Since opening in 2003, The Tasting Room has morphed from a wine bar to a full-service restaurant with four locations—all while retaining its wine-bar charm and racking up numerous awards and accolades. Diners can select libations from a list that boasts more than 200 wines, pairing them with contemporary dishes whipped up by executive chef Jonathan LeBlanc. TTR offerings run the gamut from small plates of mini grilled sandwiches and classic bruschetta to entrees including creole-spiced quail and Jamaican jerk chicken breast, which diners can savor at windowside tables or on the plant-ensconced patio and garden area.
The eatery doesn't just sate hunger for eclectic classics and thirst for fermented grapes. It also hosts live music, meetings, and events such as 2011's Grapes vs. Grains, which pitted beer against wine in a liquid wrestling match. The owners have their hands in other culinary enterprises, too. There's the Houston Cellar Classic, for example, an annual celebration of food and wine. Also popular is MAX's Wine Dive, a destination for gourmet comfort food best defined by its slogan—"Fried chicken and champagne? ... Why the hell not?"
Himalayan pink salt, almond marzipan, Mexican chipotle, Moroccan mint tea—these are just a few of the exotic ingredients that the chocolatiers at Araya Artisan Chocolate cull from around the world so that they can infuse their Venezuelan chocolates with complex and surprising flavors. They strive to emulate French and Belgian styles, complementing the cocoa bean's naturally bitter taste with honey instead of sugar. They make each chocolate by hand in Katy, using only natural ingredients devoid of preservatives, artificial flavors, or glowing red serums pilfered from mad scientists. They even make vegan options. These experts decorate each of the chocolates with colorful designs, adorning peanut butter–berry with bright stripes and adding an enticing dollop of green atop the margarita option. Due to their insistence on hand crafting unique bites, they've earned attention from foodies at My Table and the River Oaks Examiner. They offer authentic French macarons, and have a wide variety of flavors that are imported from France, with gift boxes available as well. Just recently, Araya Artisan Chocolate opened its newest location at the Uptown Park Mall.
When patrons pop into Berri Swirl, they don't just come for the tasty frozen treats; they come for the chance to take control of their own dessert destinies. As they march confidently to the self-service dispensers stocked with 12 flavors of frozen yogurt, they're already calculating which bits of Butterfinger chunks, blackberries, and gummy bears they're going to pluck from the do-it-yourself toppings bar packed with more than 40 toppings. Swirls of delicious low-fat yogurt infused with tastes ranging from snickerdoodle-cookie-dough to triple chocolate descend into holders including cups, cones, wafer bowls, and 55-gallon drums made of marzipan. Along with this variety of toppings and flavors, the fro-yo gurus maintain their healthy standards by concocting their creamy creations from genuine dairy, milk, and fruit purées and handpicking their ingredients from a variety of sources. After patrons take one last look at their creamy creations, they can browse magazines or surf free WiFi while wolfing down their sweet achievements.
Supreme Kakes' Chef Veronica spent 19 years in the kitchen mastering the sugary, floury basics of baking cakes great and small, an effort that earned her customizable-cake business enough traction to risk moving from her home kitchen to a 6,000-square-foot bakery in 2009. There, the chef and her equally adventurous staff craft statuesque sweets from a rich palette of 50 flavors and fillings such as almond amaretto cream and chocolate raspberry truffle. Veronica's artful baked-to-order cakes become the centerpiece at weddings and birthdays, channeling the honorees' personality and passions through vivid likenesses of cartoon characters, architectural marvels, or favorite sports broadcasters. The bake masters supplement their repertoire of towering sweets with their diminutive cousins, buttercream- and fondant-based cupcakes, and can often accommodate dietary and allergy restrictions with wheat- and gluten-free goods or cakes shaped into enormous antihistamine capsules.
Teahouse Tapioca and Tea's first opening day was a bit chaotic. The locale was Kaohsiung, in Southern Taiwan, and the owners hadn't figured out how much a cup of tea should cost. But they had decided they would treat their customers like family. To their surprise and delight, their customers reciprocated that sentiment, and those first tea drinkers returned the favor by keeping the owners informed of current trends, helping the teahouse develop their signature green tea with tapioca. The drink proved immensely popular, and eight years after opening, the owners expanded internationally.
Today, Teahouse Tapioca and Tea has five locations throughout Houston to serve its traditional cream tea. The drink's essential ingredients are tapioca balls, which are infused with dark brown sugar and caramel to make them chocolatey brown and extra flavorful. The drink isn't for everyone, but if you aren't pleased with its taste, you can exchange it for one of the teahouse's espresso drinks or juice.
Shipley Do-Nuts offers a bit of hometown Houston pride with their cake doughnuts and quick-serve coffee. The regional chain is headquartered in the area, and sports some 86 locations throughout the Houston metro sprawl. Early morning eaters can swing through the drive-thru for boxes of warm jelly-filled or yeast doughnuts to take to the office, or just to grab a skinny caramel macchiato to start off the day. Drivers can find the Westheimer Road outpost tucked into a corner strip mall, between the Westchase District and the Energy Corridor, with a large neon sign none-too-quietly announcing the 24-hour drive-thru. With an expanded menu that also includes beignets, jalapeño sausage and cheese kolaches, fruit smoothies and cold energy drinks for on-the-move eaters, it’s no surprise that Shipley Do-Nuts has done so well in the Houston area.