Surging with newfound popularity, Houston’s EaDo (East Downtown) neighborhood has become a hotspot of top-shelf restaurants and bars, at least two of which are operated by the local Agricole Hospitality group, and which I had the good fortune to visit during a recent visit to this Texas metropolis with a few (adult) members of my family.
I started the evening at Miss Carousel, a cavernous cocktail lounge with both brick wall vibes and a bottle service program. I however came for the cocktails, which I would largely describe as slightly southern spins on the classics. Of the eight or so cocktails I tried, here are my definitive favorites.
As an avowed mai tai fan, the Bonded Mai Tai on the menu immediately caught my eye. It’s made with rum plus bonded Jack Daniel’s, lime, tiki bitters, and a fun pecan-based orgeat that’s made in house. Take a classic mai tai and run it through a whiskey barrel and you’ve got this too-good-to-miss cocktail that I’ll probably have to experiment with myself at home.
Another outstanding option on the menu is the Social Butterfly, a more complex tiki-style drink with two rums, passionfruit liqueur, yellow Chartreuse, lime, orange, and house-made grenadine. It sounds like a lot but all the flavors come together perfectly. On yet another 100 degree day in Houston, it’s refreshing and invigorating, the addition of the Chartreuse giving it the slightest kick in a new direction.
Miss Carousel was recently named an Aperol official partner and its version of the Spritz is made with Tanqueray Orange and fresh strawberries, giving it a much more summery character. There’s also a nice quinine kick on the finish that keeps it from ever becoming too sweet.
Food service is courtesy of next door’s Indianola. We tried the popcorn shrimp — dusted in cornstarch instead of flour and thus gluten-free — and found them delightful in every way.
1201 St. Emanuel St, Houston, TX 77003
About a mile away you’ll find Eight Row Flint East, the EaDo outpost of Eight Row Flint, which can be found in Houston’s Heights neighborhood. Eight Row Flint is a considerably different concept than Miss Carousel, almost equally focused on its bar and dining program. We spent a good amount of time with executive chef Marcelo Garcia (as well as his son and sous chef) and sampled a number of highlights from his current menu. Do not sleep on the crispy salsa macha wings to start with — but it’s the four-bite tacos, available with all manner of elevated fillings, that sealed the deal for me after a long evening of sipping cocktails. All the dishes here are intensely flavorful; Garcia does not shy away from the spice rack and he knows how to work with it perfectly.
The drinks focus here is again southern-inspired, with menu sections devoted to carbonated cocktails and frozen drinks. A classic Painkiller went down easy, while a “Freezer Manhattan” showcased what a particularly chilly (though not blended) version of the cocktail can do. Eight Row’s version is heavy on chocolate notes, which I found delightful. As a special, Eight Row offers a 12 oz. High Noon hard seltzer topped with a frozen drink that literally attaches to the top of the can. Think of it as a spin on the CoronaRita, turned upside down. It’s an admittedly trashy way to drink but once the seltzer and margarita (the frozen selection is drinker’s choice from the menu) start to blend together, the combination becomes unavoidably quaffable.
Eight Row Flint is also a haven for whiskey nerds, with a full page of barrel selections and Eight Row’s own solera infinity blend, which is a mix of every single barrel that the operation has ever purchased. The blend includes at least 30 different whiskeys, heavy on bourbon but including some rye and Texas single malts. While I was initially told they were out of the $16 per pour infinity barrel (as the barrel itself is not stored onsite), the bar manager sussed some out for us to try. It’s a bold whiskey, heavily informed by the small amount of Texas whiskey in the mix, laden with cloves and barrel char before notes of ginger, vanilla, and then banana all come into focus. I spent quite a while with my glass (and my wife’s) and while the overall experience is scattered — par for the course for this type of blend — it absolutely revealed something new each time I took a sip.
3501 Harrisburg Blvd Suite A, Houston, TX 77003