THE MUSEUM OF FINE Arts' restaurants Le Jardinier and Cafe Leonelli are rolling out the red carpet for the Culinary Canvas series, which spotlights the connection between food and art by bringing exhibitions to life in a culinary format. Getting hungry?
AS A FOURTH-generation Houstonian, Sarah Callaway Sulma has a unique and invaluable view of the city. Her deep seated connection to Houston led her down the path to becoming one the city's most well-respected, and renowned real estate agents. Sarah's natural passion for the real estate industry from a young age led her to where she is today. "I know that it sounds cheesy, but it is the truth! I wanted to be in real estate from a young age," Sarah shares. "The late-great restaurateur, Tony Vallone, put me together with real estate legend, Martha Turner, and Martha put me together with Cathy Cagle. The rest is history-13 years of success and counting!" Now with over 13 years in real estate and $55M+ in residential real estate sales, Sarah brings a rare combination of knowledge, skill, and advocacy to each one of her clients.
But her drive to build and maintain relationships consistently continues to help her advance in her real estate career. “Clients are the greatest investments. I am invested in helping them sell their home and find their dream home, and continue to invest in the relationship far after the transaction. A majority of my clients have already entrusted me through multiple repeat transactions over my 13+ years of experience thus far. I foster those relationships because I intend for them to last a lifetime.”
WHAT STARTED AS a casual watering hole with simple soups, salads and sandwiches — and a popcorn machine in the bar — is now a top restaurant owned by one of the city’s most respected restaurateurs and a James Beard Award-winning chef.
Back in 1983, when Backstreet Café opened in River Oaks by Tracy Vaught and her uncle Jack Blalock, the first cell phones were being introduced by Motorola. Ten years later, in 1993, The World Wide Web was introduced to the public and the internet exploded with its first websites.
Former geologist Vaught opened the restaurant with no experience in the industry but, through hard work, struggles, and a knack for recognizing and nurturing talent in others, she created a Houston dining landmark. Here, Vaught found her calling as a restaurateur, dishwasher Hugo Ortega discovered his natural talent as a chef and began his American Dream, and pastry chef Ruben Ortega perfected his skills. Vaught and Ortega even found love.
Vaught says her “Backstreet story” began after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with a Geology degree, doing government contract work in Washington, D.C., and then taking a job with Conoco in her hometown Houston. “Traveling to remote well sites was fun, but sitting in an office making maps was not my true calling, and when the economy and energy industry slowed down, so did my job,” said Vaught. “Soul searching made me realize that I had always felt happiest around my family’s communal table, and I wanted to capture and share that feeling. ‘I should open a restaurant,’ I surprisingly told myself.”
So, Backstreet Cafe was born. It started with a simple menu but has evolved through the years to reflect culturally diverse Houston, with Southern, Cajun, Creole, Hispanic and Asian influences, among others. Backstreet has become an award-winning restaurant in Houston, but not without bumps along the way and moments of destiny. The restaurant is now joined by Hugo’s, Caracol, Xochi and URBE under the umbrella company of H Town Restaurant Group. “Backstreet Cafe is my great leap of faith and my dream come true,” adds Vaught.
Tracy Vaught, Hugo Ortega and Sophia Ortega
When Hugo Ortega came to Backstreet Cafe as a dishwasher, he was eager and hardworking, and moved up to busser after he learned a few words of English. His love of cooking learned from his mother and grandmother back in Mexico, often took him into the kitchen to watch the chefs at work. He was eventually promoted to cook, then he enrolled in culinary school and graduated with his culinary degree. Soon after, he became executive chef of the restaurant. Along the way, Ortega and Vaught also married.
“When I cooked up the idea for this restaurant, I envisioned a menu that included food from my family table and that reflected the Texas Gulf Coast, but I was unsure of myself and let the customers dictate what to serve and it became a hodge-podge of dishes with no grounding,” says Vaught. “But through the years, we were able to reign in the menu, first with the help of chef John Watt, whom we hired as a consultant and then chef, and then with Hugo by my side. The food became more honest, and the customers love it.”
To celebrate the occasion, Backstreet is throwing a four-course wine dinner on Oct. 11 starring Turley (California) wines. “We are honored to celebrate 40 years of serving generations of Houstonians and know that it would not be possible without our incredible, hardworking employees and our loyal customers whom we love so much,” says Vaught. “We hope to see many familiar faces along with new customers who are visiting us for the first time. Cheers to 40 years, Houston!”
Backstreet Cafe is asking Houstonians to share memories, stories and photos with them by emailing email@example.com.
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FALL IS HERE, supposedly, and while the weather isn't cooperating, the Houston restaurant scene has plenty of cool things in store for this weekend and beyond.
Hidden Bar (photo by Jenn Duncan)
The owners of Hidden Omakase and Sushi by Hidden have been testing out their new concept, Norigami, for a couple years via pop-up events — and now, the brick-and-mortar hand-roll restaurant is officially open in West U. The Bissonnet space has two distinct areas — the main dining area, and a speakeasy-style bar called, of course, Hidden Bar. Expect apps like truffle-topped Hamachi crudo, or “Steak and Eggs” served with caviar and toast. The signature handrolls can be ordered individually, or as a set. The Tokyo-inspired space boasts colorful LED lights, lots of wood tones, and decorative shelves of origami cranes.
“We are excited to bring the Norigami concept to a permanent location in Houston,” said Executive Chef Jimmy Kieu in a statement. “After doing pop-ups for a while, now more Houstonians will be able to experience what we have to offer.”
Norigami is open for dinner beginning at 5pm on weeknights, and 3pm on weekends.
Tenfold (photo by Caroline Boyle)
The popular Heights coffeeshop Tenfold is opening a separate roastery later this fall at new East End development The Plant in Second Ward. According to a release, the expanded footprint will also allow Tenfold to pursue new endeavors, such as specialty-minded cold brew and wholesale opportunities like a partnership with Eden Plant Co., a dual coffee and plant shop concept also in The Plant. The new roastery won’t be public-facing, but the owners plan to utilize the space for educational experiences, and will also roll out a subscription service for those who live or work in the neighborhood.
Both locations (West U and Uptown) of this family-friendly fave will offer apple-cider donuts beginning Monday, Sept. 25! They’ll cost just $8 for a dozen. Sweet!
Pumpkin cheesecake at Picos
Pumpkin-spiced churros? Say no more. Arnaldo Richards’ Picos has those on offer, plus pumpkin cheesecake topped with bourbon-drenched sour cream. Craving something seasonally savory instead? Try the new beef and pork meatballs al chipotle, stuffed with hard-boiled eggs.
Ricotta gnocchi at Marmo (photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
The handmade ricotta gnocchi — with confit rabbit, heirloom tomatoes, local peppers and butter-sage sauce — at Marmo is the cozy, indulgent meal you didn’t know you needed (even if it is still 100 degrees outside). Also try the new smoked-corn agnolotti with braised short-rib ragu.
Kolache Shoppe's monthly special made with Roostar's Vietnamese pork bao filling (photo by Sabrina Miskelly)
Open since Labor Day Weekend, Kolache Shoppe’s newest outpost in Pearland’s Broadway Plaza will officially celebrate with grand-opening festivities Oct. 3-8 (think daily specials like free coffee, free kolaches and BOGO deals). The new café, complete with a drive-through window, has a pear-shaped mural on a wall inside, and offers the same two-dozen “Czech-inspired, Texas-influenced” sweet, savory and breakfast-style kolaches.
Sherman Yeung's baked pork chop over rice
Cult-followed Burger-Chan is teaming up with Money Cat chef Sherman Yeung for the latest iteration of its Anti-Burger Club pop-up: On Sunday, Sept. 24, at Money Cat in Upper Kirby, menu items like char siu, baked pork-chop rice, and a Cantonese egg tart will be available from 4pm until sold out.
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