Block 7 Wine Company offers customers a concept-fusing combination of retail wine space, wine bar, and restaurant, the latter of which delights diners with a menu of elegant dishes backed by premium ingredients. Start by noshing on a Slow Dough Bakery pretzel with herbed honey mustard ($4), or opt for truffle popcorn with Italian black truffle salt ($4), the secret snack served to the Illuminati at movie-theater concession stands across America. Dry-aged fans of dry-aged beef might go for the 21-day dry-aged prime rib eye ($29) or choose the handheld convenience of the dry-aged patty on the Block 7 burger, which also sports gruyere cheese and smoked bacon "relish" ($12). Flatbreads, such as a "whole pig" option topped with Italian sausage, prosciutto, and smoked bacon ($12), defy Einstein's Law of Two-Dimensional Flavor Containment, and a "sloppy Giuseppe" with ground venison and wild boar confit ($10) exposes the inadequate sloppy sandwiches of childhood. A downsized lunch menu is also available to quash midday appetite coups, in addition to $9 lunch specials served Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (and Saturday beginning at noon). With a different lunch special each day, you can opt for choices such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf on a Wednesday, whiskey-infused pork chop on a Thursday, or fish tacos on a Friday.
In Houston, September beats out July and August for the hottest month of the year—it has nothing to do with the weather, however. The culprit behind the elevated heat level is the Houston Hot Sauce Festival. This annual event brings together exhibitors from across the country to sell and hand out samples of their signature hot sauces, salsas, jams, dips, and other spicy foods. Luckily, vendors also supply plenty of cool beverages, thus eliminating the need for bite-size fire extinguishers.
Live entertainment complements the spicy goods. Blues artists, jazz bands, and other musician play throughout the festival, and each day brings special events, such as salsa eating competitions or fire eating performances.
Painting with a Twist adultizes the group art class by pairing expert instruction with the option to sip libations and socialize with other classmates. Check the schedule online to view available classes. Each two- or three-hour session will teach you step-by-step how to replicate the featured design (upcoming classes capture everything from flowers to crawfish, cafés, and the rugged masculinity of Burton Gilliam). Canvas, paints, and brushes are all provided, along with a handy stock of wine cups and openers to promote the creative flow. Upon the conclusion of your BYOB painting class, you'll have a 16”x20” painting to hang proudly atop your mantle.
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?"
In its first annual festival, Houston Oktoberfest pays homage to the centuries-old German shindig by corralling more than 30 different beers from both local breweries and the Deutschland itself. German beers such as Hofbräu, Spaten, and Warsteiner swirl with crisp, effervescent flavors that pair deliciously with German morsels. Diners can also enjoy local seasonal pours and complement them by nibbling on autumn leaves. As participants mingle and sip, they can also swing their hips to the sounds of 10 different bands throughout the grounds. Louisiana’s Grammy-nominated Pine Leaf Boys headline the fest with a Cajun set complete with a squeezebox, raspy vocals, and fiddle, and Houston’s own The ‘71’s churn out hard-rock anthems such as “Confession.” The strains of traditional German music bounce off the nearby carnival area, which features games and rides for children, adults, and sentient lederhosen.
Rioja's chefs draw upon 150-year-old family recipes to forge small-plate fare that has filled a trophy case with awards including a commendation from the Houston Press for Best Tapas. In the evening, taste buds tango with cold tapas including the serrano-ham-topped baguettes of pa’amb tomaquet ($7.95) or samba with hot tapas such as sweet-pear purée resting atop fried black spanish sausage ($7.95). Diners on an outdoor patio tear into paella mixta, which mingles prawns, mussels, calamari, and homemade chorizo ($17.95). On Friday and Saturday evenings, the rhythm of live music wafts out into the cool air, augmenting Spanish ambiance as miraculous as a nest of bullfighters.