Ten short years ago we sighed with relief as the millennium swooshed by without the trolls of technical and physiological misfires that were “destined” to occur, Houston was settling in under the guidance of our first African-American mayor, and FORTUNE magazine listed Enron as one of its “100 Best Companies to Work for.” Ten years later technology pervades our every move, we welcome our first openly gay mayor, and the mere mention of Enron inspires sadness and spite, some nine years after it imploded. We’ve certainly aged.
To say that the past decade brought massive changes to Houston’s culinary landscape would be fairly banal on my part. Lord, in the last year alone we added gems like Stella Sola, Vinoteca Poscol, Bodegas, Giacomo’s, Canopy, Branch Water Tavern, Ciao Bello, Yelapa, and Kata Robata, among dozens of others -- all in a down economy. Chefs have become mock celebrities around town, Twitter changed the way we communicate, and diners are more willing to try new foods and preparations... as long as there’s a juicy steak to fall back on.
If anything, The Oughts taught us that with passion, skill, and the right tutelage, anyone can succeed in Houston’s culinary landscape. Anyone -- that is -- except Robert Gadsby, who proved that the fourth requirement around town is humility. Hot damn, Texas proud!
And even Texas isn’t bass-ackwards all the time. Over the past decade, Ruggles Green and Haven gave us Houston’s first green-certified restaurants. Monica Pope worked tirelessly to advance the slow food movement. Feast taught us to savor every part, nose to tail. The Houston Chowhounds inspired camaraderie through foodie smackdowns, rockstar throwdowns, and general chowdowns. And chefs like Randy Rucker, Plinio Sandalio, and Jonathan Jones challenged our thinking with their creative, avant-guard styles.
Tilman Fertita became the Microsoft of Houston’s culinary world: An experienced veteran churning out mediocre products with little in the way of serious competition. Landry’s is the evil empire everyone loves to hate. But 2009 saw Bryan Caswell emerge as the gastronomic Google: Young, brash, and infinitely cool, slowly adding new venues and rising chefs to his culinary pantheon. (Is anyone else picturing a Fertita/Caswell knife fight a la Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Beat It” video?) Caswell will never reach Fertita’s status -- he’d never choose to sacrifice quality for quantity -- but he has become Houston’s new prodigal son. It will be interesting to see how his 2000-teens play out.
Right now, the city is sittin’ pretty like pocket aces. What will the next decade bring? I have no idea. But here’s to hoping that our metaphorical adolescence sees us capitalize on the upswing.
My 2010 wishlist:
-- More street food faster
-- Better food in schools
-- More midrange restaurants like Giacomo’s
-- Fewer, more comprehensive farmers markets
-- A rad grocery store in the Heights (please!!)
-- Reasonably priced organic/sustainable food
-- Meatloaf, corndogs, and banana pudding
-- And, of course, more candy necklaces
What’s on your New Year’s wishlist?
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