Enter the Houston Farmers Market parking lot, turn right and walk to the back of the building, and you will find the brand new Underbelly Hospitality restaurant, wild oats. While the company name has become synonymous with leader and owner Chris Bergerthis particular place is the playground of the culinary director and the chef nick well – and it’s clear he’s having fun with it.
There’s a stereotype that “Texan food” means big steaks, stuffed baked potatoes, big red cabernets, and not a vegetable in sight. Of course, you can find some at Wild Oats too (there’s probably a law in the books somewhere that you can’t have a Texas-themed restaurant without a chicken fried steak on the menu), but the music Overhead should tell you that this restaurant is not a cliché. They’re all Texas musicians, but maybe you don’t expect “Ride Wit Me” by Nelly (born in Austin) or “Pepper” by the Butthole Surfers (the band formed in San Antonio). The soundtrack is part of Fine’s way of expressing his embrace of not only what Texas was, but the culturally rich and diverse state it is today. Fine’s staff is also diverse and includes industry veterans Eliseo Rodriguezwho I first met about 15 years ago when he was a waiter at Monica Pope’s t’afia (he also currently works at Bludorn), and Lisa McCoy, who has worked for Chris Shepherd since the Underbelly name only represented the original restaurant.
Some of the special touches in Wild Oats relate specifically to Houston. There’s an Underbelly cleaver hanging over the kitchen door. A neon depiction of the Astrodome hanging above the wine cellar is from the recently closed beer bar The Hay Merchant. We were invited to try the selections and visited in mid-February. On the menu, the Haven Shrimp Corn Dogs are a tribute to Chef Randy Evans’ long-closed but beloved Haven Restaurant. Fine was Evan’s sous chef when they were at Brennan’s in Houston. “I told Randy about it and he was like, ‘Do yourself a favor. Ours were beaten and skewered. Do yourself a favor; Ditch the skewers and beat and fry them,'” Fine said. And so it is: the plate arrives with four large Gulf shrimp, breaded and fried until golden brown and left in their soft, natural, rolled-up form. everyone will want two, and a lone diner will happily devour the whole plate.
On the aperitif side too: I was delighted to see that Wild Oats has Paris, a dish rarely found on Houston menus. Listed on the menu as Tartar steak from the county of Medina, it’s minced sirloin with fresh peppers and onions (in this case, more delicate shallots are used) and dried in lime juice (that’s why it’s also called ‘cow-wheat ceviche’). boy”). The unusual component is finely grated cheese – in this case, redneck cheddar. Wild Oats serves its version with homemade fried saltines. The combination is meaty, salty, slightly tart and exceptionally flavorful.
Wild Oats Deals Chili in a cup, a bowl or, in a particularly fun way, a shot. Everyone has an opinion about chili, and the meaty yet bubbly style of this one can be divisive. As Fine pointed out, however, his version is slim enough to actually work as a gunshot. Customers who are feeling sassy (and have the cash) can purchase a chili shot for the house for $99.
the Huevos Ranchero Salad is a rather unexpected presentation. I don’t know why it’s called a salad. It’s more like a crispy snack; a haystack of fluffy tortilla strips, with a little mint, cilantro and onion interspersed – not a lot of veg. Even the included black beans can be snacked on, as they are cooked and then fried. The texture is similar to fried chickpeas. The finishing touch is a drizzle of tangy, tangy Valentina dressing and a cloud-like dusting of a micro-planned hard-boiled egg.
On a statewide nostalgia level: As mentioned, there is the requisite Fried chicken steak, but it’s definitely not a standard renderer. Wild Oats serves up a tower of two thick Wagyu sirloin steaks over mashed potatoes with another layer of potatoes in the middle, another on top, then it’s all topped off with a jalapeño cream sauce made with bacon drippings and lean green, smoked and charcoal-grilled beans. “There’s a trick to keeping the crust on the steak, but hopefully we’ve got it now,” Fine said. He stayed very well. It’s a substantial but not tough crust, and the steaks remain the dish’s star attraction.
Don’t be too intimidated by the name to order the Texas Leaf Cake. It’s a mini version that’s perfect for two people with a big sweet tooth or four people who just need a little something sweet after dinner. It’s a chocolate cake that comes with three DIY accessories: ganache icing, sprinkles, and chopped nuts. As soon as the hot cake pan arrived and the aroma of chocolate cake hit my nose, it strongly reminded me of the cupcakes I made as a kid (always chocolate, of course) . These little wonders were called Snack cakes. A box contained the cake mix, a packet of frosting, and a paper pan. You mixed it right in the pot (with milk, if I remember correctly), cooked it, supposedly let it cool (I never did) and put the icing on it. The Texas Sheet Cake is the improved, artisanal version.
Spirits Director of Underbelly Hospitality, Westin Galleymore (who was on site the evening of my visit to tend the iced drink dispensers and lend extra help if needed), again put together a cocktail list with a set personality to match the restaurant. We tried one of those frozen drinks — the Texas tea, a riff on a Long Island Tea, with bourbon, dark rum, apricot, lemon and Mexican cola – and like the original, it’s deceptively friendly. The lemon gives a little more luminosity than expected, and the apricot liqueur and cola mask most of the alcohol. I stopped after one, but it was tempting to order a second. There is also a frozen Cadillac Marguerite to try. On the non-frozen side, we ordered the ball court, another bourbon-based cocktail with Texas pecans, Madeira, lime, brown sugar, and egg white. It turned out more austere than expected and would have benefited from a bit more brown sugar syrup; pecans can impart dry, tannic flavors. Otherwise, it is a sophisticated drink with a silky texture thanks to the egg white.
I told Fine before I left that having so many other dishes I wanted to try is the hallmark of a great menu. My list for next time: question “with Ana’s famous salsa verde,” armadillo eggs (jalapeños stuffed with cheese and sausage), Crispy market vegetables of the day with mole and sesame (after all, the restaurant is in a farmers market), then the difficult choice of Jalapeño Quail Wrapped in Bacon Where Diablo Shrimp and Oatmeal. There’s also an intriguing brunch buffet on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. With the level of energy and creativity at work, Wild Oats is sure to provide many more interesting culinary adventures.
Wild Oats is open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5-10 p.m. and Friday 5-11 p.m., and for brunch and dinner Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.