To call Agricole Hospitality’s new project ambitious is putting it lightly. On part of one city block, Vincent Hyunh, Ryan Pera, and Morgan Weber are betting an amalgam of Houstonians will engage in some way with what they’re selling. And there’s a lot: craft cocktails served like you’re in a hotel lobby, food sourced from multiple corners of America, and gourmet pizza for all—the late-night booze set, families, EaDo tourists, and folks living on the 18th floor of a nearby high-rise.
Is it going to work? Big question. But if you just smell the fresh oregano pumping out of Vinny’s (the pizza concept), you remember who we’re talking about here, and you have to believe it has a good chance.
“People have come to expect a certain level of quality from us,” said Weber. “We can make ourselves a much more profitable company if we bring in a more economically priced product, but that’s not why people to come to [our] places.”
Vinny’s was the only concept open when I toured the Agricole project last week (Indianola opens tonight), and man, it should move pies. With hefty, crispy and fluffy crusts, oh-so-lightly charred cheese, a good balance of ingredients, and carefully curated toppings, Vinny’s makes a freakin’ good pizza.
I had the pepperoni, with the meat made with the help of The Fatback Project in Alabama. Not only is the pepperoni thicker and juicer than standard pizza-place fare, but the slice itself is doused with pepper, adding a brilliant kick that stays with you for a while. It’s a filling slice, too, which it has to be, as it’s priced at $4.50.
That’ll be the big obstacle for Vinny’s. You can buy a medium (half-size) pie for about $20-$25, but full-size pies using 52 ounces of dough can run between $40 and $50. It might be enough for a small party (say for a birthday or group meal at Truck Yard across the street), but pizza has always been a poor man’s game. That said, Vinny’s has the track record and a focus on locally sourced ingredients to make it work. Will I have a slice after a considerably fun night at Rodeo Goat? It will depend on how bad I want it.
Of course, you can have a considerably fun night at Miss Carousel, the cocktail bar. Weber promises slickly produced classics (the old fashioned and margarita are staples in Houston, as we know), but beyond that is excited to roll out around 20 original cocktails at the start. Guests will enjoy them in a high-ceiling, pseudo-industrial space filled with an eclectic array of furniture, focused a bit on mid-century-modern. The furniture is arranged in seating areas, much like a hotel lobby, so that guests can have unique experiences independent of other guests.
The big difference, however, is Miss Carousel doesn’t have a static bar where patrons can sit. Instead, find a seating area, place your order with a server, and wait as bartenders craft drinks behind a glass wall. The idea is to spread the wealth among workers, though it does eliminate the time-honored tradition of posting up and chatting with a bartender.
Time will tell if it works, but the lounge-centric vibe of Miss Carousel helps in selling the idea.
It also helps that next door is Indianola, a ready-made dinner spot that’ll have patrons flooding into Miss Carousel for pre-meal drinks. Indianola is a true collaborative effort, with a menu influenced by the cultures of Agricole’s top-line employees: Hyunh’s Vietnamese-Californian style, Pera’s East Coast style, and Weber’s super-Texan style. The focus is on shareable plates, though you’ll certainly see big-ticket items like whole fish.
Meanwhile, Natasha Douglas’s dessert menu takes cues from her many travels. You’ll see Spanish, Vietnamese, and Mexican influences, for example.
All of it will be presented in a sleek, earth-toned space with mid-century-inspired booths and chairs, funky brass lighting, and seating along the pass. Indianola has an even warmer and more fun dining room than Agricole’s most popular restaurant, Coltivare. But here, there will be reservations.
“This is the first time we’ve done it,” said Weber. “We never intended not to do it at Coltivare, but it’s just the way the restaurant tends to be. Taking reservations at Coltivare would really crush the model."
“Here we have more seats,” he added. “We can hold 30 percent of the room for reservations and then still have a massive walk-in situation and manage it."
Reservations, a private dining room (attached to Miss Carousel, so imagine the wedding receptions), shunning the traditional bar concept, and going big on gourmet pizza. These are big steps for Agricole, a trusted name in Houston dining. But again, smell that oregano. If the flavors are what we know they can be, it’ll work.