All the hallmarks of Blacksmith, the popular Montrose coffee shop from master roaster David Buehrer, are present at his newest shop in the Heights: creamy cortados, a playful industrial aesthetic from designer Jim Herd, a vaguely medieval-sounding name, a modern twist on a classic East Asian steak dish.
Here at the days-old Morningstar, that dish is Korean steak and eggs with miniature scallion pancakes, served as part of its all-day brunch menu; at Blacksmith, it's a Vietnamese steak-and-eggs combo with pate and French bread that once made our list of Houston's best breakfasts. Morningstar is already making great efforts at distinguishing itself from its big sister, though the Korean steak and eggs are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
What stands out at Morningstar from the moment you walk in are the stacks of sheet pans bearing colorful donuts coated in a jade-hued matcha green tea frosting and salted-lime chili pepper pineapple-flavored fritters. Let your eye wander and you'll soon spot other oddities not often found on other coffeehouse menus: iced barley tea; crispy rice topped with kibbeh, feta and a poached egg; an entire section of matcha beverages to match those emerald-green donuts. Say what you will about the daunting weekend line at Blacksmith, but Buehrer's menus are never boring (and, dare we say, usually worth that wait).
It's also the donuts which are most representative of Buehrer's professional roots; his first job, long before he opened the now legendary Greenway Coffee & Tea, was at Donald's Donuts in South Houston. "Everything I know about service and hospitality I learned at the donut shops," Buehrer once told us, "watching my friends’ sisters smile and be friendly at 4 in the morning to grumpy blue-collar power plant workers."
The unusual flavor combinations at Morningstar are a distinctly Houston blend, influenced by those early mornings, yes, but also the Bayou City's broadening palate. Up until now, however, it's donut shops far outside the Loop that have been most boldly experimental, with spots like Peña's Donut Heaven in Pearland offering the city's first cronut knockoff, or The Grove Donutz in Richmond offering pandan waffles alongside tres leches donuts. Each has drawn its own swarm of adoring fans, and it's not hard to imagine the same happening here in the Heights.
For now, though, the crowds are trickling in slowly. Morningstar's location in a recently renovated strip center near North Main and Airline hasn't traditionally been a draw in the neighborhood, though its fellow new tenants are looking to change that: Foreign Correspondents has been warmly received for its modern Thai and Lao food, while Canard is making waves as a sultry, female-forward cocktail bar.
There's also the matter of a sign—there isn't one yet. For now, just head to the far corner of the strip center and look for the folks walking out of a door with cups of coffee and sacks of Feges BBQ brisket-stuffed kolaches or peanut-butter-and-jelly donuts.