This spring I was invited down to Houston by some like-minded real foodies for a screening of the movie What’s On Your Plate?, a charming and compelling documentary by two young women about where food comes from. I visit Houston often to see family, but had never taken the time to explore Houston’s farmers markets. This was the perfect opportunity to learn more about Houston’s real food scene.
First stop on my itinerary was Revival Market in The Heights neighborhood. Morgan Weber started Revival Farms, a ranch and farm just outside of Houston in Yoakum, TX, in 2009 and quickly became one of the state’s top purveyors of quality, humanely raised heritage breed pork and beef. Revival’s booth at the Houston farmers markets was swamped with customers and chefs from as far as Austin would drive to Yoakum to buy their meat.
This spring, Weber teamed up with friend and chef Ryan Pera to open Revival Market. I walked in expecting a meat market and was delighted to find instead a small neighborhood grocery selling locally sourced meats, cheeses, dairy, produce and staples. The market also offers prepared foods, charcuterie and coffee. “I wanted to create a place where you could come by to get everything you needed to cook a great meal and didn’t have to go to another store,” said Weber.
Revival Market is definitely that – bright and inviting with shelves stocked with tempting artisanal goods. It was a challenge to not buy one of everything.
Just a couple of miles down the road, Houston Dairymaids offers tastings of their carefully selected cheese and specialty foods at their warehouse location on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Houston Dairymaids brings the best from Texas cheesemakers to Houston and supplements their stock with artisanal cheeses from around the country. The warehouse opens to retail customers a few hours each week, but cheese fanatics can also find the Dairymaids at area farmers markets.
With a few hours to kill before the movie screening, I decided to grab an early dinner at Haven, located just off of Kirby Dr. near the Southwest Freeway (Hwy 59). The tasting from Chef Randy Evans was one of my favorites at this year’s Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival Stars Across Texas event in April and I couldn’t wait to try items from their menu.
Chef Evans uses fresh, local ingredients to create what he calls Texas regional cuisine. Touches like serving buttery crawfish over tender gnocchi and topping a salad with fried green tomato “croutons” highlighted the creativity of the kitchen.
As the sun began to set, it was time to head to Mandell Park, a small municipal park in the Museum District, for the movie screening. The event was hosted by the Friends of Mandell Park, a community group committed to the improvement and maintenance of the park and its community flower and vegetable garden.
Moviegoers spread blankets and chairs across the lawn while they nibbled snacks from Green Plate Kids, a catering and prepared meal service that specializes in healthy food for kids. Chef Monica Pope, owner of t’afia and passionate advocate for fresh, local cuisine, kicked off the festivities with a question and answer session during which she noted, “Food is the language of family. Eating well has to start with the family.” It was the perfect opening for a movie about two girls learning where their food comes from and how it is raised or grown.
If you have children in your life, I highly recommend the movie as a way to introduce them to the importance of knowing your food. The girls are sweet, honest and inquisitive – probably just like your kids. You can watch the trailer and inquire about scheduling a screening on the movie’s website.
I spent the rest of the weekend exploring farmers markets and some of my sister’s new favorite restaurants. After Chef Pope’s inspirational comments the evening before, it only seemed fitting to start Saturday at the Midtown Farmers Market hosted at her restaurant t’afia.
The Midtown market is a smaller, neighborhood affair with booths from area produce vendors, Houston Dairymaids and several prepared food vendors including Chef Pope’s own Green Plum Catering. Among the market’s unique finds were first of season plums and quail eggs. The Midtown Farmers Market is currently on break (June 1 through August 31), but is definitely worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood after the summer.
Urban Harvest, an organization similar in mission to Austin’s Sustainable Food Center, operates three farmers markets in the Houston area. The largest, Eastside Market, is open Saturdays from 8 am to noon at 3000 Richmond Ave. in the parking lot of an unassuming office complex. With over 40 booths from a variety of vendors, you can quickly fill your market bags with fresh produce, meat, dairy, baked goods and prepared foods. I was glad to finally meet the farmers from Blue Heron Farm who sell their completely addictive cajeta at Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin.
On Sunday’s Urban Harvest operates a neighborhood farmers market at Highland Village (2720 Suffolk Drive) from 10 am to 1 pm. You can grab quiche for brunch from the catering arm of the restaurants Shade and Canopy or pick up flowers, produce or eggs from one the dozen vendors.
We also visited Calliope’s Po-Boys where I had the best po-boy I’ve had outside of Louisiana, and that is no exaggeration. I ordered the surf and turf sandwich – sopping wet, tender roast beef paired with crispy, sweet fried shrimp on crunchy french bread. Wow!
And, of course, we visited family favorites. No trip to Houston would be complete for me without Vietnamese food, this time at Vietnam Restaurant in the Heights, Sunday breakfast at Merida’s on Navigation (we are a Merida’s, not a Ninfa’s, family) and coffee and a pastry at Croissant Brioche in the Rice Village.
View the full slideshow below.