First Bite

At White Elm, Turkey Has Never Tasted So Good

A superior sandwich, plus some truly thoughtful fare, make this Memorial newcomer one to watch.

By Timothy Malcolm August 21, 2020

Grateful Bird is as good a turkey sandwich as it gets.

If it's lunchtime, I'm hankering for a sandwich, and turkey is the only deli meat in my refrigerator, I might sigh quietly. It's not that I don't like turkey, but that white bird breast has become a regular fallback in my house. Living with two small children who question (or throw) any protein that doesn't jibe with their preferences, I've learned that most of the time we just have to carry simple things.

But the turkey (and the sandwich containing said turkey) at the new White Elm Cafe & Bakery in Memorial is anything but simple. It's in a brine for a full day, then sliced roughly and piled with brie, bacon, dijon aioli, and field greens in between slices of cranberry walnut bread by Houston's own Bread Man.

It's as good a turkey sandwich as I've had in Houston.

White Elm is a joint effort from said Bread Man Tasos Katsaounis, Scott and Stacy Simonson of Chez Nous, and Chico Ramirez of Dinner Table Investments. Chef de cuisine Jesus Salinas, previously of Liberty Kitchen; pastry chef Jamie Orlacchio, whose past includes La Table; and general manager Richard Brown, who was at Guard & Grace, are also on board. Each of the owners and main staff members bring their expertise to the eatery, and it seems to all be on display throughout the menu.

"It's a collection (of people) from different scales," says Ramirez. "It's vertical integration that's worked out really well."

All of that experience comes together in a multi-program concept inside a bright and breezy modern Mediterranean-themed space. Katsaounis will run a still-to-come onsite bakery that'll pump out croissants and other breakfast goodies, while Orlacchio will put her stamp on morning pastries and desserts. Katz's Coffee is on offer, too.

The lunch and dinner menu has a little of everything. There are 12-inch pizzas with sweet and crispy crusts, from duck confit with pomegranate-glazed onion jam, diced butternut squash, and chèvre to Greek pie with lamb meatballs, red onions, tomatoes, feta, black olives, and tzatziki.

Technical prowess is on display with appetizers like a perfectly cooked octopus with smoky muhammara herb emulsion and entrées like roast chicken with wild mushrooms; shaved truffles and black truffle oil; plus pommes frites. Dessert is anchored by the milky Greek custard and honey stalwart galaktoboureko, a must to order.

Galaktoboureko combines semolina custard with crispy phyllo and honey.

Ramirez says the just-about-all-day concept should work well in the Memorial area, which he feels could use a spot like White Elm.

"We wanted to build something that's going to be seven days a week starting around 8:00 in the morning for people heading to work, as well as for people who live in the neighborhoods nearby," says Ramirez. "This is a great part of town to look at, and it's under-served for this type of concept."

Heck, with a turkey sandwich this good, it should draw from more than just Memorial.

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