September 29th, 2009
Beaver’s Ice House: A Houston Culinary Manifesto
In 6 Words: Spam-Wow, Benediction, Southern, Chickwich, Barbecue, Brunch
If beavers are nature’s engineers, then the one behind Beaver’s Ice House designs monster trucks. This restaurant is excessive in the most sublime way and it really captures the changing Houston spirit. On one hand, there’s the rugged outpost Houston that built its name on its ports and its oilmen. But on the other hand, there is the new Houston that is staking it’s claim with the recently reborn Washington Ave. strip, the rabbit like reproduction of modern town-homes inside the loop and the culinary and arts scenes that are commanding national reputations and attempting to bring an air of sophistication to our hard working and practical roots. Beaver’s seems a perfect microcosm of that change, by bringing sophistication to our hardworking and practical southern favorites.
A lazy Saturday afternoon and I was starving. Two places are on my mind: Beaver’s or Ray’s Franks. Both have been on my radar for a while and the long holiday weekend is the perfect opportunity to explore. I skipped dinner the night before so I was ready to eat. I know the Washington and Sawyer area pretty well, but I have never noticed Beaver’s. As we round the corner from Washington on to Sawyer I understand why it has been so easy to miss. It is a small, unassuming one-story building with large tree logs as parking bumpers and an understated logo and sign reassuring you that you are indeed at Beaver’s Ice House. That is where the understatement ends.
Every restaurant strives to set a mood for diners and while a place like Café Rabelais really succeeds at authenticity of a foreign experience, Beaver’s, like a DJ, takes some old favorites, rips them, mixes them and then presents them anew. Put another way, it’s kind of like what Garth Brooks did for Country Music. Their website explains their concept in more detail and it is worth a read.
Step through the glass doors into Beavers and you are in the most entertainingly eclectic, only-in-Houston kind of place. As you stand there looking straight ahead into the bar area there are several massive semi-circle booths with antler shaped bases wrapped around large natural tree tabletops. The chairs use the brass heads of shotgun shells as upholstery studs to fasten the fabric. Look towards the bar and the back wall is covered in mirrored subway tiles and a great collection of multicolored vintage lamps hangs over the bar leaving a hillbilly, granny, disco effect, that is really unique.
Take a spin to the left and there are more of the mirrored subway tiles on the wall magnifying the reflection of the camouflage painted walls. But this is what I was talking about, sure the walls are designed with a camouflage effect complete with kitsch wild game outlines (Beavers and deer and rabbits, oh my), but the muted pastel shades of orange, olive, brown and taupe are a sophisticated and subtle interpretation of camouflage. Plus all paints in the Beav are No-VOC.
While the bar tables are hulking pieces of natural wood, the seated tables are environmentally safe, repurposed and chic; purchased locally from New Living. The dining tables are almost what you expect at a place like Soma down the street, but somehow fits perfectly at Beaver’s. The dinner tables continue down the other side of the restaurant, all the way to the glass doors that open to quaint outdoor gravel patio which is peppered with brightly colored outdoor chairs. As if this isn’t enough, the music selection is just as eclectic. Here is the set list for an afternoon lunch: Johnny Cash, Nine Inch Nails, Juanes, Gin Blossoms, Gypsy Kings…I think you get the picture.
I follow a few local chefs on twitter to feel like an insider and Beaver’s Chef @PapaBeav is a trip! He talks about food and life with the same passion and irreverence that really encapsulates the Beaver’s experience. There are two things I recommend so far, lunch and Sunday Brunch are epic! My first adventure was the Pit Boss “Chickwich” for lunch. This monumental sandwich has shredded BBQ chicken, a fried egg and crispy cornmeal onion rings on top of a bed of coleslaw. It arrives on the table impaled with a knife, because there is no mouth big enough to bite this sandwich. My wife ordered the pulled pork sandwich, which was equally impressive. In both cases, once the shock of the size wore off the BBQ flavors were spot-on and even the coleslaw was noticeably good. Each layer was well done and despite the over-the-top appearance, the food has some delicate flavors. The fried pickles are a solid pick for an appetizer if you feel the need to order one.
I love a good sophisticated brunch as much as the next Loopster, but this brunch is down home, massive and a must! It seems a little expensive to some, but the portions are well worth it and you could probably share almost every dish if you are on a budget. Literally, there is a look of horror and surprise that overcomes each newbie upon receiving their first Beaver’s dish and you can hear the hubbub around the table as it lands in front of them. I was a victim of this very phenomenon when given the “Beaver-rito”, even after partaking in the Chickwich just days before.
I ordered the Beaver-rito and only after I overindulged did the waiter say, “wow, you did a great job, that’s like 2.5 bounds of beans, meat and cheese” (For the record, I did not finish it). He explains that they want to make it bigger but cant get the tortillas large enough to make it bigger. JJ if you are reading this, it’s not necessary, but I doubt that will stop you! We have included some pictures to prepare you and maybe make you seem like a regular the first time one of these lands on the table before you. I think our collective favorite was the biscuits and gravy with three types of sausage…no surprise there: pig, pig and more pig.
I recommend the samplings from the bar as well. There were a host of good beers on tap and some new personal favorites including bacon infused vodka. The whole table agreed that they have one of the best Bloody Marys around, the “Squealin’ Mary”. The brunch atmosphere is a good blend of what you likely encountered the night before and the normalcy of a typical day so the hangover re-entry is made even easier.
A short note to fellow Loopsters: When talking about Beaver’s a lot of people mention that they heard it was overrated and expensive, blah, blah, blah. I too read the Houston Press article about the top 10 overrated restaurants. Beaver’s was somehow on that list and I have to say I wholeheartedly disagree. We don’t do flame wars at The Loop Scoop and we don’t diss on things Houston. So give Beaver’s a try before you judge it, and definitely let us know what you think.
Where – 2310 Decatur Street, Houston, TX 77007 (View Map)
What – Mainly Bar-B-Que, but it’s really so much more
Wear – Anything that stretches
Who – Anyone looking for any combination of good food, a good time and a good drink
How Much – Heaping portions $8-18, Doggy Bags are available for leftovers
When – From 11a.m. – 10 p.m. (later Thursday-Saturday), Brunch is Sunday only 11a.m. – 3 p.m.
Web – http://www.beavershouston.com/index.html
Twitter – http://twitter.com/beavershouston
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/beavershouston