My Top 5: Houston Food Finder Publisher Phaedra Cook

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Photo courtesy of Houston Food Finder

Our My Top 5 series showcases Houstonians who are creating the city’s culture and community and asks them to share their own local favorites. This week we’re delighted to feature Phaedra Cook, editor and publisher of Houston Food Finder. Founded by Cook in November 2016, it is an independent, online-only publication that exclusively covers restaurant and bar news in Houston. It now has eight freelance writers and over 40,000 readers per month. Unfortunately, in a financial sense, the publication is having difficulty finding support. To that end, a GoFundMe was established. In about three weeks, almost $4,500 has been raised to-date, making it uniquely reader-supported for now. 

As one might guess, as the editor and publisher of a food publication, my Houston life revolves entirely around visiting restaurants and bars. Far beyond just seeking sustenance, it’s both my work and my hobby. The can’t-stop-won’t-stop growth in new Houston food establishments and the ever-changing menus mean that if I’m out, I’m dining just to try and keep up.
That said, as I reflect on my “homing beacons,” these are almost always coffee shops during the day and bars at night. These are comfortable haunts that I return to over and over again, often because I can work on my laptop and catch a cup of coffee in the morning and a cocktail, beer or glass of wine during happy hour. Evenings are usually reserved for restaurant visits and media dinners—and I can’t write or edit at those.

My Top 5 Things to Do in Houston

by Phaedra Cook

  1. Blacksmith — I’ve holed up at this Montrose coffee shop for hours at a time to “make the words.” It has wifi as well as some of the best coffee in Houston (Ecky Prabanto is a coffee-roasting goddess). My visit starts with a mocha (I have to have chocolate in my life—on the daily if I can get away with it), then I shift to black coffee (whatever the brew of the day is) and then I’ll finally actually eat. My go-to is the Scratch Square Biscuit with sausage, egg and cheddar. Erin Smith Feges (the chef who is now at Feges BBQ in Greenway Plaza alongside her husband, pitmaster Patrick Feges) and David Buehrer, co-owner of Blacksmith (as well as Greenway Coffee and other coffee shops in Houston) developed the recipe and technique after a lot of test batches. The biscuit’s crispy, square edges, and tender interior is totally the key and it’s even better after it’s been bathed in liquid, golden, egg yolk.
  2. Morningstar — Morningstar is totally different than Blacksmith—brighter, more open, and with different dishes and drinks—but it’s my hole-up-and-work alternative in the Heights. The matcha lattes here are almost as tempting as the mochas. For food, I love the Crispy Rice Kibbeh bowl (although I always forget to ask if they can hold the cucumber, one of my few food aversions). The doughnuts are made with better ingredients than the norm, and although the Shipley’s fanatics might not enjoy the denser texture, creative flavors such as matcha and dulce de leche are too tempting to pass up.
  3. Public Services Wine & Whisky — Who works in a bar? I do—and what a visual delight to work in, too. Public Services Wine & Whisky is in the old Cotton Exchange building and has what I affectionately call “grandma furniture.” There are ornate cornices and other architectural delights everywhere you look. There’s a terrific happy hour from 4pm to 6pm. Wine and beer is 25% off and a small-but-worthy selection of classic cocktails are $6 each.
  4. Anvil Bar & Refuge — Okay, I don’t really work here that often. By the time I wind up at Anvil, I’m ready to shove my laptop into my backpack and turn off my brain for a while. This bar, from owner and restaurateur Bobby Heugel, led the craft cocktail movement in Houston when it opened and it is hugely important to me because of where it stands in my personal history. It’s where my journey as a writer started in earnest and I formed friendships there that have endured to this day. One of the original bartenders, Sebastian Nahapetian, was also a developer and he ended up building the Houston Food Finder website. (So, be nice to everyone you meet because you never know where he or she is going to really end up in your life.) I typically order one of the new seasonal cocktails (Kehlen Scott is always coming up with something innovative, such as the Major Arcana with hyssop-infused tequila, salt-preserved Meyer lemon and Suze) or one of the returning throwbacks — which kind of feeds into my emotional attachment to the place. Don’t look down on Cuba Libres until you try the nitro-infused one that Matt Tanner (now with Pappas Restaurants) created way back in 2012. (God, I’m old.)
  5. Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue Craftory — Oh, finally, an actual restaurant. I used to live near 249, just outside of Cypress (my husband and I finished raising our kids there, in fact) and Tomball is just a stone’s throw away. Scott Moore and Michelle Holland started with Tejas Chocolate before opening the barbecue place. (Scott’s brother, Greg, soon joined as chef.) It very quickly became where I usually went for top-quality, Texas-style barbecue. It was not only close to home but just damn good. I’m very picky about brisket (moist, please) and Tejas never lets me down. Plus, they created inventive sides, such as the carrot soufflé, and incorporate the chocolate into the mole barbecue sauce. Oh: and you can still pick up the chocolate bars and huge truffles. I officially reviewed the place back in 2016 for the Houston Press and thought it very well could be one of the best of Texas. I was pretty pleased when Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly loved it as much as I did, ranking it the sixth-best barbecue place in Texas in 2017.
Other Options — On a final not, I avoided giving a shout-out to Houston Food Finders sustaining sponsors in my Top 5 list because that seems self-serving. That said, I think it’s also really important to mention three business owners who see the forest for the trees. They understand that without supporting local journalism, restaurants lose vehicles for communicating with the general public. It’s these three monthly sponsors, a handful of others, and less than 100 readers who are currently keeping Houston Food Finder alive and kickin’ in the financial sense. A big thank you goes to Donnette Hansen of Rainbow Lodge, Alli Jarrett of Harold’s Restaurant & Tap Room and Alex Au-Yeung of Phat Eatery. Keep them in mind the next time you dine out.

About Phaedra Cook

Phaedra Cook is the editor and publisher of Houston Food Finder and has covered Houston’s restaurant and bar scene for almost a decade. After many years of contributing to My Table Magazine, in 2014 she became the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press—the first freelancer to ever have that role. She was hired as food editor before leaving to start Houston Food Finder, the first online-only publication exclusively covering the city’s restaurant and bar scene. Phaedra has also written for Edible Houston, the Houston Chronicle, and Houstonia. We encourage you to check out her high quality local food journalism, as well as that from her team of writers.