Homegrown Houston

10 Foods You Should Buy from Local Makers

Shop local. Support local.

By Timothy Malcolm Published in the May 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

When you buy from area makers, you not only put money into the local economy, you also know exactly what you’re eating. These 10 producers, all based right in the Houston area, whip up delicious, fresh goat cheese, pasta, salsas, healthy snacks, sweet treats, and more. Consider purchasing from them when stocking your pantry shelves and refrigerator drawers. 

Pralines, Eat My Pralines 

You know what separates Becca Kerr’s treats from all the rest? The recipe comes from her mother, who’s from Natchitoches, Louisiana. “They’re old-fashioned,” she says of her pralines, which are made with local pecans and a whole heap of rich and creamy gourmet European butter. “They’re nostalgic, and they take people back to an old family recipe. And I love that aspect of it.”

Kerr, who started Eat My Pralines in 2015, offers a number of variations on the original, too, including walnut- ginger, espresso-pecan, and her popular vegan pralines made with coconut cream and plant-based butter.

Where to get it: Urban Harvest Farmers Market, Rice Epicurean Market, Dandelion Café

Spicy-Sweet Pickles, Klein Bros.

The Klein family has been farming in the Houston area since the mid- 19th century, establishing Klein Bros. as a Tomball grocer in 1922. Now run by Jeffrey Klein, the company continues to produce farm-fresh and homemade foods including peach halves, jams, beef jerkies, and pickles.

The pickles are a family tradition, made according to recipes passed down through generations. There’s a couple dozen varieties, but we’re partial to the crunchy, spicy-sweet spears made with chiles and red peppers. They’re exhilaratingly juicy, with a heck of a kick.

Where to get it: Central Market, Kroger, Spec’s

Pasta, Fabio’s Artisan Pasta

Fabio Milano was an employee at Marco’s Pasta Factory in Rice Village before buying it out back in 1985 and renaming it Milano’s Pasta Factory. From that point on his name has been synonymous with pasta in Houston.

For a time Milano also had a Montrose-area Italian restaurant, Fabio’s, but these days he’s focusing on his shop, now called Fabio's and located at 2129 W. Alabama St., where he sells spaghetti, linguine, capellini, ravioli, gnocchi, and lasagna, alongside homemade alfredo, pesto, marsala, and good, old-fashioned marinara sauces. Bring it home, cook according to instructions, and enjoy a fabulous dinner.

Where to get it: Heights Grocer, Fabio’s storefront

Goat Feta, Blue Heron Farm 

Since starting their goat farm in Waller County in 2016, Lisa and Christian Seger have been working hard to keep their animals happy and healthy, and to provide Houstonians with ultra-fresh cheese and dairy products. "We thought there needed to be more people making more sustainable food, and we quit our jobs and did that, " says Lisa Seger. 

Blue Heron sells plain and flavored chèvre, along with yogurt, cajeta, and—their most popular item—feta. The pliable cheese is salted dry for five days before going on sale at Urban Harvest Farmers Market, where it always sells out. "It's the one thing that nobody can duplicate anywhere else." 

Where to get it: Urban Harvest Farmers Market, Dairymaids (cajeta only), cafés throughout Houston

Corn pepper salsa, Brazos River Provisions Co.

Mike Mercado doesn’t necessarily want you to just pour a bunch of his corn pepper salsa into a bowl and scoop it up with tortilla chips— although you can do that, too.

“I like to play in the kitchen,” says Mercado, who owned the late Gourmet Deli in Rice Village before becoming a jelly and salsa maker in 2009. He recommends his customers get creative, too. “There’s a dip we make with it,” he continues, “with cream cheese, peppers, and onions; take a half jar, strain it, and add crab meat or jumbo shrimp or bacon. My daughter calls it crack in a jar.” Or strain the corn out and make cornbread. Or add it to fish tacos. Whatever works.

Where to get it: Spec’s, various H-E-B locations, Buc-ee’s, and gift shops across the region

Meyerland Honey, Bee2Bee Honey 

Nicole Buergers is Houston’s queen beekeeper. She installs hives in backyards and lots around the city, harvesting and jarring the honey and sharing the profits with her clients.

Most Bee2Bee honeys are labeled by the neighborhood in which they were harvested, and the difference is noticeable. “Honey, more than any other product, is the best example of terroir,” says Buergers. “It is the very specific time capsule of a place and a time.” Last year's jars from Meyerland had a funkier, earthier profile, she says, while those from the Northside were more floral.

Bee2Bee also offers honeys infused with lavender (year-round) and cinnamon (winter-only), along with special products such as elderberry syrup—great for the immune system.

Where to get it: Urban Harvest Farmers Market, Houston Dairymaids

Houston has become an exciting coffee city, and Java Pura is one of its star players. Richard Colt started the company 11 years ago with friend Fielding L. Cocke and master roaster Ken Palmer, and soon the makers were stamping the roasted-on date on every bag. “People tasted the difference,” says Colt.

Java Pura’s sourcing is thorough; it works directly with farmers in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Kenya, and Panama. The result: The company’s espresso blend is a smooth and rich roast that works anytime. Well, the closer to the roast-on date, the better.

Where to get it: Central Market, cafés across the region

Wide Eyed Kombucha, Kickin' Kombucha

Although the company has been brewing up healthy tea-based drinks since 2010, its most popular variety, known as Wide-Eyed, wasn't part of the original lineup of flavors. 

"Anytime I got something like a ginger beer or something, I felt like it never lived up to ginger to me," says co-founder Robert Lopez, explaining the drink's origin. "I wanted to have something that really had a punch of ginger, but I also wanted an alternative for people who were into Red Bulls and Monster drinks." 

Made with ginger, lemon, cayenne, ginseng, guarana, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, orange peel, licorice root, and cane juice—plus a tea blended from yerba mate and green and red rooibos—the result is definitely eye-opening. 

With 11 widely available flavors on offer, Kickin' is well known—and popular—in theBayou City. But the team has no plans to expand beyond our borders. "We're not looking to do massive scales," says Lopez. "We're still doing things the way that we've been doing them. It's something that Houston can be proud of. 

Where to get it: Whole Foods, Central Market, cafés, and juice bars, plus the Kickin' Kombucha taproom (5420 Lawndale St.)

It was 2006, and Pat Greer had made a bunch of cashew dip for a party that was subsequently canceled. Instead of tossing it out (she’d never), Greer spread the stuff out on a cookie sheet and dehydrated it, turning it into these popular vegan crackers flavored with bell peppers, onions, garlic, cayenne pepper, and sea salt, for a festival of spicy, earthy flavors.

“You work with what you have and make it go really far,” says Greer, who joined a co-op with her daughter in 1999 before growing that into an eatery with a side take-home-foods business. She also makes a spicy version of Geez-Its, another serendipitous invention. “My sweetheart grandson one day misread the recipe for the regular Geez-Its, and instead of two tablespoons, added two ounces of cayenne pepper.” Mistakes? In Greer’s world, they’re innovations. 

Where to get it: Heights Grocer, Henderson & Kane General Store, Local Foods (all locations), Urban Harvest Farmers Market, and cafés throughout Houston

Ecuadorian Arriba Chocolate, Xocolla 

On a 2006 trip to the West Coast, Tony Najjar took a tour of a craft- chocolate facility, and that was enough for him to catch the bug. Soon he was researching and making chocolate at home, and nearly a decade later Xocolla was born in Sugar Land. “I want to make something pure and get back to the roots of chocolate,” he says.

Najjar sources cacao beans from places such as Peru, Madagascar, and the Dominican Republic, which he then roasts, cracks, stone- grinds, and ages for up to three months before molding it into single-origin bars using 70 percent cacao and 30 percent cane sugar.

If you’re seeking a classic flavor, try his Ecuadorian Arriba, which has just a hint of cinnamon and a rich, smooth body. It’s great for hot chocolate, says Najjar, or paired with a glass of Cabernet.

Where to get it: Whole Foods, Central Market, Spec’s, Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Total Wine & More 

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