No one has ever said Houston isn't an excellent city for gourmet markets. From Central Market to Phoenicia Specialty Foods, we're in perpetual slam dunk mode when it comes to shopping for fancy chocolate bars, spices and oils. But behemoths like those can be overwhelming. Enter Urban Eats.
The eclectic restaurant upstairs may get all the attention, but the market downstairs is just as varied and fun. Culinary director and owner Levi Rollins uses the wide-ranging knowledge acquired from traveling internationally in his former life as vice president of sales for cosmetic brand Laura Mercier to source the best products the world has to offer. There are candy-colored Italian pastas and cheeses from around the world furnished with the help of Houston Dairymaids. Heights distributor the French Farm is responsible for the enviable mix of Gallic delicacies. There's everything from jars of truffle mayonnaise and jugs of Pommery wine vinegar to L'Epicurien brand preserves such as black olive confit with honey and thyme.
But the selection of Texas products may be even more notable in a city where the concept of all-local everything isn't yet pervasive. A whole shelf is given over to Spring Creek Valley from Tomball. The company's products include uncommon pickles such as quail eggs, baby corn and asparagus, as well as toasted-pecan syrup and whole preserved figs.
Though there are imports, too, the bulk of olive oils and vinegars come from Texas Olive Ranch. Many of those come in hard-to-find flavors, too, like mesquite olive oil and jalapeño-lime balsamic. There's also a mix-your-own dressing station that allows shoppers to combine, say, blood orange olive oil with walnut balsamic.
Despite all this, Rollins says the market accounts for only about 17 percent of Urban Eats' revenue. But fans of the restaurant would be remiss to skip the food sold downstairs. There are breads from Angela's Oven and Kraftsmen Baking and coffee roasted by Java Pura, yes, but much of the prepared food is the same stuff served upstairs.
For example, the sweet, herbaceous half rock hen above can be ordered elegantly plated upstairs, or customers can grab one from the case downstairs. The garlicky pork pot roast served as an entrée or in the stellar Sunday Dinner slider, is also among the proteins available in the restaurant or market, as is sundried-tomato-and-prosciutto meatloaf, adapted from Rollins' mother's meatball recipe.
Other favorites are available in the grab-and-go case. The truffled Three Pig mac-and-cheese, with its smoky diced bacon, pancetta and honey-glazed ham is there. So is the crazy-great pecan-praline bread pudding, which uses both plain and almond-filled croissants and cinnamon rolls as its base. That's not to mention downstairs-only sandwiches such as honey ham stacked with sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions, bound with a thick layer of Gruyère.
In essence, it's possible to create your own Urban Eats in your house, whatever your skill level. Maybe you just need a few of Rollins' favorite ingredients. But if it's necessary to let him do all the cooking for you, that's OK, too.