Houston Hidden Gems: Simone on Sunset Wine Bar and Bistro

We love to share on our blog places that are some of Houston’s best kept secrets, and Simone on Sunset is just one of those places.  Let me start by saying that I am completely obsessed with their truffle/parmesan popcorn (although the blue cheese popcorn is equally fabulous).

Simone on Sunset is the kind of neighborhood gathering for spirits, wine and bites in the Rice Village area that we’ve been waiting for.  Inviting and friendly, urban-cozy Simone on Sunset is a place where you can exhale, visit with friends and meet new faces.  As far as attire, you’d be equally comfortable coming in gym clothes as you would be in black tie.  It’s one of those places that you could go by yourself and have no problem striking up an interesting conversation with someone else.

Nestled in one of the charming brick bungalows along Sunset Boulevard in Rice Village (between Morningside and Kelvin), Simone on Sunset features great ambience both inside and on their patio, served up with an array of boutique wines and specialty beers, with the list changing regularly.  I find the handcrafted light fixtures made from early period light bulbs and the changing art collection to be particularly charming.  It can be tricky to find as there is not a sign on the street, which only adds to its “only the cool people know about it” feel.  Also, because it is essentially on a residential street parking can be tricky, so be sure to pay attention to signage.  The patio is super dog friendly with water bowls and dog treats for their furry patrons.   It also has a beautiful water feature created by the owner, Kristen Powell along with an herb garden.

Things get changed up through out the week:  Monday is Burger Night (only $8 for a 1/2 # burger), Thursday is night steak night which is very popular so get there early, Happy Hour is Monday through Saturday from 4 to 8 with $5 selected whites and reds, $3 well cocktails, and $1 off beer.  Sundays features $5 mimosas.  They have an awesome signature drink, The Dingo which is along the lines of a frozen mimosa made with Prosecco topped off with sparking Shiraz and a sprig of mint.  The Pimm’s Cup (my favorite) and the Basillica are also great summertime cocktail  choices.

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A Houston Heights Tradition: White Linen Night August 6, 2011

The Heights, one of Houston’s oldest neighborhoods, is known for its tree-lined streets and beautiful period homes, awesome shopping and dining, super family friendly parks and esplanades, great schools, rocking trick or treating and their annual events.  One of these great events is just around the corner…White Linen Night 2011 will be on August 6 from 6 to 10 PM.  Of course, all the locals attend as well as Houston residents from all over (lasts year’s attendance reached 40,000).  The festivities occur throughout the Heights area, with the two major locations being 19th Street and White Oak (6th Street).

What is White Linen Night?  Well, it’s one big street festival that takes over the whole “town.”  Many of the businesses, shops, art galleries, and restaurants feature complimentary receptions (yes…free food and drinks).  Touted as a celebration of art, culture and “citified” bohemia, there are also fashion shows, street performers, games, live music, and an just an awesome vibe.  And, as the name implies and the Houston August weather dictates, white linen fashion is in abundance although not a prerequisite to attend.  This year, be sure to also throw in a little pink to your ensemble as the Heights has partnered with The Rose of Houston to raise breast cancer awareness.

We are working on trying to get more information on parking and transportation during the event.  As soon as we have it we will update this post!  For other updates and details, check out the event website at http://whitelinennightheights.com/.

New Installation at Buffalo Bayou Art Park

If you’ve driven down Studemont near Allen Parkway recently, you have probably noticed a stunning collection of serene beings perched along the edge of Buffalo Bayou.  This is the newest installation to the public outdoor art space located near downtown.  The Buffalo Bayou Art Park has officially been in existence since 1997, although it traces its history back to a grass roots start in 1987.  The BBAP operates as a non-profit 501 (c)(3) and is working to expand its installations throughout the greater Houston area.

So more about the newest addition…

Representing cultural tolerance and harmony, seven stainless steel figures (representing each of the seven continents) emote a tranquil aura.  The construction of each continental figure contains the alphabets of nine languages.  It is intended to convey that despite our cultural differences, we are all human and we need to embrace all that we have in common.  The inspiration behind this newest installation is tragic. Channel 13 reported the story of David Ritcheson, who at the age of 16 endured a brutal and violent attack that was determined to be a hate crime.  David was unable to live with his trauma and sadly ended his life a year later.

Because of its diverse cultural population, Houston has the opportunity to demonstrate to other cities and countries how to successfully blend a community that actively embraces its diversity.  It seems to me this is the most important message of the new artwork.  In any case, it is a beautiful piece of art and kudos must be given to philanthropist Mica Mosbacher for raising the money for this project.

Events: Houston Ifest spotlighting The Silk Road

Of all the great festivals and events our city has to offer, one of the most popular is the Ifest (previously known as the International Festival).  No where else is cultural diversity and cultural education more celebrated than the Ifest.  Originally established as the non-profit Houston Festival Foundation, Inc. in 1971, Ifest provides art and education programs that reach nearly a million students in the Houston area.  

Each year the festival focuses on a particular culture or region, this year being the cultures of The Silk Road.  As part of providing cultural education to Houston students, a curriculum is established for area teachers that help our children explore the spotlighted country or region during the school year leading up to the festival.  The Ifest has it all rolled into one great time:  art, live music, awesome food and more ensure that everyone has a fab time.

The festival takes place at City Hall, Tranquility Park, and Sam Houston Park in downtown.  Dates for this year’s festival are:  April 30-May 1 and May 7-8 from 12 to 10 Saturday and 12 to 8 Sunday.  Go to their site to learn more and find out the skinny on parking, tickets, etc.

Hou-nique: The Art Car Parade and Museum

ART CAR MUSEUM AND PARADE

The spirit behind the Houston Art Car Parade and Museum feels a little more like liberal Austin than conservative Houston, which is probably why it is one of our city’s best loved events…we love showing the Austin-ites that we can be hip and cool, too!

Side Note:  For those less familiar with the cultural parrying of these two Texas cities….Austin’s banner phrase is “Keep Austin Weird.”  In response, someone else coined “Keep Houston Corporate.”   Touché.

The Art Car Parade first rolled the streets of Houston in April, 1988 with 40 cars and about 2000 spectators.  The parade now features over 250 vehicles (anything on wheels will do) from as far away as Canada and over 250,000 come to watch!  This year the parade is scheduled for May 22.  A good stretch of Allen Parkway just west of I 45/Downtown is closed down for the event and with the popularity increasing every year, plan to get there early for a good spot.  You REALLY don’t want to miss this one.

The Art Car Museum is  open free to the public, open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 AM to 6 PM.  The museum is located off Heights Boulevard just south of IH 10.

Spring is in the air: Houston’s BEST Patio Spots

Brennan's

Truly, living in Houston during the spring is one of my favorite things about this city.  When the sun is out and temps are around 70°, my mind starts racing to, “Where is a good patio where I can enjoy this weather..and maybe a beverage and tasty food?”  There are too many to feature them all here, but I wanted to provide you a handy starter list so that you, too can celebrate springtime in Houston.  Don’t see your favorite listed?  By all means, post a comment and share your best spot.  I’ve rated cost on scale of $-$$$.

Brennan’s $$$ Located between Midtown and the Museum District, Brennan’s is finally back after the tragic Ike fire.   The high-walled intimate courtyard is just like any you would find all over the NOLA French Quarter and is best enjoyed while you sip on a mint julep.  They’ve recently kicked off their BYOB (Bring Your Own Bowl) cooking series, with a good ol’ crawfish boil coming up on March 30.  Future BYOB events include Shrimp Etouffe April 13, Jambalaya May 18, and a fish fry on June 8.  A steal at $15, it includes 2 beers from local brewery favorite, St. Arnold’s.  Attire is typically a little more formal:  professional/cocktail.

Cedar Creek $ I grew up in the Texas hill country so this place is very nostalgic for me.  Cedar Creek really feels like you are in the heart of the hill country rather than the heart of Houston!  Get a bucket o’ Lonestar, a batch of chili cheese fries and knock the dust off your boots.  Located in the north Heights area.

El Pueblito Place $$ The large courtyard is surrounded by romantic semi-private dining cabanas with big, comfy outdoor sofas makes for our pic for a great “date” patio spot.  They also serve up some awesome Mexican seafood.  Located on Richmond between Montrose and Shepherd.

Ousie's

Lucy’s Porch/Bear’s Garden at Ouisie’s Table $$$  Ahhhh…air conditioning combined with beautiful outdoor space!  Lucy’s Porch has the feel of a screened in porch and seats up to 90, and yes, it’s air conditioned!  Combined with Bear’s Garden it makes for a wonderful party venue for receptions, garden weddings and more.

Niko Niko’s $$ Now with 2 great options:  their recently added patio space in Montrose, and even more recent outdoor dining space downtown at Milam and Congress in downtown.  Grab a “Nikorita” and some of the best fries around, along with a classic gyro (make it an iced tea, and easy on the onion and tzatziki if you’re going back to work).

The Rainbow Lodge

The Rainbow Lodge

The Rainbow Lodge $$$ Feels just like a big, rustic hunting lodge.  The huge multiple level deck overlooks a beautiful layered terrain including a citrus grove, bubbling brook, and a kitchen garden.  Very earthy feel, but hardly what I would call roughing it.  Open for lunch and dinner most days.

The Grove $$$ opening out onto Discovery Green.   The upper deck of The Grove Restaurant is surrounded by gorgeous live oaks and really does feel like a (pretty fancy) tree house although sadly, the upper deck is now offered only for private venues.  Very upscale/trendy The Grove features some great margarita options.  Our favorite is the spicy ginger margarita.

Lankford Grocery

Lankford Grocery $ One of Houston’s favorite “mom and pop’s” with its rickety charm since 1938, the Lankford is nestled in a back street of the Montrose area.  Old timey burgers and patty melts, cold beer, and their legendary enchiladas make for a great spot to kick back casual.

Grappino’s $$$ Convenient to downtown, Midtown, and Montrose the patio space transports you.  The bricked deck is surrounded in lush, green foliage and the tinkling sound of water fountains.  Simply, a lovely place to enjoy a glass of wine and good friends not to mention some of Houston’s best Italian.

Lupe Tortilla $$  This is our pick for kid-friendly patios, as much of the outdoor seating area opens to a great kids play area.  This is a great spot for you to relax on the patio while the kiddos run off some of that energy.  Lupe Tortilla features their own unique twists to Tex Mex.  The following Lupe locations have the kids play area:  Shepherd and I 59, Stafford, Clear Lake, and Sugarland.

The Black Lab

The Black Lab $$ For you cerebral types, you might enjoy the chess yard, featuring a full scale chess deck surrounded by playing tables.  Feels like the red queen could arrive any minute.  The foliage covered façade is a charming backdrop while you enjoy a pint and some serious pub grub.

The Last Concert Café $ This is surely near the top of the list for best bohemian haunts in town.  Huge outdoor space features live music Tuesday through Saturday until 2 AM.  Great to let the kiddos run around, too.  Great people watching, always with a massive hodge-podge of all types.  Also a favorite haunt of ZZ Top.

Tiny Boxwood’s $$$ One of Houston’s best kept secrets!  Located on the grounds of Houston’s upscale Thompson & Hanson nursery, the outdoor patio area surrounds a pristine green lawn with whimsical acorn statuary.  The yard begs for a picnic blanket and basket, which head chef Barron says they are considering.  Even the inner dining area has a patio feel with large, paned-glass walls looking out onto the beauty.  If it’s your thing:  PLEASE try the foie gras.  No doubt, the place is spendy at dinner, but well worth every penny as the friendly service is also remarkable.  Dressy casual or professional attire.  Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, and brunch on Sunday.

Others worth mentioning:  Backstreet Cafe (see post on the brunch series), Mardi Gras, Artista, Brasil, Empire Cafe, Crappito’s.

Update: Houston Farmer’s Markets: City Hall

What a total bummer that just after a very successful launch, the City Hall Farmer’s Market (part of the family of the Urban Harvest Farmer’s Markets expanding to new locations all around Houston) endured back to back Wednesdays with miserable weather.  But, bad weather never lasts and fortunately it was a beautiful day this Wednesday to finally go and check out what all the buzz is about.  The crowds also returned and it looks like the new farmer’s market might be a huge hit!

Probably what makes this market the most unique is that it’s not so much about buying carrots and beets as it is about a great mid-day outdoor dining experience.  I only saw a few booths set up to sell veggies.  The rest of them (probably about 30 vendors) represented some great bakeries, cheese vendors, boxed lunch offerings from some of Houston’s great restaurants, and of course the ever expanding trend of the food trucks (check out my blog series on Food Truck Tours for reviews).

I kind of envied all of the downtown workers milling about, enjoying the weather

Mayor Anise Parker

Mayor Anise Parker

and a ton of great food.  What a way to break up a work day, and have an affordable, delicious lunch.  Almost made me want to go back to work for “the man” just so I could work downtown and hit City Hall each Wednesday.  Almost.

Something important to note:  try to get there early (they open at 11).  I arrived around 12:30 and found several of the vendors already sold out (Eatsie Boys and Ruggle’s Green to name a few).  No worries, though as there were still lots of great options from crepes, to quiche, to tamales or a fabulous roasted chicken.  Each of the restaurant and catering vendors offered some great boxed lunch options.  Make sure you do a “once-around” of the market before making your final decisions as there is a ton to choose from.

The Frosted Betty Bake Shop truck was also in attendance (yeah!), so I finally got a chance to sample their wares for dessert.  I went for the chocolate salted caramel, but they had such an interesting menu that I must go back for more (see my blog spot on Frosted Betty for more information).