June 14th, 2011

Max’s Wine Dive: A Neighborhood Affair

In 5 Words: Fried, Chicken, Champagne, Trendy, Neighborhood

As a society, we’re all about labels. Conventional wisdom says that things have to fit into certain categories and once relegated to those categories, they must adhere to the stigmas attached to them. Max’s Wine Dive is one of those places that takes this conventional wisdom and places it on it’s head.

First and foremost, Max’s is a neighborhood restaurant. Small and intimate, it’s tucked into a strip mall on Washington. While most people think of Washington as a destination, I think of it as home. Living less than a mile from Max’s, it’s my neighborhood joint. So I challenge you to do away with your preconceived notion that a neighborhood joint has to do simple food or can’t be trendy. Pay no heed to the “Dive” in the name… Max’s is no more a dive than Hubcap is a five star restaurant.

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It is true that Max’s is trendier than most neighborhood joints, so you’ll want to keep that in mind. I like to head out to Max’s during the week and while it’s still pretty busy, you can usually find a seat at the bar, which is truly the best way to experience the small restaurant. It can be nice to tuck yourself into one of the small table along the wall and enjoy your meal, but if you’re looking for privacy, (pronounced priv-uh-see with a snooty English accent) this isn’t your place, The small space is packed with as many seats and tables as possible, which guarantees that someone will be sitting close enough to hear all your clandestine secrets.

Instead, sit yourself in the middle of the action at the bar, where you’ll be able to get your drinks faster and watch the chefs at work and even get ideas on what to order. The kitchen is directly behind the bar, and there have been a more than a few occasions were I’ve completely reversed my meal of choice as I watched something plated and put in the window. The food is inventive and fun, putting new spins on classic dishes like fried chicken, meatloaf The self described gourmet comfort food definitely hits the spot

My latest visit to Max’s came on a Thursday night and, though the restaurant was packed, our party of three was able to position ourselves around the L of the bar, which actually served as a perfect accommodation and allowed the conversation to flow uninterrupted.

Like any good neighborhood restaurant, I have my “regular” order which serves as my go to if I have any problem ordering. At Max’s Wine Dive, it’s definitely the fried chicken. It’s so good that it’s become my definition of Fried Chicken. The same way we call cotton swabs Q-tips or Kleenex are synonymous with tissues, Max’s Fried Chicken is everything Fried Chicken should be. Moist, tender and coated with a Jalapeno Buttermilk breading, it’s a symphony of flavors that come together wonderfully in your mouth. Pair that with the side of chipotle honey and the flavor is so intense it’s like being slapped in the face and liking it.

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On this visit, as painful as it was not to order the Fried Chicken, I decided to try one of the chef’s specials, braised short rib with goat cheese mashed potatoes. The meat was tender and flavorful and, at first bite, the mashed potatoes were some of the best I’d ever eaten. They paired wonderfully with red wine reduction that the meat was cooked in, but alone, the mashed potatoes would have become a little much.

My girlfriend swears by the Fried Egg sandwich, which is an exercise in truffle excess. Drizzled in truffle oil, slathered in truffle aioli and served with truffle fries, I don’t think it would be possibly to make the dish any more truffle-y if you tried. Since I’m not a fan of truffle oil, my girlfriend knows that she has to sleep out on the porch for the next three days if she orders it because the stench lingers for days afterwards. I guess it must be amazing, because time and time again she orders it!

I’m not much of a wine aficionado, so I prefer to pair my meals with one of the local brews they offer. However, my girlfriend loves Max’s because she can get a nice glass of wine without breaking the bank. If you’re drinking on a budget, they offer discounts on opened bottles. It’s a great way to sample some nicer wines, but you are limited in your selection. If you’re not sure what to try, Max’s wait staff is knowledgeable and informative, and they can always offer a suggestion that you’ll enjoy based on your tastes or to pair with your meal. My girlfriend is always happy with their recommendations.

Many restaurants hang their hat on the savory and completely mail it in when it comes to the sweetest part of the meal, but Max’s desserts don’t let you down. As much indecision as there is in my household when it comes to Max’s, the one thing we can agree on is dessert. Not because we both order the same thing, but because the menu offers a half and half that allows us to compromise, something we’re not very good at without some assistance. The dish, which pairs their rich chocolate brownie with the bread pudding, works wonders. My girlfriend gets to enjoy the chocolate decadence of the brownie and I get the comforting sweetness of the bread pudding.

The best part about a neighborhood dive is that they have something for everyone, and Max’s Wine Dive definitely comes through on that front. Whether you define your life by their fried chicken, bathe in their truffle explosions or throw your support behind one of their other dishes, the quality of the food will keep you coming back, no matter where you live.

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Where – 4720 Washington Blvd., Houston, TX 77007 (Map)
What – “Fried chicken and champagne? Why the hell not?!”
Wear – Upscale food for downscale dressers.
How Much – Reasonable on food for quality and wines (both retail and to accompany your meal)
HoursMonday 4PM to 11PM; Tuesday & Wednesday 4PM to Midnight; Thursday 4PM to 2AM; Friday 11AM to 2AM; Saturday 10Am to 2AM; Sunday 9AM to 11PM
WebWebsite; Facebook; Twitter

— Marc

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