

Their goal is to collect 10,000 pounds of food to help an additional 250 families during the summer months. This collection of food will culminate with a major food distribution on June 21, 2014 at Wesley Community Center’s food fair. With only eight days left in May, they are just under 1/2 way there. Near North Side is very near to the Heights and kids from that community play at our park, go to our schools, work at our businesses. We are a community ready and willing to help, so let's see if we can do something for our neighbors!

“Summertime is particularly hard for families living below the poverty line,” explains Wesley Executive Director, Diana Garbis, “We often forget that our school lunch programs can be a lifeline to these low-income families and going without them over the summer leaves many with food insecurity. Families run out of food, reduce the quality of their food, cut back on meat, feed their children unbalanced meals, or adults often forgo meals altogether so their children can eat. Many families are left hungry if they unable to find alternative food resources.” 

Wesley Community Outreach Coordinator, Leah Wade, added, “It is also hard for people to visualize how even the smallest donations can add up to make a huge impact. We are hoping to collect 10,000 pounds of food this month. If one person collected two bags of rice, two bags of beans, and 10 can goods, they would have donated 10 pounds of food. If three other people do the same, we will have 40 pounds of food, which is enough to feed a family of four. 100 pounds of food feeds 2.5 families of four and once you get up to 1,000 pounds of food, we can help 25 more families.” 

Summer is quickly approaching and our neighboring community is still in need. Want to help? 

What food items are needed?
  • Bagged Rice
  • Dried Beans
  • Canned Vegetables
  • Canned Fruit
  • Canned Tuna/ Canned Meats
  • Canned Ravioli
  • Box Cereal (Corn Flakes, Cheerios, etc.)
  • Oatmeal 
  • Macaroni
  • Maurachan Soups (Dried Soups) 
  • Spaghetti Noodles
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Box Mashed Potatoes
  • Granola Bars
  • Crackers
  • Other non-perishable items are welcomed

Donations of food can be brought Reba Veal Henderson Food Cooperative located at 1235 Lorraine Street, Houston, TX 77009, Monday through Friday 9am-5pm. 

Please call 713-223-8131 ahead of time to ensure a staff member is onsite to receive your donations.  

Photo credit:

Beyond their goals for this summer, Wesley has a strong commitment to battling hunger in Houston. Their clients range from the elderly, to new immigrants, to the working poor, to professionals who have lost their jobs, and more. They provide food assistance to a growing number of families through emergency food assistance, monthly distributions of fresh fruit and vegetables, and their food cooperative programs for families and seniors that maximizes their food dollars by doubling their cash investment.  They also recently created an organic community garden in the hopes of adding more fresh produce to their client’s diets. Wesley’s mission is to minister to the needs of individuals and families by helping people help themselves and each other. 

Monetary donations can be mailed to 1410 Lee Street, Houston TX 77009, or made via secure payment online at Wesley is also able to assist with employer matching gifts, planned gifts, and gifts of stock. 

If you are interested in making a significant impact in the lives of families that lack the resources to combat hunger, please contact Leah Wade, Community Outreach Coordinator, at or 713-821-8907 to volunteer or for additional information.