When I was invited to enjoy a complimentary dinner for two at Sparrow Bar & Cookshop, I knew the perfect friend to join me. My best friend, the one I never see anymore, because we’re too busy juggling jobs, and our kids. Last Wednesday, we pulled into Houston’s Fourth Ward and entered Monica Pope’s house for dinner.Okay, well, its not really her house but the quirky, eclectic decor made us feel like we were in someone’s home.
After we settled into our table by the window, Eliseo, our server for the night was front and center. I don’t even want to call him a waiter or server, it felt more like he was our host. I was ready for a drink, but everything on Pope’s 12 step cocktail menu sounded so good, I couldn’t make a decision. No worries, Eliseo had the answer. Someone must have told him I have a weakness for blackberries with booze, because minutes later I was sipping on the “OMG that’s a HOMERUN blackberry CapriHaina”. I told Sherri, if I wasn’t working, and you weren’t driving, we would just order a pitcher…for each of us! For reference, it wasn’t on the menu, but they just call it the blackberry caprihaina.
Next, he gave us a rundown on the appetizers, highlighting customer favorites and making some recommendations. Again we were stumped, I was thinking about the shiitake mushroom dumplings, and Sherri wanted to go on a “date with a pig”. We were deep in negotiations when Eliseo appeared with small plates of : avocado sashimi, mushroom dumplings, pimento cheese sliders, chik fries, and the pig date- a medjool date wrapped in chorizo, bacon with chermoula.
One of the reasons I love dining out for the blog, it forces me to out of my comfort zone. I doubt I would have tried the avocado sashimi on my own, and yet it was my favorite of all the appetizers.
The pimento cheese sliders took me back to humid SC evenings , sitting outside watching fireflies pass in the night. But, Sherri took one bite of her pig, and ended the date. I was surprised I ate all of mine. I really liked the sweet and spicy flavors.
With my cocktail almost gone, Eliseo appeared with more ideas. This time it was the watermelon lychee martini vs. the #4 (Spike Cactus vodka, jalapeño syrup, lime juice, cilantro). His favorite was the #4, but he kept comparing it to a mojito, which I rarely order. I was about to go with the watermelon martini, when Eliseo decided I “must” try them both. I really like the way he thinks, and I swear he has a background in sales. The lesson here is to trust your host. I loved the #4, it was refreshing and a nice combination of sweet with a kick.
As we reviewed the menu, I had to laugh when Sherri said, “Wow, this is grown up food.” I was thinking: how can I possibly decide when everything sounds delicious and intimidating? An hour or so later, I was telling Monica Pope, owner of Sparrow Bar & Cookshop, her menu intimidated me. She looked at me as if I said, “I only eat dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets.” Maybe there’s some truth in that, but really, does the average diner that’s not a foodie, know what “bulgogi style” means, or have any idea what they’ll get if they order a fluke filet?
Of course, if all the hosts are like Eliseo, approachable and enthusiastic about the menu, then all diners are in good hands. I should mention that their menus change daily, based on availability of fresh, local ingredients and the chef’s inspiration. Both Sherri and I ordered items that appear nightly, the crispy chicken with salsa verde, pickled red onion, parsley salad, in lemon butter sauce, and I went with the seared scallops in chermoula.
Eliseo thought our entree’s needed friends so he brought some special mac ‘n cheese, vegetable gratin, and crispy brussel sprouts to join them.
Our mouths were busy eating but in between we said things like “best fried chicken ever”; “you’ve got to taste these brussel sprouts, NO, really you have to”; “can’t stop eating these juicy scallops”. And then it happened, “my you can’t make a brussel sprout I’ll like” friend, went back for seconds and thirds. Maybe it was the ginger caramel miso, or maybe they are dusted with crack. I don’t know, but they are addictive. At some point, we both told our stomachs to shut up, and make more room.
When we couldn’t eat another bite, Eliseo magically appeared again and boxed all our leftovers to go. Then he pulled out his sales skills one more time and convinced us to order dessert. If there’s ever a, cutest dessert menu contest, Sparrow Bar & Cookshop wins, with their hand folded, 80s style note. I was admiring the creativity, when I said, a little too loudly ” Sherri, they have popsicles and sno cones!” I really have no idea why that excited me so much, maybe the drinks were kicking in, or maybe it was nostalgia.
We went with the sour cherry bread pudding. Eliseo brought it out, but neither of us made the first move, because The Pope was standing next to our table. She’d just wrapped one of her interactive cooking classes upstairs. Who can eat when the owner is at your table? She sat down, and we chatted like old friends. She’s funny and personable. Passionate about her food, and her philosophy of eating where you live. And, in a small world moment, I learned she knows my Mother-in-Law Gwen Barclay and her mom herbalist, Madalene Hill.
By the way, not only does Sparrow Bar and Cookshop incorporate about 90% local ingredients into their menu, but they also have a lot of gluten-free options. So, if you have a list of gluten free restaurants in Houston, add Sparrow to your list.
Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to eat outside your comfort zone. Don’t be chicken to dine at Sparrow Bar & Cookshop.