I’m back with a second installment of the Distinguished Drinkers series, wherein I highlight local establishments that serve our favorite drinks. Last week, Todd Johnson got us buzzed on his favorite espresso. This week, we’re going for a different kind of buzz. I sat down recently with Chad Houser, the executive chef and director of Cafe Momentum, a post-release leadership program for young men. He may consider himself to be “the village idiot” when it comes to describing a wine, but Houser knows a thing or two about this city, its local breweries, and the best bourbon it offers.
RH: So, coffee or cocktail?
CH: Well, I could cheat and say Ascension because it has both. Except that it doesn’t have cocktails, per say. It’s the go-to coffee shop where you can start with coffee, stay there all day, work through lunch, and be drinking wine by the end of the day. In regards to just coffee, though, my go-to place really is Ascension Coffee.
RH: Do you consider yourself to be a wine snob? Especially since you are a chef.
CH: That’s funny because I’m on the Dallas Morning News Wine Panel, and I give them grief all the time saying, “You put me in here because I’m the village idiot of the group!” Like there is no question. I’m with Michael Flynn and Hunter Hammett – all these master sommeliers – Courtney Luscher from The Grape, Jennifer Uygur from Lucia, and then there’s me, and I’m like, “Yeah, you guys, the only reason you have me here is because I’m the only one stupid enough to say that this wine reminds me of Gatorade bubble gum.” Which I did at one point.
CH: Yeah. I said, “You know, did any of you guys ever eat Gatorade gum when you were a kid?” And then they all just look at me. “Well, when you ate Gatorade gum, it tasted really good for the first five minutes and then it had this stale citrusy taste that was kind of weird. That is what the after-taste of this wine tastes like.” And they are all, “Ok…”
RH: (Laughs) So if you were to go somewhere besides Ascension, where would you go next?
CH: Oh. Well I’d have to go to a bar then.
RH: Ok, where would you go?
CH: It’s hard because with three kids, I don’t really get to go to bars much. I tell you when I do go to bars, I like to go to places that have what I would consider a decent beer selection and then something wonderful to accompany it. I like to go to The Old Monk. You can get their charcuterie plate – well they don’t call it a charcuterie plate – and then have a cask ale because they always have a cask ale.
RH: What’s a cask ale?
CH: That is a beer that is finished off in an actual wooden cask. It’s got a richer flavor but it is also kind of flatter, if that makes sense. You know, like a beer that is bottled or canned has a certain effervescence to it. It doesn’t quite have that effervescence to it, but it doesn’t taste stale. It’s a beer’s beer. In England, it’s pretty typical for a pub to have some kind of cask ale. Here it is not normal to find. I’ve seen it at Meddlesome Moth, and I know I’ve seen it at one other place, but The Old Monk has always been the standard place to have a cask ale before anybody ever did. There is something about [The Old Monk]. I like the ambiance, like everything fits perfectly. The beer, the ambiance, the people, the food – it’s Utopic.
RH: Do you have any favorite local breweries?
CH: Yes, I love Four Corners. I love the fact that we have so many great local breweries, and they are all awesome. I mean we have Lakewood, Deep Ellum, Peticolas, Community Beer. They are all great. Four Corners is similar to what I just said about The Old Monk. It has everything all wrapped up into one. I’ve gotten to meet those guys and the story of how they even came together is phenomenal. It just couldn’t be a better group of guys.
RH: Do you like IPAs, lagers, porters, stouts?
CH: Honest to goodness, it just depends on the time of day, and my mood. Typically if I’m eating food, I’m a bigger fan of like an IPA, something with a little bit that has got that nice ‘bite you back flavor.’ If it’s later on in the evening, I love a good stout or porter. I like the nuttier porters and I love dark stouts. We just did an event with Nancy Nichols and I took a chocolate brown stout and made ice cubs out of it and poured Jameson Black reserve over it because Nancy wanted a drink called the F-bomb. [ed. note. “Hell, yes.” ]
RH: Oh my gosh, that sounds amazing!
CH: It was delicious!
RH: So, if you were to get a cocktail, what would you get?
CH: Yeah, so I like bourbon, and my favorite mixer is ice.
RH: Do you like putting bigger ice cubes in it? I went to the The Standard Pour once and they gave me this huge ice cube. Do you enjoy the science of it all?
CH: I don’t think I’m that sophisticated. I just really like bourbon. I sat with Nick Pencis from Stanley’s BBQ [in Tyler] and I was drinking bourbon with him and he was going through all these variations because he had gone on the bourbon trail in Tennessee. He was going on and on, and I said, “Yeah, I just like bourbon.” I had a really, really good bourbon at Oak recently. We did our pop-up dinner there. They gave me a glass of bourbon at the end. It was delicious. I think my very favorite bourbon of all time is the Brimstone Balcones, which is made in Waco.
RH: If someone wanted a laid-back environment to go get a good glass of bourbon, where would you suggest they go?
CH: I really like the bar at Hibiscus. The bartender there, I can’t remember his name, he’s just very knowledgeable. It’s a great mix of everything. You can sit at the bar and then if you decided you were really hungry and wanted to eat, you could have a great meal. It’s kind of all in one – great bar, great food service. The bartender is super knowledgeable, he has educated me on bourbon. They also have a very thoughtful cocktail list with very clean drinks that aren’t all sugared up, nothing too foo-foo. You can get a nice elegant martini that is made appropriately. You might get a gin martini that is infused with lavender or something that just kind of accentuates the flavor, but it isn’t over the top.